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Can Ensure be used as a meal replacement?

Ensure is a nutritional shake that is marketed as a meal replacement. With a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and vitamins and minerals, Ensure contains many of the nutrients needed in a meal. However, there are some important considerations when determining if Ensure is an appropriate meal replacement option.

Nutritional Content of Ensure

Each 8 ounce serving of Ensure Original nutritional shake contains:

  • 250 calories
  • 9 grams of protein
  • 6 grams of fat
  • 40 grams of carbohydrates
  • 24 essential vitamins and minerals

The calorie count in one serving of Ensure is comparable to what is found in a light meal. The 9 grams of protein is a modest amount compared to the protein content found in foods like meats, eggs, and dairy products. At only 6 grams of fat, Ensure is low in fat compared to many whole food meals. With 40 grams of carbohydrates from sugars, Ensure does provide a quick source of energy.

Ensure does contain 24 different essential vitamins and minerals. This includes vitamins A, C, D, E and B vitamins. It also contains minerals like calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. This vitamin and mineral profile can help fill in nutritional gaps that may be present in a person’s diet.

Benefits of Using Ensure as a Meal Replacement

There are some potential benefits that come with using Ensure as a meal replacement:

Weight Loss

At 250 calories per 8 ounce serving, Ensure can be used as a lower calorie substitute for meals to promote weight loss. By replacing one or two meals each day with Ensure, a person can reduce their overall calorie intake which may lead to weight loss over time.

Blood Sugar Management

The carbohydrates in Ensure come from corn maltodextrin and sucrose. These two sugar sources are easily digestible and quickly raise blood sugar levels. For some people, this spike in blood sugar from drinking Ensure is preferable to the sustained blood sugar spike that can come from eating many foods high in carbohydrates.


Having a pre-made shake on hand is very convenient when you are pressed for time or don’t have access to refrigeration or the ability to prepare a meal. Ensure can be stored easily and taken along for meals on the go. This convenience makes it easy to use Ensure as a meal replacement when needed.

Reduced Cooking Time

Since Ensure is a ready-to-drink nutritional shake, it eliminates the need to spend time cooking or preparing meals. This can be helpful for busy people, caregivers, or anyone who struggles with cooking due to age or disability. Replacing meals with Ensure shakes cuts down on time spent planning, shopping, and cooking meals.

Standardized Nutrition

The nutrition facts of Ensure are standardized based on the formulation created by the manufacturer Abbot Nutrition. This means that every serving of Ensure Original will provide 250 calories and 24 vitamins and minerals. For people who want or need consistent nutrition, Ensure can provide that stability versus the varied nutrition that comes with whole foods prepared in different ways.

Texture Alternative

Ensure has a smooth, shake-like texture without any chewing required. This makes it a suitable meal replacement option for older adults with dental problems or chewing difficulties. The texture is also easier to swallow than many solid foods.

Disadvantages of Using Ensure as a Meal Replacement

While Ensure does provide a comprehensive nutritional profile in an easy-to-use shake, there are some potential downsides to consider when deciding if it should regularly be used in place of meals:

Lack of Fiber

Each 8oz serving of Ensure contains no fiber. Fiber is an important part of a balanced diet, helping to promote digestive health. Lacking fiber long-term could contribute to problems like constipation. Adding a source of fiber, like fruit, vegetables, or whole grains, can help increase fiber when drinking Ensure.

Blood Sugar Spikes

While the spike in blood sugar levels caused by drinking Ensure may be favorable to some, it can be problematic for others. Those with diabetes or prediabetes need to be mindful of how shakes like Ensure impact their blood sugar. Monitoring levels and adjusting other meals accordingly is important.

Possible Nutrient Deficiencies

Any meal replacement runs the risk of providing incomplete nutrition compared to eating whole foods. While Ensure does contain 24 key nutrients, there many other vitamins, minerals and compounds found in whole foods that Ensure lacks. Long-term use of Ensure could result in some nutrient deficiencies.


Ensure shakes contain 250 calories per serving which is less than most people consume in a meal. While this can promote weight loss, it may not provide enough calories to sustain energy and ward off hunger for some people. Combining Ensure with a source of fiber or lean protein could help increase satiety.


Drinking shakes in place of meals, day after day, can lead to taste fatigue and boredom with the limited range of flavors. The monotony of repeated shakes instead of varied whole food meals may cause some people to tire of the consistency.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Since Ensure is consumed as a liquid rather than solid food, it can sometimes cause gastrointestinal issues if consumed in excess. Side effects like diarrhea, bloating, gas or cramping are possible if large amounts of Ensure are consumed as meal replacements. Starting with smaller amounts and slowly increasing intake can help minimize GI issues.

Tooth Decay

Like any sugary drink, consuming Ensure in excess without proper dental hygiene can increase the risk of tooth decay. The carbohydrates in Ensure are simple sugars that can feed cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. Practicing good oral hygiene by brushing teeth after drinking Ensure can help prevent tooth decay.


At $1-3 per serving, drinking Ensure as a meal replacement could be more expensive than preparing meals yourself from whole foods. The cost may still be warranted for the convenience, but should be considered in any meal replacement plan relying on Ensure.

Lack of Chewing

Chewing food provides sensory stimulation and satisfaction for many people. The lack of chewing and food textural differences found in Ensure may make it less appealing as a meal substitute for some. However, adding a small amount of solid food when possible may help.

How Many Calories are Needed in a Meal Replacement?

The average adult needs somewhere between 1,600-2,400 calories per day depending on age, size, and activity level. Given three meals per day, this would break down to 400-800 calories per meal on average.

Here is a breakdown of the recommended calorie intake per meal:

Daily Calorie Needs Calories per Meal
1,600 calories/day 400-500 calories
1,800 calories/day 450-600 calories
2,000 calories/day 500-700 calories
2,200 calories/day 550-750 calories
2,400 calories/day 600-800 calories

Based on these estimates, one 8oz serving of Ensure with 250 calories would fall on the lower end of the recommended calories needed in meal replacement. For many people, one serving of Ensure may not provide adequate calories. Two servings of Ensure with 500 calories total could be a more reasonable meal replacement.

However, lower calorie meal replacements like one serving of Ensure could be appropriate for those trying to lose weight. Older, less active adults may have lower calorie needs, so one Ensure serving could work for a meal replacement.

Talking to a doctor or dietitian to determine your individual nutrition needs can help guide appropriate calorie intake from Ensure meal replacements that support your health goals.

Nutrients to Consider in a Balanced Meal Replacement

While Ensure does contain 24 vitamins and minerals, there are a few additional nutrients that are important to try to consume as part of a balanced meal replacement:


Protein is important for building and repairing muscle tissue, supporting the immune system, and keeping you feeling full. Look for a meal replacement with at least 15-20g of protein.


Fiber helps regulate digestion, gut health, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar control. Aim for 5 or more grams of fiber if using a shake for a meal replacement.

Healthy Fats

Heart-healthy unsaturated fats provide essential fatty acids and help absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Meal replacements should have at least 2-5g of healthy fat.


Probiotics support digestive and immune function. Adding a probiotic-rich food like yogurt or kefir to a meal replacement can help boost the probiotic content.


Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes provide phytonutrients that act as antioxidants and fight inflammation. It’s ideal to get phytonutrients from whole foods to complement a meal replacement.


In addition to the vitamins and minerals in Ensure, ideal meal replacements will also contain adequate amounts of nutrients like potassium, magnesium, iron, choline, and selenium.

Macronutrient Needs for Balanced Meal Replacements

In addition to considering individual vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in meal replacements, it’s important to achieve the right balance of macronutrients – protein, carbs, and fat.

Here are general macronutrient recommendations for balanced meal replacements:


Aim for 15-30g of protein, which helps keep you feeling fuller longer while building and repairing muscle. Good sources include whey, plant proteins, Greek yogurt.


Choose complex carbohydrates like oats, quinoa, and legumes which break down more slowly, keeping blood sugar steady. Limit added sugars.


Incorporate 2-5g of healthy unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil, or avocado for essential fatty acids, vitamin absorption, and to help retain muscle mass when losing weight.


Look for 5+ grams of fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds to support digestion and gut health.

Following general macronutrient guidelines and focusing on whole food sources provide a good starting point. Individual needs may vary, so work with a nutrition professional to fine tune the optimal nutrient composition in meal replacements tailored to your health goals.

Tips for Picking the Best Option for Your Needs

If you’re considering using Ensure or another nutritional shake as a meal replacement, here are some tips to pick the best option for your individual needs:

Talk to Your Doctor

Discuss your interest in trying meal replacements with your physician, especially if you have any medical conditions affected by nutrition like diabetes or high blood pressure. Your doctor can help determine if Ensure is appropriate for you or make an alternative recommendation.

Compare Nutrition Labels

Read nutrition facts labels and ingredients lists closely to compare Ensure to other meal replacements. Look for options with higher protein, a balanced nutritional profile, and whole food ingredients.

Test Different Textures

If you’ll be using shakes frequently, trying options with different textures can help minimize taste fatigue. Consider pre-made liquid shakes, smoothies you blend yourself, nutrition bars, or shakes with mix-in ingredients like fruit or oats.

Mix and Match

Rather than swapping a whole meal for Ensure, try blending part of a meal like a breakfast smoothie with yogurt and fruit together with a serving of Ensure to create a more balanced meal replacement.

Account for Other Nutrients

Keep track of your overall diet to ensure you’re getting adequate fiber, healthy fats, probiotics, fruits, and vegetables. Supplement with these at other meals when relying on shakes like Ensure that lack some of these nutrients.

Suit Your Lifestyle

Factor in your schedule, cooking abilities, appetite, and eating habits when deciding if Ensure fits your lifestyle. Meal replacements can offer convenience, but also need to provide enough nutrition and satisfaction.

Ideal Times to Use Ensure as a Meal Replacement

While Ensure can technically be used to replace any meal, there are certain situations where it may be more useful than others:


Many people are rushed in the mornings, so a quick breakfast shake makes the most sense as a meal replacement. Ensure combined with fruit, yogurt, oats, flax or chia seeds can provide a balanced morning meal.

Lunch at Work

When you don’t have refrigeration or time for a proper lunch break at work, portable Ensure shakes can come in handy. Pair with whole fruits, vegetables, nuts or other non-perishable items.

Dinner When Cooking is Difficult

For seniors, busy parents, or those with disabilities that make cooking challenging, a shake for dinner can resolve the issue of preparing an evening meal. Include a source of fiber and protein.


The nutrition from Ensure can aid the recovery process after hospitalization for surgery, illness, or injury. Convenience and standardized nutrition helps those with decreased appetite.

Reduced Ability to Chew/Swallow

Ensure’s smooth, drinkable consistency makes it ideal for those unable to properly chew or safely swallow solid foods due to illnesses like Parkinson’s disease.

Weight Loss Diets

One or two servings of Ensure in place of higher calorie solid meals can support a calorie-controlled weight loss diet. Monitor hunger and increase solid, low-calorie foods if needed.


Ensure can provide a nutritionally balanced meal replacement in some circumstances due to its blend of protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals. However, relying solely on Ensure long term is not recommended, as whole foods provide a wider spectrum of nutrients, fiber, healthy fats, probiotics, and phytonutrients that complement Ensure. For best results, use Ensure as part of a balanced diet rather than your sole source of nutrition. Work with a doctor or dietitian to determine if Ensure is appropriate for your individual nutrition needs and health goals.