What started as a way to get kids to take their vitamins has turned into a double dilemma—popping supplements in gummy form exposes everyone in the family to more sugar as well as potential nutrient overdoses.
Available as individual and multivitamins, omega-3s and probiotics, gummies make up $1 billion of the $41 billion supplement market in the US, with sales increasing more than 25% since 2015. Not surprising since they taste great, and there’s no guilt associated with getting your vitamins, right? Not so fast…here’s how a healthy habit can turn into a harmful one.
The positives: If taking gummy multivitamins tastes more like a sweet treat than a bad-tasting pill, you may be more motivated to take a multivitamin on a regular basis, says Mohamed A. Jalloh, PharmD. And, in general, people who take daily vitamins and/or other supplements tend to engage in other healthy activities such as exercising and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Gummies can also help combat “pill fatigue.” If you’re taking many meds each day for a chronic health condition, for example, a chewy, fruity vitamin may be a nice break from swallowing pills and capsules.
The negatives: According to testing by ConsumerLab, some gummy supplements, notably multivitamins, don’t contain the nutrient amounts claimed on the labels. This is because gummies are harder to produce than pills, and the nutrients are more likely to degrade. At least one company, Vitafusion, has done its own tests to show that its vitamin C and D gummies are on a par with traditional pills. But the question remains with other supplements and at other companies.
Despite the uncertainty over potencies, overdoses or toxicities can still be a problem. You’re less likely to have serious side effects from water-soluble vitamins—with vitamin C, you’ll just pee out whatever your body can’t use, though too much niacin (B3) might cause skin flushing, rashes, and in greater amounts for longer periods of time, liver damage, explains Dr. Jalloh. But too much of the fat-soluble (meaning it can be stored in the body) vitamin D could lead to hypervitaminosis D, a potentially serious condition that causes nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness and frequent urination at first and bone pain and possibly kidney stones over time. And iron overdoses can cause constipation…or far more serious intestinal or liver scarring, adds Andrew Rubman, ND.
Then there’s the sugar problem. Gummies taste good for good reason…the addition of sweeteners plus flavorings to hide any medicinal taste. Just one gummy can contain anywhere from 2 grams to 8 grams of sugar.The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams (the equivalent of six teaspoons) for women and 36 grams (nine teaspoons) for men of added sugars a day. So if you’re popping three or more gummies per day, you could be reaching your limit.
The cautions: As with any nutritional supplement, if you do decide to go the gummy route, both Dr. Jalloh and Dr. Rubman agree that it’s best to first consult your health-care professional. This is because the type and dose for you depends on your overall health. You’ll also want to find out the best time of day to have your gummies so that other supplements, foods or drugs you take don’t block absorption.
Read labels carefully and compare the doses to traditional supplements. Some gummy probiotic formulas contain a far more narrow range of strains than traditional capsules, and some brands of omega-3 gummies have a fraction of the EPA and DHA in traditional softgels.
Look for gummies with natural, nonsugar alternative sweeteners, such as erythritol, stevia and monk fruit, says Dr. Rubman. Sticky and/or sugary ingredients such as glucose syrup, sucrose and gelatin can get stuck in your teeth and cause cavities, so if any of these are included in your choices, brush and floss immediately after chewing them.
Because they look just like pure candy, store them out of reach of children, just as you would any type of medication.
Of course, aim to get your nutrients from whole foods first. For more supplement smarts, read 6 Common Mistakes When Taking Vitamins.