I really enjoy listening to other dietitians experiences in the field of nutrition. I recently asked an intern to tell a recent experience she had that has really stuck out... I love, love listening to people's "ah-ha" moments. Thank you Cara for being such a good sport! ~ Natalie, RD
And so goes the tale of To Gummy or Not to Gummy...
I was observing a nutrition counseling session at WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and the dietitian was explaining what to look for in pre-natal vitamins. “The bottle will say ‘pre-natal vitamins’, make sure it has folic acid, and is complete. If you have any questions, just ask the pharmacist. And, whatever you do, do NOT buy gummy vitamins!” I think that the client and I both shouted, “what?!” at the same time.
I have taken a vitamin supplement throughout my entire life (thanks, mom). I can remember how devastated I was when I had to give up my Flinstones fruity chewable vitamins. Suddenly, I was choking down pills that seemed to be as big as my thumb going down my throat. Then, one day, it was as if my vitamin prayers had been answered: adult fruity chewable vitamins. I grabbed the biggest bottle of Vitafusion gummy MultiVites and watched dust collect on my old bottle of multivitamins. I wasn’t the only one who was over-enthusiastic about this either. A friend of mine used to walk in my house and head straight for the gummy vitamins whenever she would come visit. On one of these occasions, a different friend picked up the bottle and suspiciously looked at the label. “So, gummy vitamins for adults. Are these any good?” Good? These vitamins are great! I told her to try them and I left the room. When I returned, I found her quickly shoveling a handful of gummies in her mouth. I screamed, “THOSE ARE NOT FRUIT SNACKS!” To which, through a mouth full of gummies she replied, “…I’m, uh, very deficient.”
Naturally, when I heard the dietitian say that these adult chewable vitamins were not a good supplement choice, I needed some answers. They don’t have iron for starters. As a woman, having adequate stores of iron is essential because of the losses each month. The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for women ages 19-50 is 18 milligrams per day, compared to our male counterparts who only need 8 milligrams per day. In food perspectives, three ounces of beef has 3.1 milligrams of iron. The gummy vitamins have zero iron. Other vitamins missing from the gummies are vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, and manganese. Whew, that’s a lot!
I spent a solid half hour at Walmart the other day grabbing multivitamins off the shelf, comparing labels, comparing prices, and getting some strange looks from other shoppers. This is the conclusion I have come to: if you want a good, complete, multivitamin, don’t be quick to reach for the “fun” vitamins. Granted, if you cannot bear the thought of swallowing a pill whole, and all you can do is chewable, then that is appropriate for you. However, as far as having adequate vitamins goes, the gummies, the chocolates, the gumballs, etc., are simply not the best. Also, you don’t need to buy a fancy expensive brand of vitamins that you see advertised. I ended up leaving with the store brand because comparing vitamin levels on the bottle, the store brand, in some cases, beat out the name brands (and, I’m on a budget).
My last point I want to make goes back to my iron example. Don’t go out and grab a bottle of vitamins with the thought that it is a replacement for nutritious foods. There are a lot of foods that contain iron: spinach, fortified oatmeal, and beans to name a few. On the vitamins bottle it displays the word “supplement” in a tiny font. That’s the key though. Multivitamins are supplements. They supplement the foods that you eat. Multivitamins are not replacements.
In summary, if you are in the market for a new multivitamin or to begin taking a multivitamin, read the labels. And, like the dietitian at WIC said: ask the pharmacist if you have questions. But always eat a balanced diet to get a variety of vitamins and minerals from your food.