Chewable, sweet-tasting and easy – vitamin “gummies” are the lolly-like dietary supplements that are rapidly gaining momentum worldwide.
Once reserved for children, more and more adults are reaching for a bottle of vitamin gummies.
But experts warn that the popular pastilles could be chewing a hole in your hip pocket, and doing little to improve your health.
Who might benefit from vitamin supplements?
Some people are advised to take supplements by their doctor if they are lacking in a particular nutrient, such as vitamin D or iron.
Pregnant women, vegans or vegetarians, people who have allergies and the elderly may fall into this group.
While supplements don’t compensate for a poor diet, vitamin gummies taste good and are easier to take than traditional pills or capsules. So fussy eaters who have nutritional deficiencies may lean towards these products to meet their daily requirements.
Vitamin gummies may also be useful and recommended for people with swallowing difficulties, which is medically known as dysphagia.
The pitfalls of vitamin lollies
Vitamin gummies give people a “false sense of permission” to neglect their diet, accredited practising dietitian Lauren McGuckin said.
Despite decades of public health messaging, many Australians still don’t get enough vegetables and fruit in their diet each day.
Yet, the vitamin and dietary supplement industry has exploded in recent years – with sales doubling in the past 10 years to reach $2.77 billion, according to the latest figures by Complementary Medicines Australia.
“It ends up being something that people fall back on,” Ms McGuckin told The New Daily.
“People might be a little bit more lazy with what they’re consuming through their diet.”
In most cases, adding a couple of extra servings of vegetables to dinner or a few salad ingredients to your lunchtime sandwich is all it takes to sneak in the recommended ‘five a day’, Ms McGuckin said.
Eating real food also ups your recommended fibre intake.
“There’s so many more benefits to aiming to increase your nutritional intake through real food than there is through taking a multivitamin,” Ms McGuckin said.
Gelatine, food acids and colours, sugar and sugar substitutes are commonly added to vitamin gummies, which could be doing more harm than good.
“They are just lollies with added vitamins,” Ms McGuckin said.
“Some put down they contain vegetable powders, such as 1 per cent of kale. It’s utterly useless and pointless, but gives that illusion of health.”
Complicating matters further, some supplement companies will specify how much sugar content has been added. Others will simply note that the product “contains sugar”, leading to buyer confusion.
In 2017, a panel of Australian health experts called for a review into vitamin gummies, which they labelled as “unhealthy, poorly regulated and exploitative”.
“It is our view ‘gummies’ that contain food acids, and have a high sugar content, are not medicines consumers need, and their sale should be prohibited on public health grounds,” the authors wrote in The Conversation.
That same year, consumer advocacy group Choice named and shamed gummy vitamin manufacturers for selling “shonky candy” that aimed to “tempt kids and trick parents”.
It found that several vitamin gummy products containing calcium were marketed as being good for teeth, despite evidence to the contrary.
Most multivitamins don’t contain enough of any one particular nutrient to actually make a difference, Ms McGuckin said.
“They’re just expensive, and basically you’re flushing it down the toilet,” she said.
“Your body only absorbs as much as it needs. Those large doses of vitamin C and B vitamins in particular just get peed out.”