Figuring Out Supplement Forms: Which Are Best to Take?

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes

So you’ve decided to start taking a dietary supplement—great! Years ago, you might have simply tossed a bottle of capsules in the cart and called it a day. Today, you’re faced with endless form for any given nutrient: liqui-gels, chewables, gummies, sublingual dissolvables, powders and more. How do you decide which form is best for the vitamin, mineral, herb or supplement you want to take?

Figuring Out Supplement Forms: Which Are Best to Take?

Over time, I’ve sorted through the maze of delivery forms and have some pointers to share.

Some rules of thumb: capsules are more easily broken down in the stomach than hard tablets; so if you have digestive difficulties, capsules may be a better choice for you. If a supplement is available in liquid, powder or chewable forms, explore these options if you have poor digestion, or trouble swallowing pills. In some cases, you’ll want to take a supplement in a form other than a tablet or capsule in order to ingest higher amounts in an easy manner.

Botanical supplements – Many herbs contain compounds that make them taste bitter, or just plain bad. Therefore, you’ll probably want to take them in capsule form. This is especially true for goldenseal (or berberine extracts), yarrow, yellow dock and most Chinese herbal formulas. If you want to obtain a specific amount of an herbal compound, always look for a standardized extract, which means each serving will contain a specific level of the herb’s active ingredient.

Not all herbs, however, will make you turn up your nose. In fact, some lend themselves quite nicely as a palatable tea. Mint, rooibios, chamomile, cinnamon, licorice, ginger, turmeric, oatstraw, burdock root, marshmallow root and dandelion root are all good examples. Teas also can be advantageous when you want herbal compounds to “touch” the tissue they be assisting in supporting or healing. For instance, chamomile tea can have a soothing effect on mucous membranes of the mouth, esophagus and stomach.

In addition, teas are easily digested and easily incorporated into the diet. In India, the widely used herb turmeric (which contains the active constituent curcumin) is consumed daily as tea, or as an herb added to food.

B-complex vitamins – Vitamins in the B family are best taken in capsule or tablet form, especially if you want to take them in high doses, because liquids or powders don’t have an appealing taste. You’ll find B vitamins masked well in some protein and fruit-vegetable powders, but levels are generally lower in these products compared to pills. Some people prefer sublingual delivery for vitamin B-12, which involves placing a small tablet under your tongue and letting it dissolve.

Fats and oils – If you want to ingest great amounts of omega-3 fats, choose liquids over capsules. For example, if you’re interested in flax, liquid flax oil would be a better choice than flax capsules. In fact, one tablespoon of Vitacost Organic High Lignan Flax Oil provides 7,420 milligrams of omega-3 fats, whereas two Vitacost Flaxseed Oil Softgels provide just 1,060 milligrams. In order to obtain the high level of omega-3 fat in one tablespoon of oil, you’d have to take 14 capsules! This also holds true for most fish oils.

Minerals – Most minerals lend themselves to be taken as a liquid, powder, or a chewable pill. For instance, zinc has gained popularity as a chewable during cold and flu season to position the mineral right up against the mucous membranes of your throat and tonsils. Calcium and magnesium are also easily consumed in ways other than tablets. Although they can be chalky on their own, when they’re mixed with a sweetener, they can be quite delicious. One of my favorite magnesium supplements is Magnesium Calm powder. It mixes easily into water and tastes great.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C can be taken as a pill, powder or chewable tablet. When taking high amounts of vitamin C, it’s easiest to take as a powder. Emergen-C packets, which provide 1,000 mg of vitamin C per serving, are a great way to boost your vitamin C intake by simply mixing into a beverage you’re planning to drink already. What’s especially great about this method is that you don’t have to swallow a bunch of pills, and vitamin C is easily incorporated into your diet.

Finally, for those who really dislike swallowing pills, experiment with putting your vitamins, minerals, herbs and oils into a smoothie with fruits, vegetables and a great-tasting protein powder. Often, the flavor of the smoothie masks the taste of the nutritional supplements.