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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Secret Shopper: What are the benefits of whole-food supplements?

Secret Shopper: What are the benefits of whole-food supplements?
Whole-food supplement proponents tout the nutritional benefits of these nature-based pills. Others find no added nutritional value. How should employees respond to questions about whole-food supplements?

Our secret shopper asked a health food store employee: Why should I choose whole-food supplements? 

Store: That’s really a personal decision. A lot of customers prefer whole-food supplements because they like that the vitamins and minerals come from an actual food rather than being created in a lab. The theory is that the nutrients work better because they’re delivered in one package—like an orange or apple?

NFM: But is that actually true? It seems like the additional benefit would be so small that it wouldn’t make much difference.

Store: There really isn’t a lot of research on it either way. I think it’s more about if you like the concept and like knowing the actual source of the ingredients.


How did this retailer do?

Our expert educator: Jack Challem, author of No More Fatigue (Wiley, 2011) and The Inflammation Syndrome (Wiley, 2010)

Jack Challem: I commend this retailer’s diplomacy and honesty in discussing a subject that’s clouded by marketing claims and counterclaims. Whole-food supplements have devoted followers with strong opinions of their value versus conventional highpotency supplements. However, virtually all of the research on the therapeutic or self-care use of supplements—thousands of studies—is based on relatively high potencies, which are often needed to correct marginal dietary intakes of nutrients or nutrient deficiencies. True whole-food supplements contain very tiny amounts of vitamins and minerals. That’s because only tiny amounts can be found in 1 gram of food—about the maximum amount that fits into a capsule. If a whole-food supplement contains relatively large amounts of vitamins or minerals, then those have been added to the supplement and blended with dehydrated food extracts. Look at the ingredients list on a label. If vitamins or minerals are listed, then they’ve been added. I encourage people to take regular vitamin and mineral supplements with food, which has long been recommended to enhance their absorption.

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