Don’t be fooled by their cute fruit shapes or bear faces: gummy vitamins are not candy, so you probably shouldn’t munch on fistfuls of them as if they were, nutritionists warn.
You probably shouldn’t pop fistfuls of candy either.
Gummy vitamins were invented in the 1990s as a clever way to get children to take nutritional supplements.
But parents quickly realized their kids were onto something, and supplement companies caught onto the notion that gummy-loving adults were an untapped market.
So in 2012, the first ‘adult’ gummy vitamins hit the shelves, and by 2016 they were a $2.68 billion business.
The sweet, chewable supplements have certainly gotten more popular as time has gone on, but whether they are ultimately beneficial to those who take them is less clear, according to nutritionists.
Gummy vitamins originally designed to make the nutrients more palatable to children have become popular ‘treat’ for adults, but experts warn that too many can make you sick
Just about any vitamin you can conceive of now comes in a tastier squishy gummy form.
‘Gummy vitamins are a potentially good option for those who struggle to take pills or are feeling nauseous (think pregnant women), however you need to be careful to treat them more like medicine than candy,’ says Canadian registered dietitian and nutrition blogger Abbey Sharp.
‘When a supplement tastes like a treat, but is marketed as healthy, there’s a real risk that people will overdo it and over-eat them.’
Instead of stinky fish oil capsules, you can get your Omega-3 in a pleasingly-shaped cranberry and orange flavored form, for example.
But that much improved taste comes at a cost.
It comes as no surprise that these supplements would include some sugar, but exactly how much might be less intuitive.
Vitafusion’s gummy multivitamins, for example, come in peach, berry and orange flavors. Each daily serving of two gummies contains three grams of sugar.
The recommended daily intake of sugar for a 2,000 calorie diet is about 25 grams.
So in two little gummy vitamins, you get about 12 percent of your daily intake of sugar, plus about one percent of your daily carbohydrate allotment.
But the problem isn’t so much with eating a single gummy vitamin, it’s the cumulative effect of eating several, just because they taste good, or even a whole bag or bottle as many people apparently do.
‘I don’t even care if gummy vitamins actually have vitamins in them, I’m just getting my fruit snack fix,’ Twitter user Sperry Garcia said.
One Twitter user says ‘the problem with gummy vitamins that taste good is that you want to eat a bunch but you also don’t want to have an overdose of vitamins.’ She punctuated her tweet with a pensive emoji.
Her concern is right on point, according to registered dietitian Abbey Sharp.
‘Eating [gummy vitamins] raises the risk of vitamin toxicity. More is not necessarily better,’ she warns.
‘In fact, it could be dangerous!’
Some gummies often coated in sugar and just a couple of the ‘supplements’ can account for as much as 12 percent of an adult’s recommended daily sugar intake
Doctors and dietitians recommend minimum and ideal daily intakes of various vitamins and minerals. The ideal level is different for each vitamin, and exceeding a maximum for many vitamins can actually pose health risks.
Every year, more than 60,000 cases of vitamin toxicity are called into poison control centers across the US.
Some vitamins, like most forms of B, have never been shown to have toxic effects – even in extremely high doses. Even if it is not toxic, that doesn’t mean that the more vitamin B you ingest, the better your nervous system and carbohydrate processing will function.
Overdoses of other vitamins, such as vitamin C, can cause relatively mild but still unpleasant symptoms.
Vitamin C is key to development, strong bones and teeth and our body’s ability to heal, but too much of this crucial nutrient can induce a miserable bout of diarrhea.
The same may be true if you snack on too many gummies chock-full of other nutrients like iron and magnesium – even though the latter is also thought to help curb diarrhea in proper doses.
In addition to the stomach cramps nausea and vomiting that you can expect if you over-indulge in the sweet treat-like supplements, other vitamins can induce more surprising and even serious health effects.
‘Too much selenium or vitamin A’ – the latter of which is commonly found in gummy multivitamins – ‘could lead to hair loss and dry skin,’ says Sharp.
Vitamin D, which is crucial to bone health, is one of the most highly toxic nutrients when ingested in excess.
‘Too much vitamin D could lead to hypercalcemia which can potentially cause kidney stones and cognitive issues,’ Sharp explains.
Though most B vitamins are safe, ‘excess vitamin B6 may cause nerve damage, and B3 (niacin) may cause a condition called “flush” where the skin becomes red, warm and may have even feel like it’s burning! Needless to say, it’s not uncommon for people to be taking a lot more than they actually need,’ she adds.
Sharp advises that instead of choosing a whole cornucopia of gummy vitamins for taste, those truly interested in how to supplement their diets to optimize their health should speak to a dietitian or nutritionist about which specific nutrients they need.
‘It’s likely that a lot of the vitamins and minerals in the gummies are unnecessary, and if you were to just focus on a few key nutrients that may be missing from your diet (like vitamin D and omega 3, for example), you may be able to make taking pills or tablets more palatable,’ she says.