Pros and Cons of Nutritional Drinks and Shakes for Seniors

Whole grains, vibrant fruits and veggies, milk and dairy products, lean proteins, and nuts and seeds are generally mentioned when explaining a well-balanced diet. However, can “nutrition in a bottle” replace nutrition on a meal plate? We’re pondering and explaining nutritional drinks for seniors!

What Are Nutritional Supplement Drinks?

Nutritional supplements are essentially nutrition in a bottle, offering balanced nutrients to individuals unable to obtain them for numerous reasons. They can further be broken down into shakes and formulas – shakes (such as Ensure and Boost) are intended for oral consumption to meet general nutrition needs while formulas (such as Osmolite and Jevity) are designed for specific disease states and often used in feeding tubes. But when it comes to nutritional drinks for seniors, shakes are the primary go to and found in common grocery stores. But are nutritional shakes required by all seniors? The identified pros and cons can further guide you into deciding if a supplement is necessary or encouraged for your loved one.

Cons of Nutritional Supplement Drinks

Getting the “bad” news out of the way, nutritional supplement drinks spark these primary concerns:

Inhibit Satiety Cues

Nutritional drinks may diminish feelings of fullness, as sipping on drinks may not provide the full effects of signifying cues that lead to satiation. Along with reduced satiety cues, consistently drinking foods can also take away the pleasures and enjoyments of foods, running the risk of reduced quality of life.

Potential Side Effects

Like all supplements, nutritional drinks can cause potential side effects. Most common negative consequences of its intake include constipation, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Other serious complications include muscle cramps, shortness or breath, and irregular heartbeat. It is also critical to identify prospective interactions with medications, as they can interfere with effectiveness and create larger health concerns.

Over and Underuse

People often underestimate the provision of nutritional drinks and shakes. Especially if your loved one is receiving adequate nutrition, adding on a supplement can add on more calories (especially from sugar) than bargained for, subsequently leading to weight gain risk and additional complications of high blood pressure and diabetes. But on the contrary, drinking solely nutritional drinks may lead to weight loss and nutrient inadequacy. Some drinks provide only 250 calories and even if consumed three times a day, total daily calories are subpar at 750 calories.

Pros of Nutritional Supplement Drinks


The purpose of their use… Offering nutrition! Especially if unable to obtain proper macro- and micronutrients with food, supplementing with a nutritional shake can help fill in the nutritional holes and gaps, as they offer carb, fat, protein, and 24 valuable vitamins and minerals.


One valuable aspect of nutritional supplement drinks is their liquid consistency. Considering some seniors require modified, soft food textures, this makes them an available option to obtain nutrients.


Nutritional drinks come in a various types and flavors. From overall nutrition to supplements geared for diabetic management, there is generally a supplement to accommodate various needs and conditions. And with flavors expanding from more than just chocolate and vanilla, seniors can broaden their palate and enjoy a variety of tastes.


Packing or preparing a nutritionally balanced meal may be a tough task for elderly, especially if help is lacking. However, supplemental drinks are generally simple to twist off the cap and sip on. They are also convenient to bring and drink on-the-go.

Considerations and The Bottom Line

Tips and considerations in choosing a nutritional drink include checking the ingredients and total nutritional value. The ingredient list should always be taken advantage of. Ideally, the first ingredients (also the most prominent) should indicate some sort of protein source with sugars identified closer to the end if present. Especially if aiming to use the nutritional drink as a total meal replacement, the total nutrients must be considered. As a general rule, Harvard Health Publications suggests looking for about 400 calories per serving as a meal replacement and if absolutely needed, not going above 200 calories as a snack. Regarding nutritional ratios, they further advise looking for 10 to 20 grams of protein, no more than six grams of fat, and no more than 40 grams of carbohydrate (including sugar) in an 8-ounce serving.

All-in-all, nutritional drinks for seniors can have great value in supplying nutrients to your loved one. If a senior is not able to gain nutrition from other food sources, a nutritional supplement may be a respected option. It is important, though, to help identify the direct cause of why food intake has declined, whether it be ill-fitting dentures or a complete disinterest in food. And though meeting nutrient needs in seniors is important to their health, enhancing their quality of life should also be considered!

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