In the first part of the junk science series, we discussed the deceptive marketing practices surrounding the supplement industry in what’s known as “junk science”. We highlighted how to spot this in advertising, so you can shop as an informed consumer. In this second part of the series, we will discuss the difference between whole food supplements and synthetic supplements, as well as the importance of choosing the correct forms for your body. This information will assist you in sifting through the (sometimes confusing) terminology and science, to avoid the dangers of low-quality products.
First, let’s talk about the differences between whole food and synthetic sources in supplements. This is one of the most controversial topics in nutrition. Why does this matter?
Many of us have found ourselves standing in the aisle, picking up bottle after bottle, reading labels, unsure of what to choose. On the surface, the easy choice may seem to be whole food vitamins, right? – the packaging is often adorned with big, beautiful images of fresh fruits and vegetables that conjure feelings of wellness, making it easy to imagine them simply being cut up and infused into these products. However, that’s not quite how it happens. Let’s discuss.
Whole Food Supplements
A whole food, or natural supplement is defined as one made from whole fruits, vegetables, or whole grains that have been naturally processed into a form that can be used in a dietary supplement (ex. liquid, pills). Consumers expect these to be delivered in dosages similar to consuming the whole food. However, it’s important to be aware of deceptive marketing practices that can be used to mislead customers. The term “whole food” does not indicate the supplement is made entirely from natural sources. These companies can also use fear as an attempt to convince consumers that all synthetic sources are “bad”. The truth is, it’s not so black and white.
Myths of Whole Food Supplements
They Don’t Contain Synthetic Ingredients:
- The term “whole food” is a great marketing ploy and is often used to spike the cost of the product – but these supplements often still contain synthetic ingredients. These vitamins are often blended with plant and animal extracts to simulate the complexity of nutrients derived from eating whole foods. Therefore, “whole food” supplements are not necessarily sourced from only natural food sources.
They Are More Potent:
- Due to the fact that many whole food supplements contain a large variety of blended whole foods, the potency may not be as guaranteed or standardized. Furthermore, when you deliver such a vast combination to the body at once, nutrients can often compete with each other for absorption.
Now, let’s define synthetic supplements. Synthetic supplements contain extracted/isolated vitamins and minerals that have been produced in a lab setting and standardized for source and potency. While there are companies out there that use dangerous synthetic ingredients, giving them a bad rep – there are many that can be beneficial, and at times more effective. In order to better understand, we can split them into two categories.
- Potentially harmful synthetic ingredients: These are typically NOT isolated from whole food or natural sources.
- Beneficial synthetic ingredients: These are most often isolated from natural ingredients and are considered chemically identical to whole food sources. Some of these can also be delivered in an “active form”, which can provide increased absorption by the body.
Synthetic ingredients with high bioavailability are often refined from natural ingredients into isolated nutrients. This makes them chemically identical to the ingredients as they’re found in nature. Though often demonized, our body can handle these vitamins, and can easily convert to the natural form in the human body. Synthetic vitamins produced under quality-controlled conditions can have specific advantages including:
-They are of highest purity
-Common allergens can be reduced or eliminated
-No genetically modified organisms
-No pesticide residue
-Highly concentrated nutrients
-No variability in potency
To be clear, synthetic ingredients are still manufactured and will not be an equivalent to the whole food form, as nutrients are best absorbed from eating them through a balanced diet. However, it can provide an optimally bioavailable form of the nutrient.
Choosing the right vitamins can be overwhelming, with thousands of products on the market, and more releasing each day – it can seem almost impossible to ensure you’re purchasing a product with high-quality ingredients. Many manufacturers of supplements claim to produce superior vitamins, but often do not provide published data or studies to support these claims. Here are some points to consider when choosing which supplement is best for you.
When choosing a supplement, look for information that proves the absence of binders, fillers, or additives. These additives take up space, reducing the concentration of beneficial ingredients. As you could probably guess, they also come with a slew of side effects including decreased absorption, allergic reactions, and more. nutraMetrix Isotonix® products are delivered without binders or fillers, with a pH and tonicity designed to allow the stomach to quickly release all of the nutrients into the small intestine.
If you’ve ever shopped for supplements, you know that many vitamins and herbs come in different forms. Quality should always be a key consideration, and this gets tricky when navigating this topic. Why is researching forms important? For one, forms can have different effects in the human body. For example, B12 comes in 4 different forms including: cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin – and these forms all perform differently within the body. Unfortunately, the most commonly sold over the counter form of B12 is cyanocobalamin. This form requires additional work for the body to utilize it, but is the least expensive form available. Methylcobalamin is one of the naturally occurring forms of vitamin B12 found in the human body, and the most active and beneficial form by far.
It’s important to do your own research, read ingredient labels, and consult with your physician prior to purchasing supplements. This article is not to convince you that one supplement is better than the other, because the best supplement is the one that works for your body. However, this information can assist you in choosing a high-quality vitamin tailored to your needs from a reputable company that you can trust.
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