A hard pill to swallow: Why gummy vitamins don't work as well as conventional supplements

A hard pill to swallow: Why gummy vitamins don't work as well as conventional supplements
Gummy vitamins are high in sugar to make them taste like candy.Douglas Sacha/Getty Images
  • Gummy vitamins don't work as well as pills since they often contain inconsistent levels of the nutrients on their labels and tend to degrade faster than conventional pill vitamins.
  • Vitamins in gummy form also increase your risk for dental decay since the sugary gelatin can get stuck in your teeth and may tempt children to overuse them since they taste like candy.
  • But gummy vitamins are better than nothing for people with vitamin deficiencies and may make it easier for parents to get their children to take vitamins.

Gummy vitamins can be tempting - you get to eat something sweet and skip out on swallowing a big multi-vitamin tablet.

But gummy vitamins may not measure up when compared to their pill counterparts. Independent analyses have found that many gummy vitamins don't contain all the nutrients they claim on their label, or in some cases, they may have too much of certain vitamins.

Here are some of the pros and cons of gummy vitamins.
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What are gummy vitamins?

Gummy vitamins are sold as an alternative to taking vitamins in pill form. Gummy vitamins were traditionally marketed toward children, but now adults make up the majority of people taking them.

Gummy candies are often made from gelatin to provide their structure, but modern gummy vitamins can also have other ingredients like beeswax, acacia gum, and coconut oil.

To create the sweet taste, gummy vitamins often contain glucose syrup or sugar alcohols like sorbitol. Most gummy vitamin brands have around 3 to 8 grams of sugar per serving.
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There are some gummy vitamins that have just one specific nutrient like vitamin C, but many gummies are multivitamins. For example, common products like Flintstones Gummies and Nature Made gummies include some of the following:

The cons of gummy vitamins

There are several reasons why taking a vitamin pill is a better option than taking vitamin gummies: They don't include certain minerals. Minerals like iron often aren't included because they are more difficult to incorporate into gummy form and have a distinct taste, says Tod Cooperman, MD, a healthcare researcher and founder of ConsumerLab.com, an independent company that conducts evaluations of dietary supplements.
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This is important because many people may be at risk for iron deficiency, particularly premenopausal women and vegetarians. Over time, iron deficiency can lead to heart problems or difficult pregnancies.

They can be high in sugar. While gummy vitamins often contain several grams of sugar, vitamin pills have no calories and generally don't contain sugar. When you increase your sugar intake, you have a higher risk of developing conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

They may increase your risk for dental decay. Cooperman says the gelatin in gummy vitamins can easily get stuck in your teeth and cause cavities.
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They have a higher risk for overuse. Children may think of gummy vitamins as candy and take more than they should. "For most vitamins and minerals there are upper limits on how much you should get from a supplement," Cooperman says. If you take too much, you can risk having health effects like kidney stones or heart disease.

They may contain varying amounts of nutrients. This is because they are harder to manufacture than pills, Cooperman says, which makes it harder to ensure that they truly contain the proper amount of each vitamin and mineral.

Gummy vitamins tend to lose their potency more quickly than pills, meaning that it's harder to predict how long gummies will last on the shelf. To make up for this, some manufacturers include extra doses of vitamins in their gummies, which can cause problems if you take in too much of these nutrients.
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The pros of gummy vitamins

Many experts have concerns that gummy vitamins don't contain enough vitamins and minerals, but gummies may have some advantages over other types of vitamins.

They are easier for children to take: Any parent knows that it can be hard to get kids to take medicine, and the same is true for daily vitamins. "Most kids and adults enjoy a good-tasting gummy multivitamin more than a pill," says Cooperman.

This is partly because vitamins often come as large tablets, which can be hard for kids, and some adults, to swallow. Gummy vitamins also look more like candy, which can help convince kids to take them.
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They may be better than nothing: Though gummies aren't the best source of vitamins, a gummy vitamin may be better than nothing at all. If your child has a vitamin deficiency or a very limited diet, but won't take pills, it may be worth it to use a gummy.

However, not all kids need to take a daily vitamin. According to the Mayo Clinic, if your child is growing normally and has no nutrient deficiencies, they likely don't need to take a daily multivitamin. The same is true for most adults. If you aren't sure whether you need to take a daily vitamin, ask your doctor. If you do need a daily vitamin and want to take a gummy, studies have found that some brands may be better than others.
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One report found that while around 80% percent of gummy vitamins had inaccurate labels, some were more trustworthy, including Flintstones kid's gummies and Nature's Way women's gummies. Both of these products contained correct amounts of the vitamins on their labels.

Healthy alternatives to gummy vitamins

Pills are likely the best way to get your vitamins, as they are relatively easy to manufacture and can last a long time on the shelf without breaking down.

But Cooperman suggests that if you need an alternative to pills, there are other forms available besides gummies.
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"Liquids can also be considered if you just want certain minerals or vitamins, like vitamin D, which can be given as a flavorless drop added to a drink," Cooperman says.

Nature's Way and other brands offer liquid vitamins and you can find them at most pharmacies.

Insider's takeaway

Gummy vitamins can be appealing, but they may not provide the same health benefits as vitamins in pill form. They also often contain sugar, which can work against your health and cause tooth decay.
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"Unless there is no other way to get a needed nutrient, I would not suggest taking a gummy," Cooperman says.

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