This week, Celia Witt Beauchamp, a dietitian and diabetes educator at Coastal Carolina Hospital, discusses the use of liquid nutritional supplements, particularly for older adults.
Question. Recently, the American Geriatrics Society cautioned against using liquid nutritional supplements, such as Ensure or Boost. Some have gone so far as to call these drinks "liquid candy bars with vitamins." Are these products safe or a good choice for seniors who need to keep weight on? What other options are there?
Answer. The recommendation you mention was part of the American Geriatrics Society's "Choosing Wisely" program, an initiative with the American Board of Internal Medicine to improve care for older adults. The society recently released a list titled "Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question." This was the second such list the society has compiled.
The list did not completely nix Boost, Ensure and similar drinks for everyone. However, it cautioned against using them, saying that while they can increase weight in older people struggling with unintentional weight loss, they don't always help improve other important outcomes, such as quality of life, mood or survival.
In some cases, these commercial nutritional supplements are being marketed as a substitute for a healthy diet for busy adults. I believe that eating whole foods provide additional benefits. Here is why:
Weight loss is complicated, and we try to make it simple when it is not. Controlling portions and cutting calories is the only way to lose weight and keep it off. Better options than liquid nutritional supplements include: portion control (get out your measuring cups), eating lower fat foods and increasing the complex carbohydrates (whole fruits and vegetables) in your diet.
I do recommend Boost-, Ensure- or Carnation Breakfast Essentials-type drinks for people who are malnourished, those with certain types of cancer that impede oral intake and those in the hospital or who are very sick. I suggest we need to leave the nutritional supplement drinks for those who truly need to supplement their diet to meet their basic nutrition needs.
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- American Geriatrics Society's "Choosing Wisely: Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question"