How to Choose a Nutrition Supplement

By Jessie Carpenter, MA, MS, RD, LD, Owner of Nutrition Prescription LLC

Nutritional drinks or supplements, like Ensure and Boost, have become popular for individuals who require additional nutrients or have difficulty meeting their calorie and protein needs through regular food intake alone. This article will guide you through a dietitian’s lens of the uses, recommendations, and limitations of these products and provide information on other options available.


Nutrition supplements can take many forms, such as liquid, pill, or powder. Nutritional drinks are specially formulated and primarily intended for individuals with increased nutrient requirements, such as those with malnutrition, poor appetite, involuntary weight loss, or difficulty chewing or swallowing solid foods. They are often recommended to be taken by older adults, individuals recovering from surgery or illness, or those with certain medical conditions. An essential goal of the nutrition drink’s consumption is weight management, whether it is maintaining one’s current weight or aiding in weight gain.


Ensure and Boost, for example, are formulated to be nutritionally balanced and contain a blend of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), essential vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients. They typically provide a range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, D, E, and B, calcium, iron, and zinc.

The drinks are generally higher in calories and protein than regular food items. Caloric density helps individuals meet their energy needs more efficiently, while protein helps support muscle maintenance and repair. Both brands provide a variety of flavors and options, like original formula, high-protein, high-calorie, low-sugar (diabetic-friendly), and more. This table includes information on Boost and Ensure products, made by Nestle and Abbott, respectively:


These ready-to-drink beverage supplements should not be used as meal replacements. They can be used as a convenient snack between meals or as a supplement to regular meals. The specific usage and serving recommendations may vary, so it’s essential to follow the instructions on the product packaging or consult a healthcare professional, such as a Registered Dietitian, who can perform a thorough assessment to determine nutrition needs and incorporate these beverages appropriately.

While Ensure and Boost can benefit individuals with specific nutritional needs, it’s important to note that they should not replace a varied and balanced diet whenever possible. Whole foods generally offer a more comprehensive range of nutrients, including dietary fiber, antioxidants, and other advantages that may not be present in nutrition supplements.

Each person’s nutritional requirements are unique. It’s essential to consider your specific needs, health conditions, and goals when deciding to incorporate any nutrition supplements. Furthermore, nutrition supplements complement a healthy diet, not replace it entirely. They can be beneficial in certain situations, such as medical conditions or increased nutrient needs. Still, it’s essential to prioritize a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all major food groups.

Similar Products

Many products on the market can be found in grocery stores, like Ensure and Boost, to supplement calories, protein, and micronutrients.

  • Carnation Breakfast Essentials comes in a powdered drink mix and a ready-to-drink shake. They are formulated to provide essential vitamins, minerals, and protein and are often used as a supplement with breakfast or as a mid-morning snack.
  • Glucerna is a line of nutrition supplements specifically designed for individuals with diabetes. It is listed in the table above. Glucerna and other products like it are lower in sugar and carbohydrates and are formulated to help manage blood sugar levels.
  • Both Nestle and Abbott also make other enhanced nutritional products, such as puddings, clear liquids (think flavored water), nutritional powder, and tube feedings. Abbott has a Glucerna bar and a wider variety of nutritional drinks.
  • Walmart’s Equate brand has a Nutritional Shake and a Plus Shake in several flavors. It is very similar to Boost and Ensure in calories, vitamins, and minerals, yet Equate Nutritional Shake Plus has only 13 grams of protein per bottle, the lowest of the three brands. Equate may save you money as an “off-brand,” but if you must purchase more to meet needs, it likely won’t save you money in the long run. Knowing your calorie and protein goals and how to meet them best is essential, no matter which brand you choose. 
  • Medpass is a brand offering a nutritional drink with high calories and protein. One serving provides 18 vitamins and minerals along with 420 calories and 20 grams of protein.
  • Pediasure is a nutrition supplement for children with nutritional deficiencies or growth concerns. It provides a balanced mix of macronutrients and micronutrients to support their healthy growth and development.
  • Premier Protein, Core Power, and Fairlife milk have a very high protein content with low to moderate calories. Premier Protein is fortified with at least 25 vitamins and minerals, while Fairlife products like vitamin D, potassium, and calcium will have the same as in milk. These would be good options for a high protein but not a high-calorie need.

This guide on nutritional drinks is meant to be informative and helpful, not medical advice. Nutrition supplements are intended to complement a healthy diet and can be valuable tools for individuals with increased nutrient requirements or difficulty meeting their nutritional needs. Consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and recommendations regarding any nutrition supplement.

about the author:

Jessie is a loving wife, mother, and dog mom, who delights in baking, traveling, exercising, and doing anything outdoors. She has a private practice nutrition business called Nutrition Prescription LLC. It is geared towards enabling adults to build healthy habits to last a lifetime on a realistic schedule so they can have more energy, less stress, and love their bodies again through one-on-one and group sessions.  Her website is:

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