They look and taste like candy and supposedly provide your body with essential vitamins and minerals. But if it sounds too good to be true, that's because it probably is — at least according to some experts and studies.
“Gummies have invaded the supplement area," Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com told TODAY in a segment aired Tuesday.
And they're no longer just for kids. Global sales for gummy vitamins have exceeded $7 billion in 2022 alone, and even celebrities, like Kourtney Kardashian Barker, are getting in the game. Her new line of "Lemme" gummies promise to boost concentration, debloat and help you "chill." (Lemme did not respond to TODAY's request for comment.)
The health benefits of vitamins and supplements for the general population have been long-contested by experts. Despite the $150 billion-dollar industry's best efforts, research continues to show that vitamin pills advertised to keep us healthy might not actually be doing much at all, TODAY previously reported.
Some doctors and nutritionists are warning that the candy-like versions come with even more caveats.
What are gummy vitamins?
Gummy vitamins have exploded in popularity in recent years. In the vitamin and supplement aisle at your pharmacy, you’ll now find a wide array of these candy-like products, which look and feel similar to Fruit Snacks and other popular gummy candies, come in a variety of flavors, shapes and colors, and contain a range of vitamins and minerals for various ages and ailments.
Are there any benefits to vitamin gummies?
"Gummies are a great choice for people who have difficulty swallowing pills or capsules," Dr. Andrea Wong, senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, told TODAY. They also taste good, which makes them a great option for picky kids, Wong added.
What are the cons of gummy vitamins?
Reasons to think twice before taking gummy vitamins range from high-sugar content to their at-times questionable ingredient lists.
The high sugar content in many of these gummies — which is exactly what makes them a more appetizing option — can make a real dent in your recommended daily sugar intake.
One gummy vitamin typically contains anywhere from three to five grams of added sugar, according to Caroline Susie, a registered dietician, nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and nine teaspoons of added sugar a day for men, about 25 to 37 grams of sugar a day," Susie said in Tuesday's segment.
So if you're popping a couple of gummy vitamins throughout the day, that added sugar is definitely going to add up, Susie said. This may be an issue for people who are trying to limit their sugar consumption, the experts noted.
Sugar-free gummies aren't exactly a free pass either. These often contain a sweetening agent called sugar alcohol, and consuming too much sugar alcohol can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal effects for some people such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, said Susie.
Ingredients don't always match the bottle
What's more concerning is that the amount of certain ingredients in gummy vitamins may not match the numbers listed on the back of the bottle, according to experts.
“We find that there are many more quality problems with gummies than there are with tablets or capsules," said Cooperman. Tests done by ConsumerLab have found that many gummy supplements do not actually contain the amount of vitamin that it claims to have on the label, Cooperman added.
What gummies are made from allows the ingredients to lose potency faster than pills, Cooperman said, adding, "That’s a problem even with tablets over time, but they’re more stable."
"Companies realize that things are breaking down faster in gummies ... so they’re putting in twice as much, three times as much when they’re making the products," said Cooperman.
Too much of some ingredients, not enough of others
Federal regulations require most dietary supplements to have at least 100% of the amount on the bottle, said Wong, so companies will put more than that amount in the product to ensure that it meets 100%, even as ingredients degrade over time.
And there can be too much of a good thing, the experts warned.
“Any ingredient we can get too much of, like melatonin, folic acid, just about every vitamin out there ... there certainly can be health consequences,” said Cooperman.
Tests have also found that some companies are not adding enough of certain vitamins or minerals, and the gummies have lower amounts than what they claim on the label, Cooperman added.
"You need to remind yourself that the FDA does not have authority to approve dietary supplements for safety, effectiveness, or the labeling on the product," said Susie, so when it comes to these vitamins — buyer beware, or be mindful.
“Unfortunately, you really don’t know what’s in the bottle unless you’ve tested it,” Cooperman added.
What to look for in a gummy vitamin
How can consumers figure out which gummy vitamins they can trust? "As for all dietary supplements, consumers should look for trusted brands from reputable retailers," said Wong, and always consult a doctor before adding vitamins or minerals to your diet.
According to the experts, eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods is still the best source of vitamins and minerals for most healthy adults. Canned and frozen foods are also packed with vitamins, Susie added, and they're often more affordable.
"A vitamin or supplement can’t fix all the problems. ... You’re going to absorb more vitamins and minerals through food than just taking a pill," said Susie. "Food first over supplements when medically appropriate."
Who should take gummy vitamins?
Supplements can help fill the gaps for people who aren't getting enough vitamins or minerals from their diet, Susie noted. They can also make up for deficiencies caused by medical conditions (such as Crohn’s or inflammatory bowel disease) or medications that make it tougher for the body to absorb nutrients, Wong said.
Prenatal vitamins like folic acid and iron can be taken help support a healthy pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you do need to take vitamins, make sure you are following the instructions and taking the recommended amount, the experts said.
“Gummies can be OK, if used responsibly,” said Cooperman. “(But) I think you’re better off with pills and capsules.”
Chewable vitamins are another option for people who have trouble swallowing pills, and tests have shown they are much more accurate in their labeling than gummy vitamins, Cooperman added.
Gummy vitamins should always be stored according to directions, said Wong, because they can be more sensitive to things like heat and light, which can cause degradation.
Parents and caregivers should also make sure children do not consume too many gummy vitamins, which can be easily mistaken for candy, the experts noted.
"You definitely want to keep these in a safe place where kids can't get their hands on them. ... Although rare, there are toxicity levels with fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A, E, D, and K," said Susie.