Food for Thought?

Teddy Maki

Intelligent Nutrients
2947 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis;
(612) 822-9848

Hours: 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sundays and Monday


Made some New Year's resolutions? Maybe you want to lose weight? Maybe you want to reduce stress? Maybe you just want more happiness? Not sure how to go about achieving such goals? Well, here's an idea: Sell the kids, hock the furniture, pawn the drapes, and take all the coin you gather over to Intelligent Nutrients, the coffee shop/juice bar/herbal-supplement seller/healing-jewelry store/elixir vendor/smoothie operation that opened on the corner of Lake and Hennepin last June.

I don't really know that you'll find inner peace or lose weight for your troubles, but I'll eat my hat if you don't learn something useful about yourself in the process. Actually, my hat would be a nice change of pace for me--at least it's not an intellihat. For the last two weeks I've been drinking Intelligent Nutrients elixirs made of fruits, nuts, soy, and milk of cow, rice, or soy enhanced with such ingredients as "intellicalm," "intellitrim," "intelliderm," "aquabalance," "proactive," "innerharmony," and "daily cheer." Yes, I've been drinking daily cheer.

All these ingredients, and many, many more, are available to you at the Intelligent Nutrients counter, either in caplets (daily cheer costs $34.95 for 60 caplets, or about 58 cents a cheer), or mixed in to "elixirs," for 40 cents a pop. Elixirs are available in such flavors as mixed berry, made with frozen "in-season" berries (blackberries and strawberries on my visit), apple juice, agave nectar, vanilla extract, your choice of milk, and anatomy® non-GMO (genetically modified organism) soy-protein powder. Papaya cashew is made of papaya, apple juice, cashew butter, agave nectar, a choice of milk, and anatomy® non-GMO soy-protein powder. Essential Green Tea Ginger is made with green tea, ginger, agave nectar, apple juice, a milk, and anatomy® non-GMO soy-protein powder. For what it's worth, the green-tea-ginger is my favorite. It has a sharp ginger bite and a nice earthy base from the tea.

Am I healthier, wealthier, or wiser after all this straw-jockeying? Well, definitely not wealthier: These elixirs all cost $4.75, or $5.06 with tax. Add in a couple of supplements, and you're looking at a $7 smoothie. (That's what they'd call these things, in a less smooth environment.) Healthier? I couldn't really say. I noticed no particular change in my intellect, cheer, or anatomy except for--ladies, cover your eyes!--a definite brightening of my urine. Wiser? Oh yes. Much, much wiser. In oh so many ways.

First, let us all stand back and whistle at the genius of Intelligent Nutrients founder and owner Horst Rechelbacher. Rechelbacher, of course, is the man nearly single-handedly responsible for putting pasture, garden, and forest where people could really appreciate them--in their hair. He started Aveda in the 1970s, putting organic plant elements in shampoo and cosmetics. In 1997 he sold Aveda for $300 million to Estée Lauder, and the rest of the cosmetic universe was so dazzled by his vision that couch-bound Americans everywhere were condemned to endure commercials starring those Herbal Essences loud-orgasm-women.

What was invisible to the naked eye is that in 1995, while Rechelbacher was growing Aveda and generally enhancing the reputation of leaves and roots, he started Intelligent Nutrients. The natural-supplement market was well on its way to becoming, by some published estimates, a $6 billion-a-year industry. Yet sadly, as any one who's been to a health-food store to pick up a bottle of echinacea can tell you, most supplement hawkers are severely lacking when it comes to branding, package design, or general point-of-sale pleasure.

Call those dark days done! Now Intelligent Nutrients is poised to be the Chanel, Gucci, and Armani of supplements, selling the same old thing that everyone else does--green-tea pills, multivitamins, blends of multivitamins with additives like echinacea and ginseng--in elegant blister-packs nestled in chic boxes. Or in powder, added to elixirs.

Which is too bad. The original reports of what Intelligent Nutrients would be sounded far sexier than the sterile thing that perches in Uptown: Last December Harper's Bazaar reported that Intelligent Nutrients had already opened a " ultracool smoke-free bar where you can get herbal tonics served in martini glasses....Before getting served a drink, customers have to fill out questionnaires to determine their dosha (personality type) and chakra (energy center) most in need of balancing. Wunderbar tenders then prescribe a tonic just for you." In reality, the place didn't open for another seven months, and in the real-life store there are no martini glasses, no questionnaires, and nowhere to settle in for drinks with friends. Just expensive tonics and sachets in a corner boutique full of prosodic gobbledygook.

And not just any gobbledygook. In my opinion, Intelligent Nutrients should win a special prize from the Pulitzer people for luxurious enhancement of the language. For example: Whither Intelligent Nutrients? One pamphlet explains it thus: "For the last 35 years, our founder has searched the planet for active plants and minerals for health and wellness. Years of experience, indigenous inspiration and the latest high-tech medical research have culminated in effective formulas that support your body's optimal functioning. We choose only the highest quality plant sources, constantly striving for 100 percent organically grown ingredients and request our ingredients be tested to make sure they are safe and free of harmful chemicals." Active plants? Indigenous inspiration? They request that their ingredients be tested? And what if the supplier declines the request?

"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 (, 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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