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Ensure is a popular brand of premixed nutrition drinks commonly recommended by physicians and registered dietitians to promote weight gain, commonly in older adults but also others who struggle to gain weight.
However, you may wonder whether there is any evidence to support this recommendation.
This article discusses whether Ensure can help you or a loved one gain weight and provides other tips for adding more calories to your diet.
What is Ensure?
Ensure is a brand of premixed nutritional drinks manufactured by Abbott Laboratories.
Some of the most popular Ensure products include:
- Ensure Clear: A fat-free, fruit-flavored drink acceptable for clear liquid diets.
- Ensure Enlive: Marketed as an advanced nutrition formula, it provides an ingredient called HMB, which supports muscle health.
- Ensure Original: The formula upon which the other Ensure products are based.
- Ensure Plus: This product provides more protein and calories than Ensure Original.
- Ensure Complete: The most protein- and calorie-dense Ensure product.
Ensure formulas contain in the range of 70–350 calories and 9–30 grams of protein.
They also provide various vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, and vitamins D and B12, among others.
Most ensure products contain small amounts of lactose, making them suitable for people who are lactose intolerant.
They are all also gluten-free.
These products are widely available in big-box retailers, pharmacies, and online.
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover Ensure.
Does Ensure help you gain weight?
Gaining weight requires that you consistently consume more calories than your body needs to support normal bodily functions as well as activity levels.
However, many people struggle to consume enough calories for various reasons related to increased calorie needs, poor appetite, underlying medical conditions, or certain medical treatments.
Nutrition drinks like Ensure can be beneficial for gaining weight since they pack a lot of calories in a relatively small volume.
And although Ensure is rich in protein, which tends to decrease appetite, drinking your calories tends to have less of an impact on appetite, allowing you to consume more calories before you get full (1).
These studies also show that the nutrition supplements didn’t significantly influence appetite or cause the participants to eat less at meals.
This is key because if drinking Ensure decreased your appetite or the amount of food you eat at meals, it likely wouldn’t have any effect on your weight.
Which Ensure product is best for weight gain?
With around a dozen different Ensure products, it can be difficult to know which product is best for gaining weight.
Although most Ensure products can help you gain weight, Ensure Plus, Complete, and Enlive are the best options.
This is because they each contain 350 calories per container, the most among all Ensure products.
If you have increased protein needs due to certain health conditions, fitness goals, advancing age, or if you otherwise struggle to consume enough protein, Ensure Complete provides the most protein at 30 grams per container while the others provide 16–20 grams.
However, some retailers may not carry the higher calorie Ensures, in which case, you can always increase the calories of those that contain fewer calories but tend to be more widely available such as Ensure Original by using it as a liquid base for high-calorie shakes or smoothies.
You just need a good blender and high-calorie foods to add like ice cream, oats, yogurt, peanut butter, and bananas.
The frequency in which you drink Ensure will depend on your overall calorie needs and current calorie intake, but drinking Ensure one to two times per day is fine.
Keep in mind, however, Ensure is not designed to replace your meals but instead to supplement your diet.
You may choose to drink them between meals or at meals.
But generally, drinking Ensure between meals rather than with meals is best to prevent Ensure from replacing the nutrition you get from food.
Other tips for weight gain
In addition to supplementing your diet with Ensure, here are some other practical tips for weight gain:
Eat more frequently
It can be exhausting trying to consume enough calories each day to gain weight.
However, you can make the process easier by spreading your calories over multiple meals and snacks rather than trying to fit them all in three standard meals.
Aim to have three meals, each separated by a high-calorie snack or nutrition drink like Ensure.
Fortify your diet
One of the best ways to gain weight is by increasing the calories of the foods you already eat.
You can do this by adding high-calorie foods to items like mashed potatoes, hot dishes, cereal, soup, pasta, and oatmeal.
Here are some tips for increasing the calorie content of foods:
- add cheese to toast, sandwiches, mashed potatoes, pasta, and soups
- use whole milk in replace of water when making hot cereal and cream soups
- melt butter over potatoes, rice, and pasta, or add to soups and casseroles
- add fruit and nuts or mix peanut butter into hot cereals
- use extra oil when cooking meats, vegetables, or stir-fry
- add protein powder to oatmeal, casseroles, or soups
Ensure also makes a nutrition powder that you can easily add to foods to boost their calorie content as well, which you can find online.
Try these high-calorie food swaps
Try swapping low-calorie foods with a high-calorie alternative.
Here are some swaps to try:
- choose whole-fat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese over their reduced- or fat-free counterparts
- use butter over margarine
- opt for a banana over berries
- choose salmon over a white fish like tilapia or cod
- choose fattier cuts of meat over leaner options
The bottom line
Ensure is a brand of premixed nutrition drinks.
Many tend to be high in protein and calories, making them helpful for gaining weight.
Ensure Plus, Complete, and Enlive contain the most calories and are therefore the best Ensure products for promoting weight gain.
You can drink Ensure with meals, but it’s best to drink them between meals.
In addition to supplementing your diet with Ensure, try eating more frequently, fortify your meals with high-calorie foods and ingredients, and swap low-calorie foods with high-calorie alternatives to boost your calorie intake and promote weight gain.