When it comes to getting supplemental nutrients, pills are passé for many. Whether it’s children who can’t yet figure out how to get something down without chewing, seniors with difficulty taking too many tablets or the growing population of people who cite pill fatigue as the reason they don’t take their medicine or supplements, a shift is on to deliver effective doses of nutrients in alternative forms. Sure, capsules, tablets and softgels remain mainstays of the supplement set, but beverages, bars and new-to-the-world formats are serving up supplement-style nutrition in a modern, consumer-friendly fashion. Let us count the ways.
It all started with the functional gummy bear. It takes some doing for children to learn to swallow a whole pill, and the introduction of Yummi Bears—kid-friendly multivitamins and more from Hero Nutritionals—in 1996 made it easy to get kids to take their vitamins. At the end of its first year on store shelves, Yummi Bears were the top-selling children’s vitamin in health food stores.
Today, 20 years after the birth of the first gummy supplement, gummies are available for a far wider swath than just kids. Hero Nutritionals now offers adult-focused multis, omega-3s, vitamin D and more in gummy format under its Slice of Life line. New on the market is Sundots—organic, non-GMO gummies that help protect the body against sun damage. We also like SmartyPants, a gummy company using all non-GMO, allergen-free, eco-friendly ingredients, with the final product third-party tested for purity and potency.
After water and coffee, the first real functional beverage to hit store shelves was Gatorade. Founded in 1965 by the football coach and medical staff at the University of Florida, Gatorade was designed to replace the sugars and salts athletes lost during training and games. Today, electrolyte sports drinks aren’t the half of it.
Functional drinks alone make up two-thirds of the larger functional foods and beverages business. What can’t you put in a drink? Iconic includes protein. Temple Turmeric puts— you guessed it—the golden, inflammation-regulating spice turmeric in theirs. And Remedy Organics ready-to-drink bevies contain a kitchen sink’s worth of organic, non-GMO ingredients, such as berries, almond milk, coconut, maca, MCT oil, protein, probiotics and spirulina.
Meanwhile, cold-case beverages using high-pressure processing (HPP) technology, such as Suja and Evolution Fresh, have decidedly changed the game for fruit juice, making fresh, cold-pressed juices available in grab-and-go packages.
Functional foods differ from fortified foods in that the latter are typically common base foods—think cereal, bread or milk— with nutrients added in. Functional foods, on the other hand, use a foundation of nutrient-dense whole foods, such as whole grains, nuts and produce, and add in other nutrition powerhouses and superfoods, like maca, mushrooms or healthy fats.
Functional foods are also often fortified with protein, probiotics and more. A few examples of functional foods are prebiotic-filled, coconut-based yogurt from The Coconut Cult; Kashi whole-grain frozen waffles that contain omegas; Kodiak Cakes whole-grain pancake mixes with added protein; Purely Elizabeth granola bars with dried medicinal mushrooms mixed in; and Health Warrior energy bars that feature turmeric.
Taking a couple of squirts of liquid is a convenient, swallow-easy way to get your hyper-nutrition. Ora Organic delivers algae-sourced omegas through its Nothing Fishy Here pump, and Quicksilver Scientific has bioavailability-boosting liposomes you squirt under your tongue for even greater absorption. Quicksilver Scientific’s NanoMojo is an adaptogenic formula, while the company’s “The One” is an easy-to-take mitochondrial optimizer.
This simple idea is built on the low-tech strategy of either lining the insides of straws with nutrients, as BioGaia does with its probiotics, or pinching the ends of straws and inserting nutrient balls that quickly dissolve in the presence of a liquid, as Trace Minerals does with its VitaStraw Multivitamin. That way you can stick your straw in any drink at all, and the nutrients effortlessly go down your throat.
Americans’ obsession with smoothies and drinkable nutrition has created a vast selection of functional powders, yours for the mixing. A favorite is Maximum Vibrance from Vibrant Health, because it “contains all known nutrients,” according to the manufacturer’s website, including 25 billion CFUs of probiotics, seven servings of fruits and veggies, enzymes, fiber, antioxidants and protein—an impressive 112 ingredients all told.
On the other end of the spectrum are single-ingredient powders, such as Nordic Naturals Kids Nordic Flora Probiotic Pixies, which are single-serving sticks of probiotic powders that you can simply pour into water or your child’s choice drink. Other favorites are Natural Vitality Natural Calm, a line of fizzy magnesium; SoTru’s functional mushroom powders; and Youtheory’s and NeoCells’ collagen.
Maybe everything old really is new again. We haven’t seen a Flintstone chewable in ages, but chewables are still a thing. Redd Remedies Curcumin C3 Reduct Chewable, with a high concentrate of turmeric’s active phytochemicals, packs a cinnamon twist. And Twinlab Ocuguard Blutein Chewables enhance eye protection against screens of all types, especially for children who “game” all night long or Snapchat the day away.
A new age of supplementation is upon us, making it easier than ever to customize your nutrition plan to your preferences and needs. Still OK with swallowing a tablet or capsule? Have at it. But if you would prefer not to, yet still want to optimize your nutrition, supplement makers are providing choices aplenty. No excuses now!