There is a lot of misleading information out there on what vitamins are best for you. If you take vitamins or supplements I’d even bet if you’ve been subjected to other’s opinions on what is best for you, or why what they take is superior. Today I’m going to strip away the hype and start from the foundational paradigms on which vitamins are made. We’ll begin by looking at the two different philosophies – synthetic and whole food.[Click here for last weeks post on why you should be taking supplements.]
Synthetic Vitamins vs. Whole Food Supplements
When you break it down to the basics, there are really two types of encapsulated nutrients you can buy; whole food supplements or synthetic vitamins (aka pharmaceutical-grade vitamins). The most common is synthetic vitamins, of which there are hundreds of brands (such as centrum). Interestingly, only a few companies like Merck and Kodak make almost ALL the brands of synthetic vitamins you see in places like Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and GNC. Even worse, only 3% of nutrition companies make their own product!
So what is wrong with synthetic, or pharmaceutical-grade vitamins? Besides not being absorbed by the body (prepare to be astounded by the above image), they do not come from food and were made in a laboratory with chemicals. That may not sound too bad, but here is the kicker… let’s use Vitamin C as an example.
A synthetic vitamin is a single compound removed from the larger nutritional source. Vitamin C naturally occurs in fruit with bioflavinoids, co-factors (P,K,and J), and enzymes that allow your body to process vitamin C. All this is contained in a shell made of ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is only a small percent of the natural vitamin C complex, but synthetic vitamin C is made from ascorbic acid only! It is virtually unusable by your body, and can even be harmful.
How can Synthetic/Pharmaceutical Grade Vitamins be Harmful?
If you are taking these synthetic vitamins, your body will use co-factors from it’s own storage supply to help make the synthetic vitamins complete, creating even more nutritional deficiencies! One recent study demonstrated that synthetic vitamin C caused free radical damage while natural sources of vitamin C prevented free radical damage. Synthetic vitamins also put a greater strain on your kidneys, and make for expensive urine since it all ends up in the stool instead of your body.
What Are Whole Food Supplements?
Whole food supplements are exactly that, whole foods that contain every part of the vitamin complex our body needs in order for it to be used properly. They come from organically grown fruits and vegetables that have only the water and fiber removed so they can be pressed into a tablet. Whole food supplements are processed below 112º F so that all the enzymes within the supplement stay active (when you heat a food too much the enzymes break down, rendering the vitamin useless). There are only a handful of companies that make whole food supplements. A couple of them that I’ve used are Standard Process (available only through healthcare providers) and Garden of Life (available at health food stores).
Whole food supplements are naturally low dose, and therefore safe and effective in any amount. Even though the listed amount is lower on the label than synthetic vitamins, whole foods supplements are more potent since they have a higher rate of absorption in your body, called bioavailablity. In fact, a whole food B vitamin is about 50 times more potent that a synthetic B vitamin that lists 10 times the amount on it’s label!
I hope this helps make things a little more clear. If not, this piece of advice has always helped me: “If you want to live, eat only things that were once living.”
Again, if you missed last weeks post on why you should be taking supplements, go check it out. It goes hand in hand with this post. Thanks for reading and sharing.