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"Food Form" Vitamins?

QV Summary Food form type vitamins have exploded in the number of offerings and brands this year. A new book claims to have discovered a code that will change the vitamin supplement industry. What appears to be missing is an evaluation from a neutral source on the merits of this type of vitamin form. More questions than answers. For Updates > go here


The marketing story for the food form vitamins sounds like a vitamin consumers dream scenario. All natural, no isolates, vitamin forms same as found in food, and small doses that match the effects of synthetic megadoses. article
Do the actual facts support this theory? 

The process to make food like or "foodform"  vitamins starts out with the same USP isolated vitamins found in the typical vitamin supplements, some synthetic and some natural. These vitamins are added to an active culture of growing yeast cells. The theory given is that the yeast cells ingest these vitamins and form complex vitamin compounds similar to those observed in whole natural foods.

      ....Synthetic vitamins are added .... 

Growing Yeast cells produce a few vitamins on their own during their growing life cycle, mostly B vitamins. Plus, yeast cells can be forced to uptake greater quantities of these same vitamins and minerals when they are added to their growth feeding medium. Now, two questions arise. First, does the synthetic vitamin change into the natural form inside the yeast cells, or is it still in the synthetic form just combined with or wrapped with some food elements? And next, what about the vitamins that are not normally ingested or built by yeast cells? These include many of the fat soluble vitamins.

To get around this hurdle, these vitamins and minerals are pre-combined or wrapped in protein peptides which the yeast cells recognize and take in. What these nutrients do once inside the yeast is still open to speculation. The scientist that developed this method said "the yeast cells have empty pockets where these nutrients can be stored." The yeast cell walls are then enzymatically broken down, the mixture is usually freeze-dried to preserve heat sensitive nutrients and the powder is 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 the blood stream. So far, the studies showing these effects have all mostly been sponsored by the companies making these vitamins. 

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

1. Are synthetic or natural isolated vitamins worthless and ineffective as the "food form" vitamin companies imply?

Of course not. If they were there would still be abundant beriberi, pellagra, and rickets. How do babies survive since infant formulas are loaded with isolated synthetic vitamins. So what is more important to know is how much greater is the effectiveness of this re-created "food form" type vitamin at participating in vital body processes compared to isolated vitamins, whether the beginning sources are natural or synthetic?

2. Is there added value in this yeast growing method?

Yes, this method has actually been in use for many years to produce Selenium Yeast and Chromium Yeast nutrients. These two minerals along with some of the B vitamins are naturally found in yeast cells. In the Lab it is possible to force-feed yeast cells these nutrients to be absorbed at dosage levels needed for supplement amounts. Selenium and chromium are required only in tiny amounts measured in micrograms (mcg) while minerals such as calcium and magnesium are measured in the 1000 times larger milligram (mg) size. At 200 mcg, 4000 doses of selenium would fit in the average size capsule while for calcium, with a daily recommendation at 1000 milligrams, less than half of a dose would fit. Yeast cells have no problems dealing with such tiny amounts for selenium and chromium, but what about the larger minerals and the vitamins they normally don't need or want in such quanities? 

3. Do vitamins and minerals separate from their attached compounds observed in plants during digestion BEFORE absorption into the body?

The food form vitamin companies obviously say "no" they are absorbed with their protein carriers formed in the yeast while the science of digestion says yes, many water soluble B vitamins and minerals like calcium are separated and isolated to their free form for digestion, whether in supplements or food, and then get attached to their body specific protein carriers once inside the intestinal wall cells. (B12 separates and is reattached to an intrinsic transport protein while still in the stomach) 

  • One point used to verify the importance of this matrix bound vitamin form is that the companies admit it is very difficult for Scientists in the Lab to get these vitamins to separate from their plant structures, and even the body can't do it very effectively. And that isolated vitamins do not exist in nature. This is indeed true. The real point that deserves mention here is that since it is known and admitted that some of the plant vitamin forms simply do not break apart and may be eliminated from the body without being absorbed, why do these companies re-create and put vitamins back into these hard to digest forms and think this is a better way to take supplements?

This is a major factor for the validity of this food form vitamin process and the one that the food form companies are hanging their hats on. If this involved yeast growing method to form food like vitamin compounds is simply eliminated during digestion, what value does this process serve? Assimilation does appear to be increased overall somewhat, but the question of the nutrient form after assimilation has also not yet been adequately addressed.


Science has found that at higher levels of supplementation, some of the vitamin protein compounds formed in plants are absorbed intact. This could be a factor of overwhelmed or exhausted digestive processes or just simply gradient movement of excessive amounts of certain nutrients. Some nutrients like riboflavin B2 have been found to use this method of passive osmotic gradient flow absorption rather than having an active method and some may remain intact at higher intake amounts. 

Since most "food form" vitamin products are usually low dosage, would this overflow intact absorption process even be a factor? In any event, once inside the body all vitamins separate from their compound sturctures into an isolated vitamin and then combine with their proper body wisdom transportors or are processed in the liver into the proper body form for circulating nutirents. This might become a valuable tool in determining the proper level of vitamins to supplement at one time and helps settle the case of megadoses. Overwhelming natural digestive processes may not be desirable.

This discussion has mainly been about the water soluble B vitamins. The yeast used in this process is very low in fat. There is nothing this author can see in the product ingredients that would facilitate the absorption of fat soluble nutrients. This is still an open issue that the food form vitamin marketing literature has not adequately explained. 

Example: A foodfrom company has a CoQ10 product which is a fat soluble nutrient. The company says their culturing and fermenting process enhances availability. Interestingly, CoQ10 can be originally produced by a bacterial fermentation method. Thus, it is questionable what purpose a second fermentation process achieves. The additional food base in the CoQ10 product does appear to enhance absorption by a factor of 3, similar to the emulsified CoQ10 products in other brands. The plain powdered form of CoQ10 is poorly absorbed and it is this form that the foodform CoQ10 is compared against, not the enhanced emulsified CoQ10 forms.

SIDEBAR: One foodform CoQ10 product is advertised that it has 20 times the antioxidant capacity of an equal amount of CoQ10 in powdered form. The food like CoQ10 product includes food elements at 35 times the CoQ10 weight while the powdered CoQ10 was by itself and this extra food material most likely influenced the test tube antioxidant activity. Plus, since this comparison is from a test tube analysis outside the body, results are often different for inside the body actions. CoQ10 has another vital function in energy production through the electron transport system, and this function could be in jeopardy if a person took 20 times less of the foodform CoQ10 thinking it was just as effective. The absorption rate difference is at about 3x greater for the foodform than the powdered CoQ10 form.

4. How effective is this yeast material in aiding fat soluble vitamin digestion and absorption?

Yeast growing mediums need to have added fat production elements to aid fat soluble vitamins since the form of yeast used is very low in natural fat. Nothing in the food form vitamin literature talks about this aspect. Knowing that fat soluble vitamins have an active digestive body transport mechanism already in place, it is doubtful that food form vitamins significantly enhance this process. The fat soluble vitamins are separated if combined and enter their proper format for digestion. 

5. Are all the yeast cell wall structures fully disintegrated to prohibit any allergies?

Hopefully, but never actually verified. If you know how to listen to body talk, it might tell if you are sensitive to yeast. 

6. Are all nutrients better absorbed in foodform instead of isolated vitamins?

No. Folic acid is more effectively absorbed in the isolated form. Absorption percent is as much a factor of dosage as it is of form. Even the foodform vitamin Scientists admit that one of the values of these vitamins is due to the fact that they exhibit a delayed digestion and absorption process, typical of food nutrients overall versus high dose isolated natural or synthetic vitamins. Lower vitamin dosages equate to higher percent absorption for most vitamins. This factor is used by foodform vitamin companies to help market their products. No vitamins are 100% absorbed from any source. Interestingly, some B vitamins are better absorbed from animal sources than plant sources since in plants they form larger molecule combination formulas. This supports the delayed absorption theory for foodform vitamins.

7. Are any potential toxins produced by yeast?

Yes, in fact the early attempts to produce food form vitamins lead to the development of toxic elements. These were eliminated by further research. But you may recall the tryptophan situation where a contaminate formed during a fermentation process using a new genetically modified bacteria. Yeast cells can be stressed during growth and might form mutants. In fact, many of these mutants are actually produced on purpose and used by industry for special functions. Some are genetically created. A new low heat or raw processing method for vitamins could actually increase the possibility for certain kinds of contamination.

One possibility as with any cultured process is for mold contamination. Hidden mold spores could cause immune suppression and illness. It might not be quickly discovered that the two are connected. Extremely sanitary manufacturing conditions and frequent testing of raw materials are needed. Rarely is this aspect mentioned in the food form vitamin company literature. Of the popular companies, New Chaptertm apprears to have the best manufacturing standards. But there is little if any mention of mold testing for these products. Plus, they use more natural ingredients which increases the possibility for heavy metal contamination. New Chapter generally tests cleaner than other foodform Brands, except for Red Algae calcium source.

NOTE: New genetically modified bacteria are now being used to "grow" isolated synthetic B vitamins since this method is now nearly equivalent in costs to synthetic production from petroleum and coal tar distillates. This process could be called "natural".  About 25% of synthetic isolated vitamins are currently produced using this method. The percentage will surely continue to increase as oil prices increase. This is a positive change as the coal tar method requires many caustic chemicals which add to environmental pollution.

8. Why does food form vitamin marketing down play the fact that the yeast are fed synthetic B vitamins?

They indicate it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that the synthetic vitamin is now "grown into" the yeast and complexed into a natural food like matrix. They feel justified in calling this material a "food formed" or "whole food formed" nutrient, or as one company explains, the yeast cells and culturing "biotransforms" synthetic vitamins into nature's food form vitamin formulas. Interesting that a single yeast cell has this ability while the highly complex human digestion system with it's own culturing and fermenting evidently does not. Aren't there also yeast cells in the human digestive system? Why, yes there are.

9. Potential advantages of these "food like" vitamins.

If they are indeed bound up by the yeast cells with food nutrients, a benefit might be that they will release slower in the digestive system giving the opportunity for a greater percentage of absorption, or if digested whole, will slowly enter into the nutrient pool so as to not overwhelm enzyme systems, metabolic processes, receptors sites, or competitive displacement of other nutrients. There are some assumptions here that need further investigations beyond company sponsored studies. And the issue of how fast the tablets breakdown in the digestive tract is critical for assimilation too. Simple water dissolution tests reveal possible problems here for some foodform tablets. 

Perhaps the greatest asset for food like vitamins is the lower dosage formulas. The window of optimal dosage range for absortion and effectiveness has been far exceeded by many isolated vitamin formulas. Foodform vitamins have now also exceeded safe levels for folic acid. Folate is the natural form, but the form in their products might start out as synthetic folic acid. Whether folic acid is "biotransformed" by the yeast cell into the natural form similar to the process that occurs in the human liver is subject to speculation.

CAUTION: A new study just found "unmetabolized" folic acid (synthetic form) in blood plasma of newborn infants. The remarkable fact is that the "unmetabolized" folic acid was even found in infants of mothers who did not consume folic acid from supplements. The folic acid came from the synthetic amounts added in the food fortification program as found in breads and cereals. Long term effects are unknown at this time.  

SIDEBAR: The marketing story that food form minerals at lower dosages are equal to isolated megadose minerals is not completely accurate. Mineral absorption and utilization is controlled by body need and ratios to other minerals rather than just the delivery form, including food and liquid minerals.

Body fact: Calcium absorption is mainly determined by blood calcium levels influencing hormones and dietary factors (see ref) with the amount of stomach acid also involved. It is the ability of the calcium compound to solublize and release the calcium to its free form that determines the absorption percentage. The different forms of calcium only change this percentage a very small degree. One company implies their 75 milligrams of food form calcium is 100% absorbed and equal to 1000 mg of isolated calcium which they say is only 10% absorbed. (Real facts ref) Even if this "food form" calcium was 100% absorption, 75 mg is not going to satisfy the body requirements when natural daily excretion of calcium often exceeds 300+ mg. 

10. One last giant negative - incomplete labels.

Vitamins and minerals are required to be listed with the form or source on the label. Calcium might be listed as forms calcium carbonate or calcium citrate, or sources such as bonemeal and limestone. Vitamin E as natural d'alpha tocopherol or as synthetic dl'alpha tocopheryl acetate. Food form vitamin labels have never included this information. They simply say "cultured nutrients" or "foodstate" nutrients, or some other made up description. How the FDA lets this label mis-direction slide is a mystery? 

The food form companies are free to use natural isolates or even synthetic isolates to feed the yeast cell culturing mix and do not have to mention these facts on their label. Thus, any analysis on quality aspects from the starting vitamin form remains a mystery. What percentage of added vitamins enter into this yeast transformation is also under speculation. It could be 5% or 100%. The only mention of this is by a scientist who reported the food form vitamin material appears different than vitamin isolates under the microscope. Not a very revealing scientific description.

11. The marketing literature and websites for the food form vitamin companies either say or imply that their vitamins are all natural without any USP isolated synthetics. Are you saying this is not the "whole" truth?

Exactly. If you read their literature carefully, they even tell you they start with some USP isolated synthetic vitamins. Lets look at one catch 22 in labeling. A company is required to list all the ingredients they add in making the formula. But, if the yeast they buy already was fed USP isolated synthetic vitamins before they received it, they may be technically correct in not including that fact on the ingredients list. One of the best examples to illustrate this catch 22 is the use of the label term "natural flavoring". This flavoring could be made up of 20 different ingredients, but the government allows just the term "natural flavoring" to be put on the bottle ingredient label. This applies to "artificial flavoring" too. Visit a vitamin manufacturing company's storage room and look at the barrels containing these "flavoring" and you will see the 20 ingredients listed since at this stage it is still a label requirement. 

SIDEBAR if you search engine "foodform vitamins", you will find a few more companies saying they sell all natural food form vitamins. What gives these companies away that the vitamins are not "all natural" is the amount of folic acid or folate listed on the label, 400 mcg. One such website mentions that they get 400 mcg of folate from a very same amount of a food source measured in under a 100 milligrams. Lentils contain 180 mcg of folic acid in half a cup. So, it would take more than a whole cup of lentils to get 400 mcg. A cup is equal to 448,000 milligrams. Chicken livers have 770 mcg in 3.5 ozs. so only about 2 ozs would be needed to get 400 mcg. That is 56,000 milligrams. Can you imagine how expense this ingredient would be to concentrate these or any other of the high folate sources down to just a few milligrams of material. What about concentrating naturally grown yeast without added isolates. Could they be using genetically modified yeast that overexpresses the production of folate?  There is a yeast extract product on the market that contains 281 mcg of folate per oz, which is 28,000 milligrams. So the only deduction from the preceding facts is that to get 400 mcg of folate, foodform vitamin companies either defy known food nutrient assays or they have discovered a new miracle food source unknown to science. 

A 400 mcg level for "folate" from natural sources simply can't be found. Isolates are added somewhere. If you see 400 mcg, it has been fortilfied with synthetics. Period. NOTE: There is a new product that Merck developed called Metafolintm which converts synthetic folic acid into the natural "folate" form by using nearly the same chemical process as found in the liver. This increases availablity and will be marketed as "natural". It doesn't appear to have folic acid form adverse reactions.

Until these issues are resolved, food form vitamins remain an expensive mystery, especially since a simple blood plasma vitamin level comparison test between foodform and isolated synthetics might put all these questions to rest. Wonder why this testing aspect is missing from "food-form" vitamin research?

Click here (website) to read what the original company that makes foodform vitamins has to say about this process. They admit to many of the points covered above. 


Before departing this topic, one possible idea that underlines the foodform vitamin issue is about the concept of whether or not living food has more "lifeforce" than non-living, cooked, or synthetic elements such as USP vitamins. This theory has been given some credibility from the young science of "Biophotons." In this field, an extremely weak light force has now been measured by very sensitive electronic equipment being emitted from deep within cells.

One strange observation is that diseased cells and tissues emit more "photon" light energy than healthy cells. It is a real possibility that in the future this measurement will lead to earlier diagnosis for diseases like cancer.

As an example of this photon type of light energy, most people are aware of insects such as fireflies or glow worms that emit a visible light source. Well, this is a little different. These insects use Luciferin with energy and oxygen to produce this glow. Biophotons are responsible for a very weak light from cells that is not visible to the eye. It is believed that this light energy might participate in communication between cells.

Experiments have shown that this light force gets its energy from radical oxygen metabolism (ROS) in the cell. A study revealed that antioxidants which control Reactive Oxygen Species formation change the intensity of this light force.

The claim by the food form vitamin companies is that since USP isolated synthetic vitamins do not poccess any of this light energy, they cannot transfer any of this energy to the cells of an organism that consumes them, while their food form vitamins would. Now, if you recall from above that the yeast cell walls are disintegrated effectively killing the cell, what life force is left in this yeast product? Another aspect to consider actually breaks down their support when you realize that living yeast cells are first fed these same USP "no life energy" synthetic vitamins. If humans would not gain "lifeforce" energy from taking synthetic vitamins, would not the same also imply for the yeast cells fed these same synthetic vitamins?  

Funny how simple logic sometimes gets in the way of marketing rhetoric and reality. You have to connect all the dots to see the big picture, not just the ones that make for a good story to support a theory in question.

Hopefully, truth from new unbiased research will once and for all settle these issues. Until then, consumers deserve to have the above "whole" facts to better evaluate marketing stories in making healthier choices.