When it comes to vitamins and supplements, there are many options available on the market. However, not all vitamins are created equal. This article will focus on the different types of vitamins, specifically whole food, extracted, and synthetic vitamins. You will learn the importance of choosing whole food vitamins, which retain the natural balance, cofactors, and antioxidants found in the original food source, in contrast to extracted and synthetic nutrients. Additionally, we will define what truly constitutes a whole food supplement and how to identify deceiving claims in the supplement industry that may not accurately reflect the contents of the product. Furthermore, it’s important to note that there is a lack of regulation in the supplement industry for the definition of “whole food vitamins”, making it even more important for consumers to be aware of the contents of the products they choose.
Types of vitamins
There are three different types of vitamins on the market: whole food vitamins, extracted vitamins from whole food sources (mostly solvent extraction), and synthetic vitamins made in the lab Whole food vitamins are vitamins that are derived directly from whole foods and are minimally processed. These vitamins typically retain the natural balance and cofactors found in the original food source. Examples of whole-food vitamins include fermented cod liver oil, which is a source of vitamins A and D, or dried fruits and vegetables that are ground into a powder to make a whole-food multivitamin. Extracted vitamins are also derived from whole food sources, but they are typically obtained through a process of solvent extraction. This process involves using mainly chemicals to extract the desired vitamins from the whole food source. The extracted vitamins are then purified and concentrated into a supplement form. These extracted vitamins may also lack some of the natural balance and cofactors found in whole food nutrition.
Synthetic vitamins are vitamins created in a laboratory rather than derived from whole foods. They are made by chemically synthesizing the desired vitamin and are typically more consistent in purity than vitamins derived from whole foods. However, synthetic vitamins may also lack some of the natural balance and other nutrients found in whole foods.
Not all whole-food vitamins products contain 100% whole-food vitamins, and they may still contain high content of synthetic vitamins and minerals
The lack of regulation and standard definition for “whole food supplement” in the supplement industry is a major concern for consumers who are looking for natural, healthy, and whole food options. Without a clear definition, manufacturers can label their products as “whole food” even if they contain mostly synthetic ingredients. This makes it difficult for consumers to know what they are really buying and if they are getting whole food supplements. Even “whole food supplement” is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is another reason why it is important for consumers to be aware of the lack of regulation in the supplement industry and to do their own research when choosing supplements.
Advantage of truly whole food vitamins
Whole food multivitamins/vitamins may provide a broader range of nutrients as they are made from entire foods rather than isolated/extracted/synthetic nutrients.
1- Whole food vitamins may be better utilized by the body, thereby better supporting overall health and wellness rather than just addressing specific nutrient deficiencies.
It is tempting to believe that extracting key vitamins and minerals from whole food sources, e.g., fruits and vegetables, and packaging them into pills would be a simple solution to maintaining good health and avoiding the difficulty and expense of a balanced diet. However, research suggests that consuming whole fruits and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, while there is limited evidence to support the use of vitamin and mineral supplements for preventing these conditions or mortality. This may be because whole fruits and vegetables contain a complex mixture of nutrients, including vitamins, phytochemicals, fiber, and others, which work synergistically together to provide benefits that cannot be replicated by taking isolated micronutrients.
So, if you’re generally healthy and just looking to improve your diet, it might be more beneficial to consume whole-food vitamins/multivitamins/minerals rather than relying on isolated/extracted ones. However, if your health status has changed (particularly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have had any recent illnesses or surgery) and have questions about whether whole food vitamins or extracted/synthetic vitamins are right for you, talk to your health care professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you are on medication. They can help you determine which type of vitamin is best for your individual needs.
2- Whole food vitamins may be better tolerated and have fewer long-term side effects than synthetic supplements.
Whole food supplements are made from real, minimally processed foods, which the body may recognize and process more easily. In contrast, isolated or synthetic nutrients may be more foreign to the body and less well tolerated.
3- Whole food vitamins may support the body’s natural processes rather than trying to artificially manipulate them.
Whole food vitamin provides a variety of nutrients that support the body’s natural processes, while isolated vitamins/nutrients may artificially manipulate specific processes and potentially disrupt the body’s natural balance.
4- Whole food vitamins may be more sustainable and have a smaller carbon footprint than synthetic vitamins.
Whole food vitamins are typically grown using sustainable agriculture practices, which can help to reduce the environmental impact of food production. However, when we produce synthetic vitamins, we might need to use non-renewable resources that may create a larger carbon footprint due to the energy and resources needed for the chemical synthesis processes.
Deceiving claims on the label of supplement products
“All Natural or Natural”
The claim “natural” on the label of supplement products can be misleading because it is not a regulated term and does not have a consistent or specific definition. The FDA does not have a formal definition for the term “natural” on food or supplement labels and does not have specific guidelines for its use. The FDA has stated that they do not object to using the term “natural” on FOOD labels if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. However, this definition is NOT specific to SUPPLEMENTS and does not consider the processing methods used to make the product.
“Derived or made from whole food”; “plant source”; “plant-based”
It’s important to note that while a product is labeled as a whole food, it may be made/derived FROM whole food and it contains isolated nutrients vs. whole food ingredients. It’s always best to read the ingredient list and check with the manufacturer or a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about the product.
“Whole food based”
Many vitamins and minerals are artificially created in a laboratory. What happens is that a lot of big brands combine these synthetic supplements with some yeast (feeding to the yeast) or a very tiny amount of dried plants, fruits, and vegetables to sugar-coat them as whole food based and/or natural vitamins.
“Fermented whole food vitamins” or “from Culture”
Marketers of “whole-food supplements” and “natural supplements” quickly realized that it would be difficult to deliver the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamins/minerals through whole-food ingredients as the nutrient contents of the majority of them are well below the RDA of key vitamins and minerals. As a result, certain companies resort to deceptive methods to sell products that are high in synthetic vitamins and minerals but still claim that the ingredients are food-derived or natural. This is achieved through various techniques such as “culturing” or “fermentation” which are marketed as patented or unique processes. In reality, these marketers or their raw material suppliers add large amounts of synthetic vitamins to the process (fermentation vessel of yeast or foods) prior to extraction and then falsely claim that the measured vitamin content is from the natural source. These supplements tend to avoid specifying the source of the ingredients within the Supplement Facts section, but they vaguely describe patented or proprietary processed sources in a notation below or outside the box (6).
Using the term “high purity” on supplement product labels contrasts with the idea of whole food supplements. This happens especially when a manufacturer is trying to extract (mostly via solvent extraction) and isolate special nutrients (e.g. vitamins) with high purity from a whole food source. So this finished product would be remarkably similar to the synthetic counterpart in terms of purity as well as chemical structure. However, the difference is that the manufacturer can claim the former as a “whole food base” or “plant source” (if the source is plant) with high purity.
Organic is not a synonym of “whole food”. Many organic supplements can be extracted/isolated and purified from whole food ingredients and yet they can be certified organic if they meet certain requirements.
In conclusion, whole food supplements are a natural and healthier alternative to synthetic and extracted supplements for those who are generally healthy. These supplements are made from whole foods and retain the natural balance and cofactors found in the original food source. Whole food supplements may provide a wider range of nutrients and phytochemicals, as they are made from entire foods rather than isolated/extracted compounds. This makes them a more comprehensive and complete source of nutrients and antioxidants. However, it is important to be aware that the term “whole food supplement” is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and manufacturers can label their products as “whole food supplements” even if they contain mostly synthetic ingredients. This makes it difficult for consumers to know what they are really buying, and if they are getting the whole food supplements that they desire. Consumers should be vigilant and do their own research when choosing supplements to ensure they are getting high-quality, whole-food supplements that align with their health goals and not be misled by deceptive claims.
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