But what happens when we talk about multivitamins? Probably the most popular form of dietary supplements around, the bulk of people taking multivitamins are using synthetic forms.1 Many people prefer whole foods due to the perception of their being safer and more nutritious, but there’s a debate on how far that concept goes. Does the same apply to multivitamins? Let’s take a closer look.
Whole Food vs. SyntheticBasically, a whole food supplement is exactly what it sounds like. The nutrients that you get from it are made from concentrated and dehydrated whole foods. For a multivitamin, this can mean quite an extensive list of options. The alternative, synthetic nutrients, are made artificially via an industrial process. When it comes to figuring out whether you have a synthetic or whole food multivitamin, check the label. This doesn’t mean the formal brand name on the front, but the actual supplement label. Whole food supplements will either list their food sources or say somewhere that they are 100% plant or animal based.
By comparison, synthetic supplements will either list the nutrients individually, like Vitamin B12, for example, or use the names of chemicals. The major concern with using synthetic options like these is that these may be chemically identical to whole food sourced nutrients, but there’s more to what happens when you eat a food than a single nutrient being ingested. Each whole food that you eat introduces a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other components into the body.2 It’s these different components that lead to the health benefits that we get from some of the top whole foods, such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Salmon and other cold-water fish
The Role of Multivitamins
Multivitamins are all about filling in the nutritional gaps that many of us have, and the strongest argument we have for using whole food vitamins over synthetic multivitamins is less about synthetics being bad and more about whole food multivitamins being better.
There are multivitamin studies that have shown mixed or minimal difference in effects. However, when it comes to certain whole foods, the nutritional benefits they bring are a bit more universal. For example, more fruit and vegetable intake has been linked to a variety of health benefits, including heart support, brain support, and glucose management.4,5,6
The thing about the whole food vs. synthetic vitamin debate is that this is one smaller part of a larger question that has to be answered regarding multivitamins and supplements in general. Even if you see two different products with the same function, that doesn’t mean they have the same contents. This is why it’s important for you, as a consumer, to make sure you read nutrition labels closely and use products that are transparent in what they provide. A good example of this is Enzymedica’s Enzyme Nutrition™ Multi-Vitamin Two Daily. This multi-vitamin combines whole food-based nutrients with enzymes in order to increase energy and support immune function. This helps emulate the experience of eating whole foods, rather than consuming certain levels of each individual nutrient.
- Gahche J, Bailey R, Burt V, et al. Dietary supplement use among U.S. adults has increased since NHANES III (1988-1994). NCHS Data Brief. 2011;(61):1-8.
- Yetley EA. Multivitamin and multimineral dietary supplements: definitions, characterization, bioavailability, and drug interactions. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(1):269S-276S.
- Burton GW, Traber MG, Acuff RV, et al. Human plasma and tissue alpha-tocopherol concentrations in response to supplementation with deuterated natural and synthetic vitamin E. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67(4):669-84.
- Hajhashemi V, Vaseghi G, Pourfarzam M, Abdollahi A. Are antioxidants helpful for disease prevention?. Res Pharm Sci. 2010;5(1):1-8.
- Ford ES, Mokdad AH. Fruit and vegetable consumption and diabetes mellitus incidence among U.S. adults. Prev Med. 2001;32(1):33-9.
- Solfrizzi V, Panza F, Frisardi V, et al. Diet and Alzheimer's disease risk factors or prevention: the current evidence. Expert Rev Neurother. 2011;11(5):677-708.