A Look at Food Replacements – It’s Not Pretty

Written by Cyndi O'Meara

Cyndi is about educating. Her greatest love is to teach, both in the public arena and within the large corporate food companies, to enable everyone to make better choices so they too can enjoy greater health throughout their lives. Considered one of the world's foremost experts in Nutrition, Cyndi brings over 40 years experience, research and knowledge.
Time To Read: 11 minutes

October 27, 2020

The human body is pretty incredible; you can feed it junk and it still keeps on going.  But keep feeding it junk and it will eventually break down. Chronic disease is usually the result. In Australia, around 80% of the adult population over the age of 65 have a chronic disease.

There is a disconnect between health and food especially in the current medical model. Many doctors have none to very little nutrition education, instead they are experts at diagnosis and treatment with drugs and surgery (and the very best in acute and emergency care).

When you go to the hospital, the disconnect between health, healing and food is so obvious that it’s ludicrous. The food (if you could call it food) served in most hospitals is second rate, filled with additives, fillers, starches, binders, colours and flavours.  Most is packaged and probably thrown in the microwave. I’ve seen breakfast trays with toast, margarine, vegemite, breakfast cereal and long-life milk. Hardly food for health.

A hospital is for sick people; healthy people don’t normally end up in the hospital unless in an emergency situation. The aim of a hospital is to get sick people well, but food is not the priority. It just seems crazy to me.

The other thing I notice about a hospital is the clean, clinical, white setting. Sunshine, nature and sleep are also not priorities for patients in hospitals. Yet good food, sunshine, sleep, nature, fresh air and movement are important for good health.

My sister was in hospital in an acute and yet chronic state. She was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. The dietitian gave her a food replacement formula to use. She needed a liquid formula as she had a nasal gastric (NG) tube (from nose to stomach) and it was her only means of food and water. The tube is small and can be easily clogged up if any real food not properly processed was to pass through it. So, to save her life a formula was suggested. I asked the dietitian if there were healthier versions, to which she said that what she was giving my sister was the very best.  Argh. If that was the best, how was my sister to survive, let alone get healthy on a mix of poor-quality fats, proteins and carbohydrates? I was caught between a rock and a hard place and there was nothing I could do for her.

Since that happened early 2006, other loved ones have obviously asked the same question and one very smart mother in the US came up with a real food formula for feeding tubes. It is called Realfoodblends.com. My sister had the NG tube in for only a short time and then she was given a PEG – a tube that went through her skin right into the stomach. This tube was shorter and fatter than the NG tube and we were able to feed my sister real food and broths that had been completely smoothed out by a blender.

My sister went home and fed herself the best she could. She lived another year with an 8cm tumour in her oesophagus. She worked, played, skied and lectured during that time. She worked as a chiropractor right up until 2 days before she died. This is a case study, but since that time I’ve advised many people on real food PEG and NG tubes with wonderful results.

Realfoodblends are rarely seen in a hospital, if at all. Let’s get back to the more common food replacements used in hospitals and at home and aged care facilities.

I’ve been asked by one of The Nutrition Academy students to look at the Pediasure food replacement. This is something that is being advised for children by some dietitians and doctors. This product is full of dubious ingredients.

Pediasure is made in Zwolle, Netherlands by Abbott Nutrition. Abbott also make Similac infant formulas, Pedialyte hydration, Ensure, ZonePerfect bars, Glucerna for diabetes and Nepro for kidney disease.

Abbott Nutrition have been in business for 90 years and they believe that proper nutrition is the foundation for healthy lives. They develop science-based nutrition products to support patients through all stages of life from infancy to adulthood, so that they are able to live the fullest life possible.

I looked at their studies, many of which were other people’s studies about health and nutrition. One had this heading: “A pilot study to assess the utility and perceived effectiveness of a tool for diagnosing feeding difficulties in children.” This was a study based on children in India and Myanmar and had nothing to do with the product, nor showed anything to do with health and nutrition.

Other studies were about the effectiveness of compliance with feeds. I did not see one long-term study on their products and the outcomes for human health; the longest was around 120 days. I didn’t dig deep, I merely went to the studies that were provided by the company at the end of the information about the product on their website. I figured if they really wanted to show me their best studies then that is where they would be. Some of the links didn’t even give me enough information to go to the study, all they did was take me back to Abbott Nutrition. If I went to PubMed and plugged in the link, then I would find some obscure research article.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t feel the company gave me the proof that a bunch of chemicals and synthetic vitamins mixed together equaled health.

Here are the ingredients found in some of their products:

Similac® infant formulas

Nonfat Milk, Lactose, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Whey Protein Concentrate, Soy Oil, Coconut Oil. Less than 2% of: C. Cohnii Oil, M. Alpina Oil, 2′-Fucosyllactose, Short-chain Fructooligosaccharides, Beta-Carotene, Lutein, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Soy Lecithin, Potassium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, Ferrous Sulfate, Choline Bitartrate, Choline Chloride, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Salt, Taurine, Inositol, Zinc Sulfate, Mixed Tocopherols, d-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, L-Carnitine, Vitamin A Palmitate, Copper Sulfate, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Manganese Sulfate, Phylloquinone, Biotin, Sodium Selenate, Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12, Calcium Phosphate, Potassium Phosphate, Potassium Iodide, Potassium Hydroxide, and Nucleotides (Adenosine 5’-Monophosphate, Cytidine 5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine 5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine 5’-Monophosphate).

PediaSure® to help kids grow

Water, Maltodextrin, Sucrose, High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Milk Protein Isolate, Soy Oil, MCT Oil, Sodium Caseinate, Minerals (Sodium Citrate, Magnesium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Potassium Phosphate Dibasic, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Phosphate Tribasic, Ferrous Sulphate, Zinc Sulphate, Cupric Sulphate, Manganese Sulphate, Sodium Fluoride, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Molybdate, Chromium Chloride, Sodium Selenite), Flavouring, Whey Protein Concentrate, Emulsifiers (471, 322), Vitamins (Choline Bitartrate, Ascorbic Acid, dl-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Biotin, Phylloquinone, Vitamin D3, Cyanocobalamin), Stabilizer (415), M-Inositol,Taurine, L-Carnitine. May contain: Magnesium Sulphate, Sodium Chloride.


Pedialyte® hydration for kids and adults

Water, Dextrose. Less than 1% of: Galactooligosaccharides, Salt, Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Natural & Artificial Flavour, Sodium Citrate, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Zinc Gluconate


Ensure® for active adults

Hydrolysed Corn Starch, Maltodextrin, Sucrose, Vegetable Oils (High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Soy Oil, Canola Oil), Milk Protein Concentrate, Oligofructose (FOS), Soy Protein Isolate, Minerals (Sodium Citrate, Potassium Citrate, Magnesium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Phosphate Tribasic, Zinc Sulphate, Ferrous Sulphate, Manganese Sulphate, Cupric Sulphate, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Molybdate, Chromium Chloride, Sodium Selenate), Flavouring, Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Ascorbic Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin E, Niacinamide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamin Hydrochloride, Beta Carotene, Folic Acid, Phylloquinone, Biotin, Vitamin D3, Cyanocobalamin), Antioxidant (304), Antioxidant (307b). May contain: calcium carbonate, potassium phosphate dibasic, magnesium sulphate, sodium chloride. Contains: Soy and Milk Ingredients.


ZonePerfect® to fuel busy days

Soy Protein Nuggets (Soy Protein Isolate, Tapioca Starch, Salt), Yogurt Flavored Coating (Lactitol, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Polydextrose, Nonfat Yogurt Powder [Cultured Nonfat Milk], Calcium Caseinate, Titanium Dioxide, Soy Lecithin, Lactic Acid Powder [Modified Corn Starch, Lactic Acid], Monoglycerides, Acesulfame Potassium, Vanilla Extract), Soy Protein Isolate, Maltitol, Glycerine, Peanut Butter Layer (Maltitol Syrup, Peanuts, Sorbitol, Palm Kernel Oil, Peanut Flour, Milk Protein Concentrate, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor, Salt, Locust Bean Gum, Beta-Carotene Color, Gum Arabic, Xanthan Gum), Corn Syrup, Peanut Butter, Fat Replacer (White Grape Juice Concentrate, Prunes, Dates, Fructose, Glycerine), Gum Arabic, Natural Flavor, Peanut Flour. Less than 2% of the Following: Salt, Sucralose, and Vitamin & Mineral Blend (Calcium Phosphate, Ascorbic Acid [Vit. C], Magnesium Oxide, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate [Vit. E], Niacinamide [Vit. B3], Zinc Oxide, Calcium Pantothenate [Vit. B5], Ferrous Fumarate [Iron], Pyridoxine Hydrochloride [Vit. B6], Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin [Vit. B2], Thiamine Mononitrate [Vit. B1], Folic Acid [Vit. B9], Chromium Chloride, Biotin [Vit. B7], Sodium Selenite, Sodium Molybdate, Vitamin B12).


Glucerna® for people with diabetes

Water, Milk Protein Concentrate, Canola Oil. Less than 2% of: Glycerin, Fructose, Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkali), Soy Protein Isolate, Corn Maltodextrin, Corn Oil, Soluble Corn Fiber, Short-chain Fructooligosaccharides, Potassium Citrate, Magnesium Phosphate, Cellulose Gel, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Salt, Choline Chloride, Ascorbic Acid, Calcium Carbonate, Soy Lecithin, Monoglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Calcium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Carrageenan, Sodium Citrate, Turmeric Color, Acesulfame Potassium, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Sucralose, Ferrous Sulfate, Gellan Gum, Zinc Sulfate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Red 3, Manganese Sulfate, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Copper Sulfate, Folic Acid, Potassium Iodide, Chromium Chloride, Sodium Selenate, Phylloquinone, Sodium Molybdate, Biotin, Vitamin D3, and Vitamin B12.


Nepro LP (lower protein) – kidney disease

Water, Maltodextrin, Vegetable Oil (High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Canola Oil), Milk Protein Isolate, Isomaltulose, Sucrose, Glycerine, Sodium Caseinate, Fructooligosaccharides, Minerals (Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, Magnesium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Magnesium Phosphate Dibasic, Ferrous Sulphate, Zinc Sulphate,Manganese Sulphate, Chromium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Magnesium Phosphate Dibasic, Ferrous Sulphate, Zinc Sulphate, Zinc Sulphate, Cupric Sulphate,Manganese Sulphate, Chromium Chloride, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Molybdate, Sodium Selenite) Emulsifier (322), Flavouring, Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Ascorbic Acid, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin E, Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Phylloquinine, Vitamin D3, Cyanocobalamin), L-Carnitine, Stabilizer (407), And Taurine. Contains Milk and Soy Ingredients.

Some of the ingredients may vary across different countries or may be called something else, but you will get the general gist of what the food supplements are made from by the lists I’ve provided. I noticed US ingredients had colours whereas in the Australian ingredients I didn’t see blue, red or yellow dyes.

The company says its flavour factors are liquid sucralose, natural and artificial flavours and acesulfame potassium. Its balancing agents are sodium citrate, potassium hydroxide and potassium citrate. I also saw citric acid. Its stabilisers are cellulose gum, monoglycerides, cellulose gel, carrageenan and soy lecithin. Yep, it all sounds very healthy to me.

Why do Experts Recommend These Foods?

 Food is never looked at vitalistically (whole) in the current paradigm of healthy food choices; it’s always looked at mechanistically for its parts. When you look at the ingredients and don’t look at the nutritional panel then you’ll question, how could a bunch of chemicals provide health? But when you look at a nutritional panel which shows proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, you might believe that the food designed in the chemical laboratory is perfect. I know this is what I was taught to look for when I was studying at Deakin University to become a dietitian and I know it’s what they are still being taught today.

At The Nutrition Academy you are taught to understand food in its entirety and to not look at the nutritional panel on the label unless there are specific disease states or dietary needs that should be considered (such as a child with retractive epilepsy staying on a ketogenic diet).

You are taught how food is grown and how to source real food and, more importantly, why. We are at a turning point; more and more people, doctors and dietitians are questioning the narrative and coming forward to change the paradigm.

Some Dubious Ingredients

If you look at all the ingredients you will notice a common thread: oils, sugars, proteins and a bunch of isolated vitamins and minerals, with artificial sweeteners in some, flavours, colours and stabilisers.

I’m not going to labour too much on many of the ingredients, as I’ve talked about most before, but rather I’ll pick out a few select ingredients that you may not have seen before.

In general we have to look at the ingredients and ask the following questions: how much is from genetically modified plants and/or genetically modified foods fed to animals whose produce may be used in the food, such as whey protein concentrate or isolate or milk protein? There is corn, soy, canola and cotton seed used to produce many of the ingredients including, maltodextrin, soy oil, vegetable oil, soy protein, soy lecithin, corn syrup, corn oil, canola oil, corn fibre and so on. Most GM foods are Roundup ready, which means they are sprayed pre-planting and during the growing period with glyphosate. For more information on this read the ‘What’s With Wheat?’ chapter in my Lab To Table book or watch the documentary What’s With Wheat?. A big question to ask is, is there residues of glyphosate in these ingredients and thus in the product and if so has it been tested and what is the ppm or ppb?

What other pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers are used in the growing of these foods and animal husbandry?

While the chemicals and ingredients in the food replacements have been tested for safety and generally regarded as safe (GRAS), I wonder if all the ingredients combined have ever been tested for long-term use and safety. I didn’t see any studies on this.

There were three ingredients in the baby formula toward the top of the list that I had never heard of or seen before. They were Mortierella alpina oil – M.Alpina Oil, Crypthecodinium cohnii oil – C. cohnii oil, and 2-fucosyllactose.

The first two ingredients are extracted from fermented fungus and algae with a neurotoxic chemical solvent, and some infants experience serious adverse reactions to these additives. They are used to increase docosahexaenoic acid DHA (omega 3) and arachidonic acid (ARA). DHA and ARA in infant formula have been linked to severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and gastrointestinal pain in some infants. Since these additives are relatively new in infant formula, not all pediatricians are aware of their possible side effects.

The third ingredient, 2 fucosyllactose, is made as a result of synthetic biology. You can read about that here. In other words, micro-organisms are genetically modified and produce the ingredient as a metabolite. The patent says the following “mutant microorganisms into which a lacZ-modified or removed operon is introduced and at least one gene selected from the group consisting of genes coding FucT2 or variants thereof and genes coding glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PDH) and guanosine-inosine kinase (GSK) is introduced or amplified, and to a method for producing 2-fucosyllactose using the same”. You can read the patent here (https://patents.google.com/patent/WO2016153300A1/en )

Several more of the ingredients are made using synthetic biology like citric acid, ascorbic acid and other vitamins, some flavourings and maybe other ingredients and nutrients that I have not discovered yet.

Logically I cannot see how anyone could think that these foods could nourish a human from birth to the grave. Recommending these food substitutes when fresh food is readily available and/or programs and protocols that have proven to be effective in helping picky eaters, gut issues, failing to thrive adults, anorexia, breastfeeding mothers, the elderly, teenagers and everything in between is questionable.

To consume these foods is being part of a growing problem which encompasses, chemical agriculture, synthetic biology, genetically modified foods, isolated vitamins and minerals, food additives and the mechanistic paradigm of food.

These problems then have a knock-on effect for the health of humans, animals and the planet. The documentary Kiss The Ground now showing on Netflix will highlight exactly what I’m saying. We can choose not to buy these types of foods which are culminating in ill health for all, but rather grow and/or choose healthy foods (without chemicals and packaging), get outside, have connection with humans, breathe, move and most of all educate yourself on how to be the best and healthiest version of a human you can be.



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