Recently we received some bad news. A raw material supplier who was supplying truly whole food vitamins to a few of our high-quality brands has decided to sell out.
This has made us sad, so this rant will be less “ranty” and more educational.
Just so we’re clear, we don’t really blame him. He built a great business, got a great bid on that business, and took it. The response from the buyer – the dramatic change to the successful model in the name of higher profit margins – is the nauseating part.
It’s so unbelievably common. This will probably be the fourth company we’ve watched do this in our few short years in business.
The vitamins made from these raw materials will no longer be whole food, but instead be isolated vitamins. These isolates, for now, will be from natural sources.
Many would say, “What’s the big deal then?” Well, we’re going to expound upon our “Your Vitamins Are Lying To You” piece and really break down the different definitions vitamin manufacturers use to put lipstick on a pig.
What’s the real goal?
Nutrition is defined as the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth. Food is the key word in that definition.
Humans have evolved to get nutrition from food. You do not go outside and pick ascorbic acid berries. Instead, you pick blueberries. The farmer does not plant vitamin A; he plants pumpkins. A cow does not produce calcium juice; she produces milk.
While these foods may be rich in a particular vitamin or mineral, their real benefit is the other cofactors that are present in the food, and the “delivery package” that the vitamins come with.
We’ve gotten used to the idea of taking the individual “thing” out of the source (the drug out of the plant, the Vitamin C from the orange) – and that works, in very specific situations.
It’s great when producing drugs or therapeutic agents; it cannot and does not work for nutrition. Study after study has shown that real whole foods provide a myriad of health benefits that isolated chemicals do not.
If you have Rickets, take Vitamin C in a high dose to prevent the disease. If you need an antioxidant, eat an orange.
Understanding the difference is paramount. After this deal is done, almost all vitamin products on the market will not be a whole food, but instead be isolated vitamins.
There will be only a few good guys left. We want you to be able to know the difference – and know why we get so worked up.
The 50 Shades of Isolates
Or…there’s more than one way to peel an orange…
The first type of isolated vitamin is your traditional synthetic vitamin. This is your Vitamin C 1000mg tablet that is always on sale for Buy-1-Get-5000 Free. This is made by taking dextrose (corn) syrup and a few other yummy chemicals, like acetone, and using them to create ascorbic acid in a lab.
Keep in mind that ascorbic acid synthesized in a lab is the same as ascorbic acid found in food. We’re not debating that. If you need that individual thing, then the source won’t matter.
Vitamin D, as an example, is an isolated vitamin that has a therapeutic use on its own. Therefore a synthetic or food source of Vitamin D3 will be equal. But, if the goal of consuming the vitamin is a long-term, nutritional benefit, an isolated vitamin won’t help.
Keeping with Vitamin C, any isolate is not even close to eating an orange. Some companies add a pinch of rose hips or bioflavonoids to make people think its natural, but it’s not in any way close to what you get when you eat the food.
Natural Is Only Sometimes Better
The second type of vitamin is a “natural” isolate. This is a vitamin that has been individually isolated from food. For example, if a manufacturer takes an orange and removes the ascorbic acid, that is still an isolate but a “natural” isolate.
While this may be “natural”, it is no different or better than the synthetic version. Both are just individual, identical chemicals.
There are times when isolated vitamins are different than their synthetic counterparts. For example, folate is clinically advantageous to folic acid.
When someone needs folic acid, we’ll usually use a natural isolate. The isolated “thing” is needed in this situation to prevent a disease AND the source (natural vs synthetic) actually matters.
For the most part, there is no difference except for price. Sometimes, just like with synthetic vitamins, natural isolate vitamins will be mixed with a speck of a spray dried, heavily processed food powder.
Why is “food” in quotes?
The third kind of vitamin is sometimes referred to as “food based”. This is where synthetic or natural isolated vitamins are mixed with a varying amount of heavily processed food powder.
There is no law or regulation stating the minimum amount of food required to qualify as “food based.” A product can be as little as 1% food and still be labeled “food based.” Basically then, it means nothing.
Regardless, you still are not getting a whole food supplement.
This, in other industries, would be referred to as “spiking”. Taking a low concentrate of an orange that’s been processed to all heck and back again, then throwing a bunch of Vitamin C in (more than would be in an orange) artificially inflates the amount of Vitamin C that would be there naturally.
The next kind of supplement is called “food grown”. This type is the most misleading of all. They take synthetic and natural isolated vitamins, bind them to a protein, mix it with molasses and then feed it to yeast.
We visited one of these factories and thought we were in a bakery and not a supplement manufacturer – the smell of rising yeast was overwhelming!
They then autolyze and heat the yeast to kill it and break the cell wall. This creates large amounts of free glutamic acid or MSG. The end product is simply a vitamin isolate mixed with a yeast soup.
This mixture is then high heat dried and sometimes mixed with a speck of processed food powder. There is a company even having the nerve to call this garbage farm fresh.
The closest farm to this place is the Farmville on a worker’s cell phone. We know what they really should call these vitamins – Frankenvitamins!
Nutritional yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae) is actually a very healthy food, but not when it is bastardized like these companies do. Cooked, processed, broken down – it’s not the same.
One more thing – you can’t get Vitamin B12 from nutritional yeast. They like to fib about that.
Why go through the trouble, then? Well, they claim the yeast changes the vitamin to make it better absorbed. This is a falsehood; the vitamin remains the same, retaining the original bioavailability. It is pure hype and falsehoods.
All of the “studies” these companies present, claiming their weird yeast soup concoctions are better than regular vitamins, are horribly done, not peer reviewed, and company funded.
Slight of Hand
Keep something ESSENTIAL in mind. The isolates presented above come from practically a handful of sources; the hundreds of brands that are out there are pulling from the same pile.
The branding and marketing done to present a single company’s product as superior is a complete fabrication if these isolates are being used to “optimize nutritional balance”.
You can go to Costmart and get 2 pallets full for 6 bucks, go to CVStress and get BOGO pricing, to Flower of the Earth to get your higher price “quality” products, or your one-on-one consult practitioner supplements.
It’s all the same stuff. Heck, we’ve got isolates! They’re cheap and only work in certain situations, but we know how they were made and we don’t paint them to be anything they’re not.
The Big Difference – True Whole Food Vitamins
Finally, the last type of vitamin is a real whole food vitamin. We define a whole food supplement as: A supplement that contains nothing but low temperature dried and processed, concentrated food.
Nothing isolated, synthetic, or fake. The amount of vitamin in the product would be no more than the amount that would be found in the foods used to make the product.
Here is how a whole food vitamin C supplement is made: A box of acerola cherries comes directly from the farm, where the farmer is paid a fair wage. The cherries are quarantined and tested for contaminants like bacteria, heavy metals, herbicides, and host of other possible things.
Once it passes testing, it is sent to be processed. The cherries are then milled into a slushy pulp, and dried. Depending on what food is used a different drying method will be selected.
After being dried the cherries are mixed with some other foods processed in a similar manner and then put into a pill. That’s it, nothing crazy.
This is how you get real whole food nutritional supplements. Doing this correctly will retain 90-95% of the total nutritional components of the foods.
Sadly, when you go to the health food store, practitioners office, and almost every place selling supplements, that’s not what you get. You get all the other kinds.
The Depressing Conclusion
It makes us sad, that now we could count on less than one hand the number of companies offering real whole food supplements, and the companies are not who you think they are.
The thing to be aware of, is that it is almost impossible to tell from a label if a product is a whole food or not, due to the lack of regulation.
The change from whole food to natural isolates in this situation dramatically lowers their costs while prices can stay the same, as consumers are unaware of the difference.
We’ve heard higher-ups in these companies say “People don’t care, they’ll still buy it.” Hence, today’s rant – teaching you this important piece and making you more savvy in the supplement search.
There are so many people, companies and stores claiming to sell natural, whole food, supplements, and they simply are not being honest, or truly do not know. We’re not sure which is worse.
We are more than happy to share who the companies are that are left selling real whole food supplements.
We will always fight for your right to know what is in the supplements you take and about how they are made. We just wish everyone would make the same commitment.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth