Opinion: Ensure is primarily sugar water, marketed with misleading statements that deceive consumers

Sunday, December 05, 2004
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
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When I'm out shopping for groceries, I see lots of people purchasing bottles of Ensure. Typically they are older people, and they are buying it by the cartload, it seems. The front label of the product says 'Complete, balanced nutrition to help stay healthy, active and energetic.' And a large label claims, 'No. 1 Doctor-recommended.'

That all sounds good so far, doesn't it? The front label even has a claim that says 'Lutein to help support eye health.' But what's really inside this product? And is it a product that really should be recommended by doctors? Is it a product that's healthy for consumers to drink on a regular basis?

To find the answers to this question we have to turn to the ingredients label where we find that the top four ingredients are:

  1. water
  2. sugar
  3. corn syrup
  4. maltodextrin

Let's examine these top four ingredients (which make up the vast majority of this product) and determine if this a healthy combination of ingredients for consumers and elderly people.

First, we have water. There's nothing wrong with the water, except for the fact that you're paying an extremely high price for it in the Ensure product. So we'll skip water and move on to the next ingredient.

The next ingredient is sugar, also known as sucrose. Sugar is, of course, a refined carbohydrate. Sugar has been strongly linked to the promotion of diabetes, clinical depression, weight gain, obesity and various nutritional deficiencies. It's also an acidic ingredient that promotes osteoporosis by forcing the body to leach minerals out of its bones in order to buffer the acidity of the sugar.

Sugar puts extra stress on the pancreas and liver, and if consumed in large quantities over time, sugar can result in decreased insulin sensitivity, which is one of the preconditions for adult onset diabetes. There's a lot more bad news about sugar, including mental problems such as mood swings, clinical depression, and even violence, especially in males. But for this review, I'm not going to go into all of the details of what's wrong with sugar. Read "Sugar Blues" by William Duffy if you want the whole story. You can also look up some of the literature yourself with the Google Scholar search engine, which has 17,300 citations for research about sugar and diabetes: click here to read it yourself.

So far then, for this Ensure product, we have water and sugar, also known as sugar-water. That means that the top two ingredients in Ensure are almost identical to the top two ingredients in soft drinks! And yet the front label claims, 'No.1 Doctor-recommended!' which of course, makes you wonder about the nutritional knowledge of these doctors.

It wasn't too long ago that doctors were actually being paid to promote cigarettes in advertisements that appeared in magazines like Time. So perhaps, with enough money, you can get doctors to recommend just about anything, no matter how bad it is for your health. Maybe even sugar water.

But moving on, the next ingredient is none other than corn syrup! Corn syrup is also a refined carbohydrate with an extremely high glycemic index value. Corn syrup (and especially high-fructose corn syrup) has been linked to diabetes, obesity, problems with blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity. Corn syrup is frequently used as a sweetener. It is the primary sweetener in soft drinks, which is one of the reasons why soft drinks so strongly promote obesity. Click here to read more research on corn syrup at Google Scholar.

By the way, these top three ingredients so far -- water, sugar, and corn syrup -- offer virtually nothing in terms of vitamins, minerals and similar nutrition. These are basically empty calories and they have nothing of nutritive value to offer to the consumer. Maybe we'll find better nutrition further down the ingredients list, so let's keep looking.

The next thing we find is maltodextrin, derived from corn. Maltodextrin is yet another refined carbohydrate that's high on the glycemic index list. So now we have the top four ingredients: water, sugar, corn syrup and maltodextrin. That's basically three sweeteners and water. So if you were trying to be funny, you could call this product 'sugar-sugar-sugar-water,' because that is primarily what it's made of, according to the ingredients label. Click here to read up on maltodextrin and diabetes.

After the first four ingredients, you're getting to ingredients of some substance. The next one is calcium caseinate, which is basically a milk protein. After that you have safflower oil and canola oil, which of course are sources of dietary oils. After that we have soy protein, whey protein, corn oil and so on. Then we have a list of vitamins and minerals that are added to the product. It doesn't say what the source of these are, but chances are, these are not plant-sourced vitamins and minerals. These are probably the least expensive commercially produced vitamins and minerals available on the market.

So essentially, what you have here with Ensure, is a predominantly sugar-water product that has been fortified with a few vitamins and minerals. With that in mind, let's go back to the front label and take a look at all of the claims. It says, 'Complete, balanced nutrition to help stay healthy, active, and energetic.'

Well, perhaps the only word that's true here is 'energetic' because in the food industry, energy is typically associated with sugar. For example, when you buy a so-called 'energy bar,' it's typically a candy bar, even though it may have a name like a granola bar or a sports bar, it's typically loaded with sugars and is often marketed as an 'energy bar.'

The phrase, 'Complete, balanced, nutrition,' in my personal opinion, is an outright lie. This product has nothing resembling complete, balanced nutrition. In fact, it is not only lacking outstanding nutrition, it also contains ingredients that are known to deplete nutrients from the human body: sugar and corn syrup. So these are ingredients that, when consumed, will tend to deplete certain vitamins and minerals from the body. You can read some of the studies on that at Google Scholar.

Put another way, you could get practically the same nutrition by drinking a can of soda and taking a tiny, low-grade multivitamin. That would be almost identical to this product, in my opinion. Not exactly the same, but very similar. And yet here for 32 oz, this product sells for around $5. You can get 32 oz of soft drinks for a fraction of that price and it gives you much of the same ingredients.

So the bottom line in my opinion, and once again, this is my opinion only, I believe that the Ensure product is mislabeled: it is misleading to consumers, and it should be removed from the market by the FDA as a protection of public health. This product implies that it offers complete, balanced nutrition, but I believe it does not deliver on that promise. And thus, I believe it is making unjustified and illegal health claims on the label and therefore is a threat to the health of consumers.

What's especially shocking about this product is that the side label contains instructions, and one of the instruction points literally says, 'To use as your only source of nutrition, see your doctor.' This statement is horrifying, because it is implying that people could live off of nothing but Ensure. I can state with great confidence that any person attempting to live off of nothing but Ensure would not be very healthy.

For example, this product apparently lacks trace minerals. It has no live food enzymes, there are no whole foods in here, there are no high-density superfood sources, there are no vegetables from the sea, there are no health-supporting herbs, and even the vitamins and minerals that it does offer are not in their optimum form for maximum bioavailability.

Interestingly, Ensure is a product that typifies what's for sale at places like Walgreen's and Wal-Mart. This is one of a line of products that includes items like Slimfast and other meal replacement products that are primarily nothing but sugar-water and yet are promoted as healthy products that either provide optimum nutrition or promote weight loss. The Ensure product label even implies that a person might live off of this product -- an idea that is utterly ridiculous!

These are products purchased by obese, diseased Americans who simply don't know anything about nutrition. They actually believe the labels and trust doctors! And they don't read ingredients lists, either.

Products like Ensure or SlimFast seem to imply that they are serious products for optimum nutrition, but in fact, an honest analysis of these products reveals that they offer extremely poor nutrition and they probably do far more harm than good to people who choose to consume them on a regular basis, as any good nutritionist will tell you.

Now for legal clarification, I'm not willing to directly state that Ensure causes diabetes or that Ensure causes weight gain or cancer or osteoporosis. I can only explain that Ensure is primarily made with ingredients that are strongly correlated with such diseases. Refined white sugar, corn syrup, maltodextrin all have very high glycemic index values and are ingredients that are well correlated with such diseases. You'll have to figure the rest out for yourself.

Perhaps there could be some miraculous warping of reality where a product is made from sugar water but has none of the negative health effects of sugar water. And I am sure that that is what will be claimed by the legal team of Ross Products, the manufacturer of Ensure, if they were to see this article and disagree with the educated opinions I have expressed here.

Personally, I wouldn't drink a bottle of Ensure for any amount of money. You couldn't PAY me to put this stuff into my body.

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About the author: Mike Adams is a consumer health advocate and award-winning journalist with a passion for sharing empowering information to help improve personal and planetary health He has authored and published thousands of articles, interviews, consumers guides, and books on topics like health and the environment, and he is well known as the creator of popular downloadable preparedness programs on financial collapse, emergency food storage, wilderness survival and home defense skills. Adams is a trusted, independent journalist who receives no money or promotional fees whatsoever to write about other companies' products. In 2010, Adams created, a natural living video sharing site featuring thousands of user videos on foods, fitness, green living and more. He's also a noted pioneer in the email marketing software industry, having been the first to launch an HTML email newsletter technology that has grown to become a standard in the industry. Adams also serves as the executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center, a non-profit consumer protection group, and pursues hobbies such as martial arts, Capoeira, nature macrophotography and organic gardening. He's also author of numerous health books published by Truth Publishing and is the creator of several consumer-oriented grassroots campaigns, including the Spam. Don't Buy It! campaign, and the free downloadable Honest Food Guide. He also created the free reference sites and Adams believes in free speech, free access to nutritional supplements and the ending of corporate control over medicines, genes and seeds. Known on the 'net as 'the Health Ranger,' Adams shares his ethics, mission statements and personal health statistics at

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High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Diabetes: What the Experts Say

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