Is Ensure Healthy (Nutrition Pros and Cons)?
In this blog post, I’ll review whether Ensure is healthy or not? Find out what this product’s nutrition pros and cons are, plus some better options to consider when you’re looking for nutritional shakes.
Ensure is a nutritional supplement brand known as a meal replacement. Abbott Laboratories, an American healthcare and medical devices company, formulated it.
Abbot created the Ensure product line for people who have difficulty eating solid foods because of a medical condition or need additional nutrition to supplement regular meals, including those undergoing medical treatments, recovering from illnesses, or struggling to maintain a balanced diet.
See my related article on the best foods for dysphagia (difficulty swallowing).
The company claims that Ensure provides essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that may be lacking in a person’s diet.
The Ensure range consists of:
- Nutrition shakes
- Nutrition powder
- Protein powder
- Plant-based protein
- Fruit-flavored drinks
According to the Ensure website, the products are gluten-free, halal, kosher, and suitable for lactose intolerance.
The site also states that each Ensure Original shake has 9 grams of high-quality protein, 27 essential vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and B vitamins.
This nutritional drink may be recommended by a doctor of healthcare provider to help meet the nutritional needs of older adults or those who are struggling to keep up their body weight due to illness or a medical issue. This type of shake may help with weight gain due to unintended weight loss and loss of muscle mass.
The list of ingredients on the label is long and full of additives and preservatives.
The ingredients in Ensure Original shakes found in grocery stores include water, corn maltodextrin, sugar, milk protein concentrate, canola and corn oil, soy protein isolate, potassium citrate, calcium carbonate, magnesium phosphate, sodium citrate, choline chloride, calcium phosphate, potassium chloride, potassium hydroxide, dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate, ferrous sulfate, niacinamide, zinc sulfate, magnesium sulfate, calcium pantothenate, thiamine hydrochloride, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, vitamin A palmitate, potassium iodide, folic acid, sodium selenate, phyllogquinone, sodium molybdate, vitamin B12, biotin, vitamin D3 (vitamin D), natural and artificial flavors, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, non-fat milk, carrageenan, sucralose (an artificial sweetener), soy lecithin, and monoglycerides.
This list of ingredients is extensive; most are highly processed chemical food additives.
Let’s look at some of the main ingredients in Ensure in more detail so you can decide if these products are a good option for you or your loved ones.
Ensure contains as much as 19 grams of sugar per serving, of which 9 grams are added sugars. It is a main ingredient of this product.
Added sugars are a big problem in our society and can lead various health problems when consumed in excess, including blood sugar spikes, food cravings, obesity, brain fog, cognitive decline, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, depression, and fatigue.
Added sugars can also make it harder to maintain a healthy weight. High blood sugar can also affect insulin levels, leading to Type 2 diabetes.
This ingredient is corn syrup, a sweet food additive that adds a fat-like texture to products and helps to increase shelf time.
Although it’s not sugar, it has a high glycemic index, so it can cause blood sugar spikes.
Furthermore, research has revealed that corn maltodextrin promotes intestinal inflammation and can be a risk factor for chronic inflammatory diseases.
Ensure products contain many food additives, including artificial flavors, cellulose gel and gum, carrageenan, sodium molybdate, phylloquinone, and more.
Although some of these additives may not directly impact your health if you use them in moderation, they can add up quickly.
Drinking meal replacements like Ensure regularly or consuming products with high levels of food additives can cause gastrointestinal problems like stomach cramps, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Some of these additives have been linked to severe health problems like oxidative stress, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and even cancer.
Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC)
Milk protein concentrate is a dairy product with a high protein content. Since it contains lactose, it can cause digestive distress in people who are lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy products.
Another risk of consuming dairy is the pesticides, chemicals, and hormones contained in it that can adversely affect health.
If you choose to consume dairy, you may wish to prioritize dairy products from grass-fed cows that are certified organic and hormone-free for the most health benefits. The dairy concentrate found in an Ensure shake will likely not be from such a source.
Soy Protein Isolate (SPI)
Soy protein isolate (SPI) is a highly processed protein derived from soybeans. Although it’s a protein-dense plant food, there are health considerations to consider. Most soy is genetically modified and contains phytoestrogens that can affect hormone levels.
Another concern is that soy protein isolate is extracted from defatted soy flour. The extraction process occurs in giant aluminum vats, which could leak into the end product.
Canola and Corn Oil
Industrial seed oils are also known as vegetable oils.
Most of the canola and corn used to make oil are genetically modified. When manufacturers use seed oils in processed and packaged foods, it’s usually hydrogenated to increase shelf life. Hydrogenation produces trans fats, which raise LDL cholesterol. And that’s not the only health risk associated with these oils.
According to research, seed oils can cause oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, oxidized LDL, atherosclerosis, and heart disease. Furthermore, an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids causes chronic inflammation.
Research has linked inflammation to various health conditions, including heart disease, obesity, and autoimmune disorders.
Ensure Nutrition Pros
Ensure is a convenient meal replacement drink that is readily available and not too expensive.
It can help people who struggle to eat or gain weight, recover from illness, or have solid food problems. It has a high protein content and may be the best option for some conditions.
Ensure Nutrition Cons
Ensure is highly processed and contains as much as 19 grams of sugar per serving. The list of ingredients contains several genetically modified ingredients like soy protein isolate and corn maltodextrin. It also contains food additives and other unhealthy ingredients like seed oils.
Some of these ingredients may harm your health and cause uncomfortable side effects like digestive distress and allergic reactions. Too much Ensure is not considered part of a healthy diet and is not the best way to achieve good health.
Ensure shakes are also not suitable for vegans, people following a plant-based diet, people with a lactose intolerance or allergy, or people with diabetes or problems with blood sugar levels.
The product is manufactured in plastic bottles that are not good for the environment.
Ensure Nutrition FAQs
There is a risk of an allergic reaction in people allergic or intolerant to lactose or soy. Sucralose and other ingredients in Ensure can cause digestive discomfort, including gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. The high sugar content can cause blood sugar spikes and other health problems.
No, there are several dietary considerations for this product. All Ensure products are gluten-free, and the company offers diabetes-friendly and lactose-free options.
However, regular Ensure shakes contain 19 grams of sugar per serving. It means it is not suitable for people with diabetes, lactose intolerant people, people with a dairy allergy, vegans, or people following a plant-based diet.
Ensure is a well-known brand and one or many nutritional or dietary supplements. The key difference between Ensure and other brands is that some brands focus more on vitamins and minerals, while others are promoted as protein-rich products.
Ensure claims that its products are balanced and support overall nutrition. It is marketed as a supplement for people who need a meal replacement or additional nutritional intake.
While Ensure may be helpful as an accessible and inexpensive temporary dietary supplement for people struggling to eat, it is not a long-term solution. It is a highly processed product with several unhealthy ingredients that can cause uncomfortable side effects and health problems.
If you consume Ensure, do so in moderation and only temporarily. Or better yet, instead of relying on this product, make a nutritional smoothie with real food ingredients like kale, minimally processed nut butter, blueberries, hemp seeds, and avocado. See my list of the best weight gain smoothies including my 1,000 calorie smoothie that includes almost 50 grams of protein!
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About the Author: Carrie Forrest has a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition. She is a top wellness and food blogger with over 10 million annual visitors to her site. Carrie has an incredible story of recovery from chronic illness and is passionate about helping other women transform their health. Send Carrie a message through her contact form.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.