According to Nutrition Business Journal’s 2014 report, the vitamins and minerals categories engulf about 40% of the dietary supplement industry’s sales, or roughly $14 billion. The decrease in growth in these categories created some concerns among some of the largest players. Discussions around recent publications providing evidence that certain vitamins have little or no effect on specific diseases may have contributed to the decrease in sales.
A more recent study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, may change this paradigm yet again. However, there is one category of vitamins and minerals that continues to experience significant growth: “whole food” multi-vitamins. Understanding the forms of vitamins and minerals and attempting to categorize them feels overwhelming, especially when considering that there are so many forms of something as simple as iron.
It’s important to create a framework within your brand to clarify to customers what you mean by “whole food.” Hopefully the industry can utilize these 6 categorizations of vitamins and minerals to self-regulate on an elusive, but trend-setting concept.
Isolates or isolated synthetics, a derogatory term in the health food retail channel and some MLM’s, as well as direct-to-consumer brands, refers to vitamins or minerals that are not attached to food, food components or other organic compounds. There are a few exceptions with regard to attachment or binding that still fall in this category, specifically mineral salts (EU). Magnesium oxide (EU), as an example, is obviously not 99% magnesium. However, this combination, while being found in nature, would not fall into any of the categories below that might be considered “whole-food.”
Vitamins and minerals directly extracted from food but without any chemical bond to the food from which they were extracted fall under the same category as above, but are distinguished here because this is a commonly requested clarification. A simple example originated in the discovery of ascorbic acid (EU) from paprika (EU) by the famous Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.
Isolates or isolated synthetic vitamins and minerals mixed with food is a category that screams deception to retailers and end-consumers. Brands that put fruits, vegetables, herbs and other ingredients on the label, while having a robust supplement facts panel containing a list of vitamins and minerals derived from non-food sources, can create distrust. Additionally, and some may find this shocking, but fermentation that does not provide a chemical bond between the nutrient (vitamin or mineral) and the food, food components or the microorganisms fall into this category of isolates or synthetics mixed with food.
The last 3 categories can fall under the designation “whole food” for a number of brands, however there may be some debate regarding number four.
Vitamins and minerals attached to components of foods such as amino acids (EU), fatty acids (EU) and citrate (EU) represent only a small number of examples of bound nutrients to components of food or organic compounds. While the process for all of these can fall under the “synthetic” categorization they are not isolated synthetics but bound vitamins and minerals. This category may be the most controversial and may require additional sub-categories, but raw material suppliers who produce these categories do have some evidence of benefits to communicate to brands and end-consumers.
Vitamins and minerals attached to microorganisms may be the most well known of whole food defined nutrients. Selenium yeast (EU) or high B12 (EU) yeast availability are both historically known. A caution: Clarify if bonds have been formed between the nutrient and the organisms. When the bond is present then the “whole food” designation is honestly represented. Otherwise, it would fall under #3 and calling it “whole food” would be misleading.
Vitamins and minerals which are extracted but still maintain some of their attachment to food encompass the final categorization. Rose hip (EU), vitamin C (EU), and selenium (EU) from mustard seed (EU) can be found with a significant percentage of the food material still being bound to the nutrient. There are some great examples of companies leading the way with truly food-bound nutrients. These companies truly lead the way into clarifying the definition of whole-food vitamins and minerals. Please note that the links included here go to general search results in Prospector, and not all of the products listed are representative of the whole food designation.
I hope this list will assist your company in defining its nutrient line more directly and clearly for the customer. If you’re unsure of your vitamins’ or minerals’ binding to food, food components or organic compounds, there are some techniques for determining bound or unbound nutrients. Reach out for help if you need clarification on how this may be done and how your brand can be sure that they are truly selling one or more designations of a whole food multi-vitamin.
About the Author:
Francisco Rodriguez is the founder of Supplement Innovator, a consulting service for small to mid-size supplement companies. He has worked in the industry for over a decade as a formulator and account executive for companies such as Garden of Life and Danisco. His experience gives him specialized expertise in probiotics, protein, brain health and weight management. Email Francisco for information on how Supplement Innovator can help turn your nutrition ideas into reality.
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