By Joanne Stevens
“I wouldn’t feed this stuff to a dying animal, let alone a dying human being. If you agree, let the hospital management know. Or snipe at them via social media until they begin to pay attention. I think it’s time for a food fight!” These were the powerful words of a dying women.
Before her death from ovarian cancer in February of 2016, Carroll Krause, a former reporter for the Herald-Times in Bloomington, Indiana, made it her final mission to begin a “call for action.” Before passing away, Carroll wrote one last blog outlining the best and worst of her days in hospice care. When she could no longer eat food, Carroll was given a variety of puddings, juices and meal replacement shakes which horrified her. Referring to it as “swill” because she “didn’t know what else to call it,” Carroll wrote: “Hospice had the very best of intentions, (but) the stuff they sent over was not real food. In fact, I’m outraged at the idea that they feed this stuff to dying people.”
As Carroll pointed out, they are mostly a collection of starches, sugars, artificial flavours and nutritional powders all mixed into water. To be fair, there are also some vitamins and minerals added. There would have to be in order to substantiate the claims that they provide “an excellent source of these nutrients.” But how nutritious are they really?
Dr. Stacy Mitchell Doyle (FoodTherapyMD.com) supports Carroll’s claim. She refers to one of the most popular meal replacement shakes on the market as a “health killer” and points out that aggressive marketing campaigns and deep ties to the medical industry have been successful in winning over the trust of the general public.
“Rarely do people question the actual nutritional makeup of these highly processed chemical-laden drinks,” Mitchell Doyle says.
Even more disturbing, the target market for these products are the ones whose are the most vulnerable, including the sick and elderly, cancer patients and hospitalized patients. For these people especially, nutrition can play a vital role in determining the course and outcome of their illnesses.
Meal replacement shakes (MRS) are commonly prescribed by the medical profession and are widely used in nursing homes, cancer centres and hospitals. The most common ones are Nestle’s Boost® and Abbott Pharmaceutical’s Ensure® and Glucerna®. The latter is especially recommended to diabetics because it is designed to help minimize blood sugar spikes (glucerna.com). Abbott’s website boasts that they are a “Worldwide Leader in Nutritional Science” and that their product, Ensure®, is “#1 Doctor Recommended.”
This certainly seems to be the case, as Ensure® can be found in the majority of hospitals in both Canada and the United States. Not to be outdone, Nestlé, the world’s largest food corporation, is positioning itself to become a “global authority in the “Nutrition for Health” movement with its “Nestle Institute of Health Sciences.” (truthaboutcancer.org). How can an industry that brings us a wide variety of processed junk food such as chocolate bars, ice cream, frozen dinners and pizza claim to be a global authority on nutrition? And don’t forget that all so-called “nutritional” shakes are also processed food. Nevertheless, Nestlé has carved a niche for itself. Across Canada today there are a number of hospitals offering weight-loss programs operating through regional bariatric assessment and treatment centres. Health Science North in Sudbury describes its non-surgical, medically-supervised program as a solution to help participants achieve a healthier lifestyle and lose weight by changing behaviours. Potential clients must be referred by a doctor or nurse practitioner with the majority of patients being morbidly obese and/or suffering from diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
One of the interventions is referred to as the Optifast® Medical Weight Management Program. Optifast® is another one of Nestlé’s meal replacement shakes and it is the essential component of a 26-week, medically-supervised program.
For the first 12 weeks, the patient consumes nothing else but four “Optifast®” shakes a day, that provide a total of 900 calories.
Although the program itself is subsidized by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the cost of the Optifast® is $930 for the 12 weeks. This is then followed by a five-week transition back to food and then ongoing support from a team of health professionals, including a nurse, a dietician and a social worker. The initial very low-calorie intake leads to quick weight loss and temporary suppression of appetite.
On the other end of the spectrum, MRS such as Optifast® and Glucerna® contain much less sugar in order to avoid any weight gain or blood sugar spikes.
As the dangers of sugar are rapidly becoming more apparent, there is an ever-increasing demand for sweetness solutions. Artificial sugar substitutes such as aspartame can also have a negative impact on health and actually contribute to weight gain. One of the new kids on the block is “sucromalt,” which was developed and patented by chemist, Guy Cote and geneticist, Tim Leathers with USDA-ARR National Center for Agricultural Utilizing Research in Peoria, Illinois. These scientists have teamed up with the corporation Cargill Inc. The USDA, Health Canada and other countries have approved sucromalt as a “partial or complete substitute for sweetening agents such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup and malt syrup” (canada.ca). It is currently produced as an ingredient, not a finished food product. Sold under the name Extend™, it is derived from a combination of sucrose from cane and beet sugar and maltose from corn sugar. Sucromalt is low on the glycemic index, providing the slow digestible release of its carbohydrates into the blood stream.
Although it is seemingly a welcome solution to the public’s growing demand for healthier alternatives, this ingredient is still a source of processed carbs, that have little, if any, nutritional value and which will eventually be converted into fat.
The average person is now highly hooked on sugar thanks to the giant food corporation’s use of food scientists to help make their products more addictive.
One must also take into account the fact that infant formulas such as Nestlé’s “Good Start®” and Abbott’s “Similac” also contain sugar and are essentially a meal replacement for breast milk. Sugar addiction can start at a very young age.
While the ingredients in the most commonly prescribed meal replacement shakes may vary, there are many commonalities. They all contain a lot of sugar, some as much as 28 grams, which exceeds the daily recommendations of the World Health Organization. There is a huge body of evidence that sugar creates inflammation and suppresses the immune system. It also seems to cause cancer to grow. In his article entitled “Cancer’s Sweet Tooth,” Dr. Patrick Quinlan refers to sugar as “cancer’s preferred fuel.”
Advocates of these high sugar products claim that they help sick people, especially cancer victims gain back some of their weight loss. But how can there be any real benefit to a sick person consuming copious quantities of a substance that in the long run could make them sicker? Another common denominator is that all MRS are processed. In addition, they all contain questionable chemical additives, such as carrageenan, a carcinogen and cupric-sulfate. This has been used as a herbicide, fungicide and pesticide and is classified as a “harmful irritant” and “dangerous for the environment.” (www.greenmedinfo.com/toxic-ingredient/cupric-sulfate)
The corn, soy and canola used to produce high fructose corn syrups, corn maltodextrin, canola and soy oil commonly found in MRS are mostly genetically modified, and these crops are liberally sprayed with this herbicide whose primary ingredient is glyphosate. One might also question the bioavailability of the added synthetic vitamins, which are absorbed differently than the natural vitamins found in food.
Dr. Stacy Mitchell Doyle has concluded that the processed sugars contained in meal replacement shakes create widespread inflammation and oxidative stress in organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, lungs arteries and joints. The negative impact on the immune system leaves the body vulnerable to infection and other cancers.
Joanne Stevens graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition as a board certified holistic health coach and has a Master’s degree in counselling. She can be reached at email@example.com.