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Vitamin Criteria Rational
"Food Form" Vitamins?
How Vitamins are Made
Picking a Multiple

QV Summary: Information and insight to help make smarter decisions between the many formulas and brands. Background basics. Jan 2009, revised Dec 2009

Today, you will not find a system to rate or evaluate the many different multiple supplement formulas. This is one of the first attempts to establish such a standard. To see how different forms look go to Reading Labels 


Criteria for multiple formula evaluations 

To begin this process, you need to know how to rate vitamins. Five (5) quality levels will be described that fit most vitamins. Generally they go from mostly synthetic to more natural vitamins, but there are other factors. The multiple vitamin formula can also be broken down into four parts: 

A. Vitamins 
B. Minerals 
C. Assessory nutrients 
D. Base filler and tablet coating ingredients.  

The base chemicals (D) determine a large part of the breakdown for assimilation of the nutrients with the combining elements for the minerals involved as well. 

A. VITAMINS-  Considerations include proper body balanced dosages, whether natural or synthetic, the value of the vitamin forms, and if any interactions or contraindications.

   1. Typical Drugstore version: These formulas use almost all synthetic vitamins with many chemical binders, colors, and fillers,  --examples: Centrumtm  and One a Daytm.  Reading Labels has a sample label. 

   2. Next, 50/50 Mixed versions: These are mixtures of a few natural isolated vitamins (E as d'alpha tocopherol, B12, & C) but mostly synthetic (beta carotene, D2, B1, B2, Niacin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and biotin). The natural are usually isolated forms created by laboratory manipulations: example -Nature's Plustm Ultra One and Ultra II Muliples and TwinLabtm Women's Ultra Daily, and Nature's Waytm Alive Multiple (caution: natural bases are more likely to contain lead and other heavy toxic metals.) 

   3. Mostly natural: These multiples use many natural of which a few are isolated, D3 (fish) and K2 (natto), plus many include family complexes such as carotene complex from algae, C & E with families. The B complex (except B12) are almost always synthetic. The base consists of wholesome foods such as rice polishings, spirulina, and/or yeast.  example: KALtm Enhanced Energy (caution: natural bases are more likely to contain lead and other heavy metals.) 

   4. A small category is called "food form" or "whole food" vitamins. Here an attempt is made to create vitamin forms similar to those observed in foods. The starting vitamins are mixtures of some synthetic and some natural vitamins added to live growing yeast cells and fermented food medium*:  Examples include New Chaptertm, Garden of Lifetm,  and MegaFoodtm

SIDEBAR: These brands do not list the form of the vitamins they add to the growing yeast and food medium so the influence of whether they are natural isolated or synthetic forms on quality issues cannot be adequately determined. They do use some synthetics. They claim it doesn't matter what they start with but only that the yeast turns these vitamins into forms similar to "foodform". See below***.

5. ALL FOOD: The last vitamin type is simply a food concentrate containing natural vitamins made only by nature, the only ones that should be called whole food vitamins. Unfortified Yeast (unfortunately most nutritional yeast today is spiked with synthetic vitamins), liver, rice polishings, algaes, vegetables, and fruits are source examples. Following reference shows label doses. ref  Compare these to foodform in category 4 above. This category represents the early vitamin sources but has been replaced by the synthetic forms which are less expensive and available in much higher dosages. 

GENERALLY,  category 5 is best (if you can find them), next, 3 or 4 (waiting for verification on "food form" vitamins and category 3 with whole family of nutrients and low dosages may actually prove equal or greater than "foodform" if they do not include complete nutrient families. Number 1 category NOT recommended since many artifical ingredients as colors, etc, with almost all synthetic nutrients.

B.  MINERALS are always combined with an acid carrier, simply how minerals exist which prevents some toxicities of isolated minerals. This also neutralizes the acid.  These carriers come in grades of quality from simple chemical acids like sulfates (sulfuric acid) to food grade ones like gluconates (gluconic acid) and citrates (citric acid). Some combining acids have beneficial roles in the body while others are more or less just waste to be eliminated.  Minerals are needed within a range of certain ratios to each other. Consuming a variety of different foods usually support these amounts. The concentrations of minerals made available in supplements can easily upset these ratios. Luckily, the body has avenues to help maintain balances but this takes energy and nutrients away from other vital body processes. Kidneys can become stressed having to work overtime to deal with chronic unbalanced mineral levels.

SIDEBAR: While the scientific community is aware of mineral ratios, it appears very little research directly looks at this issue. And public awareness is almost non-existant. Of course this information is used when professionals establish the RDIs, Recommendated Daily Intake, for minerals.** (see below)  

Many multivitamin formulas attempt to accommodate these mineral RDIs. BUT, what if the ratios are incorrect or the public makes unwise choices by supplementing individual minerals?  

C.  ACCESSORY NUTRIENTS such as herbs, amino acids, phytonutrients, can add value to a formula if dosages are at meaningful levels. Many are not. Often so little of a nutrient is added that it is worthless to influence body processes and is just added for selling points on the label. An example here is adding lutein from marigolds at 250 mcg when research shows you need at least 6 milligrams to be effective, an amount 24 times greater. Other accessory nutrients are added that might not be wise to consume on a daily basis, such as Gingko, or at least not by people with certain conditions such as those taking blood thinners.

D.  Product BASE, the quality or grade of the chemicals such as preservatives, binders, fillers, colors, or anti-caking flowing agents can be either wholesome adding value or undesirable chemicals.

  1. Drug store type brands: Often low grade mineral carriers such as oxides or sulfates, and non nutrient, low grade chemcials for base filler which often include artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners. The hard shell shellac tablet coatings often prevent a rapid release of the nutrients.
  2. Half and Half:  These are also sold at drugstores, food markets, and Costco type big box stores. They may contain some higher quality fillers but still have a few artificial chemicals as binders or colorants.
  3. Health food store typical vitamins (many now available in all store types) contain more wholesome filler and binders and no chemical colorants except some natural sources, ie carob, tumeric, or annatto. "Food form" like vitamins generally do not list full discourse so it is not posssible to fully analyze ingredients.
  4. Food concentrates generally have only natural fillers and few chemicals.

Using these four categories, all multiple vitamins can be rated. Generally, the less synthetics, the more wholesome combining acid carriers, and the more natural elements in base, the higher rated the multiple. Dosages and nutrient ratios are important considerations as well. Higher dosages of vitamins are not always best. In fact, there most likely are windows of nutrient dosages that should be maintained with both deficiencies and excesses often exhibiting adverse effects. See Reading Labels. 

CONTAMINATION? Beware: Using greater quantities of natural sources and food bases increases the possibiility for allergies as well as of heavy toxic metal contamination.  ref This reference lists the lead content for 324 multiple vitamins. California prop 65 lead warning levels are only 33% of Federal amounts. While the supplement levels do not represent health hazards on their own, they do contritbute to the overall daily lead consumption amounts. Many foods are much higher, such as rice ref and showing in the next reference fruits. ref  One safeguard against this adverse effect possibility is to rotate between two or even three different multiple vitamin Brands so that any deficiencies or contaminates from any one product are reduced. Also, check with the Brand to see how often OR if they test for lead and other contaminates plus they will supply a written result. There are some consumer resources that test Brands. You may have to pay to see these results. The lead issue is that there will be some lead from many consumed foods and supplements. The trick is not to get too much over your lifetime. Thus picking supplements that are the lowest or completely free will prove beneficial. There is quite a bit of low level lead contamination naturally occuring in the environment today....end Beware.

RightWay Vitamin Recommendation:  Use natural where available. Also look for the complete family for each vitamin group. This is the way natural foods provide nutrients and how the body uses them. Of course, some professionals will say that these nutrients can be supplied by the foods you eat especially since some are already fortified with certain nutrients, and this is true up to a certain point.

But, at the high dosages in many supplements today, the food supplied nutrients are completely overwhelmed and often elbowed out of absorption sites by the supplemented synthetic or natural isolated vitamins. This is why some of the recommended dosages in this new
vitamin criteria appear to be very low, but they are more then adequate to meet all nutritional needs. Remember you add the supplement amounts to those from foods to get the daily total. Diets may supply about a third to one half the daily calcium requirment.

See the label on the next page. Very few choices of natural B vitamins are available. Unfortified yeast or rice polishing tabs might be best choice.

The Best Form of Delivery 

Powder, liquid, capsules, tablets, or softgels. They all have advantages and disadvantages.

Powder  Advantages; Easy to swallow, can modify taste, can easily vary dosage by changing amount of serving size, no (tablet) binding elements are needed, and often better price. Disadvantages; Have to mix in food or liquid, Taste of minerals, more difficult to stabilize against oxygen attack, might have added sugars and flavorings.  

Liquid advantages; Easy to swallow, easier to digest if that is an issue, and can vary dosage levels. Disadvantages; taste, needs preservatives to stabilize nutrients from interacting with each other in liquid medium and to prevent degradation from oxygen attacks, and may contain sugars or flavor elements. A chief advantage often mentioned is quicker absorption, but this suffers from a lack of research needed to verify. Probably only for those with digestive disturbances.

Capsule or Tablet

Tablets can be pressed together under 3 tons of pressure and many fail to separate during digestion. Thus the term "bedpan" bullets. Look for "rapid solve" or "quick release" tablets ONLY. They often digest faster then many capsules. The value of capsules is that less binding chemicals have to be used, but free flowing chemicals such as magnesium sterate still have to be added for uniform mixing and capsule filling.

Few Quality Multiples Available

You would think it would be quite easy to go and match the new vitamin criteria to the choices of multiples at the nearest vitamin store. What you will quickly discover is that few brands contain all the nutrient forms and / or dosages mentioned in this new vitamin criteria. Unfortunately, compromise is currently the order of the day. With a little creative energy, you will be able to build your own supplement package. 

Here is a possible method. First, pick a multiple that comes close. A one or two a day serving size usually doesn't have enough room for a sufficient amount of minerals since they take up so much space. That is why you see six a day formulas, they have higher quantities of the major minerals, calcium and magnesium. If the dosages are high enough overall in the six a day, you might only need to take 2 or 3. Then you just have to purchase the missing forms or dosages of a few nutrients separately.

Using the example of RightWay's Choice for a multiple that fits many of the vitamin criteria, KAL's Enhanced Energy Multiple (no iron for men, small size tablets at 5 a day), you might only need to take 2 or 3, depending on what your dietary evaluation reveals. That would be 1 or 2 AM and 1 PM. Adding a separate family complex vitamin E, a little extra calcium with vitamin D plus magnesium, and an omega 3 fish oil cap would make this a complete package.

For those sold on the "food form" multiples, try New Chapter's Every Man or Unbounded Energy, 3 tabs per day, OR for women, pick Every Women II, a six a day multiple. See below for explanation of this vitamin format.*

Jack LaLanne still seen on TV informericals selling juicers, has for most of his adult life taken handfuls of liver and yeast tabs as a source for natural B vitamins.

Isolated Natural or Synthetic USP Vitamins?


Many vitamins are available in both a natural or a synthetic USP version. Typically, the belief was that drugstore vitamins were all synthetic and health store brands were all natural. This was never the case, although health store brand vitamins generally used more natural, they always had some synthetic vitamins. Mainly beta carotene, vitamin C as ascorbic acid, and most B vitamins are usually synthetic. Yes, many people have mistakenly called them natural and still do even today. Natural on a label unfortunately has little meaning. See the chart in Reading Labels. Many past health store only vitamin brands are now available in all store types., ie Schiff, Nature's Way, Natrol, Twin Lab. PLus, many drug store only brands such as Nature Made have now copied the health store brand qualities. 

Other differences in vitamins often have more to do wth the combining elements and the base fillers rather then the vitamins or minerals themselves. See the Centrumtm label in Reading Labels to get an idea of how many chemcials are used in typical drugstore type multiple vitamins rather than the more wholesome combining elements and fillers found in many health store vitamin brands. The differences are becoming less defined lately since some health store vitamin brands are now available in drugstores and some drugstore brands have improved quality by offering more natural sources and less chemicals in base materials.

Nature produced vitamins are not the same as synthetic vitamins in some cases. Science has recently vindicated the natural choices over synthetic in USP nutrients where there is a structural difference between the two (Vitamins A, D, E, and K, the fat soluble vitamins). Vitamins B and C, the water soluble vitamins, show less differences in structure and only recently have new facts emerged that the subtle differences are affecting body processes. Sometimes the body can convert the synthetic form into the natural form, such as with folic acid. And sometimes the natural and synthetic forms are the same except that the synthetic is only one out of many forms of the natural. More research is needed to verify just how significant these differences are in the B vitamins and vitamin C. For a list of which nutrient forms are natural or synthetic see the chart in Reading Labels.  The better supplements use natural for nutrients where available and synthetic for the rest. There are even different grades of synthetic.

 *Whole Food Source or Food-Based?

Confusion rains supreme for this topic. First, real whole food source vitamins are very rare. These nutrients would be made by nature and just concentrated, such as brown rice polishings or brewer's yeast as a source for the B vitamins, algae for the carotonoid family including beta carotene, and camu fruit for vitamin C. The dosages would be very low, but probably adequate for healthy people. You will not see 400 mcg of folic acid listed on any natural real food source multiple vitamin.

"Whole food based" products come in two forms. The first type are created by just adding whole foods in with the regular USP synthetic or natural isolated vitamins. This is done to attempt to increase body uptake and utilization. Rainbow lighttm was one of the first to use this approach. Next, and quite a bit more involved, a few companies add regular isolated USP vitamins, some synthetic and some natural, into a live growing yeast culture and might also use a fermentation process to produce a "food form like" nutrient. Yes, I know the marketing stories make it sound like they are whole food source, BUT they are not. These include Garden of LIfe, Megafood, and New Chapter, with new additions from Country Life and Solaray. Yes, the cultured yeast medium does supply a tiny amount of whole food source vitamins, BUT the dosages listed are from the added isolated USP vitamins to the growing yeast medium. A significant issue is that these companies know their marketing stories are creating a false impression in the consuming public. But it is one they are happy to foster and see as an added bonus, especially since not many are challenging them on it. And the FDA allows label play to hide the real facts. 

SIDEBAR: These companies create a terminology of their own to describe this processes as a way to confuse the public using terms such as "foodstate" or "bio-transformed" food form nutrients. A particularly confusing point has been created by New Chapter with the introduction of an Organic label. The impression created is that the vitamins have been organically grown, but the reality is that the food medium is the organic part, NOT the vitamins.--- 

This emerging form of vitamins will need a larger more detailed analysis to cover. Here is a brief encapsulation. 


The marketing story for the food form vitamins sounds like a vitamin takers dream scenario. All natural, no isolates, vitamin forms same as found in food. Do the actual facts support this view? 

The basic concept is that adding USP isolated vitamins to an active yeast culture will create vitamin forms similar to those seen in food. This is accomplished by the live yeast cells taking in the added isolated USP vitamins, due to a pre-combining with protein peptides. The yeast recognizes this protein while it wouldn't necessarily absorb vitamins it doesn't need to grow. This process creates bonds with food elements such as proteins, fats , and carbos similar to the form vitamins are found in food. The yeast cell walls are then enzymatically disintegrated and the nutrients are dried and encapsulated. The claim is put forth that the body recognizes and uptakes greater percentages and that these vitamins are found for a longer period of time in blood plasma. So far, the studies showing these effects have all been sponsored by the company making these vitamins. 

There are still some issues that have not been fully resolved concerning this method. ...more info...

Food form Wrap up

Some of the studies offered as proof by these companies are not all that convincing to someone with the knowledge to analyze them.  While there appears to be an increase in absorption, most of the studies only compare vitamins produced by this method to synthetic isolated vitamins and not to natural vitamins from food. A study comparing the ability of each of these three forms to increase nutrient blood plasma levels would resolve a lot of the mystery. 

Many of the food form vitamin studies are just from "test tube" research. Results are often different from "in the body" testing, especially if the digestive system reduces many of the forms to isolated nutrients anyway. Many of the benefits claimed in marketing materials are actually derived from the food base rather than from the vitamin form. This foodform like vitamin type appears to be more valuable exhibiting greater absorption than isolated USP vitamins, but few if any studies compare it to nature's own "real food" grown vitamins.


**Why are Nutritionists not concerned about mineral ratios? It is due to the fact that the Health Professionals have figured into the RDI a "fudge factor" for minerals delivered by food. BUT, this does not take into consideration supplements that have much greater concentrations of minerals.

***UPDATE: One company, Garden of Life, has recently introduced a new line of organic non-GMO multiple vitamins called the KIND Organics. The company literature reports all vitamins are from foods, like guavas, lemons, annatto, and holy basil. If this is indeed true, it would be a welcomed marvel as foods are very low in vitamins and quite a large quantity of each food type is needed to get the vitamins at the dosages listed. Read more...


If a single yeast cell could uptake and change a synthetic vitamin into a whole food form natural vitamin, wouldn't the body in the intestinal tract be able to do the same thing?  

FACT: The bacteria in the intestinal tract do indeed eat up digesting food elements and naturally produce some B vitamins for the body. So the only part in question is can a synthetic vitamin become a natural vitamin in this culturing yeast medium? The body does convert one synthetic vitamin, folic acid, into the natural folate form in the liver without culturing, or fermenting, or yeast, or bacteria cells. Now, what about the rest of the synthetic vitamins?

Watch for PART TWO coming soon


The details of which are perhaps the most demanding part of choosing the best multiple formula. If you live in an area of the Country that is naturally high in Selenium, adding more might not be without consequences. Or if you are already consuming many folic acid fortified bread servings, adding more might not be wise in light of new research revelations. Considerations also have to deal with interactions of some nutrients when they are taken together. Check out www.drugs.com for any interactions between medicines and vitamins. 


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