We’ve all been there before. Whether you’ve lost your appetite, eating is painful, you’re nauseous, or just too fatigued to make a meal during a flare-up, most of us have been prescribed a supplemental nutrition drink by our doctors. Ensure, (a product of Abbott Pharmaceuticals), and Boost, (made by the candy-maker Nestle), are some of the most widely prescribed meal replacement drinks by medical professionals, yet rarely do people question the actual nutritional makeup of these supplemental drinks.
Now, I’m no stranger to these meal replacement drinks. I actually had a bulk pack sitting in my pantry until a few weeks ago. As I’ve discussed, I’m struggling to put on weight and, in an act of desperation, I picked up a 16-pack box of Ensure from Target. I was faithfully consuming one a night to get an extra jump on calories when my digestive system started acting awry. I had a horrible pain throughout my digestive system, and it felt like a brick was just sitting in my stomach. I was bloated, achy and crampy, and I couldn’t figure out why. I kept up my nightly ritual despite my symptoms until one night I happened to glance down at the ingredients list…
Normally, I’m the QUEEN of ingredients lists, but for some reason, I never even thought to look, simply because they are every doctor’s “go-to” recommendation. For those who don’t know, ingredients are always listed in descending order, so you really want to pay close attention to the first five:
The first five ingredients are water, corn maltodextrin, sugar, milk protein concentrate and canola oil.
Corn maltodextrin is basically a highly-processed string of glucose molecules that cause a blood-sugar spike. It has the same calories as sugar, is digested quickly, but has a higher Glycemic-Index than table sugar, causing blood sugar to rise extremely fast. It’s used as a thickener in processed foods, so while you’re enjoying that creamy consistency, it’s essentially straight processed corn powder.
Sugar is just third on this list and one small 8oz serving contains more than half the recommended daily allowance (25g). Processed sugars create widespread inflammation and decrease immune function, making you more susceptible to infection, as well as hindering the body’s first line of defense.
Fifth is canola oil, which is extracted from rapeseeds that have been bred to contain less of some unfavorable substances such as erucic acid and glucosinolates. Most of the world’s canola crop is genetically modified. Regardless of your opinions on GMO foods, I think we can all agree there are far better things we can put into our already failing bodies.
Further down the ingredient list, you’ll find dozens of chemical additives and a laundry list of synthetic vitamins. Yes, we all need vitamins and those battling chronic illness and malabsorption may need higher levels but there are much, MUCH healthier ways to get these vital nutrients that doesn’t involve all the sugar and chemicals that come along with these “nutrition drinks.”
If you’re reaching for a bottle of Ensure, chances are you’re not feeling well to begin with. But on the path to healing, I’m almost certain these are not the answer, and you may be better off taking a multi-vitamin and washing it down with a cupcake rather than an Ensure or Boost drink. (That was a joke, please don’t do that either). So let’s do something GOOD for your body– ditch these chemical-laden supplements and swap them for a healthy, plant-based alternative that might actually help you feel better!
Here are just a few great options:
Homemade Shakes and Smoothies:
1) Ensure Copycat shake from John Hopkins nutritionist, Joshua Nachman:
½ c almond milk
½ c coconut milk
2 Tbsp almond butter
1-2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp Vega or whey protein powder
526 calories, 21 grams of protein, and 43 grams of fat.
2) Tropical Carrot Smoothie
½ frozen banana
½ frozen peaches
2 oz carrots (boiled, pureed, and frozen into 1oz ice cube trays)
1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder
½ c whole greek yogurt (or dairy-free alternative)
1 c pineapple juice
406 calories, 22 grams of protein, 66 grams of carbs and 9 grams of fat.
3) Chocolate Collagen Smoothie
Check out my post here for an insanely decadent treat!
600 calories, 28 grams of protein, 96 grams of carbs and 14 grams of fat.
Pre-packaged, grab-and-go options:
Most off-the-shelf products I was able to find contained questionable ingredients–mainly various types of gums used as thickeners, which can have adverse effects on gut health when taken in large quantities.
1) EDIT: After I originally posted this article, I had an outpour of suggestions for Kate Farms. They hadn’t originally displayed in my research for alternative nutritional drinks (surprisingly), but they are definitely worth a look. Their ingredients list is SO impressive, they have a wide range of formulas from pediatric to adult, peptides for digestive issues, with calories ranging from 290 to 500, and they’re tubie-friendly (wow!).
290 calories, 16 grams of protein, 29 grams of carbs and 10 grams of fat.
Organic, vegan, low in sugar and high in fiber. However, this product contains guar and xanthan gums, which, in large quantities, may cause digestive upset and inflammation.
3) Orgain Organic Nutritional Shake (also available in a vegan option!)
255 calories, 16 grams of protein, 32 grams of carbs and 7 grams of fat.
Sweetened with good ol’ fashioned sugar (not chemicals) and blended with 10 fruits and veggies for the perfect carb to protein ratio. This product contains locust bean gum and gellan gum, which are among the “healthier” thickening agents.
4) FitPro Go!
200 calories, 35 grams of protein, 10 grams of carbs, and 2.5 grams of fat.
Flavored with natural vanilla and cocoa, but does contain cellulose gum which may adversely affect the digestive system in some people.
A final note: No matter which drink you choose, look at the ingredients. Ideally, the first few ingredients should be fruit, vegetables or a form of quality protein (milk, soy, pea, hemp, etc.). Of course, zero added sugar is best, but if that’s not an option, make sure it’s as far down the list as possible.
Stay gutsy, my friend!