Delicious gummy vitamins can make you feel like a kid again eating fun, chewable vitamins (or Haribo), but, frankly, they taste a little too good. Eating more than the recommended serving — usually two or three gummies — could harm you in certain cases. In others, you’re not going to get the benefit you think you’re getting and will have consumed calories you could’ve used on, you know, real food, says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
For instance, if you take too much vitamin C, your body will see to it that you pee out what you didn’t use. You will also likely get diarrhea and stomach cramps, warns Angelone. Taking too much calcium without the proper amounts of vitamins D and K2 could lead to free calcium in your body because it’s not getting into your bones. “The calcium is going to linger in your bloodstream longer and it can contribute to calcification of your arteries or joint calcification,” she says. And while many calcium supplements contain D, they don’t have K2, and neither do vitamin D supplements, which some people take for immune support. “If you don’t take calcium with K2 or vitamin D with K2 — since vitamin D increases calcium absorption — then I think you’re setting yourself up for secondary problems,” she says.
Then there are cases where your supplementation won’t do a whole hell of a lot, and vitamin C is again in the hot seat. “People tend to buy vitamin C for their immune system but I would say vitamin D is more effective at supporting it,” she tells the Cut. “And how are you eating? Immune systems work off protein and other vitamins and minerals to be healthy.” Though she admits there are good studies showing that taking vitamin C at the first onset of cold symptoms can help decrease the virus’s severity and duration by about half a day. Angelone says she’d take a few thousand milligrams (the National Library of Medicine suggests 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams), but taking a few hundred milligrams every day is probably not going to prevent you from getting rundown.
Some people take B12 because the bottle claims to give them energy, but Angelone says B12 only works with other B vitamins, and you need all of them. “I rarely would recommend someone take B12 alone because if they’re low in B12 they may be low in other B vitamins and you’d want to figure out why,” she says.
These examples get at the larger idea that “nutrients work in concert with each other, like letters in the alphabet. You need several letters to make words because they work together to give meaning.” So really, you shouldn’t take just one nutrient. “And if you do, sometimes you can create a problem or an imbalance, or you can create another problem downstream.”
Okay, then I’ll take a gummy multivitamin, you say. Gummy multis probably aren’t worth it at all, Angelone says, because many don’t contain minerals or, if they do, it’s small amounts of a few like calcium, phosphorus, and iodine. No magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, or zinc. “I find that people need more minerals than they need vitamins. Vitamins are easier to get [from food],” she says. Gummies tend to have pathetic mineral levels because taste is part of their appeal and lots of minerals taste horrible, iron and magnesium especially, Angelone says.
Since you’re chewing it, it has to taste good — and this palatability is achieved with sugar. “They’re basically candy, which is sort of a problem,” Angelone says. “One of my clients has a sweet tooth and she can’t stop eating them. I said, ‘You have to throw them out because you’re going to cause yourself harm.”
Traditional vitamins don’t contain sugar (or any calories for that matter) but gummies require sugar and other additives to maintain their shape. “The bottle of vitamin D gummies I’m holding lists the first ingredient as corn syrup. The next ingredient is sugar, then water, gelatin, citric acid, and corn starch,” she says. “So it’s sugar, sugar, water, cows’ hooves, citric acid, corn starch (calories), coconut oil, malic acid, tartaric acid, and carnauba wax, which I put on my car to make it shiny.” An individual gummy only has 10 or 15 calories, but it’s probably not wise to associate something you’re doing for your health with sugar and, again, you could be eating real food instead of corn syrup.
Still, she doesn’t think gummies are totally evil. “They’re certainly an option for some people, especially people who have trouble swallowing pills, but you’d have to know that it’s really a sugar pill with some nutrients and that there may be better ways to get those nutrients.” But if you’re the kind of person who’s tempted by sweets, she suggests not keeping the bottle out on your kitchen counter. “Most people, when they see something, they want to eat it. Visual cues are one of the problems with weight issues.” And this kind of snacking could actually be harmful. You could keep your gummies in your medicine cabinet or in a cupboard.
Speaking from personal experience, under absolutely no circumstance should you keep them at work, where you might be tempted to chow down on your “fruit snacks” when you don’t have cash for the vending machine.