Home Healthy Aging Ensure Alternatives – Recipes to Make Your Own

Ensure Alternatives – Recipes to Make Your Own

by Donna Schwontkowski
ensure alternatives feature

For decades, Ensure has been a foundational part of what we need to support our nutritional needs, but here we’re going to look at some Ensure alternatives. Recipes that you can use to make your own version of this nutrition shake.

As a dietitian, I used Ensure as far back as the 1980s while working in hospitals and in nursing homes to put weight on those who were frail, those suffering from bedsores, and those whose laboratory test results indicated that malnutrition was present.

It worked back then. Two to three cans of Ensure or Ensure Plus a day seemed to provide enough calories and nutrition to turn the patients around within about 4 to 6 weeks.

But now it’s 40 years later. Thousands of nutritional studies have been done during this time frame, and the paradigms have changed. People look for non-GMO products, products that have lower amounts of sugar and/or sugar derivatives, and fewer artificial versions of vitamins without all the actual vitamins and minerals.

More and more seniors who need to put on weight are now looking for Ensure alternatives. They want foods that meet the essential nutrition needs of older adults without unnecessary, or even harmful, ingredients.

The current nutritional profile of a can of Ensure Plus includes 16 grams protein and 350 calories, compared to 9 grams protein and 220 calories in the Ensure Original.

Here’s a chart of the differences:

Nutrition Ensure Original Ensure Plus Ensure Complete
Serving size8 oz8 oz10 oz
Carbohydrates33 gm48 gm42 gm
Fat6 gm11 gm8 gm
Protein6 gm16 gm30 gm
Vitamins & minerals272725

Ensure’s Main Ingredients

The main ingredients in order of importance and amount in Ensure are corn maltodextrin, sugar, milk protein concentrate, a blend of vegetable oils such as canola and corn, soy protein isolate and cocoa powder (source).

The percentages of vitamins and minerals range from 20% to 35% of the percent of the daily value, with higher amounts for certain nutrients (40% for vitamin D, 80% for vitamin C, and 50% for vitamin E).

Thus, four cans a day can end up providing about 880 extra calories and the weight gain expected would be one pound every 4 days.

What you are looking for is the provision of all the vitamins and minerals and all of them in the right ratios. For example, if you provide 100% of the RDA for zinc with only 50% of the copper, you will induce a copper deficiency. The nutrients always work together.

Scrutinizing the vitamins and minerals in Ensure, it’s missing boron and inositol. The Ensure formulas have to be designed for the masses and not the individuals that need it. Thus, the company can’t legitimately add higher doses that are needed for the elderly population that may be in short supply in their diet.

For example, the vitamin D in Ensure would only cause a very slow rise in vitamin D levels over 3 months, whereas a higher amount would probably be a lot more appropriate for those who are deficient – and that is usually 75% of the elderly!

Thus, an overall ‘rating’ of Ensure would be that by providing the nutrients that it does, it is better than nothing but the GMO corn, soy and sugar in it still makes it a questionable product in my opinion. Sure, it could do the job and put weight on your loved one, but the sources of the nutrition are still questionable. It’s convenient but the health gains will be marginal.

This is why a nutritional consultation with a dietitian or health practitioner who can use nutritional lab testing is really the best way to completely overhaul one’s nutrition – and health – when weight gain and health restoration is needed.

Are There Ensure Alternatives?

If you look online, you will find homemade DIY Ensure recipes and they seem to make sense. But let’s dive in and analyze two recipes you will find on the internet and explain whether or not they are a good idea, and why or why not. Then afterwards, let’s discuss what are good options for you.

Ensure Alternative #1

Ingredients for 1 gallon (drink over 3 days)

3 cans (14 oz each) Sweetened condensed milk

2 cups Ovaltine

1 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil (117 calories/14 grams fat)

Whole milk to fill up the gallon container (70 oz)

Condensed milk is good, right? It’s milk that has been concentrated and sweeter than regular milk. It has had about 60% of the water content removed. Take a look at the nutritional information for 1 ounce sweetened condensed milk:

Sweetened Condensed Milk:

 Serving Size – 2 Tbl or 1 ozTotal for the Day
Calories90-1301260 calories
Protein2.2-3 grams30.8 grams
Carbohydrates15.2 to 22 grams213 grams
Fat2.4 to 3.5 grams42 grams
Calcium6 to 8% daily value84%
Phosphorus10% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)140%
Selenium and riboflavin7% of the RDI98%
Vitamin B12 and choline4% of the RDI56%


Packet size: 31 svgsPer serving sizePer day
Calories40/2 tablespoons or 1 oz213 calories
Protein0 grams0 grams
Carbohydrates10 grams 160 grams
Fiber0 grams0 grams
Fat0 grams0 grams
Vitamins and minerals10% of vitamin A, C, D, E, B1, B3, biotin, zinc, copper, iron,  selenium, calcium. 6%of the magnesium.160% of the nutrients mentioned; 96% of magnesium

Whole Milk:

 Per serving size 8 ozPer day – 70 oz (divide by 3)
Calories149 for 8 oz434
Protein8 grams/8 oz23 grams
Carbohydrates12 grams35 grams
Fiber0 grams0 grams
Fat8 grams23 grams
Vitamins and minerals10% of vitamin A, C, D, E, B1, B3, biotin, zinc, copper, iron,  selenium, calcium. 6%of the magnesium.160% of the nutrients mentioned; 96% of magnesium

Adding the Coconut or olive oil and then totaling the ingredients for one day, you end up with:

Calories: about 2100

Protein: 54 grams

Carbohydrates: 301 grams

Fat: 79 grams

Fiber: 0 grams

Consuming 2100 calories in addition to your regular meals will definitely make you gain weight at the rate of about 4 pounds a week. However, the high amount of carbohydrates will cause an insulin reaction, skyrocketing your insulin levels all day long. This puts a lot of stress on your pancreas and you could end up with diabetes. There’s no extra fiber in this recipe to counteract the blood sugar problem that will result.

Looking at the vitamins and minerals provided, you are getting more than 100% of some nutrients but it is not all of them, thus inducing some vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Another problem is that in the process of condensing milk, the milk is heated to high temperatures, which is denaturing the protein and eliminating a lot of the goodness of milk. The milk is probably A1 milk, not A2 milk, which contributes to degenerative disease.

When the manufacturer adds a large amount of sugar to the protein in the milk, this causes a glycation reaction. Glycation speeds up the degeneration of health rapidly and contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other diseases.

Overall rating of this Ensure alternative:  Poor.

Ensure Alternative #2


Whole milk

Vanilla instant pudding powder

Dried powdered non-fat milk

Nestle Carnation Instant Breakfast

Vanilla Instant Pudding Mix (Jello brand) is made from sugar, modified cornstarch, artificial colors, natural and artificial flavor, yellow 5, and yellow 6. It provides 90 calories, 0 grams protein, 0 grams fat, 23 gm carbohydrates.  There are no

Dried powdered non-fat milk has been heated to high temperatures and a lot of the nutritional goodness has been reduced with the processing.

The Carnation Instant Breakfast will provide 240 calories, 21 vitamins and minerals, and has 10 grams protein. The ingredients are skim milk powder, sugar, cocoa, oligofructose/inulin, corn maltodextrin, lactose, carrageenan, soy lecithin, and natural flavor. The type of vitamin E in the formula is ineffective.

It’s lacking in the right combinations of the B vitamins, and missing copper, boron, molybdenum, boron, iodine, chromium, vitamin D, vitamin E, selenium, and others. The nutritional formulation is nutritionally lacking in too many ingredients.

Overall rating on this Ensure Alternative: Poor. The best ingredient is whole milk, which will do more for improving health and nutrition than the other added ingredients.

How to Make Your Own Ensure

Your best bet is to create your own Homemade DIY Ensure.

Step 1 – Start with whole jersey milk.

Jersey cows are A2 milk that doesn’t contain the wrong type of casein (the one that contributes to diabetes and other diseases). It’s a very creamy type of milk and very satisfying to the taste. One cup provides 150 calories, 8 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, and 9 grams protein. If you can get raw milk, it’s better for many people (but check with your nutrition advisor) because it still contains all the naturally occurring probiotics that milk has.

Step 2: What you add to the milk should make a difference.

Adding any of these high nutrient density powders will add the nutrients as well as some calories: 

  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses – high in B vitamins and minerals, blackstrap molasses is what is often used to provide B vitamins and iron in supplements. You can add it yourself and make up your own formula.
  • Bee pollen – high in the different amino acids, which contribute to the creation of muscles.
  • Alfalfa powder, non-GMO – Alfalfa is one of the best sources of all the nutrients. Adding a tablespoon goes a long way to providing what your body needs to heal and regenerate.
  • a handful of Brazil nuts – These are nature’s highest source of selenium, an essential mineral needed for your immune system.
  • a tablespoon of cod liver oil – Important for omega-3 fats, this one doesn’t have to be added to the recipe but taken on the side.
  • a few tablespoons of kefir milk – this will provide probiotics that your gut needs
  • 1 tablespoon acacia fiber – this provides 5 grams fiber (you need 25-35 grams per day).
  • 1 tablespoon roasted carob powder – this adds another 7 grams fiber to your diet.
  • 1 tablespoon additional fruits and vegetable powder – great for phytonutrients
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • ½ cup blackberries – provides another 4 grams fiber

Step 3: Blend all ingredients.

Step 4: Sip over the course of an hour.

You will remain satisfied for at least 2 hours afterward! All hunger cravings will be totally gone.

Step 5: Repeat another time of the day.

Step 6: Eat your regular meals and taking a good multi-vitamin mineral tablet.

I like Shaklee’s VitaLea as a multi-vitamin mineral tablet.

No products found.

There’s one more thing you could do to put on some weight. Researchers did a study not so long ago about something called sarcopenia. This is when the muscles start wasting away and getting weaker.

Sarcopenia is to be expected when we age. However, the researchers did a study and found that the combination of a certain amino acid with vitamin D restored the muscle mass and created muscle gains.

This formula is very specific to those who are older than 60 years old and want to seriously do something about the status of their muscles and skeleton. A recommendation would be to take this formula once daily and one cup of the whole jersey milk formula daily. This way you’ll get the most maximal gains.

Ensure Alternatives do exist but you have to do your part. You have two answers here. Now just use them!


Kathryn Zimmerman December 5, 2022 - 11:26 am

I was excited to find a healthy alternative to Ensure but some ingredients are missing their measurements. How much Jersey milk, bee pollen, alfalfa?

Derrick December 5, 2022 - 3:07 pm

Sorry – don’t have the label any longer.

María October 13, 2022 - 7:41 pm

How can I make this recipe lactose free? Thanks

Marcia October 14, 2022 - 1:39 pm

My wife doesn’t tolerate lactose very well so I crush up a Lactaid pill in each serving. Or you could just use lactose free milk. Kefir already has reduced lactose but the Lactaid pill should take care of the rest.

Dr. Donna October 15, 2022 - 8:23 am

You could use almond milk although it’s a processed food and not recommended. The reason why I recommend kefir milk is because most people can handle the few tablespoons of it and it is low in lactose. There are also lactose free milks at the grocery store. The best would be A2 milk that is lactose free. A2 milk is milk from animals that have not had a genetic mutation in the casein protein. This mutation is connected with inflammation in the body. The milk will specifically say on it A2 milk Lactose free. You can also look it up online.

Marcia A Wilcox October 5, 2022 - 4:38 pm

Hey, I tried this for my underweight wife and she likes it! She has gained a little weight with it. It’s a good base for smoothies–just add frozen fruit and blend. I talked to a doctor about the recipe and he said it was near perfect for nutrients and weight gain, for people who don’t like to eat or have trouble gaining weight. Thanks so much! I make it for her all the time now.

Chanel Pugh October 4, 2022 - 6:56 am

How can I make a dark chocolate ensure substitute?

Michelle July 13, 2022 - 3:11 pm

Hello and thank you for the information. I did try the whole milk, already made pudding, Brazil nuts, and a little fruit. I also take a high quality prenatal vitamin and take a zinc/copper supplement as well. This mix is not sweet which is a plus. In the future I will add some leafy greens for fiber

Marcia A Wilcox June 30, 2022 - 7:59 pm

You mention a formula for preventing sarcopenia but I don’t see the recipe or link thereto. What is that formula? Thanks.

Derrick July 1, 2022 - 8:50 am

Not our formula, but this study: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26864356/

Annette Grable January 19, 2022 - 9:49 pm

Hi Thank you for this DIY source. Can’t wait to try it. I’m on chemo for colorectal cancer and my doctor wants me to gain weight by drinking Ensure. Normally, I’m paleo/keto, so I can’t stand the sugar, both the intensity or the fact that it will feed my cancer. So this recipe will really help.

I️ didn’t see an amount to add for the bee pollen or maybe I️’m just not seeing it. Can you please tell me? Sorry if I️ missed it.

Dr. Donna October 5, 2022 - 4:02 pm

1 tablespoon is plenty. Start slow to make sure you aren’t sensitive to it with one teaspoon. Don’t forget the vitamin C when you have cancer. Best one to take is liposomal.

Jo January 2, 2022 - 3:30 am

I like this information and I agree. I am going to try this.


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