Ensure is a nutritional supplement shake that can help those with illness or recovering from surgery get the nourishment they need. However, for the rest of us, eating a balanced diet is still better than any meal replacement shake.
Ensure was first introduced by Abbott in the mid-1970s. However, it didn’t find mass market appeal until the nutritional drink craze two decades later. In 1996, Ensure reported annual sales of around $300 million and accounted for 80 percent of all protein supplement sales. Although the company was doing well, they were in a fierce competition against Nestle’s Boost and Resource supplement products. In an attempt to safeguard their market share, Ensure spent over $40 million on advertising—70 percent more than they had spent the previous year.
But the ad spend was not as sensational as the message they were promoting. In an attempt to attract and retain more healthy adults, Ensure touted many false claims. And in 1997, Abbott had to settle false marketing charges brought on by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In their ads, Ensure claimed to offer a similar amount of vitamins as multivitamins. They also stated that doctors were recommended Ensure drinks more often than any other nutritional supplement and, most alarmingly, that they were being recommended to adults who were otherwise healthy and active as a means of staying that way.
The reason the latter is so disturbing? Quite the opposite is true: Ensure can be beneficial to certain adults who are having trouble getting their daily nutrition. For instance, those who experience a loss of appetite or have difficulty chewing and swallowing could more easily consume an Ensure shake than they could an actual meal. However, it can be dangerous using one nutritional supplement to entirely replace the health benefits of food—or even to frequently consume it in addition to food.
Experts from Harvard Medical School warn that individuals who can still eat the recommended number of calories per day may be at risk by also consuming the drinks. The added calories could lead to weight gain which comes with a whole slew of health complications, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
Even if Ensure is consumed in moderation, it is still not that great for you. The high protein variation of the shake contains 230 calories per bottle and provides 12 grams of protein, 31 carbohydrates and six grams of fat. Granted, that’s not that bad—but its ingredients leave a lot to be desired.
In most formulations, Ensure’s second most prominent ingredient is sugar, which is a huge red flag. It also contains corn maltodextrin and milk protein concentrate. Corn maltodextrin is just as bad as sugar: it’s basically corn syrup and has been linked to obesity and diabetes. Milk protein concentrate has a high dairy content and may cause problems for those who are lactose-intolerant—bloating, cramping, diarrhea and more.
The Verdict? If you are a healthy adult and are able to eat real food, we recommend steering clear of Ensure. Otherwise, you should consult your doctor before adding Ensure to your daily diet.
Possible short-term side effects
Possible long-term side effects
- heart disease
Ingredients to be aware of
- corn maltodextrin
- milk protein concentrate
- easy to consume
- nutritional boost for those who can’t eat food