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The Harm of Children’s Sugar-Filled Vitamin Supplements

by Nancy Appleton and GN Jacobs(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 192 - March 2012

Children's chewable and gummy vitamins may possibly be the worst thing for your child. We've been told for years that our children may need the supplements to make up for shortfalls of key nutrients in their diets. Considering how difficult it may be to convince kids to eat their greens, parents believed what they were told. The problem seems to be a whole lot of sugar and other sweeteners on the label.

I have long held the position that the last thing anyone wants to do when taking nutritional supplements is to cut the vitamins and minerals with sugar. Sugar affects the precise mineral balance of the body, causing the body's systems to stop working properly. As you may remember from Lick the Sugar Habit and Suicide by Sugar, I highlighted the Calcium-Phosphorus Ratio calculated from the levels on the basic blood test as the most common indicator of a lack of homeostasis.

This ratio is important because excessive sugar changes the body's delicate pH balance, typically a slightly acidic state to a highly alkaline state, by pulling calcium from the bones to counteract the change in pH. The excess calcium in the blood is toxic because the mineral must match up with the right amount of phosphorus to work properly. Every hormone in the body and the systems that depend on hormones (all of them) fail to work properly. Thus, no vitamin, mineral or medicinal herb will ever work for you when you take it with sugar.

As a result, sugar and similar sweeteners have been linked to obesity, diabetes, asthma, diarrhoea and many other ailments. So let's take a look at a random sampling of a few children's vitamin labels. A few of these 'healthy' supplements are eye-opening in terms of how much sweetener has been jammed into those tiny chewables. Just so you know, many food and supplement producers will use the legal requirement for a label to list in descending order of quantity using up to four different types of sweetener to create a label that might read like this (Primary Food or Nutritional Item, Sucrose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Maltose, Lactose, Dextrose...) when the real truth in the label is (SUGAR, Primary Food Item...). The first label is thought to sell the product better, because no one says they want to eat that much sugar.

  • Disney Princess Gummies - The key offenders on this Nutrition Facts Label are many - corn syrup, sugar, grape juice concentrate, modified corn starch, purple berry colour concentrate (maqui berry concentrate and sugar), maltodextrin and farther down the list, mannitol. Just so you know, the manufacturer that paid for Disney's brand likenesses had to pay $2 million to the Federal Trade Commission for false claims of promoting healthy brain and eye development;
  • Puritan's Pride Children's Multivitamin & Minerals Gummies - This is a brand that tries to go sugar-free with their adult lines of multivitamins, but even the 'good guys' sugar up their kid friendly lines. Two gummies per serving leads to 4g of total carbohydrates and 3g of sugar. The ingredient list reads: sugar, corn syrup...a couple normal ingredients followed by Purple Berry Colour Concentrate (maqui berry juice concentrate, sugar) and a few unsweetened colouring agents;
  • Nature Made Vitamin D 400 IU. Chewable Orange Flavour - I couldn't find a chewable multivitamin on Nature Made's site, but the vitamin D3 supplement seems to be typical of how vitamins are marketed to kids. The ingredients here have an odd staccato rhythm to it alternating sweeteners with other ingredients: sorbitol...maltodextrin...cornstarch...modified food starch...sucralose and finally vitamin D3 place just above Red 40 colouring. I'm sure that the maker gets a lot of smug satisfaction from a legal designation as Sugar Free, but it's still a lot of sweetener in a kids supplement. And some of those sweeteners are sugar alcohols shown to have roughly similar effects to sugar. Interestingly, this label didn't list how much sugar in grams, but knowing that labels must list ingredients in descending order of inclusion in the product, the answer could be worth a cringe.
  • Kangavites Complete Multivitamin & Mineral Chewable Tablets Bouncing Berry - This brand sold by Solgar curiously picking an interface to make the label as hard as possible to read is more of the same. The label lists sucrose, fructose and mannitol as the top three ingredients. At least, the total carbohydrates on the label reads as one gram per pill, so maybe these vitamins aren't as bad as others;
  • Incredivites - Sold by Shaklee this line brings in 2g of total carbohydrates mostly from sugar alcohols. The label lists sorbitol, isomaltulose and xylitol as the top three ingredients;
  • Kids One Multistars - This line lists fructose and dextrose as the top two ingredients for a total of 1.5g of total carbohydrates;
  • Yummi Bears Multivitamin & Mineral - This Vitamin Shoppe brand puts six grams of total carbohydrates per three gummie serving, of which half are listed as sugar. The label lists glucose syrup and natural cane juice as the top two ingredients;
  • Nordic Berries - Another Vitamin Shoppe brand that lists 10 grams total carbohydrates and 8 grams sugars per 4 gummy serving. The label lists organic glucose syrup, organic evaporated cane juice as the first two ingredients and rice syrup solids and sucrose crystals farther down.
  • Nature's Blend Children's Chewable - Sold at Swanson this line has 1 gram of sugar and lists sucrose as the top ingredient;
  • Swanson Premium Children's Chewable - Essentially Swanson's house brand. These vitamins may be a little better listing fruit juice sweetener as the top ingredient, but I have always lumped fruit juice in with sugar as a dangerous food because juice usually has the dietary fibre removed from the whole fruit;
  • Animal Chews with Calcium - Yet another brand that lists three variations of sugar: sucrose, dextrose and fructose, for a total of 1 gram a tablet. The label also lists mannitol near the bottom of the list;
  • Flintstones Complete Gummies - Perhaps these vitamins are less horrible for your children; glucose syrup and glucose being the only recognizable sweeteners found on this particular label. But, any sugar in the mix is the problem;
  • Gummi King Sugar Free Multivitamins - A vegan friendly line that lists at the top of the label maltitol and maltitol syrup. PETA supports this brand with an endorsement as being animal friendly;
  • Centrum has possibly the worst offender with their Centrum Kids Complete Multivitamins. This label list has sucrose (sugar), microcrystalline cellulose, mannitol, pregelatinized cornstarch, mono- and di-glycerides, aspartame, cornstarch, dextrose, dried corn syrup, hypromellose, lactose, maltodextrin, medium chain triglycerides, modified cornstarch and tocopherols. Additionally on this label you will find a few chemicals not from the sugar and other sweetener family that also kill you eventually, including sodium benzoate and propylene glycol alginate.

Sodium benzoate is a preservative found in soda that can turn into benzine, a highly flammable carcinogen. Bon appetite! Propylene Glycol Alginate is anti-freeze, typically a sweet tasting, but lethal kissing cousin to alcohol that requires medical attention within minutes. Sometimes HFCS is made from corn with chemicals like glutaraldehyde, an embalming fluid, linked to headaches, burning eyes and asthma. Mercury is also used in the production process and one estimate puts the mercury contamination of HFCS at somewhere between one half and one third of all the produced sweetener.

The sweeteners listed on these label may seem inconsequential when a child may be eating between 1-3 grams of sweetener per serving. My position repeated is that any sugar is too much sugar when taken with vitamins. But let's put these sugar totals in context; the average can of soda weighs in at 40 grams of sugar. This translates into parent-friendly as 10 teaspoons. So 1-3 grams per gummy serving may not seem like that much in comparison, but when you add in the fact that the American Heart Association recently reduced their allowable sugar targets for adults to 9 and 6 teaspoons per day for men and women. My standard for allowable sugar is closer to 2 teaspoons per day. Each serving of vitamin gummies may only be 0.25-percent of a teaspoon, but it all adds up and I would suggest that parents that decide to go with these various sugar-filled vitamins, to severely cut back on the sugar elsewhere in their children's diet like soda, juice and most definitely the desserts.

Lastly, I wanted to remind the reader that sugar alcohols like mannitol and maltitol are sweeteners somewhere between sugars and alcohol that won't get you drunk, but can still affect your health in many ways including gas, bloating and diarrhoea. So before you deal with the recent possibility that the vitamin supplements themselves may be harmful or at least not as beneficial as advertised, we have to get the sugar out of the supplements. Don't give your kids those Flintstones!



  1. Krista said..

    My main concern is not so much that that amount of sugar will harm my kids - 1/4 teaspoon is probably no big deal. My kids aren't allowed sugar at all except for holidays. The problem I have is that I don't want my kids to develop a taste for candy. I know from my own experience that even small amounts of sugar (with relatively intense flavor) can develop a craving in you if you take them every day. My experience is that I have migraines, sometimes on a daily basis, but tylenol and ibuprofen tend to upset my stomache. So I switched to using children's chewable versions. These were effective without upsetting my stomache, but I found that I began craving sugar as a result of this daily exposure. (I normally have a no-processed-sugar diet, except for holidays) I began craving sweets, when normally I do not have trouble with sugar cravings. I even found myself reaching for chewable tylenol or etc when I didn't need any. I just like the taste. So that's why I know that I would prefer not to introduce my kids to sugary multivitamins to take on a daily basis. And, of course, if the sugar cancels out the good effects of the vitamin, then it would be a waste of money as well.

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About Nancy Appleton and GN Jacobs

Nancy Appleton PhD turned her own sugar addiction and ill health into a Doctorate in Nutrition and a life long campaign to reduce the effects of sugar on the modern diet. In more than 30 years of nutritional counselling, she has become an expert in homeostasis. She has written many books on the subject including Lick the Sugar Habit, Healthy Bones, The Curse of Louis Pasteur, Stopping Inflammation, Suicide by Sugar and Killer Colas. Retired from her consulting practice, she lives quietly in San Diego and may be contacted on 

GN Jacobs styles himself as a creative entrepreneur, a fancy way of saying he writes a little bit of everything, novels, movies, plays and comic books. He started out with Dr Nancy Appleton as a client and has since helped her write several books including Stopping Inflammation, Suicide by Sugar and Killer Colas. He lives in Los Angeles and may be contacted via

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