Are we sure about Ensure?
Ensure claims to be the #1 Doctor recommended nutritious drink, with its label stating it allows for a ‘complete, balanced nutrition to help stay healthy, active and energetic.’ But is this really the case? Ensure Clear provides 180 calories, 9 grams of protein, and 17 essential vitamins and minerals per serving. This is all good and true; concern appears after examination of where those calories and nutrients are coming from. In fact, this product is not only lacking important vitamins and minerals, it contains various ingredients that are genetically modified and can actually deplete nutrients from the body. It is alarming that so many products on the market are labeled as ‘healthy’ and ‘nutritious’ when their ingredients really do not back up those claims. In 1995 the Center for Science in the Public Interest stated that advertisements for Ensure were “the most misleading food ad” of the year.
Lets take a closer look at the ingredients of Ensure so we can digest whether this product is worth consuming and examine if anything has changed in the last 20 years…
INGREDIENT #1 – WATER
Concern: When drinking water, it should be from a filtered source, nothing on the label of Ensure specifies the water is filtered. The Ensure bottle is also stored in plastic. Always avoid plastic bottles because chemicals from the bottle, such as the hormone disruptor BPA, can leach and accumulate into the liquid.
INGREDIENT #2 – SUGAR
Concern: Ensure has 18 grams of sugar per bottle. That is 4.5 teaspoons of sugar in one tiny 10oz bottle. Added sugar contains ZERO essential nutrients and can actually deplete your body of important nutrients. Drinking these sugar filled drinks can lead to blood sugar imbalances and dysglycemia (non-stable blood sugar) causing anxiety, depression, fatigue, brain fog and food cravings. High blood sugar eventually affects our insulin levels, contributing to insulin resistance and type II diabetes.
INGREDIENT #3 – CORN MALDEXTRIN
Concern: Corn itself is genetically modified, making it one to avoid. Maldextrin is a sweet carbohydrate derived food additive. It creates a fat-like body to food products and increases shelf time. It is cheap to produce and easily added. While the product is not technically ‘sugar’, is a man-made ingredient can cause insulin resistance and diabetes because it has a glycemic index of 130, meaning that it raises blood sugar levels very quickly.
INGREDIENT #4 – MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE (MPC)
Concern: MPC is a type of concentrated milk product that contains 40–90% milk protein. This is a dairy product. Dairy is full of chemicals used in processing and production. Medications are used on dairy cows, allowing for antibiotics to make their way into milk, a long with the pesticides in foods the animal consumes. There is actually little evidence that dairy is good for your bones or prevents osteoporosis, calcium is beneficial in this but contrary to popular belief, milk is far from our best source of calcium! Many food scientists agree that it is much better for our health and digestion to get calcium, potassium, protein, and fats from other food sources, like whole plant foods — vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and seaweed.
INGREDIENT #5 – SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE
Concern: Soy is highly genetically modified – an absolute avoid! Soy protein isolate is extracted from defatted soy flour. The concern about the isolation process is that aluminum is found in the giant vats used to isolate the soy protein, which may leach into the protein itself, increasing the likelihood of heavy-metal poisoning. Another concern is that the isoflavones in soy have been proposed to play a role in increasing risk of breast cancer!
INGREDIENT #6 – NONFAT MILK
Concern: Humans, along with other mammals, were not made to digest milk on a regular basis. In fact, the majority of humans naturally stop producing significant amounts of lactase — the enzyme needed to properly metabolize lactose, the sugar in milk — sometime between the ages of two and five. For most mammals, the normal condition is to stop producing the enzymes needed to properly digest and metabolize milk after they have been weaned. We are best to avoid dairy if we want a happy and healthy gut!
INGREDIENT #7 – CORN OIL
Concern: Corn oil comes from corn that is genetically modified for resistance to herbicides and pesticides. Corn is also relatively new to human diets. The “International Journal of Biological Science” in 2009 reported that consumption of genetically modified corn causes toxicity to various organs – liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, spleen and heart in rats. Additives, pesticides, and chemicals are involved in the processing of corn oil. Research has shown that vegetable oils, including corn oil, contain BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene). These artificial antioxidants keep the food from spoiling but they have been shown to produce cancer compounds in the body. Links have also been made to corn oil and immune system depression, infertility, and behavioral problems.
INGREDIENT #8 – NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOURS
Concern: Whenever you see this on a food label, it means chemical! Avoid, avoid, avoid.
INGREDIENT #9 – CELLULOSE GEL
Concern: Food manufacturers often regard cellulose gel as a dietary fiber on the food label, since it is a carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. It does not contain any health benefits and we would be better off getting fiber from sources that contain vitamins and minerals – such as fruits and vegetables. Cellulose gel tends to be highly processed even though it is made from plant fibers (cellulose is the main fiber of plants) including trees and cotton. It is highly water absorbent, cheap and abundant. This synthetic product helps to improve shelf life of products. A long shelf life is not ideal for our bodies. When you can, always opt for fresh whole foods; nutrient dense foods that provide fiber along with nutrients with low added sugar and fat. Energy-dense foods, such as Ensure, provide calories but ones with little nutritional value to your body!
INGREDIENT #10 – CARRAGEENAN
Concern: Carrageenan is a food additive that is extracted from red seaweed. It is used as a thickener to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy-milk, and other processed foods. Not only does this food additive have no nutritional value, animal studies have shown links to ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Undegraded carrageenan – the type that is widely used in processed foods – has been associated with malignancies, stomach inflammation, and diabetes! This food additive should be avoided, especially for people suffering from irritable bowel disease, as it may exacerbate negative effects of this disease.
INGREDIENT #11 – ANNATTO
Concern: Annatto is a ‘natural’ food additive that has been linked to intestinal upset and irritable bowel disease. This is the food dye that makes naturally white cheese yellow. According to Dr. Martin Floch in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, the people of Peru use annatto in traditional medicine as a mild diarrheal (causing diarrhea). Independent reports and clinical studies have found mood changes and behavioral problems after consumption of annatto – including hypersensitivity. Many people report that these problems went away when annatto was removed from the diet. For some people, annatto can cause severe allergic reactions and natural food coloring seems to be just as potentially allergenic as artificial dyes. If you find yourself having unexplained reactions to packaged or prepared foods, you may very well have an intolerance to this food dye!
So… what is the solution to Ensure? Is there an alternative way to supply our bodies with a more-nutrient dense, safer drink without all the harmful additives? Yes! Give this a try!
‘Better-than-ensure Smoothie’ recipe:
- 1 cup, chopped kale
- Protein: 2.9g
- Calories: 33
- Benefit: These leafy greens are packed with fiber, calcium, and high amounts of vitamins A, C, and K.
- 1 cup, frozen organic blueberries
- Benefit: Blueberries are a great source of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and are low in fat and sodium. They have natural sugar, a healthier alternative replacement to the added sugar found in Ensure.
- ½ avocado
- Fat: 14g
- Benefit: Avocados contain a high amount of saturated fat, which are the kind of ‘healthy’ fat that we want in our diet. Along with this, they contain fiber, and high amounts of Vitamin C, A, iron, and calcium.
- 2 tbsp hemp seeds
- Protein: 9g
- Calories: 164
- Benefit: In addition to lots of protein, this super-food mix in is high in iron, magnesium, and omega-3s.
- 1 cup water
- Benefit: Hydration!
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- Benefit: There is no cholesterol in almond milk. It’s low in sodium and high in healthy fats, helping to prevent high blood pressure and heart disease. Almond milk also contains 50% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E, with antioxidant properties essential to keep your skin healthy. Almond milk is low in carbohydrates, which means it won’t significantly increase your blood sugar levels. Because of its low glycemic index, your body will use this as energy and the excess sugars won’t be stored as fat.
- 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
- Benefit: Sometimes we need a little sweetness; this gives your nutrient-dense smoothie a better taste!
DIRECTIONS: Toss all the ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth!
Although making this smoothie may take you a little longer than grabbing a bottle of Ensure off the grocery store shelf, your body and mind will thank you! It is packed with fiber, minerals, and vitamins; more calorie dense than Ensure and contains no harmful additives!
P.S. Make sure to store this wonderful smoothie in a glass container to remove your chance of exposure to cancer-causing BPA (bisphenol A).
Michaelsson, K., Wolk, A., Langenskiold, S., et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. 2014: 349-367.
Xiao, C. W. Health effects of soy protein and isoflavones in humans. J. Nutr. 2008. 138: 1244-1249.