Many people in the United States do not get the recommended amount of daily nutrients through their diet alone, which is why over half of the US population takes daily nutritional supplements such as multivitamins. However, many people do not realize that synthetic nutrients and natural nutrients may not provide the same nutrients – and some sources suggest that synthetic nutrients can even be dangerous.
Natural nutrients are those which come from whole-food and whole-plant sources in the diet. Synthetic nutrients, also known as isolated nutrients, are made artificially in an industrialized manufacturing setting. An important distinction, however, is that synthetic nutrients are not the same as whole food supplements which contain whole food and plant-based nutrients.
Unfortunately, many nutritional supplements available on the market today are artificially made, and even worse, may contain highly undesirable additives or tagalongs such as magnesium stearate (a flowing agent). The reason these unwanted additives are used with synthetic ingredients is to reduce manufacturing costs, improve production efficiency, and often function as fillers for tablets or capsules. Although these synthetic nutrients are promoted to make one think that they act as natural nutrients in our bodies, they fall badly short. In addition, non-nutrient additives used for manufacturing purposes may do more harm than good.
Your body actually reacts differently to synthetic nutrients than natural-source ones. They are often not absorbed as easily as the real thing. That’s because when you eat real food, you’re not just getting a single nutrient derivative, but all of the naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, co-factors, phytonutrients, and enzymes that allow your body to elegantly break down the nutrients and use them. Without this symphony of live, interactive compounds, synthetic nutrients simply cannot be used by the body in the same way. One study showed that natural vitamin E was absorbed in the body twice as well as synthetic vitamin E.1
Natural nutrients obtained from whole food and plants are recognized as the most beneficial nutrients for humans because they are in their natural state. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can provide many valuable nutrients that contain all of the complex compounds the body needs to successfully digest and absorb them. However, some diets may not contain enough of these whole foods in their pristine, well-grown state so it may be difficult to obtain all the nutrients your body needs.
When you choose to add a multi-vitamin to your nutritional regimen, specifically look for a supplement which is based on whole-food, plant-based sources. The natural nutrients from those sources may be used more effectively in your body, giving you added benefits you might miss out on otherwise.