Food for Thought?

"There are less than 20 of us in the company," explained Ken Seguine, director of sales for Intelligent Nutrients, when I spoke to him during a phone interview. "We'd love to have all our products where we could say, 'This is where it came from, this is who grew it.' We're not there yet, but that really is our standard. We want to be meeting with farmers and everything. We're on a path."

On a path indeed. Decoding Intelligent Nutrientsspeak is a job for someone with more space than I. Just consider the "intellect®" bars, which purport to give you "the all out pleasure of a candy bar combined with the benefits of the nutritional bar-of-the-moment." Of which moment? Of the moment when you read the label on the back of your $2, awful-tasting bar and ask yourself: What is "hi fiber rice"? And a howdy-do to you, too, rice!

The Web site (www.intelligentnutrients.com), according to Seguine, is the primary presence for the company and the products. But don't turn there for actual information, because given room to stretch, IN gets ever more convoluted. For example, you will learn that daily cheer contains "vinpocetine to help focus and concentrate." "Some have felt the effects in as little as one hour," the literature promises. "Intelligent Nutrients is one of the first companies to use this remarkable new compound. It is derived during a complex process that starts with the seeds of a tree native to the Amazon. We feel things like vinpocetine provide one more reason to leave the rainforest intact."

What's vinpocetine? Actually, it's derived from the common garden periwinkle plant, vinca minor, and you'd be hard-pressed to find any information about it that doesn't come from someone who's selling the stuff. For what it's worth, the people who sell it say it brings blood to the brain, guards against dementia, and helps cure strokes. Finding out what vinpocetine is supposed to be took me an hour, but heaven help the person who wanders through the streets with $5 burning a hole in their pocket and the desire to feel better.

IN also sells tea--brewed, in whole-leaf form for brewing at home, and in green-tea pills, or, to be more precise, in "100 percent organic green tea polyphenols standardized antioxidant extract." As of this writing, the Intelligent Nutrients Web site and tea-pill packaging advises that one or two capsules daily of this tea extract "protects your body's cells and tissues against the damaging effects of free radicals, increases your energy level, maintains cardiovascular health and cholesterol levels, energizes your weight management program, [and] maintains healthy, beautiful skin."

I'm not the only one taking a hard look at IN's language. While working on this article I had the good fortune to come upon a fun piece in that saucy little journal Food Chemical News. According to the November 15, 2000 issue, in August the U.S. Food and Drug Administration informed Intelligent Nutrients that its claim that its tea helps maintain cholesterol levels "suggests the product is a drug intended to treat, prevent or mitigate disease, namely hypercholesterolemia," which "violates the dietary supplement provisions of the [federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act] and therefore subjects the product to drug regulation." The company was advised to contact the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research if it intended to continue using the above claim.

Seguine and Sharon Burt, IN's director of retail operations, explain that the company's attorneys advised them they could continue to use their current packaging and literature until they run out. "Everybody thinks the FDA doesn't regulate this business," added Burt, "but we are regulated."

I feel intellicalmer already.

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