Tablets, capsules, liquids, powders: supplements come in so many different forms these days which is a good thing, since it gives us consumers a wide range of choices to pick from.
Yet at the same time, the more choices there are available, the more confusing it can be when it comes to deciding which is best. Should you pick tablets over capsules? Are liquids better than softgels?
To help you sort out the differences and decide which format is best for your needs, here’s a handy guide with the key advantages and disadvantages of each.
Tablets, Capsules, Powders, and Liquids – What’s the Deal?
Most vitamin and mineral supplements come in tablet form, where the raw materials and ingredients are compressed into a disk or cylinder-shaped solid substance.
– Tablets are the most cost-effective form of supplements in general, and allow manufacturers to pack the most ingredients into a given space.
– Compared to other forms, tablets are the most shelf-stable choice.
– They tend to retain their potency over a longer period of time (2-3 years).
– Along with their vitamin and nutrient content, tablets also tend to contain additional (usually inert) ingredients known as excipients, which are used to bind, preserve and give bulk to the supplement, or to help tablets break down quickly in the stomach. Excipients are usually harmless, but some people may be allergic or sensitive to the ingredients used. (*Always make sure to check what “other ingredients” are in your supplements and read the label carefully before buying.)
– Some people may have difficulty swallowing larger tablets (though they can be crushed or cut in half).
– Tablets do not offer the flexibility of dosing that liquids and powders do.
– Many consumers are often concerned that tablets may not dissolve properly in the stomach, causing them to be essentially wasted if they are passed out of the body before the vitamins and nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
TIP: There’s a fun way for you to test the dissolvability of your tablets – put them through the vinegar test!
How it works: The acid in your stomach is usually a pH of 1.0 to 3.5, while the pH of white vinegar is about 2.4. If your supplement tablets dissolve in the vinegar, they will most likely dissolve in your stomach, too. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1. Pour ¼ cup of white vinegar into a clear glass, then drop a vitamin tablet in it. Set your timer for an hour.
Step 2. Observe! If at the end of that hour the tablet has dissolved completely, the tablet should dissolve in your stomach without any issues. If the tablet has not dissolved/is partially dissolved you can poke it, or swirl the glass to see if it breaks down any further. Usually, the churning movements in your stomach would help to break it down. If the tablet is still rock hard, it likely won’t dissolve in your stomach – which means you won’t be getting any nutrients from it. *It’s important to note that this does not perfectly mimic digestion in your body and there are other factors that can contribute to the breaking down of the tablet. This simply gives you an idea!
Capsules are gelatin or vegetable cellulose pieces that come together to hold dry ingredients. They typically come in a classic cylindrical shape.
– Capsules are easy-to-swallow, and break down easily in the stomach
– Some people like that capsules can easily be opened, allowing them to use part or all of the powdered contents within (eg. to mix in applesauce or shakes). This can make it easier for children – or those who have difficulty swallowing pills – to take.
– Capsules tend to cost significantly more than tablets.
– They have space and potency limitations since their powdered contents cannot be compressed to a significant degree. This means that you may need to take more capsules in order to get enough of a certain nutrient.
– Capsules are not airtight, giving them a shorter shelf-life than tablets.
Powders are supplements which have been processed down into very fine, powdered form.
– Typically, powders are the most pure form of supplements, with less “other ingredients” mixed in.
– They have high bioavailability, allowing for more effective nutrient delivery.
– They can be very cost-effective, and offer great flexibility with dosing (you can make much finer adjustments to the dose than with capsules or tablets). This can be useful for supplements taken in gram quantities (eg. creatine, protein and glutamine)
– Most powders are tasteless, or simply don’t taste very nice. Alternatively, some may contain artificial flavoring (which doesn’t always make it taste better, either!)
– Powders need to be mixed into some form of liquid (like water, juice, shakes) or food to be consumed, making them less convenient than other supplement forms.
Liquid supplements are suspended in a water or alcohol-based liquid so that the product can be easily consumed.
– Liquids offer great flexibility with dosing – so doses can be easily adjusted according to your needs. (Eg. with baby D3 drops, you can start with one drop, then move up to two drops as your baby grows)
– Liquids are a great option for those who may not like swallowing pills.
– Many people believe that liquids will be absorbed faster, making them more effective than other forms.
– Liquids are always more expensive, and have a shorter shelf life.
– They are heavier to transport, less portable, and often require refrigeration.
– Some liquid supplements have problems with ingredients settling to the bottom between uses. Even when the bottle is shaken before use, the dispersion of ingredients will be imprecise and less consistent than other forms.
Which Supplement Form is Superior?
There is no one perfect format when it comes to supplements. The answer to this question depends largely on the supplement and the person taking it. You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of each, do the necessary research before buying, and make your choice based on what would be best for your needs, budget and lifestyle.