From farm to capsule
Organic farming started with food. Now, this growing movement is spilling over into your supplement bottle.
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Organic foods-kale, celery, beet, tomato, alfalfa, to name a few-are becoming key sources of vitamins and minerals in some supplements.
What’s the draw? The majority of consumers believe that organic ingredients are healthier. The research tends to support that assumption. For example, a large 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) showed that organic crops have more antioxidant content than conventionally grown crops. And levels of antioxidants were nearly 70 percent higher in the organic crops. Not surprisingly, scientists are also finding that organic crops have lower levels of toxic substances than their nonorganic counterparts. In the BJN study, lead and mercury content was found to be 50 percent higher in conventionally grown crops compared to organic ones.
From the Dinner Plate to Your Vitamin Bottle
A growing number of supplement manufacturers are taking the science behind organic foods and applying it to ingredients in their products. For example, Natural Factors, a Canadian company headquartered in British Columbia with a U.S. base in Everett, Wash., is well-known for practicing organic farming and careful seed selection. “Before organic farming was trendy, Natural Factors focused on growing organic, non-GMO seeds on its Factors Farms,” says Kathy McKnight, vice president of sales and marketing at the company.
Gaia Herbs, based out of Brevard, N.C., is another example of a manufacturer who implemented organic farming before it became a more widespread practice. “Gaia has been growing organic herbs for 35 years because it is a part of the company’s mission to cultivate health and well-being by stewarding sustainable relationships between plants and people,” says Todd King, vice president of marketing at the company. Today, Gaia grows about 40 different herbs with a total of more than 6 million individual plants on their farms in North Carolina and Costa Rica.
It’s important to note that not just any plant can be deemed “organic.” There are strict guidelines that dictate whether an ingredient in a dietary supplement can be labeled as organic. According to the American Herbal Products Association, a dietary supplement can be labeled as organic if it contains agricultural products, including herbs, vitamins, and minerals, derived from organically grown plants.
Organic foods are also becoming key sources of vitamins and minerals in some supplements. Whole Earth & Sea, a new line from Natural Factors, features a range of organic foods-kale, celery, beet, tomato, and alfalfa, to name a few. Products within the line contain a proprietary whole-food combination (called “Farm Fresh Factors”) that includes cruciferous vegetables, fruit polyphenols, plant sea vegetables, and organic herbs.
Supplements Are Not Food
As you may have guessed, it’s no longer enough to just have organically grown ingredients-consumers want the
cleanest ingredients possible in their food and supplements. But taking an organic dietary supplement is different from buying a pint of organic blueberries: Harsh manufacturing can damage the nutrient content of ingredients in supplements, potentially canceling out any health-promoting potential of the organic crops.
Supplement companies have different ways of counterbalancing manufacturing processes. At Gaia Herbs, herbalists study, cultivate, and process herbs based on what’s best not only for the planet but also for the plant and the person who will consume it. “From seed-saving and compost practices to extraction that does not use harmful solvents, we are committed to a processing method that ensures the fullest possible expression of each organic herb,” says King.
Natural Factors created a proprietary processing method that ensures the temperature remains low and includes liquification with enzymes, probiotics, and prebiotics to help culture organic ingredients. This technology helps minimize the loss of active compounds.
A key advantage to buying organic products is the assurance that they are non-GMO. In terms of crops, those most likely to be genetically modified are corn, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, soybeans, alfalfa, papaya, yellow squash, and zucchini. Organic versions of these foods are non-GMO. Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is injected into some dairy cows, and aspartame are also genetically modified ingredients.
According to Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance in Salt Lake City, non-GMO verification is more challenging for supplement manufacturers but it’s the wave of the future. The supplement industry may lag behind the food industry when it comes to GMOs, but they will eventually get up to speed, he says.
To that end, manufacturers such as Natural Factors and Gaia Herbs are taking control of non-GMO initiatives by growing their own ingredients with a focus on the seeds. If a company owns their own organic farm, they are able to have control over seed selection, effectively guaranteeing non-GMO ingredients.
If dietary supplement sales mirror that of the food industry, it’s likely that consumer demand will continue to influence the growth of organic dietary supplements-taking organics to a whole new level.
It Starts With The Soil
From the rich coast of Costa Rica to the lush valleys of British Columbia,
Canada, organic farmers agree that the quality of the plant begins with the soil.
The beautiful rainforests of Costa Rica are home to Finca Luna Nueva, an organic farming partner to New Chapter supplements. It wasn’t just the beauty and purity of the Costa Rican soil that drew the supplement company, based in Brattleboro, Vt., to the tropical area. It was Costa Rica’s commitment to protect and preserve their natural resources.
“Costa Rican farms are minimally dependent on imported materials and instead meet their needs from the living dynamics of the farm itself,” says Sara Newmark, New Chapter’s director of sustainability. “It is the biodiversity of the farm, organized so that the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another, that results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and ultimately makes the farm sustainable.” According to Newmark, New Chapter appreciates the rigorous standards set by the Costa Rican government and the fact that the farm produces high-quality products in a conscious, efficient, and humane manner.
The Natural Factors Farms are situated between Otter Lake and Swan Lake, just south of Armstrong, B.C., Canada. “This is special soil because over millennia the repeated flooding of Otter Lake to the valley below has deposited a tremendous amount of organic matter onto the land, which resulted in extremely fertile topsoil that is more than six feet deep in some places,” says McKnight. The topsoil in this specific location has special lime stratification, which plays an important role in neutralizing the soil’s pH.
One of the beauties of organic farming is in the way it treats the Earth beginning with a deep-rooted respect of the soil.