Different Supplement Forms & Types: What You Need to Know


Tired of (trying) to swallow a handful of vitamins? You don’t have to! Today, there are so many different forms of supplements available to choose from, besides capsules and tablets: tinctures, liquids, powders, gummies, topical creams and more. But is there one form of supplement that is superior?

Depending on what vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other dietary supplements you are taking, the answer to this question varies.

Check out our guide below to all the different types of supplement forms along with their pros and cons. (1)

Capsules

You are probably all too familiar with capsule supplements. In capsule supplements, the two outer ‘shells’ are made from either gelatin or starch and are made to fit together to hold dry ingredients. The way the two outer shells of capsules are suited together prevents oil-based ingredients and liquids from going into a capsule.

Gelatin capsules are typically made from bovine or porcine skin and bones but have now been diversified to include chicken, fish, and even vegetable form, making them viable for strict vegetarians.

Did you know?
If you’re worried about the shell in the capsules that you already have, you can simply sprinkle your capsule contents into liquid and drink them instead!

Capsules are convenient. They can be quickly taken and typically break down in about 20 minutes inside the stomach. They can also be combined with other capsules and can be tossed into your bag to grab whenever you need them, but many people find them difficult to swallow.

Did you know?
According to a U.S. national survey, 40% of American adults report having trouble swallowing a pill. Nearly one in five adults who have taken pills orally have hesitated before taking them because they thought they might have difficulty swallowing them. (2)

five wooden spoons with softgel, tablet, and capsule supplements

If you are taking any herbal dietary supplements that are naturally bitter, you’ll probably want to take them in capsule or tablet form to avoid the bad taste.

Tablets

In addition to the active ingredients, a large number of excipients (which are essentially inactive substances that serve as the vehicle or medium to form a supplement) are added to tablets to allow them to compress and then disintegrate when ingested. There are typically more excipients in tablets than in capsules, which can lead to digestive discomfort. (3)

Typical excipient ingredients in tablets include xanthan gum and microcrystalline cellulose.

Did you know?
B vitamins are often best taken in tablet or capsule form, especially if you want to take them in high doses. This is because liquids or powders don’t generally taste very good.

supplement bottle on wooden plate with softgel supplements on the plate

Softgels must be carefully stored and transported since they are sensitive to hot weather.

Softgels

Softgels, which are also called gelcaps, are typically used for oil or liquid-based supplements. Most people find them easier to swallow than capsules or tablets. This is because the main non-active ingredient in gel caps is a soft layer of gelatin on the outside of the active ingredient(s). The gelatin is typically from a cow or pig source, but it can be fish-based or vegetable-based. (Though vegetarian softgels are not widely used.)

When compared to tablets and capsules, gel caps often contain fewer non-nutritive excipients. They are also completely sealed, more stable, and tend to carry a longer shelf life when compared to liquid and capsule forms (keep in mind this largely depends on the contents).

You should also know that softgels must be carefully stored and transported since they are sensitive to hot weather.

Did you know?
If you want to obtain a specific amount of an herbal compound from a supplement, always look for a standardized extract. A standardized extract means each serving will have a particular amount of the herb’s active ingredient. (4)

green smoothie with supplement powder next to it - lime, pumpkin seeds, apples and legumes around the smoothie in a clear glass

Pro tip: To help break up powder clumps, use a blender, milk frother, or shaker bottle.

Powders

Powdered supplements that are mixed with liquids (such as water, coconut water, or almond milk) are an excellent choice for people that have trouble swallowing pills or have conditions that reduce their ability to digest foods. They’re also a good choice for nutrients like protein or collagen, which are soluble, have little taste, and can be easily mixed into a smoothie.

Some powder supplements contain a flow agent (such as magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide, or rice husks) to prevent ingredient clumping.

Did you know?
When taking high amounts of vitamin C, it’s absorbed quickest in powder form. Emergen-C packets, which provide 1,000 mg of vitamin C per serving, are a great way to boost your vitamin C intake by merely mixing it into a beverage you’re planning to drink already.

person's hand holding four gummy vitamin supplements, white bottle cap with gummies in the background

Gummy and chewable multivitamins are among the least effective ways to consume essential vitamins and minerals.

Gummies and chewable tablets

Originally designed to make them more pleasant for kids to take vitamins, gummy supplements are in vogue for adults these days too! There are two main types of gummy tablets— those made with gelatin, and those made with fruit pectin. Most contain added sugars for taste since raw vitamin ingredients don’t taste very good without some sort of added flavor.

It’s important to keep in mind this sacrifice for flavor typically comes at the expense of the number of nutrients included. Gummy and chewable multivitamins are among the least effective ways to consume essential vitamins and minerals.

Did you know?
Most minerals can 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. (5)

Liquids

While pills have been around for a while in the supplement world, liquid supplements are on the rise like never before. With new flavor combinations and formats such as shots, smoothies, and shakes, you can add even more ways to increase the positive nutrient-rich experience by adding vitamin enhancers.

Liquid vitamins and supplements are a great choice for those who have trouble swallowing pills or chewing. And when it comes to ingesting the nutrients from fats and oils, it’s actually best to choose liquid form over capsules. For example, if you’re interested in flax, liquid flax oil would be a better choice than flax capsules.

Did you know?
Countertop dispensaries with custom liquid supplement drinks are becoming a thing? Similar to a Keurig coffee machine that essentially provides a mechanism to “brew”, countertop dispensaries put the vitamins and minerals requested in a beverage flavor of choice or smoothie. This is indicative of consumer desire for increased convenience and single-dose formats.

Keep in mind the shelf life of liquid supplements is usually significantly shorter than other supplement forms.

Did you know?
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. To obtain the high level of omega-3 fat in one tablespoon of oil, you’d have to take 14 capsules!

supplement in tincture form with oranges in the background

Tinctures are quickly absorbed into the body with little effort compared to capsules or tablets since they do not contain any added fillers.

Tinctures

Also called liquid extracts, tinctures offer versatility for both internal and external use, giving them a wide range of applications. Tinctures can be easily blended together, mixed with water, applied directly to the skin, mixed into creams, and diffused.

The administration of tincture is also by drop dose, so it’s really easy to customize dosage.

Did you know?
For consistent potency over time, be sure to look for a liquid tincture made using spagyric processing.

Phytocaps

The phrase “phytocap” means plant capsule (or veggie cap). Liquid phytocaps are highly-concentrated, alcohol-free extracts packaged inside vegan-friendly, fast-dissolving encapsulation without gelatin.

Phytocaps offer the potency of the whole spectrum of chemical constituents that naturally occur inside the plant. They are first prepared as a tincture – and then go through a process of removing the alcohol and water.

They are ideal for those who don’t want to swallow many pills, being as they are highly concentrated.

Energy bars & gels

Energy bars & gels have become a diet staple among dieters and workout fanatics in the U.S. They come in a variety of brands and flavors, though not all energy bars & gels (i.e. goos) are created equal.

The majority of energy bars are packed with protein and carbohydrates, but many are also packed with a ton of extra sugars or sugar alcohols. In general, experts only recommend energy products for people who are training and exercising on a regular basis.

Did you know?
Energy bars & gels can be especially beneficial for endurance training. (6)

If you are considering using an energy bar or gel to enhance your training, it’s best to check in with your doctor first. Some plant compounds — no matter how natural— can interact with drugs and lead to adverse effects.

fermented beverage in mason jar with lemon and ginger around the glass

Did you know kombucha can be classified as a Fermented Herbs?

Fermented herbs

Fermented herbs, in comparison with liquid tinctures and photocaps, are relatively new to the ‘supplement scene.’ Fermented herbs will let you reap the health benefits sparked during the entire fermentation process.

With the increasing popularity and multitude of health benefits, it’s no surprise that different types of fermented herbs are becoming more widely available.

You can easily take a customizable dose, receive additional nutrients, and anything fermented makes for easy absorption and digestion.

Topical

The idea of a topical application of certain vitamins and micronutrients over traditional oral supplementing is appealing, though more research needs to be done to support these claims.

Vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E are ingredients often found in skin care products that have proven skin health benefits when used topically.

Zinc has been shown to assist with the healing of damaged skin. When applied topically, zinc can help to treat acne and accelerate wound healing. (7)

There have been numerous studies promoting the effectiveness of magnesium supplementation transdermally, but a 2017 review suggests further research is needed. (8)

What is the best way to take supplements?

At the end of the day, the form of the delivery method you choose to take comes down to personal taste and finding a supplement that you will want to take consistently.

Consumers are starting to demand change and new options, and brands are waking up to the fact that supplements don’t need to be uncomfortably swallowed in capsule or tablet form. More and more people are adding nutrients directly to foods they already eat, like yogurt or cookies.

Did you know?
No matter what type of dietary supplement form you choose, it is always good to look for a product that is non-GMO, certified-organic, dairy-free, and gluten-free.

Talk to your doctor about different forms of supplements

Before you start taking any new supplements, it’s always best to consult with a trusted healthcare practitioner first. A healthcare professional can provide you with the individualized guidance that will help point you in the right direction.

And remember, taking supplements doesn’t have to be unpleasant and involve dry heaving. You have options—like gummies—that can make taking your vitamins a tasty treat!

Have any comments, questions, or suggestions for this article? We love hearing from you! Be sure to leave a comment below.