There are several commercials on television right now extolling the virtues of liquid nutrition drinks and their important role in senior health. These nutritional drinks can help boost necessary protein intake as well as other crucial vitamins and minerals. But, do you really need to buy these expensive bottled drinks to ensure your health? I don’t think so and I’d like to offer a more economical solution.
Liquid Nutrition Drinks: Do You Really Need Them?
On today’s market, there are several nutrition drinks out there aimed at seniors and those with diabetes – namely Boost, Ensure and Glucerna. With the exception of one “high protein” version of Ensure, all of these offer what I consider to be squeaking-by levels of protein, not much fiber, and can contain a lot of sugar per serving – even the drinks aimed at diabetics.
While these liquid nutrition drinks could be a boon to people having problems digesting solid foods, or problems with their teeth which makes chewing food difficult, or add convenience when someone doesn’t want to cook 3 well-rounded meals a day, they can still take quite a chunk out of a one’s budget – especially those living on minimal incomes. So, the issue becomes getting the most, and best, nutrition for your money as well as your health concerns. With most of them though, the nutrition in these bottled drinks aren’t really equal to the big price you pay for them – like $9-15.00 for a 4-12 pack, depending on where you shop. If you go through even 2 bottles a day, the expense can add up.
Yet, let’s take a look at another canned/bottled nutrition drink that’s not aimed at Baby Boomers or older seniors per se, rather at the weight loss market – Slim Fast. The regular version is very similar in nutritional makeup to the “senior drinks”. It has about 25 grams of carbohydrate, 7-15 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and about 10-18 grams of sugar (depending on if you mix it with milk or water), and all the same vitamins and minerals. Yet, a canister of high-protein Slim-Fast powdered mix with 14 servings per can costs about $9.98 at larger discount food retailers and about $1 less at online retailers. That turns out to be less than 0.50 to 0.71 cents per serving versus 1.60 to 2.00 per bottle of the “senior drinks”. Slim-Fast bottled/canned liquid versions are slightly more expensive, but still less than the “senior” bottled drinks. Even their low-carb version – good for diabetics or dieters – have good nutritional values with higher protein, about 20 grams, for less than Ensure’s High Protein formula. Just an example that there are other liquid nutrition drinks out there that aren’t really marketed as “senior” drinks but you could use them as such.
You can also get all the same vitamins/minerals and nutrition the bottled nutritional drinks contain in a good multivitamin formula which comes in tablet, mixable powders, or pre-mixed liquids if chewing or swallowing may be an issue. You can also boost your nutrition using the commercial protein powders mixes, available in grocery stores as well as health food stores that you can mix with water, juice, dairy milk, soy, and rice and almond “milks”. Keep in mind that mixing with anything other than water will also add to the nutritional benefit of the drink.
When creating your own “nutritional drink”, here are the nutritional issues that Boomers, and older seniors, need to focus on:
1. Protein. I list this as #1 because people start losing muscle mass past the age of 50. With loss of muscle mass comes weakness and can even contribute to fractures. Baby Boomers and older seniors need 0.75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight to help maintain muscle mass. One of the selling points of one brand of “senior nutrition drinks” is that it’s considered “high protein” at 25 grams per bottle. This is a good amount, but you can get the same amount of protein in a powdered protein supplement, often boosted with at least 1/3 of your daily vitamin/mineral needs, that offers much more economical value.
2. Calcium/Vitamin D. This dynamic duo is necessary to maintain good bone density as you get older to prevent disabling fractures. Look for commercial protein powders that also contain vitamins and minerals.
3. Vitamins A, C, E. Powerhouse antioxidants necessary to keep your eyes, heart and immune system functioning correctly. Your protein powder should contain at least 1/3 your daily recommended amount of these vitamins. If you consume 2 drinks a day, you’ve gotten 2/3 of your daily needs taken care of.
4. Selenium, iron, magnesium, potassium. Selenium is a potent antioxidant, magnesium and potassium helps your heart and muscles function correctly. Iron is something you need less of as you pass age 50 – especially menopausal women. Too much could spell trouble for your heart. Many liquid nutritional drinks have too much iron – about 18 mg – when you only need about 9-11 past 50 through your older years.
5. Eye vitamins. If your protein powder contains these eye-specific vitamins – lutein, astazanthin, bilberry – it’s a bonus. But, if not, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use that protein powder supplement, especially if it contains all the above. Just simply supplement your eye vitamins separately with a good “eye” formula.
It’s true that Boomers and older seniors need to pay good attention to their nutritional needs and many of them are deficient in doing so. It’s important to try and get as much of your nutritional needs from your food everyday, but for whatever reason you may not be able to, using nutritional supplements are a good way to stay healthy. You just don’t have to break your budget doing so. Shop around and compare the ingredient labels for protein, vitamins/minerals, carbs, sugars, etc. against the prices.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News