Gummy vitamins taste like candy, making them more enjoyable to consume than vitamins in tablet or pill form. So it’s no surprise that gummy products now account for $1 billion of the $41 billion supplement market in the United States, a more than 25 percent increase from 2015, according to IBISWorld, a research company.
But are they equally effective?
There’s no evidence that one form of vitamin is superior to another, according to Zhaoping Li, a professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Clinical Nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles.
She acknowledged that people are often skeptical about the ingredients used in gummy vitamins. “Gummy is made of gelatin,” Li said. “They also often have other things in it — glucose or glucose syrup. They often have to add food coloring. And citric acid to keep it stable.”
To be fair, she added, vitamin gummies, pills or tablets often undergo chemical processing, with added “inactive” materials that help to shape the vitamin into its form. “We could find out the same concerns … with tablets as what we’re worried about with gummy vitamins,” Li said.
That being said, there are some points you should consider as you choose vitamins from the shelves of your local drugstore. Below are some things experts want you to keep in mind about gummy supplements and vitamins in general.
Be aware of gummy vitamins’ added sugar
Gummy vitamins are typically made with added sugar. It’s one of the reasons they’re so tasty, but it’s also one of the reasons some consumers are hesitant to jump on the bandwagon.
Whether added sugar in your gummy vitamins is cause for concern depends on the amount, said Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table. As a frame of reference, she said a packet of sugar has 4 grams of sugar. In comparison, if a gummy multivitamin had 3 grams of sugar and provided the vitamins your body needed, the generally low sugar content wouldn’t be concerning. It’s best to look at your sugar intake as a whole, Taub-Dix advised. Less than 10 percent of your calories each day should come from added sugars, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.
“That’s 200 calories, or about 12 teaspoons, for a 2,000-calorie diet,” Taub-Dix said, adding that some people may need more or less than 2,000 calories a day, depending on their health and activity level.
Calories from sugar can add up quickly, too, she noted, especially if you consume yogurt, cereal, coffee drinks, sauces and salad dressings. High-sugar diets can lead to higher blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes and fatty liver disease, all of which have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
So you wouldn’t want to take a combination of gummy vitamins that are equivalent to 16 grams of added sugar, Taub-Dix said, which could add up to 4 teaspoons of sugar coming from your vitamins alone. And pay attention to your pearly whites, as well: Some dentists say the ingredients that make gummy vitamins taste like candy can also contribute to poor mouth health if left unchecked. (But simply brushing can alleviate that.)
All things considered, Taub-Dix said, gummy vitamins are fine to take. Just be wary of too much added sugar in your diet as a whole — which includes gummy vitamins if you take them — and take care of your teeth.
Remember not everyone should be taking vitamins, gummy or not
Both Li and Taub-Dix said the greatest advantage of gummy vitamins is compliance: People are more inclined to take them because they taste good. But not everyone needs to take vitamins in the first place.
Vitamins are used to treat vitamin deficiencies, which can result from a lack of adequate nutrition, illness, a health condition or pregnancy. It is possible to get the vitamins you need from food, Li noted, and the focus should be on eating a balanced diet. (Li said half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, then a quarter with whole grains and a quarter with protein.)
“If you’re the one who only eats hamburgers and fries [and] hates vegetables other than iceberg lettuce, then you may see potential value in adding multivitamins to a diet,” Li said.
People often consume more calories than they need, yet still fall short of the recommended amount of many nutrients. For adults, a low intake of certain nutrients and vitamins — such as calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, C and E — can be cause for concern, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If you’re a parent, you also need to ensure that your children get enough calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium and vitamin E.
There are also special groups with more specific vitamin needs, including the elderly, those living with diabetes, those who have alcoholism, patients who have undergone a weight-loss surgery or a resection of the stomach, vegetarians and vegans.
Not sure if you need vitamins? Consult a doctor or a pediatrician (if the vitamins are for your child), who can help to identify vitamin deficiencies and assess whether a supplement is needed. Keep in mind, Taub-Dix said, that some health care providers may work in partnership with certain supplement brands, so you might find a better price for a comparable product elsewhere.
Check the label before you purchase
Stroll down the vitamin aisle at the store and you’ll notice gummy vitamin labels geared toward specific demographics like women or children. Others appeal to certain health concerns, such as gut health or immune system support. However, products that go by different names can still have overlapping vitamin ingredients, which could potentially be dangerous.
Vitamin A, for example, is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed into the body with help from bile acids, which are fluids in the body used to absorb fat. If you consumed a multivitamin, an immune-boosting supplement and food (such as fish oil, milk or eggs, for example) that all have vitamin A in them, Li said, that could be cause for concern, unless you have a vitamin A deficiency. If you take too much vitamin A in total, “it can cause liver failure,” Li added.
Comparatively, B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins, which are easily absorbed by your body and aren’t stored in large amounts. “If you take too much, your kidney just gets rid of it,” Li said.
Consult a health care provider to avoid exceeding the Recommended Dietary Allowance, based on your individual needs and diet.
Know that some gummy vitamins aren’t vegetarian- or vegan-friendly
It’s also important to check the vitamin label for common allergens, which are called out under the ingredients. Vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options will also typically be called out on the label, but it’s worth double-checking.
Gelatin, for example, is used in many gummy vitamin products. It can be produced from animal skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. However, there is a product called agar-agar, which is derived from a type of seaweed and may be used as a gelatin substitute for vegans.
Keep in mind the FDA isn’t responsible for checking on the safety of vitamins before they’re sold publicly
The Food and Drug Administration treats vitamins — including gummies — as “dietary supplements.” Therefore, gummy vitamins are subject to the same safety, manufacturing and labeling (and other) requirements as any dietary supplement, FDA press officer Lindsay Haake said in an email.
However, dietary supplements — including multivitamins — do not need to be approved by the FDA before they can be sold publicly. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the FDA is responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded dietary supplement after it reaches the market. That means it’s up to the companies and individuals who manufacture or market dietary supplements to ensure their products are safe and lawful before selling them.
“Firms can introduce new dietary supplement products to the market without receiving approval from FDA,” Haake said. “In fact, firms can often lawfully introduce dietary supplements to the market without even notifying FDA.”
The FDA can inspect dietary supplement facilities to evaluate their compliance with regulations — and take action where appropriate. That action could include warning letters and recommending judicial action to the Department of Justice, Haake said. If the FDA can prove that a product is unsafe or falsely labeled after it reaches the market, the agency can also have it removed from distribution.
How can you find a gummy vitamin that is likely to follow safety and quality protocols? Consider buying vitamins from well-known brands, Li said, as they tend to be more consistent in quality and experts know more about them. Consumer Reports has also investigated many major multivitamin brands over the years to ensure their claims are accurate.
Beware of teaching kids that vitamins taste like candy
The fact that gummy vitamins often look and taste like candy may increase a child’s willingness to take them. However, that can also lead them to take too many. As most vitamin labels indicate, keep them out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.
“For children, because they like the sweet taste, they may take more because they don’t know better,” Li said, adding that parents should supervise their kids while taking gummy vitamins — and make sure they understand they are not candy.
If your child exceeds the recommended amount, call the free poison help line at 800-222-1222. Nemours, a nonprofit children’s health organization, also gives this advice: “Never tell a child that medicine tastes like candy.”
That extends to gummy vitamins, too.