Q: Are there any benefits to taking "whole food vitamins" as opposed to the standard medical grade formulas? Click or read the answer below.
A: This is an extremely complex question to answer. The basis of the philosophy that whole food supplements are better than synthesized vitamins lies in the belief that, as their name implies, whole foods are complete, and in addition to containing vitamins and minerals that are commonly seen in multivitamins, they also contain many other chemical constituents that may contribute to our health. These other nutrients are now collectively being referred to as phytochemicals which include polyphenols, terpenes, organosulfers, polysaccharides, lipids, organic acids, amines and other compounds.
I personally believe there are very few, real whole foods supplements available. In my opinion, Standard Process may be one of the only companies with a true whole foods supplement. The name of their product is Catalyn and it contains the following: defatted wheat germ, carrot, nutritional yeast, bovine adrenal, bovine liver (several other animal glandulars) dried alfalfa juice, mushroom, oat flour, soy bean lecithin, rice bran and dried pea juice. Per 3 vitamins it has 1,200 IU of vitamin A, 4 mg vitamin C, 312 IU vitamin D, 0.2 mg Thiamine, 0.2 mg Riboflavin and 1 mg B6. The nutrient content of this pales in comparison to the standard synthetic multivitamin that most people take. While this is certainly a whole food supplement, you can see that it is lacking in many nutrients commonly seen in a multivitamin.
In my opinion, I think that simply eating a balance, whole food diet can contribute much more than taking 3 tablets of this product. The other type of supplement people often refer to as whole food are yeast-based supplements. Manufacturers take brewers yeast and feed them synthetic vitamins. The yeast take in the nutrients and actually incorporate them into their cell structure and the nutrient becomes organically bound. The manufacturer who used this process (Innate Response formulas and NewMark and New Chapter) state that the yeast has transformed a synthetic nutrient into a non-synthetic nutrient and that this more closely resembles what is found in nature. While this is true, it is important to keep in mind that all of the other cofactors normally found with these nutrients are missing.
While many manufacturers refer to this as whole food I hardly consider yeast to be a food. At the very least, yeast is not a staple in peoples diets and it will lack all of the other rich cofactors found in foods normally found in human diets. The third type of whole food supplement is what is referred to as food based supplements. This is simply taking synthetic nutrients found in common multivitamins and putting them in a base of dried, or freeze-dried, foods. The amount of dried foods in these products are negligible simply because you cannot fit a lot of these foods into just a few capsules. I find this no different than taking a synthetic multivitamin with the food you eat. After all, if you eat a meal, and you take a multivitamin with it, the multivitamin is in a base of food (in your stomach). There is one manufacturer who pairs the nutrients with specific foods that are naturally rich in that particular nutrient. So, for example, when they put vitamin C in their multivitamin, they also add orange powder because oranges are rich in vitamin C. The orange probably contributes almost no vitamin C, and the other foods probably contribute no nutrients in appreciable quantities, simply because there is such a small amount of food that can fit in a serving. I feel that all three of these whole food vitamins have their merits. I feel that doctors and their patients can benefit from taking these types of supplements, however, the best way to get nutrients in our diet is to simply eat whole foods.
Regards, Gerard DiFiore, ND, Emerson Ecologics