Variety of vegetables cut in half, placed on a white and black tablecloth.

Why Plant-Based Nutrients Are Not Always Better than Synthetic

By Emily Gladders

Variety of vegetables cut in half, placed on a white and black tablecloth.

We’re all about that plant-based life here at Ritual HQ. Our founder Kat is vegan, as are many of our teammates. So you might be surprised to hear us herbivore types say that plant-based is not always better when it comes to the nutrients in your daily vitamin. As usual, it comes down to the science.

The vegan/vegetarian nutrition conundrum

We’re supporters of all kinds of diets. Whatever your viewpoint on eating meat, it’s hard to deny that vegan and vegetarian diets are better for animals and the planet. But without the help of modern supplementation, it can be a challenge to get all the nutrients you need from a plant-only diet. Certain nutrients, including vitamin D3 and vitamin B12, are nearly impossible to find in plant food sources. Plus, many plants contain other substances like fiber and minerals that inhibit the absorption of certain essential nutrients. That means that sometimes even food that is high in a given nutrient may cause low absorption of that nutrient because of other absorption-inhibiting compounds inside the food.

All of this is to say that plant-based is not always a perfect solution when it comes to nutrition. We love plants, but they have limits too.

The problem with plants and supplements

Plants are grown in the dirt and out in the open air, which sounds pretty perfect, right? But like all uncontrollable environments, there’s a dark side to open fields and air: the risk of unwanted contaminants. Plant-based nutrients in vitamins come with the risk of exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and environmental exposure to BPA and other toxins. Even if you extract your nutrients from produce that’s grown organically, there’s still an inescapable risk of environmental and microbial contamination. You don’t want chemicals or microbes inside your vitamin.

We know what you’re thinking: if I eat plants themselves every day, aren’t I already exposing myself to contamination? Sure, of course, you are. But we’re making a pill that you swallow every day. That’s why we’re especially careful about contamination. Something you take for better health shouldn’t come with unnecessary health risks. It should be as clean as possible! More on that later.

You don’t need to be scared of synthetics

Essential for Women contains a lot of plant-based nutrients (peep the full rundown below), but it also contains a few nutrients that are synthesized in a lab. Our vitamin is vegan, so we use synthetic versions of nutrients that can’t be found in plant-based foods, plus a few others.  Many people assume that plant or food-based is best because it’s what the body is used to getting. The truth is that your body doesn’t really know the difference between a plant-based nutrient and the identical synthetic molecule.

A synthetic nutrient can be exactly the same form that you’d find in healthy foods. A synthetic, bioidentical nutrient works just as well as the nutrients in food with less risk of contamination. That’s because synthetic nutrients are made in a nearly sterile setting.

So how are synthetic nutrients even made? It’s a super complicated process, but we’ll boil it down as best we can. Many people assume that synthetic means it was extracted from petrochemicals, but that’s not quite right. It’s true that some synthetic ingredients are made from petrochemicals, but not all synthetic ingredients are. None of Ritual’s synthetic nutrients are made from petrochemicals. Instead, nutrients like our folate MTHF are made by yeast fermentation, like making beer or wine. Our vitamin K2 MK7 actually starts with compounds found in flowers. Then, these compounds and byproducts are chemically altered so that they have precisely the same molecular makeup as the nutrient molecules found in healthy foods.

The scoop on our nutrients:

We searched high and low to find the best, cleanest forms of every nutrient. Sometimes that means a plant-based nutrient, and sometimes that means a synthetic nutrient. Curious which of Ritual’s nutrients are extracted from plants and which are made in a lab? Take a look:

Vitamin K2 MK7→ Synthetic

Vitamin D3→ Plant-based from lichen

Vitamin B12→ Synthetic

Boron→ Synthetic from fructose and minerals

Iron→ Synthetic from iron and glycine, made by fermentation

Vitamin E→ Plant-based from Brassica napus seeds

Magnesium→ Synthetic but using plant-based ingredients

Folate→ Synthetic from fermentation

Omega-3→ Plant-based from algae