It doesn’t take a doctor to tell you that vitamins are critical for your health.
With the lack of nutrients in our modern diets, many people opt for multivitamin supplements to fill in the gaps. (1)
But as it turns out, many multivitamins are made of synthetic ingredients.
Not everyone can utilize and absorb synthetic vitamins. Some people can even experience side effects from taking them.
For this reason, your best bet is taking a whole food multivitamin.
The whole food implies that it’s made from – yes – whole food.
In other words, wholefood multivitamins use the most bioavailable nutrients that your body can absorb.
In this guide to wholefood multivitamins, we’ll show you how they work, why they’re better than synthetic vitamins, and how to choose the right one.
Let’s dive in.
How Multivitamins Work in Your Body
Multivitamins are on the throne of the supplement world.
They stand shoulder to shoulder next to giants such as fish oil and vitamin D supplements.
You’ve surely met someone who uses a multivitamin. Perhaps you take it too.
Most people use it as a preventative measure – to fill in any nutritional gaps left in their diet. (1)
- Most multivitamins use a range of vitamins and minerals, along with other ‘filler ingredients’.
In combination, they provide your body with the essential building blocks for optimal function.
But do they work?
How Effective Are They Really?
Simply put, the efficacy of your multivitamin depends on its ingredients.
Generally, most multivitamins contain synthetic ingredients made in the lab. That’s because they are cheaper to make. And many people tolerate them just fine.
But for some, synthetic multivitamins are a concern.
Not only do some of these supplements have poor bioavailability in our body (meaning you can’t absorb them properly). They can also come with side effects, research says. (2, 3)
That’s where wholefood multivitamins come in.
What are Wholefood Multivitamins?
In general, whole food multivitamins are more expensive than synthetic vitamins.
But they are made from natural, whole foods. Which means our body absorbs them just like it would regular food.
So, how are whole food vitamins made?
The process of making them has a number of steps. However, the two most important ones are:
Let me quickly explain what this means.
See, dehydration means preserving the food and preventing the bacteria and yeast from spreading.
Dehydration is also important because it prepares the food for the next step in the process, which is the concentration of food.
Concentration involves additionally drying the food and getting it ready to be concentrated into a pill.
Ultimately, it’s through these two steps, and a number of additional processes, that the whole food multivitamin is created.
Benefits of Taking a Wholefood Multivitamin
The most important benefit of taking a multivitamin is that it will ensure you aren’t deficient in any essential nutrient.
This means it will help support your overall health.
However, there are some additional, specific benefits of taking a vitamin supplement. These include:
#1 Improved Memory & Mood
Believe it or not, but multivitamins could actually be classed as nootropics. A.k.a, brain enhancers.
- According to research, multivitamins can improve mood and cognition in people. Especially those who’re deficient in certain nutrients. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
For example, folate is a key vitamin for your brain function. Your brain needs it to create neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which are essential for good mood and memory.
In addition, vitamins like folate help form the myelin sheath around your nerves to protect and enhance your brain cells.
So, if you aren’t getting enough folate in your diet, you’ll feel a significant mental performance boost from taking a wholefood multivitamin.
#2 May Improve Your Heart Health
Cardiovascular diseases are the most common health issue worldwide. They cause more deaths than any other health condition.
Some people take multivitamins to help reduce their chances of developing heart disease.
And if we look at the science, these people might be doing the right thing.
- There’s growing evidence showing how multivitamins can indeed help protect from cardiovascular issues.
For example, a new study found that women who took multivitamins for three years had a 35% lower chance of death from heart disease. (4)
However, the most important thing to remember here is that the benefits of a multivitamin depend on the context.
Meaning, if you aren’t deficient in any nutrients, it’s highly unlikely a multivitamin will benefit you.
By contrast, if you lack vitamins such as folic acid and vitamin D, a multivitamin could help support a number of bodily functions which could have an effect on the cardiovascular system.
#3 Eye Health
As we age, our eyes become more susceptible to damage and oxidative stress. In fact, age-related macular degeneration is the number one cause of blindness in the world. (10)
- Taking antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, along with lutein and zeaxanthin, slows the progress of macular degeneration. (11, 12)
There’s also evidence that vitamins can help protect from cataracts. Cataracts are another common eye disease which leads to loss of eyesight. (13)
Wholefood Multivitamins vs. Synthetic Multivitamins
Okay, onto the big question: which one is better, a wholefood or a synthetic multivitamin?
To answer it, we should first look at the main difference between the two:
- Synthetic Multivitamins: Made artificially, in the lab.
- Wholefood Multivitamins: Made from real food which was dehydrated and concentrated in a capsule.
The truth is, most of the vitamin supplements today are synthetic.
How do you know which one is natural, and which synthetic?
The best way to do it is to check the label. On the label, it should list food sources or show that it’s 100% food-based, 100% natural, or nature-identical.
Supplements that use chemical names for vitamins, such as ascorbic acid for vitamin C, means they are synthetic.
So, Which One is Better?
To answer your question, whole food multivitamins are obviously the better choice.
- While usually more expensive, whole food vitamins are identical to nature, meaning your body recognizes them as real food. Which helps improve absorption and utilization.
While synthetic vitamins also have an almost identical chemical structure to natural nutrients.
Your body will not react the same to these synthetic compounds.
The reason for this?
It’s simple – when you eat real food, you’re consuming a combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Which work in synergy in your body.
By contrast, taking isolated synthetic vitamins won’t have the same beneficial impact on the body.
What Does the Science Say?
The research is on the side of natural vitamins. (2)
This especially applies to fat-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin E.
A study found that the natural form of vitamin E has twice the absorption in the body compared to synthetic vitamin E. (14)
How to Know if Your ‘Wholefood’ Multivitamin Really is Wholefood?
Okay, we’ve learned that wholefood multivitamins indeed are better than synthetic ones.
But did you know that most wholefood multivitamins aren’t actually made of whole food?
A lot of supplement companies use marketing gimmicks to make you believe that their vitamins are made from raw fruits and vegetables. But in most cases, that’s far from the truth.
For example, a vitamin supplement may say it’s “wholefood-based”. Which basically means they start out with a food base before adding synthetic vitamins as the bulk of the supplement.
Quite a surprise, huh?
But it gets even worse.
See, a vitamin producer can legally say their vitamin is natural or “wholefood-based” as long as it contains 10% or more ingredients that come from natural sources.
It doesn’t take a genius to guess what the remaining 90% of the ingredients are made of. Yes, synthetical compounds made in a lab!
Finding a Nature-Identical Wholefood Multivitamin
Here are key rules for choosing a nature-identical wholefood supplement:
- Look for vitamin B9 on the list. If it says ‘folic acid,’ that means it’s derived from a synthetic source.
- Also, look for vitamin B12. Does it say ‘cyanocobalamin’ anywhere? If so, the vitamin is synthetic. And likely the rest of the ingredients are too.
- Look for a statement “100% natural” on the label. That’s one of the ways to assess the quality of your multivitamin.
- Vitamins can be grown on natural cultures, too. This is a sign of a high-quality multivitamin.
- Avoid proprietary formulas and blends, which don’t show the individual dose of each ingredient.
- Avoid supplements that have 2 or more ‘other ingredients’.
Best Wholefood Multivitamin Ingredients
Here we have a look at some of the best ingredients in wholefood vitamins and their individual benefits:
- Vitamin A – Protein synthesis, muscle growth and repair, skin, vision, memory, and immune system
- Vitamin B1 – Memory, neurotransmitters, energy production (ATP)
- Iron – energy, red blood cell formation, oxygen, brain chemicals, the myelin sheath, DNA
- Vitamin B2 – Red blood cell creation, energy production, antioxidant, brain chemicals
- Vitamin B3 – Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, energy, blood flow, skin
- Magnesium – energy production, testosterone, nerves, neuroplasticity, heart health, bones, RNA, DNA, helps control blood sugar
- Vitamin B5 – Energy production, hormonal balance, heart health, brain chemicals
- Vitamin B6 – Immune system, cognitive support, neurotransmitters, blood cell creation, blood sugar control
- Zinc – gene transcription, immune system, testosterone, brain cell repair and growth, amino acid synthesis+
- Vitamin B7 – Nerves, immune system, blood sugar, energy production, DNA, skin, hair, and nails
- Vitamin B9 – Neurotransmitters, cell formation, protein synthesis, RNA, DNA
- Selenium – antioxidant, mercury detox, thyroid, brain chemicals, immunity
- Vitamin B12 – Myelin, cardiovascular health, cognition, energy, RNA, DNA, red blood cell creation
- Vitamin C – Boosts the growth of new brain cells, enhances neurotransmitters, cardiovascular support, antioxidant, muscle, skin (collagen), the myelin sheath
- Manganese – metabolism, enzyme cofactor
- Vitamin D – Testosterone, gene expression, serotonin production, mood, immunity, protein synthesis, bone health
- Calcium – Bones, hormonal health, neuron signaling, joints, heart health
- Vitamin E – Fat-soluble antioxidant, skin, hair, tissue repair, heart health
- Vitamins K1 and K2 – Bones, heart health, joints, brain cell support
- Molybdenum – metabolism, enzyme cofactor, antioxidant support (glutathione)
- Boron – bone health, testosterone, antioxidant, brain chemicals, joints
- Inositol – anxiety, neurotransmitters, skin
- Vanadium – heart health, enzymes, cell growth, bones, muscle growth
Are Wholefood Multivitamins Safe?
In normal doses, vitamins are healthy. Especially if you’re deficient in some of them.
However, more doesn’t always mean better.
While high doses of vitamin C and certain B vitamins won’t do you any harm, fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E can cause toxic effects in too high doses.
Excess amounts of water-soluble nutrients get expelled via urine.
But excess fat-soluble vitamins get stored in your body. So by supplementing high doses, they may build up in your system and reach the tipping point where the levels of a certain vitamin are too high.
- Water-soluble vitamins include: C and B vitamins
- Fat-soluble vitamins include: A, D, E, K
Too much vitamin A can cause birth defects in pregnant women. (15)
Vitamin D toxicity is hard to achieve through multivitamins alone. But too high doses of this vitamin, such as more than 10,000IU per day over a long period of time, might cause artery plaque.
Also, if you eat a lot of nutrient-dense foods and take a multivitamin on top of this, you can get too much of certain nutrients.
If you smoke, avoid taking multivitamins with high amounts of vitamin A or beta-carotene. Studies show it can increase the chance of lung cancer. (16)
High doses of iron are also something to avoid. Especially if you don’t need it.
Wholefood vs. Synthetic Safety
It’s much less likely that you’ll experience side effects from a quality wholefood multivitamin than from a synthetic version.
Synthetic supplements aren’t naturally made for our body. While they may be effective in some people, the jury is still out on how safe it is to take some of them long-term.
That’s why taking supplements that are as close to nature as possible is your best option.
Multivitamins help your body get the nutrients it needs to work optimally.
However, not every multivitamin is made the same.
Most supplements nowadays are synthetic. For some, this doesn’t represent a problem. But for others, these synthetic compounds might not only be ineffective but also outright dangerous.
As we’ve seen, a synthetic form of vitamin E is two times less effective than the natural version.
And synthetic vitamin A can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
For this reason, this guide advocates the use of wholefood multivitamins – using nature-identical ingredients.
When choosing a wholefood multivitamin, there are a couple of rules to follow:
- If a wholefood multivitamin is ‘food-based’, it doesn’t mean its ingredients are all natural. As long as a supplement has 10% or more natural ingredients, it can be called ‘food-based’. Just something to keep in mind.
- Look for multivitamins that have “100% natural” written on a label.
- The easiest way to see if a multivitamin is actually derived from foods is to look at vitamin C and B9. If it says ascorbic acid for vitamin C, it means it’s synthetic. Likewise, it if says folic acid for vitamin B9, it’s also synthetic. And it’s likely that the rest of the ingredients are too.
Choosing the right multivitamin can be tricky.
But with a little research, and knowing what to look out for, it’s possible to find a whole food multivitamin that will help you reach your health and fitness goals.
Addressing nutritional gaps with multivitamin and mineral supplements. (source)
Natural vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones. (source)
Adverse effects of nutraceuticals and dietary supplements. (source)
Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States. (source)
Neurocognitive effects of multivitamin supplementation on the steady state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) measure of brain activity in elderly women. (source)
Effects of a multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplement on cognition and blood biomarkers in older men: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. (source)
Complex antioxidant blend improves memory in community-dwelling seniors. (source)
The effect of multivitamin supplementation on mood and stress in healthy older men. (source)
The effects of an oral multivitamin combination with calcium, magnesium, and zinc on psychological well-being in healthy young male volunteers: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. (source)
Age-related macular degeneration. (source)
Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements for slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. (source)
Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements for preventing age-related macular degeneration. (source)
The effect of multivitamin/mineral supplements on age-related cataracts: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (source)
Human plasma and tissue alpha-tocopherol concentrations in response to supplementation with deuterated natural and synthetic vitamin E. (source)
Teratogenicity of high vitamin A intake. (source)
Beta-carotene in multivitamins and the possible risk of lung cancer among smokers versus former smokers: a meta-analysis and evaluation of national brands. (source)