Swallowing pills is never fun. No matter how many beneficial vitamins or essential oils they may contain, pills can be a pill to take. The creators of “gummy” vitamins and supplements know this well. But there are some core questions that people with type 1 diabetes should consider before jumping in on the gummies craze.
First, gummy vitamins actually effective? And secondly, are the inevitable extra grams of sugar that come with them worth it?
Here we’ll take a closer look at the finer details of gummy-based vitamins and supplements.
“The first gummy was made by a company called “Yummy Bears” that started about 23 years ago,” explained Audrey Koltun, a registered nurse and diabetes educator in the division of pediatric endocrinology of Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Lake Success, New York.
“In my work, it seems to have become hugely trendy in the last 5 to 8 years. It’s just exploded,” Koltun told DiabetesMine. “There are good reasons for them, certainly, but with all of the pros, there are also many cons.”
Today, you can find a gummy version of dozens of vitamins and supplements, including:
- Individual vitamins
- Children’s, women’s, men’s, and other vitamin varieties
- Prenatal vitamins
- Herbs and minerals
- CBD oil
- Fish oil
- Antioxidants (Elderberry, for example)
- Gummies made specifically for sleep, nails and hair growth, etc.
Particularly for children, senior citizens, people with a fear of swallowing pills, and for people with “pill fatigue,” gummy vitamins are certainly better than no vitamin at all, added Koltun.
“For people with anemia in need of an iron supplement, a gummy version of iron can be far gentler on the stomach than the traditional pill form,” she explained. “But not all gummies are created equal.”
The biggest problem with gummy vitamins is how they are made.
“It’s important to understand that there is no regulation of vitamins,” said Koltun. “Anybody on the internet can take gelatin capsules and put whatever they want in there and sell them.”
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest contends that there are two major issues with how gummy supplements are made. The first is that they rarely contain the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals you actually need when comparing to a traditional vitamin. The second is that they are notoriously difficult to produce with any real precision, which means you can’t be sure just how much you’re getting of the vitamins listed on the product label.
Research from Consumer Lab confirms that “gummies are notoriously difficult to manufacture because it is hard to measure in the correct amounts of vitamins.
“And the ingredients in a gummy are more likely to degrade, so manufacturers often put in more than the listed amount, resulting in products with too much of a vitamin, such as folic acid, when first produced and decreasing amounts over the course of their shelf-lives. Some companies seem to do a better job making gummy vitamins than others.”
While most consumers assume the vitamins are mixed into the gummy itself, that’s far from the truth for many being sold.
“Many gummies are simply coated with a vitamin spray, the same way they ‘fortify’ cereal,” explained Koltun.
Cereal is one of the more affordable food items in a grocery store. In an effort to make it more nutritious for families that may not be getting enough vitamins and minerals from fresh produce, cereal manufacturers have been spraying vitamins on after the cooking and toasting process for decades.
Many gummy supplements are designed the same way, and the clearest way to determine how your gummy vitamins are made is by calling the manufacturer and asking.
Lastly, look for U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), Consumer Lab, or National Sanitation Foundation International (NSF) logos on vitamin bottles. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor or regulate vitamin and supplement quality, the most reliable brands will seek out approval from these organizations to demonstrate their quality.
You can find reviews and analysis of different vitamins from Consumer Lab to help determine which brands are most worth your while.
Consumer Lab also cautions against gummy vitamins merely because the manufacturing process lacks consistency.
So, do celebrity-hyped hair, nail, and skin gummies actually work? Scientific evidence is scarce, and when it does exist, it’s pieced together from very small sample sizes and thus not very conclusive, according to Popular Science, which took a deep dive into these claims in 2018.
For one thing, the authors pointed out that ingredients proven to work topically won’t necessarily work orally, although it is “completely legal” in the United States to promote these supplements as beauty enhancers without any clinical trials.
Furthermore, research that does exist for certain beauty supplements is largely industry-funded, although that doesn’t automatically mean it’s invalid, the authors noted. But many studies conducted by independent scientists in research labs are sponsored by the manufacturing company.
Still, expert nutritionists at Good Housekeeping sum it up this way: “From a clinical point of view, there’s really not enough data to support taking multivitamins for better hair, skin, and nails unless you know you’re deficient in one (or all) of the nutrients [included].”
Take biotin, for example, which is a popular ingredient in beauty supplements. According to Consumer Lab, some gummies contain up to 150 times more than what you’d need in a day, but there’s zero evidence to suggest that biotin supplementation will improve hair growth and texture in people who already get enough.
“The first ingredient [in gummies] is usually glucose syrup,” explained Koltun. “And the sugar-free ones contain sugar alcohols, which can be rough on the stomach for some people. I do think the mere 4 grams of sugar for two gummies in the normal version is insignificant and better for you than fake sugar chemicals.”
If you do find those 4 grams are raising your blood sugar, Koltun recommends eating them with a meal when you’re already taking insulin for a larger amount of carbohydrates, simply because it can be difficult to dose insulin for only 4 grams of carbohydrates.
If your insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio is as low as 1:4 or 1:5, Koltun recommends taking insulin with your gummies to prevent an unwanted spike in your blood sugar.
In fact, Koltun feels strongly that the carbohydrates and sugars in these gummies are the least of your worries.
“Look for synthetic food dyes versus gummies colored with vegetable extracts,” advised Koltun. “They’re supposed to be ‘safe’ in small amounts but I do not recommend them. Studies have
Overall, Koltun cautions against gummy vitamins or supplements containing any of the following:
- Artificial flavorings
- Food dyes
- High-fructose corn syrup (not to be confused with other types of syrups)
- Bromine — this is a flame retardant and an ingredient in Gatorade
- Pesticides or heavy metals — call the manufacturer and ask for details
Gummies do not contain minerals like traditional vitamins do, added Koltun. “But the Flinstones chewables do,” she said, referring to some of the earliest forms of chewable vitamins for those reluctant to swallow pills. “If you or your child or teenager take two Flinstones chewable vitamins every day, those will offer more than today’s gummies.”
Remember that the cheapest is not likely worth it when it comes to gummies and other vitamins. The cheaper the vitamin, the more likely you’re not getting what you’re hoping to but instead getting some of the cautioned ingredients mentioned above.
According to both Koltun and information from Consumer Lab, the following precautions should be taken when considering giving yourself or others gummy vitamins or supplements:
- Talk to your doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements. You may be taking a medication that interacts negatively with other nutrients.
- Vitamin E is a blood thinner, which means anyone taking heart-related medications should consult their doctor before taking any vitamin containing Vitamin E.
- Do not leave gummies in reach of children. Any adult or child can consume too many and put your health in danger. If you discover your child has eaten more than a few gummy vitamins, call poison control immediately.
- Pay attention to the recommended daily allowances for any vitamin. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are stored in your liver. If you consume too much of these vitamins, you’ll build up a toxic amount. Other vitamins are excreted through your urine when consumed in excess.
- Anyone on metformin should talk to their doctor about taking a Vitamin B12 supplement, via gummy or traditional pill, because metformin use is
associated with B12 deficiency.
- If you have trouble enjoying too many gummies, you may want to ditch the gummy vitamins to satiate your sweet tooth. Instead, enjoy a small amount of straight-up gummy candy on occasion and be sure to count your carbs and take your insulin. Overconsuming vitamins of any kind can be dangerous.
At the end of the day, the message is clear: Talk to your healthcare team about any vitamins or supplements you’re considering taking, whether traditional pills or gummies.
“If people would just eat more regular food, they wouldn’t need a multivitamin,” said Koltun. While some healthcare providers recommend multivitamins to all of their diabetes patients, she does not.
“I don’t blatantly recommend multivitamins for anyone, and that includes gummies. Sure, you can take them — it won’t hurt, as long as you’re not taking conflicting medications — but it would be better if we all just ate more fresh vegetables and fruits.”
She of course realizes this is certainly easier said than done.
“If you have a poor diet, take a gummy or a traditional pill multivitamin,” added Koltun.
But taking a vitamin will not make your diabetes better.
“A healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, real food, taking your insulin or other medications, checking your blood sugar — that’s how you improve your diabetes. Not with vitamins,” said Koltun.
“Vitamins do not have fiber or protein or healthy essential fats. Vitamins cannot replace vegetables. Your body was made to eat real food,” she said.
“You’ll use the vitamins and nutrients far more from real food than any manufactured product,” Koltun continued. “Your body was designed to recognize and absorb vitamins and minerals from real food.”
Ginger Vieira is a type 1 diabetes advocate and writer, also living with celiac disease and fibromyalgia. She is the author of “Emotional Eating with Diabetes: Your Guide to Creating a Positive Relationship with Food” and several other diabetes books found on Amazon. She also holds certifications in coaching, personal training, and yoga.