Photo: John 'K'
Let’s face it — ever since outgrowing Flintstones chewables and gummy vitamins, we’ve been looking for a replacement that’s just as fun and tasty. Apparently, mom and dad got jealous — now, gummy vitamins made for adults are widely available from many different (well-known) brands. And it’s not just multivitamins — calcium supplements and fish oil pills have also taken gummy form. But when it comes to comparing the gummies to old-schools tablets, how do they stack up? And how is it possible to make vitamins (especially fish oil — come on!) taste like candy?
Why It Matters
There are 13 vitamins the body needs to function properly: A, C, D, E, K, and the B-group vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and folate). While most people get enough of each from their diet, people with special dietary needs may benefit from supplements. Additional calcium may be particularly helpful to strengthen bones in older women and vegans; folic acid is helpful for pregnant women or alcoholics; and vegetarians and vegans may benefit from supplemental vitamin B-12 (which is found mainly in meat and other animal products) Folate and DNA methylation: a review of molecular mechanisms and the evidence for folate's role. Crider, K.S., Yang, T.P., Berry, R.J. et al. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Atlanta, GA. Advances in Nutrition, 2012 Jan;3(1):21-38. Folic acid supplementation for the prevention of neural tube defects: an update of the evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Wolff, T., Witkop, C., Miller, T., et al. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2009 May 5;150(9):632-9.. Your doctor or a registered dietitian is the best person to let you know whether you should be supplementing your intake of certain vitamins and minerals.
Before you go popping just any pill, it’s important to know that the FDA doesn’t regulate vitamins. Instead, third party agencies can give vitamins a stamp of approval. These include Consumerlab’s Approved Quality Product Seal, NSF’s International Dietary Supplement Certification, and U.S. Pharmacopeia’s (USP) Dietary Supplement Verification. Each verification is slightly different: The USP process, for example, verifies that the product actually contains the ingredients listed on the label, that one serving does not contain an unsafe amount of any ingredient, and that the company has followed the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices. But while these verifications do exist, vitamin companies are not required to pass any of them. And more importantly, even if a company’s regular vitamins do have a certification, it doesn’t mean their other products (like, say, gummy vitamins) do.
What Makes a Gummy Vitamin Different?
Between one third and one half of American adults are already taking some kind of supplement or multivitamin. Seems like we were getting those vitamins just fine before containers of adult gummies starting calling our names, right? Maybe not. The people who take multivitamins are often the ones who need them the least — healthy adults who are already concerned with wellness and most likely reach their daily allotment of most vitamins and minerals just by eating a fairly nutritious diet. That’s why gummy vitamins may be a good idea: They appeal to a population who make be more reluctant to make “healthy choices,” such as college students whose diet is leaving them with nutrient levels below what is recommended Assessment of nutrient adequacy with supplement use in a sample of healthy college students. Ouellette C.D., Yang M., Wang Y., et al. Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2012 Oct;31(5):301-10. For anyone, they certainly make taking your vitamins a lot more enjoyable — heck, they may even be something to look forward to!
While there are countless brands of gummy vitamins at this point, we decided to compare one gummy multivitamin and one regular multivitamin each from two major brands — NatureMade and One A Day. We compared NatureMade’s Multi Gummy Vitamins and their Multi Complete Tablets and One A Day’s Multivitamin VitaCraves gummies and Essential tablets. NatureMade regularly gets certified by the USD, while One A Day does not recieve third party ceritification (though out of all their products, NatureMade's gummy vitamins are the only ones NOT certified). In a side-by-side comparison, all four products contain similar values of vitamins C, D3, E, B6, and B12, as well as biotin (a b-complex vitamin that aids metabolism and has been shown to help regulate the glycemic index of diabetes patients and folic acid) Survey of the effect of biotin on glycemic control and plasma lipid concentrations in type 1 diabetic patients in kermanshah in Iran. Hemmati M., Babaei H., Abdolsalehei M. Department of Pediatrics, Imam Reza Hospital, Karmanshah University of Medical Science. Oman Medical Journal. May;28(3):195-8.. However, gummy vitamins leave out the vitamin K, niacin, thiamin, magnesium, selenium, copper, manganese, and chromium present in most multivitamin tablets. According to Greatist Expert and registered dietician Elizabeth Jarrard, these vitamins and minerals are only necessary in trace amounts, and we get most of those from food, so it’s not a huge deal. NatureMade’s website explains why they’re left out: Some nutrients are eliminated due to “unpleasant taste.” While most people will be just fine without them, people with Crohn’s disease or anorexia may be deficient in thiamin and need the extra dose, and niacin has also been shown to help lower high cholesterol HDL-C Response Variability to Niacin EW in US Adults. Christian J.B., Olson E.J., Allen J.K., et al. GlaxoSmithKline, Clinical Effectiveness & Safety, Durham, NC. Cholesterol. 2013;2013:681475. So if you have special dietary needs, gummy vitamins may not supply the whole package.
And what’s up with fish oil gummy vitamins? Not as gross as they may sound. While the chemical mastermind behind them managed to avoid a fishy tasting fruit snack (ew), these gummies supply only a fifth of the fish oil per serving and less than one tenth of the omega-3s as regular fish oil pills. The chewable version barely makes a dent in the recommended daily allotment of 1200mgs per day of omega-3s, with only 60mgs per two-gummy serving. Fish oil supplements have tons of science to back up their benefits: They can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer; of all the supplements, these probably aren't the ones to skimp on N-3 fatty acids, cancer and cachexia: a systemic review of the literature. Colomer R., Moreno-Nogueira J.M., Garcia-Luna P.P., et al. Medical Oncology Service, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Girona, Spain. The British Journal of Nutrition. 2007 May;97(5):823-31..
Is It Legit?
Maybe. While gummy vitamins can be a great solution for someone who can’t swallow pills or just wants to make their healthy choices more fun (we’re all for that!), it’s important to proceed with caution. The whole point of gummy vitamins is that they taste great, so why not just take ten? Hold on — that’s not a good idea. While some vitamins (B, C, and folic acid) are water-soluble, meaning the body easily absorbs them and the kidneys remove excess amounts, fat-soluble vitamins like A and D can build up in body and be toxic in large amounts. In this case, popping those gummy vitamins like a kid on Halloween could result in uncomfortable symptoms like headaches, migraines, and constipation, says Jarrard.
And speaking of ingredient lists, the first few components in gummy vitamins are different than those in tablets. The big difference is sugar. Ingredients like glucose, corn syrup, and sucrose are first on the tally, and while the two or three grams of sugar found in most gummy vitamins is a pretty small amount, the gummy texture makes it easier for bacteria to linger on teeth and cause decay. An easy fix for this is to brush your teeth right after chewing that daily vitamin.
If you’re looking to go gummy but want a slightly healthier, more natural choice, one brand stood out to us: Smarty Pants gummy multivitamins contains only organic cane sugar, tapioca syrup, gelatin, pectin, citric acid, and natural flavors and colors. In addition, these gummies contain about double the amount of vitamin D and omega-3s when compared to the other brands we checked out. Plus, they also contain thiamin (not present in many other gummy brands). This brand is slightly higher in calories (50 calories and 8 grams of sugar for two Smarty Pants gummies versus 10 calories and 2-3 grams of sugar for the same serving of Nature Made or One A Day gummies). And remember — organic sugar is still sugar, and even the most wholesome gummies can still stick to teeth and cause decay.
The bottom line? Though more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of taking supplemental vitamins (and we’re still not quite sure they help that much) munching on a gummy vitamin probably won’t hurt NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements and Chronic Disease Prevention. National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director. NIH consensus and State-of-the-art science statements. 2006 May 15-17;23(2):1-30.. Check out those nutrition labels and consult a nutritionist or doctor beforehand about your specific needs to get the go-ahead.
What do you think about gummy vitamins? Are they the real deal or barely better than candy? Let us know in the comments below and tweet the author @skoppelkam.