How to Evaluate Vitamin/Mineral Products.

How do we make a proper vitamin-evaluation with so many different multivitamin/mineral supplements available? How do we know which one will be most beneficial to us?

The old Latin phrase "Caveat Emptor" - "Let the buyer beware" is certainly appropriate for this question. While we may have a shortage of nutrients in our diets, with about 5,000 nutrition companies trying to sell their products, there is no shortage of theories or claims being used to support any particular formulation.

Since the initial discovery of vitamins in the 1930's, certain deficiency diseases were recognised as being caused by a lack of vitamins and minerals. This realisation led to the development of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).

The RDA is the amount of essential nutrients from food that is necessary to keep a healthy person healthy.

"First-generation" supplements were developed using synthetic versions of vitamins and minerals (United States Pharmacopeia - USP) created in the laboratory to provide an inexpensive and standardized way to meet RDA requirements.

First-Generation Technology - Vitamin/Mineral Supplements

The vast majority of vitamin and mineral supplements, including some of the most popular brands, are still made using synthetic vitamins and minerals. They continue to provide the advantages of being standardised and inexpensive. However, they also have some disadvantages.

Synthetic nutrients were assumed to have the same nutritional benefit as natural nutrient complexes found in food. However, the latest research show this is not the case.

USP (synthetic) vitamins are not food. Plants are able to manufacture vitamins into a variety of different forms that are required by the plant and at the same time are very beneficial to the human body e.g. multiple forms of vitamin E. The bioavailability - or uptake and utilisation - of natural food complex vitamins has been proven to be better than most USP vitamins.

Dirt and rocks are not food. The actual solubility of minerals and their subsequent uptake and utilisation in the body are also critical factors.

  • A study published in the Journal of Food Chemistry stated that, with the single exception of selenium, less than 10% of the synthetic minerals contained in the most popular brands of multivitamins were soluble, thus in a bioavailable form.
  • Plants, on the other hand, utilise the original "Nano" technology. They bond mineral moleules to multiple combinations of amino acids, lipids, sugars and phytochemicals, making them available to the body for multiple uses via various pathways.

While a supplement label may list 100% or more of the RDA for a given nutrient, this does not mean your body will be able to absorb and ulitise all of that nutrient. As explained in Food Chemistry 71 (2002), p.181-188, "Because eventual absorption of minerals by the body requires them to be soluble, achieving the 100% RDA criterion (in a supplement) by total mineral content alone is insufficient to meet daily nutritional requirements."

Simply put, while synthetic vitamins and mineral salts may be inexpensive, they do not provide effective support to bridge the nutritional gap between what we get in food and what our bodies require from it.

Recognising that plants are the body's natural and most bioavailable sources for vitamins, minerals and an important new group of nutrients called phytochemicals, a second generation of supplements was developed.

Second-Generation Supplements - from Whole Food Extracts

Second-generation supplements include:

  • Fruit and vegetable extracts
  • Single exotic plant or fruit products, e.g. Aloe vera, Gogi, Noni, etc.

Nutrients that are available in whole-food supplements are bioavailable to the human body.

However, whole-food supplements also have some disadvantages.

Disdvantages of whole-food supplements:

  • Fruits, vegetables and exotic plants are often deficient in important nutrients.
  • Whole-food supplements cannot be standardised for the amounts of vitamins, minerals or phytochemicals they might contain and therefore cannot be labelled for nutritional values.
  • No single plant/fruit/vegetable can meet the RDA requirements.
  • While plants can have substantial levels of vitamins, they are generally very low in mineral levels.

Whole-food extracts are a step forward in providing plant-sourced nutrients, but because they are not standardised, they can be significantly deficient of critical nutrients required for maintaining health.

To remedy this, the next major advance in technology came with the development of methods to standardise the amounts of various plant nutrients.

Third-Generation Technology - Vitamin/Mineral/Phytochemical Supplements

This new generation of supplements has many advantages:

  • Standardised natural vitamin complexes
  • Standardised plant-derived minerals
  • Standardised plant-derived phytochemicals
  • All sources of these individual nutrients should be specifically identified and labeled.

"Caveat emptor" - Let the buyer beware.

Distinguishing Third-Generation Vitamin/Mineral/Phytochemical Supplement Technology

A major challenge in evaluating a supplement lies in interpreting the marketing literature accompanying the product. Nutrition buzz words are easily recognized but often convey very little real information. For example, here are just a few of the claims made on various product labels and in brochures:

"Provides the body with what it needs in 90 seconds."

"Provides up to 2000% RDI of over 120 nutrients."

"Guaranteed burst of energy."

"98% absorption."

"Leading edge of science since 1978." (But still uses first-generation technology.)

"Offers the highest bodily absorption of any nutritional supplement on the market."

"Synthetic vitamins in a liquid form are more bioavailable than food."

Claims made about minerals can be equally confusing. Actual absorption/solubility rates are:

Mineral salts - less than 10%

Chelated minerals - fractionally better than mineral salts.

Plant sourced - 80 to 100%.

  • Some companies may claim in their marketing literature "whole food" or "100% plant sourced", but the product labels may list either chelated minerals or mineral salts in the ingredients.
  • Colloidal minerals and liquid minerals - very tiny rocks are still rocks! Solubility, not size, is the key factor for absorption in the gut, and the body best recognizes a plant source.
  • Plants concentrate minerals poorly. Realistically, when a product claims to have a 100% or more of the RDA or RDI of minerals from "whole food" or plant-based sources, the size and/or number of tablets needed to supply the required per-gram amounts would be huge.

Supplements with RDA's many times greater than 100% are generally designed for therapeutic use or as an attempt to make up for inefficiencies.

Some supplements may make a general claim of "whole food" or "100% plant-sourced" without actually identifying the sources of the various nutrients listed on the label.

Manufacturers of truly beneficial supplements will always disclose the sources of ingredients.

Third-Generation Breakthroughs

Currently efforts are underway to increase the levels of minerals in plants to meet nutritional needs. Certain plants that have an unusually greater ability to concentrate minerals are being grown hydroponically in mineral-enriched water. This has not only resulted in significantly higher levels of minerals in these plants, but it also allows for the standardization of plant minerals that can meet RDA levels.


Sometimes called phytonutrients, these are any chemical or nutrient derived from a plant source that can have a beneficial effect on health.

  • Certain specific categories of phytochemicals have proven very beneficial for maintaining health and being chemo-protective against cell and DNA damage.
  • Studies have also proven that they contribute to multiple aspects of vitamin and mineral utilization by the body.

"Caveat emptor"

Supplements can list a large number of plants, herbs, etc., with no indication of how much of each is included. Green harvesting and processing techniques can dramatically reduce the amounts of beneficial phytochemicals. Again, standardisation is extremely important.

The bottom line:

  • We need natural, plant-sourced vitamin/mineral supplements combined with phytochemicals.
  • These components must be standardized and labeled accordingly.
  • We need to understand some of the science in order to cut through the marketing hype and buzz words so we can make intelligent choices.

Remember, it's all about your health - invest in it wisely.

I hope this information from Proevity will help you to make a better vitamin-evaluation before you purchase your next vitamin/mineral supplement.

Proevity is a Continuing Education Group serving healthcare professionals as well as the lay public by providing valid, accredited, continuing education courses and certification programs emphasizing breakthrough technologies in wellness and nutrition.

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