Everything You Need To Know About Whole Food Vitamins

whole food multivitamins

The multivitamin has come under attack!

Important:  I’ve updated my priors about these products.  This article is now the most complete summary of how whole food vitamins work.

The multivitamin has come under attack the last 5 years.  A variety of longitudinal studies have creeped up casting serious doubts on their effectiveness, with several suggesting that they might actually deteriorate your health instead of improve it.

For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association studied a cohort of 84,000 male physicians over 6 years to study the effect vitamin supplementation had in preventing various types of cardiovascular disease.  As it turned out, the vitamins didn’t do anything.  Nada.

Multivitamins are good for preventing conditions that arise from severe deficiency, but their helpfulness seems to taper off pretty quickly when the body is in a high calorie, insulin-rich physiological state that most people with a western diet find themselves in.  This isn’t meant to demonize them, but to help people understand that taking one doesn’t help the body exert the metabolic control needed to prevent diseases of convenience.

The Problems With Multivitamins

I’ve written before about the problems with traditional multivitamins.

Two reasons.

  • Low Absorption.   Many of the nutrients in a multivitamin are not in a form that’s biologically available to your body.
  • Synthetic isolates might not be good for you.  It’s possible that many of the benefits of different nutrients are observed when digested with a complex of nutrients found in food that work together to exert certain regulatory controls over the cell.  Without this complimentary nutrient complex isolated nutrients cease to have any nutritional value.

Neither of the latter two points is absolutely true, but the kernels of wisdom contained within extend far enough that it ought to cause many people to re-think their assumptions about the traditional vitamin.

Whole Food Alternatives

For this reason whole-food multivitamins are becoming more popular as an alternative to traditional brands like Centrum.

What is a whole food multivitamin?

  • It’s a vitamin!  Ie, it’s not a powder, a juice, or something you add to your food.  As such its effect on your body will likely share some of the same drawbacks as other vitamins.
  • It’s made from food broths.  Traditional vitamins are often made from various synthetic materials.  A whole food vitamin is typically made from boiling different foods in water and then extracting the nutrients out of the broth and putting in the pill.

To show you their production makes them different, here’s a picture of the Pure Synergy whole food vitamin compared to a traditional synthetic brand:

pure synergy multi vitamin comparison

As you can see the synergy vitamin has a deep green color from the foods used to make them.

Whole food vitamins will frequently dissolve when put in water because they’re not manufactured with the array of plastics and adhesives that go into regular vitamins.  If you have questions identifying whole food vitamins vs. synthetic ones, please read my guide on the topic.

These types of vitamins have become more popular in the last five years, but there’s still very little reliable information on their efficacy.

Pros and Cons

As best I can tell, here are the biggest benefits and drawbacks of these types of vitamins.


  • Likely to be absorbed better by the body.
  • Can be taken on an empty stomach.  Lots of people can’t take vitamins on an empty stomach because it upsets their digestion.  These problems are typically not as severe with whole food vitamins.
  • Less weird additives used to make the pill.  Lots of traditional vitamins have a variety of strange additives used to package them.  For example here’s the label of a vitamin I saw at a neighborhood drug store:
Centrum vitamin label

polyethylene glycol, polyvinyl alcohol and magnesium borate…oh my!

Lots of weird stuff.


  • There is no valid research demonstrating their superiority.  None! This doesn’t mean they’re not better per se, but I can not find a single paper that compares the validity of a whole food vitamin to a synthetic one. So at this point their benefits are based purely on theory.
  • More expensive.  A whole food vitamin will typically run you about $30 or so for a month’s supply which is a good bit more expensive than other brands.
  • Less dense.  To get a full serving you’ll often have to take 3 to 6 pills,which can be a little inconvenient at times.

So the benefits of these supplements are still a bit speculative.  I don’t take a multivitamin currently but when I did in the past I did choose a whole foods vitamin for the reasons I wrote about above.

Best Brands

So with that being said, here are the four best brands I’ve found, both through research and my own personal experience.

The Synergy Company Organic Multi-vitamin

the synergy company multi vitaminThe Synergy company has been around for a long time and generally has a very good reputation.  Pure Synergy is a highly respected greens powder, and their multi-vitamins contain 20 different food based nutrients. A 30 day supply costs $24.95




New Chapter Only One Multivitamin

new chapter whole food multi vitaminLike the Synergy Company, new chapter has been around for a long time, and they’ve always had a specialty exclusively with different types of multi-vitamins.  I’m a tad skeptical about the their more targeted products, but their basic multipurpose multivitamin is high quality.  It has 24 different nutrients and probiotics as well.  A 30 day supply costs $25.45.



Mega Food One Daily Multivitamin

mega food multivitaminMegafood has been in the whole food vitamin business for a long time.  They source the food for their vitamins locally and culture them in a probiotic broth to extract nutrients.  Their vitamins contain 25 different nutrients plus digestive enzymes.  They also have the benefit of only requiring one tablet per serving.  A 90 day supply costs $32.33.



Nature’s Plus Whole Food Vitamins

source of life whole food vitaminsNature’s Plus is a fairly popular store bought brand that distinguishes itself by including a slightly wider variety of nutrients than other brands and by having a reputation for being unusually easy to digest.  The vitamins contain 25 different nutrients, including essential fatty acids and digestive enzymes.  A 2 month supply costs $40.85.



Which One Is Best?

With the limitations of multivitamins in mind, I think I’d go with Mega Food over the other competitors.  I say this because it has the most experience making this type of product and they pay the most attention to the handling of the ingredients used in their vitamins.  The food for their vitamins is locally sourced, organic, and is not heat treated.

A Handy Comparison Table

Here’s a useful table comparing these four different brands in more detail.  I hope this is helpful!

Brand# of NutrientsProbioticsEnzymesOrganicNon-GMOOther CertificationsServing SizePrice for 30 Day Supply
The Synergy Company Multivitamin20NoNoYesN/AN/A2 Tablets$24.95
New Chapter Only One24YesYesYesYesN/A1 Tablet$12.50
MegaFood One Daily25NoYesYesYesGluten Free, Soy Free1 Tablet$19.60
Nature's Plus Source of Life24NoYesN/AN/AN/A3 tablets$10.50

Research and References

Muntwyler, Jorg, et. al. “Vitamin Supplement Use in a Low-Risk Population of US Male Physicians and Subsequent Cardiovascular Mortality”

URL: http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=211978

Phillips, Christopher, et. al. “Multivitamin Supplements, Ageing, and Loss of Vision: Seeing Through the Shadows”

URL: http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=415153

Gaziano, JM, et. al. “Multivitamins in the prevention of cancer in men: the Physicians’ Health Study II randomized controlled trial.”

URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23162860

Sesso, HD, et. al. “Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in MenThe Physicians’ Health Study II Randomized Controlled Trial”

URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23117775


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  1. Whenever i read these articles i get so frustrated. Megafood, The synergy company, new chapter, garden of life dont make whole food vitamins. They feed or ferment regular isolated or synthetic vitamins with yeast and then pretend they are whole food. I really wish people would stop pretending they are whole food. Natures plus mixes those synthetic vitamins with food and then calls it whole food, what a joke. A true whole food supplement does not involve isolated, synthetic or usp vitamins at any time during the process.

    • That doesn’t seem to be true what you say about Synergy: http://www.thesynergycompany.com/v/ov_about.html

      • Jonathan Bechtel says:

        With regards to what, exactly?

      • The synergy company most certainly feeds synthetic vitamins to yeast, in order to make their multivitamins and other vitamins with exception of the vitamin c. Call them and ask them: Do you use usp vitamins in the manufacture of your supplements? They ferment usp vitamins with yeast and few foods and then pretend they are whole food

      • Step 1: Growing the Nutrients
        Out of an abundance of certified organic vegetables, fruits, sprouts, grasses, and much more, we create an intensely nutritious broth ideally suited for growing each one of our unique vitamins and minerals. Once the “soup” is just right, we add by hand our “secret,” certified organic ingredient: an amazing, ancient micro-plant capable of bio-transforming all of the nutrients into one of the most dynamic, nourishing foods ever created.

        The secret ingredient is live nutritional yeast.

        • Josh,

          Do you know of any supplement that does not involve isolated, synthetic or usp vitamins at any time during the process? Does one exist? Thanks.

          • I can tell you three of them, I do not work for or take money from any of them.
            Nutriplex Formulas
            Complete Foods Nutrition

          • Thanks – appreciate the info! I currently take a multi by “Innate Response” … any thoughts on them?

          • Innate response is the same company as megafood.

          • Josh … I was going to order the WholeFood complex by “Nutriplex Formulas” but I noticed the following –

            Whole Food Complex Contains:
            Alfalfa, bovine bone meal, carrot root, brown rice bran, nutritional yeast, sunflower seed, oat bran, astragalus, carob, acerola berry, adrenal gland, bovine liver, potato flour, arrowroot, bet root, date fruit, kelp, bovine kidney, bovine spleen, vanilla bean, stevia.

            “Nutritional Yeast.” You spoke against that earlier. Were you aware that nutritional yeast was in Nutriplex Formulas?

        • Thanks for enlightening me on all of this, Josh. I appreciate it. Too bad I’ve wasted tons of money on “whole food” supplements that aren’t any better than Centrum. I’ll certainly look in to the brands you recommended.

          • if you need more info or help finding the, completefoodsnutrition.com, pranin.com, nutriplexformulas.com
            my email is butterisbetter@yahoo.com if you need more in detailed info.
            I have worked in this industry for 12 years behind the scenes. I can tell you where all the bodies are buried.

          • Nutritional yeast is not bad. What is bad is when companies, for example, take vitamin d, made from irradiated lanolin, then bind it to a protein and feed it to the yeast and call it whole, raw food. Nutritional yeast by itself (unfortified) is actually a very beneficial food.

        • Just sent you an e-mail … thanks, Josh!

        • Josh have you looked at Garden of Life’s new Kind organics vitamins? They are souced from food

          • I am not going to get into this too much,
            Take the kind organics b12 for example.
            It says methycobalamin from nutritional yeast.
            Methylcobalamin does not occur in nature and nutritional yeast does not have b12. They put this in all of their products.

          • Innate Choice claims to have an all organic multiple with no yeast or synthetics added.

  2. Raechel says:

    I have a very hard time with all this information because of this. I am over 50 and have taken almost every vitamin ever made. The one vitamin that I always come back to is the New Chapter every woman’s 40 plus and I can honestly say that when I do not take these vitamins I can tell that I am not taking them. Additionally since these vitamins contain probiotics my digestive system works, I have more energy and my skin looks totally different after taking consistently. My energy level goes up as well. In addition I do not have the typical stomach ache that I get from almost every other vitamin on the market. So wouldn’t it make sense to use the vitamin that works instead of critique the ones that don’t have this and that and so on and so forth? Everyone of us is different and why shoot down something that works for someone? If you can tell me about a different vitamin that has similar properties with probiotics that works better and makes me feel is good then share that information with me please. Until I experience something that works as well or better I am sticking to what works for me… Thanks, Raechel

    • I use Shaklee Vitamins and they have been around since 1956 but we are celebrating the “100 years” this year, 1915 to 2015 of Dr. Forrest C. Shaklee inventing the “Multi-Vitamins” called “Vitalized Minerals”! They have over 90 Peer Review Journal Studies which are the Top of the Line Journal Studies you can put your studies in. If you aren’t in these studies, you don’t really have the proof it’s been done right. Then there is NASA who asked Shaklee to customized a rehydration beverage for the Shuttle astronauts called “Astro Ade”, which is still used today. Yes Shaklee developed it and still supplies NASA with it too. Then lets talk about the famous Jacques Cousteau and Cousteau Society who also selected Shaklee to provide environmentally friendly cleaning products for use aboard their research vessels, the Calypso and Alcyone. They didn’t go to any other Supplement Company for a reason, they didn’t have the science behind them that was proven! Year 2000, Shaklee becomes the first company in the world to obtain Climate Neutral certification and totally offset its carbon emissions, resulting in a net-zero impact on the environment.
      Shaklee is 60 years old and is a “Whole Food Supplement Company” only. The results we have seen with a lot of people and my self have been great. My cholesterol I dropped by 77 points with their products along with eating a lot more organic veggies & fruit. Yes, I also walked 30 minutes a day but the products did most of the work. Now, if you don’t believe all this, Check out the one and only study ever done on Multi-Vitamins: Landmarkstudy.com This is done with 1. People who don’t take vitamins, 2. People who take all the other vitamins out there and 3. People who take Shaklee Vitamins.

      Now this study is in the Peer Review Journal and it was done in 2007 by UC Berkeley School of Public Health in California. This is a public study so anyone can see it, just google: Landmarkstudy.com

      Yes, I am a distributor of them but only because I used their products for 3 years before becoming one and with being a Master Gardener and growing my own organic vegetables for 25 years, I realized that my health improvements meant so much to me and my family that maybe I could help others too. I’m meant to be here where I am and I’m also a researcher and since all the research that I came up with kept leading me to this company with honesty, trustworthy and integrity, I couldn’t help not fall in love with the man: Dr. Forrest C. Shaklee! He was an Einstein in Nutrition & Health! Do your own research and you’ll see what I mean!

      Good Health is your Greatest Asset and without it, you have nothing!

      • One more thing, “Nothing is 100% Organic” any more! Not when you can trace radiation in the air when Japan had their leak to MA air within 3 weeks. Yes, there were traces of radiation in the air and then it rains and it comes down on all of us along with polluting all the ground. So, when you say Organic, please look that up too and do your research, you will find, nothing is really 100% organic, so be careful what you really mean. The best we can get, maybe 90% to 95% Organic but really nothing closer to that. Pilots and if you fly at all, you are taking in radiation all the time, traces of it but it all adds up! Pilots are checked for it all the time to make sure they don’t take in too much! Something else I learned and researched too! Google it, you’ll see what I mean.

  3. Suzanne says:

    Anyone try Touchstone Supplements, or Garden of Life new Kind Organics line

  4. Sellout ALERT says:

    Delete New Chapter: they are now & since 2012 owned by P&G!

  5. Hi, I have been using New Chapter and do think its better than many on the market. What does anybody
    think of Standard Process. I just ordered some for my 2 year old. Not sure if brand would be more of a whole
    food vitamin than New Chapter.

  6. I see Josh that you are the web designer for your parents company NutriPlex. I hope this doesn’t affect your judgement of health benefits of other companies. Thanks for piquing my interest in the companies you recommended and reading up on them as well for info.

  7. Harry Wan says:

    What about Health Force Vitamineral Greens or E3Live?

  8. Check out It Works! It’s Vital Core Nutrition is a whole-food multivitamin that meets your core nutrition needs with essential vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. It is naturally derived from over 30 pesticide-free, plant-based ingredients, including broccoli, carrot, oranges, blueberry, strawberry, kale, and more. These premium natural sources provide increased amounts of Vitamins A, D, B6, B12, C, and E.
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  1. […] If you’re curious about where to go further with multivitamins then I’d recommend reading my guides which talk about the differences between whole foods and synthetic vitamins and which brands are the best. […]

  2. […] good multivitamin is probably a decent place to start.  I recommend a previous article of mine on some of the best brands of vitamins.  I’d also recommend you read my interview with a supplement industry insider that offers […]

  3. […] written about whole-food vitamins here, here, and here.  They are all sort of true, but anyone who manufactured vitamins who read […]

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