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Are the Health Benefits of Gummy Vitamins Worth the Sugar?

"When's Sara's not writing you can find her hanging out with teenagers at her day job as a counselor and with her own son and daughter. With a B.S. in Exercise Science and a M. Ed. in counseling, she enjoys writing about health, wellness...

Sure, kids happily eat gummy vitamins — but what about the sugar?

It’s like clockwork. The dinner dishes haven’t even made it to the sink and my kids are asking if they can have their gummy vitamins. When my kids were younger and not able to swallow pills, I made the mistake of buying these tempting little treats.

Believing something was better than nothing, I convinced myself that giving my kids a few of these to chew on would be good for their health.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the sugary, sticky side effects of using gummy vitamins. They stick to my kids' teeth, which was something the dentist was not happy about. And the sugar became a problem. My son would sometimes lick the sugar crystals off the vitamins and then throw the rest away.

This left me with one question: Are the health benefits (getting adequate levels of vitamins and minerals) of the gummy vitamins worth the added sugar?

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Like most things in the health world, the answer depends on who you ask.

What are the health benefits of gummy vitamins?

There have to be some benefits to using gummy vitamins, right? According to Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, there are a few positive ways we can look at these supplements.

First, you’ll be more consistent. “To get the benefits of a daily vitamin, you need to take one regularly. And some people are a lot likelier to do that if the vitamin tastes sweet and delicious,” says Derocha.

Another plus is they are easier to take. Derocha explains that some people hate swallowing pills, so they opt for a chewable version instead. This is especially true if you take other prescriptions and are eager for a change of pace (something known as “pill fatigue”).

Derocha also likes the idea that you can take them whenever you want. “Many vitamin labels recommend that you take pill vitamins with food because it helps your body absorb the nutrients and reduces your risk of feeling nauseous. But since a gummy vitamin is foodlike, there are fewer issues with an upset stomach.”

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What should we be concerned about?

While there are some valid points for using gummy vitamins, the negatives seem to always win out. Even Derocha, who gave some solid pros, agrees that the cons outweigh the pros.

“The average gummy vitamin has 2 to 3 grams of sugar per serving thanks to sweeteners like glucose, corn syrup and sucrose,” says Derocha.

Also, gummy vitamins can easily get stuck in your teeth, so their sugar content can make them damaging to your dental health too if you don’t brush afterward.

“And watch out for gummy vitamins that use sugar alcohols to taste sweet. It’s a way to avoid using sugar, but it can cause diarrhea in some people,” she explains.

Chief nutrition officer of Terra's Kitchen Dr. Lisa Davis explains it’s a difficult task to stick to the guidelines when it comes to added sugar.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men. And for kids, it’s even less. Children ages 2 to 18 years old should consume less than 6 teaspoons of added sugars each day.

She gave this example to show how quickly the sugar in gummy vitamins can add up. “Let’s consider a sampling of gummy vitamins in my house, most of which contain about 2 grams of sugar per serving," she says. "If you have one serving of a gummy vitamin and one serving of gummy vitamin C at breakfast, you’ll have 1 teaspoon of sugar (equals 4 grams of sugar) before the sun is up.”

In addition to sugar being an issue, gummy vitamins are often not as complete as other sources. Derocha says calcium and iron are either missing from gummy vitamins or will be found in smaller doses because iron has a strong taste that is noticeable in a gummy and calcium increases the bulk of it.

Additionally, Paul Salter, registered dietitian, BodyBuilding.com nutrition editor and the founder of Fit in Your Dress, says substituting or relying on gummy vitamins to get your required nutrients is not a good idea.

He points to the fact that minerals are not absorbed as well in gummy form, and when resorting to such a supplement, you’re missing out on many other benefits — such as fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals — that can be found in food.

What’s the bottom line?

While gummy vitamins taste good and can provide you with daily nutrients, you should still try to get your vitamins in pill form first.

“Vitamins have an immeasurable positive impact on your body. Vitamin B is responsible for keeping our energy up and vitamin D strengthens our bones and maintain teeth health,” explains Dr. Christopher Calapai, a board-certified family medicine practitioner.

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“However, these vitamins are easily collected through our diet or sugar-free vitamin supplements.” He says that traditional multivitamin supplements are a great alternative, as well as smart dietary choices including leafy greens, fruits and vegetables high in nutrients.

Just a few things to consider the next time you're in the pharmacy's vitamin aisle.

Sure, kids happily eat gummy vitamins — but what about the sugar?
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows
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