If you were asked what you think a person in poor health or debility would need nutritionally, what would your answer be?
My answer would probably be something like this: “An easily digestible meal or beverage consisting of an abundance of essential nutrients for both short-term sustenance and long-term health that has undergone minimal processing, has no allerginicity potential, and no additives or preservatives.” In other words, the best food possible.
Unfortunately, this is not what people are given when they find themselves in a state of ill health or debility.
In Comes Ensure: The Elixir of …?
I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they were “prescribed” Ensure while they were in the hospital or recovering from an illness. They are usually recommended this “meal replacement” when they are trying to maintain or gain weight, have lost their appetite (usually due to medical treatments), or need quick nutrition.
It is unfortunate that this is the only nutritional recommendation that primary health care practitioners make for these patients, as they are probably doing more harm than good (and most are likely unaware of this, which is really unfortunate).
You might be surprised to know that the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada is sponsored by Abbott Nutrition, the manufacturer of Ensure. As you’ll see below, Ensure contains ingredients (i.e. carrageenan) that have been conclusively shown to induce inflammatory bowel disease in animal models. Conflict of interest?
Ensure® Clinical Strength: Ingredients
Strawberry and Cream:
WATER, CORN MALTODEXTRIN, SUGAR (SUCROSE), CANOLA OIL, SODIUM CASEINATE, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, CORN OIL, SHORT-CHAIN FRUCTOOLIGOSACCHARIDES, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, POTASSIUM CITRATE, CALCIUM BETA-HYDROXY-BETA-METHYLBUTYRATE; LESS THAN 0.5% OF:WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, MAGNESIUM PHOSPHATE, SOY LECITHIN, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, CHOLINE CHLORIDE, ASCORBIC ACID, CALCIUM CARBONATE, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, L-CARNITINE, CARRAGEENAN, FERROUS SULFATE, dl-ALPHA-TOCOPHERYL ACETATE, ZINC SULFATE, GELLAN GUM, NIACINAMIDE, MANGANESE SULFATE, CALCIUM PANTOTHENATE, FD&C RED #3, CUPRIC SULFATE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, THIAMINE CHLORIDE HYDROCHLORIDE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID, CHROMIUM CHLORIDE, FD&C YELLOW #6, BIOTIN, SODIUM MOLYBDATE, SODIUM SELENATE, POTASSIUM IODIDE, FD&C BLUE #1, PHYLLOQUINONE, VITAMIN D3, AND CYANOCOBALAMIN.
Corn Maltodextrin: Corn maltodextrin is added for calories. Many people are sensitive to corn product, especially genetically modified corn (more on GMOs below).
Sugar (sucrose): Sucrose is table sugar. It is what I have called in the past, one of the “white devils”, as it offers no nutritional value except calories.
You might be surprised to know that cancer cells have many more insulin receptors than our healthy cells. Insulin is increased by sugar, and therefore, this response promotes the growth of cancer. [1. Dr med Peter Wolf (2008). Innovations in biological cancer therapy, a guide for patientes and their relatives. Hannover: Naturasanitas. pp. 42–43.] Cancer patients are regularly recommended sugary drinks to maintain weight.
Canola Oil: Canola oil is a cheap, highly processed oil that is high in omega-6 fatty acids. [2. Food Standards Agency (1991). “Fats and Oils”. McCance & Widdowson’s the Composition of Foods. Royal Society of Chemistry.] Although omega-6 fatty acids are an essential fat (“essential” means that our body cannot make it), if we consume too much of it in relation to omega-3 fatty acids, we can put the body into a pro-inflammatory state. The problem with this? Inflammation plays a role in every condition and disease process.
Sodium Caseinate: Sodium caseinate is a milk protein which many people have trouble digesting and it has high allergenic potential.[3. http://www.jacn.org/content/24/suppl_6/582S.long]
Milk Protein Concentrate: Many people are allergic to milk proteins, as mentioned above with casein.
Corn Oil: Corn oil contains high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, precursors to pro-inflammatory compounds.
Soy Protein Isolate: Most non-organic soy is genetically modified and is a burden on the immune system. Our immune system has developed and evolved over thousands of years. When we introduce a genetically modified food to the immune system, it’s like speaking Chinese to an English-speaking person and expecting them to understand it. Our immune system doesn’t recognize the language of “genetically modified” and, as a result, identifies it as foreign and executes an immune response. [4. http://www.responsibletechnology.org/resources]
Artificial Flavours: Should a sick person be eating anything “artificial?” Artificial is used to give the drink a strawberry flavour because an actual, grown-in-the-earth strawberry is nowhere to be seen.
Carrageenan: Carrageenan is used in many processed foods as an emulsifier. Consumption of carrageenan, even in small amounts, has been linked to inflammation and has actually been shown to induce inflammatory bowel disease in animal models. [5. Grasso P, Sharratt M, Carpanini FMB, Ganolli SD. Studies on carrageenan and large bowel ulceration in mammals. Food Cosmet Toxicol 1973;11:555-564.] [6. Mottet NK. On animal models for inflammatory bowel disease (editorial). Gastroenterology 1972;62:1269-71] [7. Bentiz KR, Goldberg L, Coulston F. Intestinal effect of carrageenans in the rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta). Food Cosmet Toxicol 1973;11:565-575.] [8. Bonfils S. Carrageenan and the human gut. Lancet 1970;2:414.]
FD&C Red#3, FD&C Yellow#6, FD&C Blue #1: Imagine what Ensure would look like without three different colours? Our innate senses lead us to foods that are bright in colour because we know that’s where the nutrition is. Food manufacturers exploit this concept by colouring our food to make it look more appealing.
What Is The Alternative?
One of the reasons why I am so frustrated when someone is recommended Ensure, is that there are so many other options that are health-promoting, easy to prepare, cheap, and effective.
A qualified nutritionist can formulate a condition-specific beverage that contains all of the necessary nutrients needed without the low-quality, harmful ingredients that we find in Ensure.