Tablets vs. Capsules – Which is better?

Since supplements come in various formats it is not surprising that many of us find it hard to decide which form is best. Tablet vs. capsules?  Liquid vs. powders?  We’ve all heard about tablets “coming out whole” and the question of whether supplements just make “expensive pee”.  But what are the facts about the different forms and how can we choose wisely?

Although it is true that a tablet can pass through the body whole, it is more to do with a person’s digestion than the tablet itself. Absorption of any supplement can be altered due to poor digestion which is often the case among the elderly as well as not consuming enough food alongside. The rate of absorption between the different delivery forms vary but before you try to take everything in liquid form thinking it will get into your body faster consider first what supplements you are taking and why.  Supplements with higher potencies may be better in slower release because there is a limit on how fast your body can absorb nutrients at any given time.  If you flood your system with more than it can handle, you run the risk of wasting some of the nutrients. However if you are taking an energy product or pre-workout supplement then obviously the more fast acting form is desired.

 Tablets – allow for more raw material fill and are therefore less expensive. Perfect for those of us who have good digestion and can swallow easily. 

 Capsules – easier to swallow that tablets and are generally broken down more quickly in the stomach than tablets.  Capsules can be opened and the powder mixed in liquid or added to other foods if swallowing pills is an issue.  Capsules are more limited in fill requirements than tablets because their contents are not compressed the same way tablets are so they are not suited for some nutrients. Cost is considerably more than tablets.

Softgels – Mostly used for liquid or oil based products, softgels are easy to swallow but cannot be broken apart. Therefore dosing flexibility is limited.  Manufacturing of softgels is more specialized than tablets or even capsules so cost is generally higher.

Liquids – Liquids offer dosing flexibility and are easy for everyone to take.  If poor digestion is suspected or faster absorption is desired than liquid format is best.  However they are not portable like other forms; often require refrigeration and ingredients may settle causing inexact dosing.  Also good for children or people who have a hard time swallowing pills.

Powders – Offer a lot of flexibility with dosing but are less convenient since you have to mix them with something.  Good for supplements that are taken in larger quantities as you are able get the dosing needed in a small scoop or tablespoon whereas if you were to take the same dosing in tablet or capsule you’d be taking several capsules or tablets.  This is often the case with many greens and sports nutrition products. Also good for children or people who have a hard time swallowing pills.

So how do you know if you have good digestion? 

Burp test:

  • Mix a ¼ tsp of baking soda in a glass of water and drink it first thing in the morning (on an empty stomach, upon rising)
  • Time how long it takes you to burp up to 5 minutes
  •  If you haven’t burped in 5 minutes, stop timing

 This test indicates the amount of stomach acid you have which is vital in digesting and absorbing nutrients.  If your stomach acid is within normal levels you should belch within 2-3 minutes.  If you belch early it may indicate excessive acid amounts and belching later means that stomach acids are low. The belching occurs when your stomach acid interacts with the baking soda to create carbon dioxide gas.

If you suspect that your digestion is compromised there are many quality supplements on the market that can help raise your stomach acid though it is best to work with a naturopath to ensure there are no other factors at play.

DID YOU KNOW……it is B2 (ribloflavin) that makes your pee turn fluorescent yellow. This occurs when your supplement has been digested and filtered through to your kidneys.  So don’t take the brighter bowl to mean you are flushing away your multi, rejoice! and know that your body has effectively absobed it.

 I hope this clears up the mystery between the various forms of supplementation and helps make choosing your supplements a little easier!


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