Over half of U.S. adults take some vitamins and supplements on a regular basis, such as multi-vitamins, vitamin C, and fish oil. When asked, most people say they take them as an insurance, to compensate for whatever is lacking in their less than optimal diet.
However, you may not be aware that the hundreds of dollars you spend on supplements every year may not be the real deal.
Do you know that the vast majority of vitamin supplements, not just the ones sold by warehouse stores and pharmacy chains but also the expensive brands, use synthetic vitamin isolates instead of whole food nutrients?
Did you ever look at the ingredient list of your supplements? Do they contain additives and fillers that may be harmful to your health?
What about your fish oil supplements? How do you know that they are not already oxidized during the extraction process or contaminated with heavy metals and PCBs?
In the following, we will examine in greater detail why whole food supplements are far superior to synthetic vitamin isolates, recommendations on how to choose a good whole food multi-vitamin, and lastly, what to look out for when buying fish oil supplements.
Whole Food Supplements vs. Synthetic Vitamin Isolates
Most people know the different between whole foods and refined foods. They know that raw unprocessed honey is more nutritious than white refined sugar; brown rice is better than white rice. The same concept applies to supplements.
Whole food supplements are what their name suggests - the supplements are made from concentrated whole foods and the vitamins found within these supplements are not isolated. They are in a highly complex food matrix that our bodies can readily recognize and utilize. They contain proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, bioflavonoids, enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, trace minerals, activators and many other food factors.
Synthetic or isolated nutrients, on the other hand, are not natural as they never exist in isolated form in nature.
retinoic acid is not natural vitamin A,
thiamine is not natural vitamin B-1,
pyridoxine hydrocholine is not natural vitamin B-6,
ascorbic acid is not natural vitamin C,
vitamin D2 or irradiated ergosterol is not natural vitamin D, and
alpha tocopherol is not natural vitamin E.
Whenever you see that the ingredients are USP (United States Pharmacopeoeia) vitamins, it tells you that they are isolated pharmaceutical chemicals manufactured in the laboratories. This type of isolated vitamins is often used to "enrich" or "fortify" many processed foods.
Case in point, to the right is a complete vitamin C complex as found in nature. All parts of the complex are required for the proper function of the vitamin; any missing parts have to be drawn from the body's reserves before the body can use the vitamin.
However, the vast majority of vitamin C supplements contain only ascorbic acid, which is a laboratory-synthesized copy of the naturally occurring ascorbic acid that wraps around the outer portion of a natural vitamin C complex. Whole vitamin C should include ascorbic acid, plus the P factors (rutin and bioflavonoids) which maintain vascular integrity, K factors which promote healthy clotting, J factors which help transport oxygen to the tissues, important enzymes such as tyrosinase, and a host of other compounds.
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