You can now buy what are called “food state” supplements – as the name suggests, they are made from food. To make “Food grown” supplements, extra nutrients are added to food pulps, such as carrots, citrus fruits or baker’s yeast. These extra nutrients enter the cells of the foods and encourage them to produce higher levels of nutrients. Another way to make food state supplements is with fermentation. You put a fruit mixture, into a tank and add a yeast. This ferments the fruit to make extra nutrients. These processes can’t make large quantities of any single nutrient and costs more time and money – which is why food state nutrients tend to come from smaller, niche brands and have higher price tags.
So why bother doing all this when synthetic vitamins have been safely used for years? We need to go back to the work of a scientist called Albert Szent-Gyorgi. In the ’20s he was treating sailors who had scurvy – a deficiency in Vitamin C. He saw they recovered faster when they were given oranges to eat, instead of Vitamin C supplements. So what’s going on?
Nutritional therapist Ian Marber explains, “Nutrients in food are not eaten in isolation. They come surrounded by other compounds that are believed to play a role in how the vitamin or mineral is absorbed. The theory with food state supplements is that they include more of these extra nutrients, so your body can absorb them more effectively.”
In some ways, the theory is similar to the way Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM aims to maintain balanced nutrition through diet. In recent years, both food therapy and medical diet therapy have been increasingly applied in clinical nutrition therapy. We know, for example, that calcium can only cross through the intestinal wall if it’s accompanied by a specific protein. This might explain why a 1987 study found that men who took nutritional yeast, as well as calcium, had a greater drop in blood pressure than men who just took a calcium supplement. But what else is going on?