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Whole Food Supplements 101

Updated: Jan 17

Whole food or food-based are some of the supplement industry's most widely used marketing terms. But what do these terms mean, and how can you tell if something is a whole-food supplement?

Whole Food supplements

What a “whole food” supplement is, is one of the most obscured and misunderstood terms in the supplement industry. Without the FDA stepping in and setting an actual definition, manufacturers are free to call anything a “whole food” supplement and market products however they want, no matter how misleading or inaccurate.


Here is the Rooted Nutrition definition of a whole food supplement: A true, whole-food supplement is made from nothing but 100% whole foods. These foods are ground and dried or concentrated (for example, forty pounds of food concentrated down into one pound of powder, you may see on the label "40:1") and dried.


Genuine whole food supplements contain nutrients and all the other compounds found in food in their naturally occurring forms and ratios, the way our bodies have evolved to obtain nutrition.

Whole food vitamins versus synthetic vitamins

They have no synthetic or isolated substances, such as vitamins or minerals, added at any time during the process. Any nutrient value must come 100% from the foods themselves.

The only exceptions are flow agents needed to help get ingredients through the machinery, such as cellulose or starch, or things like capsules that keep everything together.


No additives can contribute to nutrient content. For example, if a product lists 60mg of vitamin C, it should all come from the foods, not in whole or part from something like ascorbyl palmitate, a synthetic form of vitamin c often used as a lubricant.


When people see the words whole food, raw, food-based, and lots of foods shown in pictures on the label, they think the products are made from food, and rightfully so.


We are not saying synthetic or isolated vitamins have no value. They certainly have their place and uses. We are simply saying that claiming or advertising products are whole food but are made with synthetic or isolated ingredients is wrong.

Lie versus truth

Here are just a few examples (there are thousands, so we cannot go through all of them) of companies that claim to sell whole food supplements but add synthetic or isolated vitamins, minerals, or other substances to their products:


Standard Process:

This is the label of their Catalyn product:

Catalyn Supplement Facts

They state this on the Catalyn page:

The resulting whole food ingredients are then added to a formula that may include whole food extracts, animal tissue extracts, concentrates, botanicals, whole food isolates, and synthetic ingredients.”

Here is a list of the synthetic and isolated vitamins in Catalyn (there are other synthetic and isolated ingredients as well, such as calcium lactate and magnesium citrate):

Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), cholecalciferol (Vitamin D), pyridoxine hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), vitamin A palmitate (Vitamin A), thiamine hydrochloride (Thiamine, vitamin B1), riboflavin (Riboflavin, vitamin B2)

If you notice, those synthetic and isolated vitamins are the exact ones showing values in the supplement facts panel.

Since this product contains isolated and or synthetic ingredients, it does not meet the Rooted Nutrition definition of a whole food supplement.


New Chapter (owned by Procter and Gamble):

This is the label of their Every Women’s One Daily 55+ Multivitamin:

New Chapter multivitamin supplement facts

On their website, they state the following:

Step 2

Targeted nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are added to the yeast solution.


The company is admitting that they add vitamins and minerals to the product. However, nearly every vitamin in this product is synthetic or isolated.

One example of this is folic acid. Folic acid does not occur in nature. It is 100% man-made. In food, there are various folates but no folic acid.

Since nearly every vitamin and mineral in this product is synthetic and or isolated, it does not meet the Rooted Nutrition definition of a whole food supplement.


Rainbow Light (owned by Clorox):

This is the label of their Prenatal One Multivitamin:

Rainbow Light Prenatal One supplement facts

Based on the label, this product contains very little food, less than 300mg. Nearly all of the vitamins and minerals are synthetic and or isolated.

For example, pyridoxine hydrochloride does not occur in nature. It is 100 percent man-made. In food, it occurs in several forms, but never pyridoxine hydrochloride.

Since nearly every vitamin and mineral in this product is synthetic and or isolated, it does not meet the Rooted Nutrition definition of a whole food supplement.


Megafood (owned by Otsuka Pharmaceutical):

This is the label of their Blood Builder:

Megafood Blood Builder Supplement Facts

On their website, they state the following:

“To craft our minerals, we begin with a specific single mineral in the form of an amino acid chelate with glycine (iron bisglycinate, for example). This is the starting point, and then we add live yeast to the iron bisglycinate and create fermented iron bisglycinate through aerobic fermentation.”


Iron bis-glycinate does not occur in nature. The company is admitting on their website that they are using synthetic and/or isolated vitamins and minerals to make their products.

B12, folic acid, and vitamin C are synthetic and or isolated.

Since nearly every vitamin and mineral in this product is synthetic and or isolated, it does not meet the Rooted Nutrition definition of a whole food supplement.


Garden of Life is owned by Nestle, one of the worst corporations in the world. Nestle is currently before the supreme court, arguing that because they are a corporation and not a person, it should not be held responsible for the use of child slavery in the production of materials they buy. If this is not a reason to boycott a company, I don’t know what is.

This is the label of their mykind Organics B-12 Organic Spray:

Garden of Life My Kind Organics b-12 spray supplement facts

If you look at the label, it says Vitamin B12* (as methylcobalamin). Lower on the label, they explain what the star means: To learn more about the Raw Food-Created Nutritions used exclusively by Garden of Life, go to www.gardenoflife.com.

On the page for the product, they state:


“Developing a multi and targeted nutrient that are Certified USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, made from nothing but real, whole foods is incredibly difficult—which is likely why it had never been done before.”

And:

“One spray daily delivers 500mcg (8333% DV) vegan vitamin B-12 as methylcobalamin from Saccharomyces cerevisiae to support energy and metabolism.”

They are claiming that the vitamin b12 as methylcobalamin in the product is derived from nothing but real whole foods, and this b12 is made from Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is also known as nutritional yeast.

The funny thing about nutritional yeast is that it does not contain b-12. Some companies do fortify nutritional yeast with added b-12, but it does not naturally have any.

So, if nutritional yeast does not contain any b-12, how could the methylcobalamin b12 in this product be derived from nutritional yeast? The b-12 in this product is made by taking synthetic or isolated b-12 and feeding it to yeast.


I visited the facility where this b-12 is made and was shown the process.

Since the b12 in this product is synthetic and or isolated, it does not meet the Rooted Nutrition definition of a whole food supplement.

Smart Cat

Head of Research at Rooted Nutrition

Dosing whole food supplements:


When taking any supplement, it is essential to keep in mind the following (setting aside quality control for a minute):

You must take it consistently.

You must take the full dose.

It must be in the proper delivery system (powder, tablet, liquid, etc.).

Think about a large strawberry. It weighs about 18 grams, which is 18000mgs. Of that, 16.4 grams is water. So after drying, let’s say you have about 1.6 grams left because I am bad at math and like easy round numbers. To get the equivalent of one strawberry, you need to get at least 1.6 grams of powder. Eight large strawberries are considered one serving of fruit. So to get one serving of strawberries in powder form, you would need to take 12.8 grams of strawberry powder. So when you see a product like the one below containing "23 fruits and veggies" in a 20 mg blend, how much are you getting?

Garden of life vitamin code supplement facts

(Hint: it's the equivalent of 1/320th of a strawberry.)


That's practically nothing.

It might look good on the label to list so many fruits and veggies, but really- it's just marketing. You are not actually getting any amount of fruit and veggies that would make a difference, but the company does get to put lots of pretty pictures on the label and say “food-based,” “raw,” or “whole food,” which have no actual meaning in the supplement industry. Avoid food supplements with that many ingredients because it is impossible to put enough of each component in to have a beneficial effect. Anytime you see a supplement claiming to be whole food, but you are supposed to take only one pill per day, it is not whole food, or you will be getting an amount that is not enough to do anything.


For example, you would get far more benefit from a properly prepared, farm-to-bottle blend containing just beets, leeks, kale, swiss chard, zucchini, and peppers, rather than something like this insanity:

Green food powder

Not only do you not know where any of the ingredients come from, but some of the ingredients are just entirely made up - like Bifidobacterium Rhamnosus. No such bacteria exist. Do you want to trust a supplement with elements on the label that do not exist?


For most whole food supplements, powders are the best bet. Getting one tablespoon of powder can sometimes take 6-12 capsules. Powders can be mixed in various foods, smoothies, or beverages. Properly made powders do not need additives and fillers. In addition, tasting food can lead to benefits you may not get from a pill. For example, bitter foods can improve digestion because the bitter taste can stimulate digestive secretions. Therefore, if you were to swallow it in a pill, you would miss out on some benefits. Some things may not taste or mix well and therefore are best in capsules, but you cannot take just one pill and get enough.

Parker drinking juice

Parker has a taste for the finer things in life.


A good whole-food supplement should be able to stand on its own two feet. Unfortunately, too many companies feel this is not the case or decide that profit is more important than producing a good product.


Acerola cherries are rich in vitamin C and many phytonutrients. One acerola cherry contains about 80 mg of vitamin C! After you remove the water, each one gives you about 700 mg of powder. That makes each cherry about 11.5% vitamin C.

Acerola cherry vitamin C

You can see from the above label that a 3.2-gram serving gives you 160 mg of vitamin C- from acerola and ascorbic acid. However, several issues are happening with this product.


First, they add synthetic vitamin C, as evidenced by the listing of ascorbic acid. The second is that they are using spray-dried acerola cherry. You can tell it is being spray-dried by the listing of maltodextrin in the other ingredients. It is used as a carrier for the ingredient to be sprayed onto. Spray drying uses high heat and is a very cheap drying method. This method often damages and degrades the food causing losses in the vitamin and other constituents found naturally in the food. Many companies use this method because it saves them a lot of money.


Based on our knowledge that one acerola cherry contains about 80mg of vitamin C, a 3200 mg serving should yield about 365mg of vitamin C. Yet, even after adding synthetic vitamin C, this product is still much lower in vitamin C than we would expect from acerola cherry powder. That’s most likely due to the use of poor quality or adulterated raw materials that have most likely been degraded during spray drying.


If we look at a better quality, non-spiked, non-spray dried product:

Acerola Cherry Powder

A 3000 mg serving contains 270 mg of vitamin C, meaning nearly all of the vitamin C naturally occurring in the fruit has been preserved. The product contains no added synthetic vitamin C, fillers, or spray drying carriers. With better raw materials and drying methods, there is no need for spiking with added vitamins or carrying agents like maltodextrin.


Want to learn more about vitamin C? Check out our blog article, all about vitamin C.


Unfortunately, too many companies care more about using marketing words than producing real whole-food supplements. As a result, every year, there are fewer and fewer true whole-food supplements and more fake ones.


Rooted Nutrition will never sell fake whole food supplements or products from companies owned by horrible corporations like Nestle. We hope natural food retailers and stores will practice what they preach.


Ethics must be more than just putting signs up in your store or nice pictures on your website. Actions matter more than words.


Real whole food supplements are some of the best and most nourishing ones. We highly recommend them as the ideal complement to a healthy diet to help supply your foundational nutritional needs.


Here are some of our favorite whole=food supplement companies:

Cow and Bull - Whole food formulas for nourishing and building health.


Many people do not know where to start when it comes to choosing which whole-food supplements might be right for them. If you are wondering which supplements might be right for you, email us at info@rooted-nutrition.com, and we would be happy to help you get on the road to a healthier you!


Because we know that it is more than just about taking supplements to get healthy, we also give you a copy, with the packages, of our guide to getting your health on to help you build a healthier you in all aspects of your life.

Flourish to Nourish

We're impressed if you've made it this far in the article! Thanks for reading, and let us know your favorite whole-food supplement.

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