Meal supplement beverages, such as glucerna, are frequently promoted by doctors for a variety of reasons. In some cases it may be due to concerns about the amount of protein a patient needs, or if they are a “picky eater” and not getting enough nutrients. An increasing number of these products are aimed at diabetics, purporting to help them control blood sugar levels. Sadly these products come with a massive ingredient list and are not as healthy as the manufacturer would have you believe.
What’s in the can?
I’ve chosen Glucerna because it’s one of the more popular products aimed at people with diabetes. It claims to “Help Minimize Blood Sugar Spikes”, has 190 calories, and provides 10 grams of protein. Just because something has a lot of protein does not mean that it’s helpful for managing blood sugar. You need to read the label to see what’s really in that can.
INGREDIENTS: Water, Corn Maltodextrin, Milk Protein Concentrate, Fructose, Glycerol, Short-Chain Fructooligosaccharides, Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkali), Soy Protein Isolate, High Oleic Safflower Oil. Less than 2% of the Following: Canola Oil, Soy Oil, Cellulose Gel, Potassium Citrate, Magnesium Phosphate, Salt, Choline Chloride, Ascorbic Acid, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, Cellulose Gum, Potassium Phosphate, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Monoglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Liquid Sucralose, Potassium Hydroxide, Magnesium Chloride, Carrageenan, Turmeric Concentrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Manganese Sulfate, Calcium Pantothenate, FD&C Red #3, Cupric Sulfate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Chromium Chloride, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Sodium Molybdate, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenate, Phylloquinone, Cyanocobalamin, and Vitamin D3.
That’s quite a mouthful. Literally. So now let’s break down that long list so you can really understand what you’re getting.
This product delivers 6 grams of sugar per serving. That’s a lot of sugar in my book, especially for a beverage that’s supposed to balance blood sugar. The very first thing that stands out for me on the ingredient list is that the first ingredient is water, meaning that most of this product is water.
When we go through the list of ingredients we see that it has several different sources of sugar and sweeteners. To have all of this in a product clearly aimed at people trying to better manage their blood sugar levels does not make sense.
- Corn Maltodextrin: The corn is most likely genetically modified meaning that this has GMOs in it. I do not advocate consuming GMOs and recommend avoiding them as much as possible.
- Fructose: This is probably from either sugar cane, sugar beets or corn. While I don’t know which one it is I will point out that the sugar beets and corn are most likely to be from GMO sources. Excess consumption of fructose has also been shown to have a negative impact on the liver.
- Glycerol: This is a sugar alcohol which can be synthesized or made from either plant (soy, i.e., GMO soy) or animal (tallow) sources
- Sucralose: An artificial sweetener which can cause a host of negative health issues including migraines, dizziness, digestive disturbances, and allergic type reactions.
- Acesulfame Potassium: Another form of artificial sweetener. Unfortunately studies appear to show that consuming a lot of artificial sweeteners may be linked to weight gain.
Other negative ingredients
- Artificial flavor: Made from “proprietary chemical formulations” the actual ingredients are not required to be listed on the label as long as they are considered GRAS. However, many artificial flavor formulations have been shown to cause nausea, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, chest pain and more.
- FD&C Red #3: Made from petrochemicals, this artificial dye can have a very negative impact on brain chemistry. Studies have positively linked inattentive type behaviors, anxiety, and aggression with consumption of artificial food colors.
- GMO ingredients: In addition to the probable GMOs found in the sugars listed above, this product also has Soy Protein Isolate, Canola Oil, Soy Oil, and Soy Lecithin. Soy and canola are two of the most highly genetically modified crops currently out there and should be avoided.
- Milk Protein Concentrate: Sometimes listed as MPC, this highly processed ultra-filtered product is highly likely to come from cows that have been treated with artificial hormones and antibiotics. These artificial hormones have been linked to overall immune system issues, metabolic syndrome, and even diabetes. Overconsumption of antibiotics through animal products have been linked with antibiotic resistant diseases.
- Carrageenan: is made from red seaweed and is often highly problematic for those who have digestive issues.
Many of the other additives are most probably synthesized versions of the vitamins that they represent, not the forms found in nature which are more readily absorbed by the system.
Overall this is not a product that I would suggest for anyone. There are too many negative ingredients and I do not believe it’s a product that delivers any sort of health benefit.
When I posted this on my Facebook page it generated a number of comments asking what would be a good alternative. If you’re looking for a protein drink there are powders that have a reasonable protein content, far less sugar, and few to no dubious ingredients. I encourage you to read the label and understand what’s in the can before you make a choice. The object is to choose one that has no negative ingredients.
An even better choice than a beverage would be the addition of real foods that are nutritionally dense and provide balanced protein without junky ingredients. One of my favorites is soaked raw nuts or grass fed bison jerky. My friend and colleague Trudy Scott is a huge fan of tinned sardines. There are plenty of other options out there if you read the label.