Navigating the Nutritional Supplement Landscape: Moving Up the Supplement Food Chain
Last week we looked at how most vitamin supplements are created--synthetically made and petroleum-derived vitamins plus crushed industrial rocks called mineral salts, topped off with solvents. Generally speaking, these synthetically-made supplements fall under the category of USP isolated vitamins and minerals and are cheap imitations of food vitamins and minerals. They are neither structurally nor chemically the same as food nutrients.
We learned, too, that while most multi-vitamin formulas are primarily synthetic, research shows that food vitamins are superior to synthetics. In fact a number of studies conclude that food vitamins and minerals are better than USP isolated so-called nutrients because they contain important enzymes, peptides and phytonutrients which are critical to the utilization of vitamins and minerals and are lacking in isolated USP nutrients.
This week we begin moving up the supplemental food chain, so to speak, to look at a combination of USP isolates and food powders. We already know about USP isolates. Food powders, however, while easily assimilated and swallowed, may also contain unwanted sweeteners, flavors and coloring. Be sure to check the label to make sure you are getting only what you want out of a supplement—and nothing unwanted.
One notch up is what can be termed the “food” supplements. These can range from food concentrates to fermented whole food vitamins and minerals. The quality of a food-based supplement resides in the amount, variety and form of the foods included in its formula.
High-quality food based supplements include a wide range of unadulterated whole food or plant concentrates (preferred over powders) with a strong ratio of food to vitamins and minerals. Here’s why: the wider the food range and the higher the ratio of food to nutrients will enhance the bioavailabilty and biological activity of the vitamins and minerals. That makes them a better choice; you get more nutritional bang for your buck, so to speak.
Note that authentic whole food supplements are made with vitamins and minerals delivered in whole food concentrates. Here’s another hint when checking the label: Nutrients in a whole food state are listed with their food source in the supplement facts and will read like this, for example: vitamin C (Citrus sinensis).
To determine if a supplement has a food base, review the label for any chemical names, as well as a combination of food extracts or powders. To determine the ratio of nutrients to foods, add up the total milligrams of the listed nutrients and the food extracts.
Weighing in high nutritionally are fermented vitamins and minerals, preferably delivered in whole food concentrates. The process of fermentation, also known as culturing, biologically alters the biochemistry and nutrient content of the food—offering many health benefits. Cultured foods have played a role in the healthy diet of many cultures for centuries and supplements made with concentrated food ingredients and a fermentation process introduce beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. That’s another plus for these kinds of supplements.
So there you go…a snapshot of the supplements landscape. Before buying or using any nutritional supplement, be sure the information you need is on the label, including the ingredients, how and when to take the supplement, and how many to take. As we mentioned last week, it is also important to consult your healthcare professional before embarking on any health-related endeavor.
You take your health seriously and you should take your supplements just as seriously.