Ensure Original, sold as a meal replacement, is available in grocery stores everywhere. But caveat emptor! Buyer Beware! Why? Because it is advertised as “complete, balanced nutrition for everyday health.” What does that mean? Well, it’s clever marketing, as I’ll explain. They go on to say that each can contains 9 grams of protein, 220 calories, and 26 essential vitamins and minerals. So far, so good, right? But let’s take a closer look.
As a nutritional claim, the word “complete” is not legally defined, but we know that a healthy diet requires complete protein, meaning a combination of essential amino acids (the things proteins are made of). A healthy diet also requires essential “micronutrients,” so presumably the 26 included in a can of Ensure Original covers those that are generally accepted as essential. The calorie count (220) is also okay, so I’d say, “So far, so good.”
So why then do I say caveat emptor, i.e. let the buyer beware? Because the term means: be careful because the seller knows more than the buyer. Our purpose then is to balance the information so that the buyer (you) knows more than the Ensure Original advertising reveals.
Real foods, and manufactured “foods” like Ensure Original, are composed of proportionate amounts of the three macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrate, plus assorted micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals). The ratio of the “macros” in each food varies, as does the combined total for all foods in a meal. Recommendations for what the ideal ratio is also vary, and have changed dramatically in the last half century.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, in the mistaken belief that saturated fat and cholesterol were harmful to cardiovascular health, U. S. public health officials and the American Heart Association, recommended that we should try to eat less than 30% of our calories from fat, just 10% from protein (in part because the best complete protein comes from animal products), and the remaining 60% from carbohydrates.
In 1977 the McGovern Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human needs institutionalized these 30/10/60 percentages in the Dietary Goals of the U. S. In 1980 and every 5 years thereafter the U. S. has published the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A little later all manufactured foods in boxes, cans and bags included a “Nutrition Facts” panel in which each macronutrient was given in grams and then the percent of the “Minimum Daily Value” of that macro was given, using the 30%, 10%, 60% government recommendations.
These macronutrient recommendations persist to this day, even with the recently enacted “reforms.” So, when Ensure Original touts that it is “balanced nutrition for everyday health,” what does that mean? It means that Ensure Original is balanced the way the government recommends. Let’s look at the Ensure Original label.
A 220 calorie can of Ensure Original contains 6 grams of fat, 9 grams of protein, and 33 grams of carbs. Since fat has 9 calories per gram, that’s 54 calories of fat. Protein has 4 calories per gram so that’s 36 calories, and carbohydrate has 4 calories per gram, so that’s 132 calories. 54 + 36 + 132 = 222 calories, so let’s say 220.
Now, what are the macronutrient ratios in this can of “balanced nutrition for everyday health”? Fat: 54/220 = 24%; Protein: 36/220 = 16%; Carbs: 132/220 = 60%. Voila! Less than 30% fat, higher in healthy protein (as advertised) and exactly 60% carbohydrate. That’s almost exactly what the U. S. government recommended in 1980 and still recommends today. And coincidentally (?) in complete correspondence with the incidence and dramatic increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes in the United States. But, it’s “complete, balanced nutrition.”So, ask yourself: Is this the kind of “complete, balanced nutrition” that you want to eat for your “everyday health”? Especially if eating this way for the last half century has caused you to put on unwanted pounds and become “pre-diabetic” or a diagnosed type 2 as more than half of us have? Or do you think that you can “ensure” your everyday health by eating a diet that is less than 60% carbs. What do you think? Can you?