Supplemental nutrition drinks can be a boon for people who struggle with a loss of appetite, find it difficult to chew, have trouble preparing balanced meals, or are recovering from surgery or illness. But they aren't magic bullets for nutrition, reports the July 2013 Harvard Health Letter.
One misconception is that nutrition in a can mimics nutrition from food. Not so. "Even if they are fortified, they still won't contain all of the nutrients a whole food source would," says Stacey Nelson, a dietitian at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Supplemental nutrition drinks generally provide protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, and minerals. There are hundreds of varieties that fall into two general categories. Shakes, such as Boost or Ensure, are drinks intended to help meet general nutrition goals. Formulas such as Jevity and Osmolite are designed for people with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and late-stage kidney failure. They are often used in feeding tubes.
Using supplemental nutrition drinks as true meal substitutes is okay. If you can't eat and that's the only food that's palatable, "substituting one meal a day with a drink won't hurt, " says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. What's not a good idea is to consume supplemental nutrition drinks along with regular meals, unless the goal is to gain weight or stop weight loss. "It's too many calories," says Dr. Salamon.
Supplemental nutrition shakes contain more than just healthy ingredients. Depending on the brand, you may be getting more sugar than anything else. Avoid nutrition drinks that deliver more sugar than any other ingredient. Look for ones that have fruit or forms of protein (such as milk) as the first ingredients. Equally important are the calories delivered. As a meal replacement, 400 calories per serving is a good goal.
Read the full-length article: "Supplemental nutrition drinks: help or hype?"