Weekly Rant: Nutritional supplements = Glorified soda pop?

Hello my lovelies!

Yes, I’m aware it has been almost a month since my last posting. I am truly sorry. I moved (yet again) to my new cozy apartment in Parkdale Feb 1, followed by 2 weeks without internet, a snowboarding trip to Tremblant, a nasty cold and a huge caseload at work (cue tiny violin). Buuuut I thought I would embrace my return with a fantastic rant!

When I say “nutritional supplements”, I specifically mean Boost® (produced by Nestle) and Ensure® (produced by Abbott). For my Dietitian readers, I want to clarify that I will be discussing the supplements you can purchase over the counter, specifically Boost/Ensure, Glucerna/Boost Diabetic and their protein and extra calorie equivalents. Specialized formulas such as Novasource Renal, Peptamen etc are for very specific cases, and here my focus is on the general population.

“The Perfect Package!”

My clients LOVE supplement drinks. I can’t even keep track of the number of referrals I get to see clients who are requesting Boost® or Ensure®. And of course, why should I deny them the “perfect package”? At least that’s what Boost® Canada’s website tells me. Here are some of the “catch phrases” used to describe Boost®:

-Great tasting and nutritious supplement!

-A tasty way to help you stay strong and active!

-Helps keep your body strong and active and your taste buds happy!

So what makes these Boost® beverages so darn tasty? Well if you take a look at the first 6 ingredients I pulled from the website:


SUGAR! aka the second and third ingredient (after water). Ingredients are listed by weight, so you can bet your bottom dollar that sugar comprises the majority of this tiny 237mL bottle (less than 1 cup). Now take a look at the Nutrition Facts table:


Each bottle has 41g of carbohydrates, 20g of those carbs coming from added sugar (or 50%). Notice that Health Canada currently has no % Daily Value (%DV) recommendation for added sugar. Sneaky buggers! However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently released their draft recommendations for added sugar intakes. You can see their report here. Basically they suggest that in order to reduce the risk of chronic diseases associated with poor dietary choices (diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer) we should reduce our added sugar intake to no more than 5% of our total daily calories. For the average intake of 2000kcal, that is equal to 25g of sugar.

**NOTE: When I use the term “added sugar”, this means any sugar that has been added to a food to enhance flavor, or sugar that is not in its natural state. The sugar found in breads, rice, whole fruits, starchy vegetables and milk products do not count. However, since 100% fruit juice is not in its natural state (have you ever picked a bottle of orange juice off a tree?), it would still count as an added sugar. Some people may also use the term “free sugar” to describe added sugars**

Alright, going back to my nutritional analysis of the Boost® beverage, you can see that just one 237mL bottle provides almost 80% of a person’s added sugar intake, if we are going by the WHO draft recommendations (which I totally agree with).

“But Kelly, Boost® also gives you protein, vitamins and minerals!”- all my clients

Le sigh.... is there a supplement fairy trolling the halls?
Le sigh…. is there a supplement fairy trolling the halls?

Do you know what else gives you all those things? FOOD! Gasp! For example, to get the 10g protein provided in a bottle of Boost®, you could eat:

– ½ cup Greek yogurt or 3/4 cup regular yogurt

– 2 eggs

– 1 cup of milk or fortified soy beverage

– 2 tablespoons nut butter (almond, peanut)

– 3/4 cup of beans, chickpeas or lentils

– 1/4 cup of lean chicken, beef or fish

I also explain to my clients if you are eating regular meals that are balanced with different foods (e.g. you have vegetables, fruits, protein, milk or milk alternative) the vitamins and minerals you receive from these supplements are not needed.

Bottom Line

– Nutritional supplements such as Boost® and Ensure® should not be recommended to the general healthy population who are eating regular meals because a) They give us almost 80% of our added sugar quota for the day (per bottle) and b) the other nutrients they provide can be easily obtained by eating whole foods

– There are certain populations and circumstances where these supplements can provide benefits, but should be recommended after an assessment from a Registered Dietitian

Rant done.


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