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Does Glucerna Work for Diabetes?

glucerna bars and protein powder

What is Glucerna?

Glucerna is a brand of meal replacement shakes and bars. Made by parent company Abbott, it is designed specifically for people with type 2 diabetes. These products are low in calories and sugar and high in protein.

When used as part of a healthy diabetes diet plan, Glucerna might offer some promise in terms of weight management and blood sugar (glucose) control. Though the products may provide some assistance, be aware of possible complications.

Key ingredients are diabetes-friendly

When it comes to diabetes, the goal is to keep your blood sugar within your target range. High blood glucose (hyperglycemia) poses numerous health risks. Problems range from blurry vision to nerve damage and kidney disease. When left uncontrolled, diabetes may eventually lead to serious complications.

Being overweight is one risk factor for type 2 diabetes. However, eating a healthier diet can help manage weight. If you have diabetes, carbohydrates are a specific concern because it’s the carbohydrates in foods that raise blood sugar levels. Quickly digesting carbohydrates, such as soda, can lead to sugar spikes. Glucerna contains carbohydrates that are less likely to lead to glucose spikes. Over time, replacing a quickly digesting carbohydrate snack with a Glucerna product might lead to diabetes symptom improvement.

Meal replacement bars and shakes can help people lose weight by reducing calorie intake. Nutritional shakes and bars are known for having a low calorie count, but most brands contain a lot of sugar, making them an unhealthy choice for people with diabetes. Glucerna is different in that the brand makes its products with a lower glycemic index and less sugar. The company also says that its “Hunger Smart” shakes contain 15 grams of protein per serving, which is more than the average 10 grams in other dietary shakes.

Some Glucerna products may also contain varying amounts of:

  • vitamin C
  • selenium
  • vitamin E
  • phytosterols for cardiovascular health

What else is on Glucerna’s nutritional label?

Glucerna may contain varying ingredients based on flavor, such as vanilla and chocolate. Still, all of the flavors have the same key nutrients. According to Abbott, the makers of Glucerna, an 8-ounce bottle of Liquid Homemade Vanilla runs about 190 calories. Sixty of these calories are from fat. While the product has no trans fat, there’s a total of 7 grams of fat, with 1 gram of saturated fat. It’s low in cholesterol, at only 5 mg per bottle.

A traditional Glucerna shake has 10 grams of protein to help keep you full — this is about the equivalent of 1 1/2 eggs. The 8-ounce bottle has 3 grams of fiber and 23 grams of carbs, but over half of those are from sugar alcohol instead of sugar. The shakes have a relatively low sodium content, at 210 grams per serving, along with much-needed potassium to regulate sodium levels. The potassium content is 380 mg, about 11 percent of the recommended daily value for adults and children over the age of 4.

Aside from the key nutrients, Glucerna contains 25 percent or more of the recommended daily value of the following:

  • iron
  • calcium
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B-12
  • vitamin A
  • magnesium
  • folate

How Glucerna may complement your diet

The basic features of Glucerna may sound good, but to see how these products measure up, it’s important to know about the nutrients you need for type 2 diabetes. Carbohydrates can raise blood sugar, which is why it’s important to eat the types of carbohydrates that the body processes more slowly. These are sometimes referred to as low-glycemic index (GI) foods. Examples include:

  • steel-cut oats
  • whole wheat (stone-ground)
  • beans and legumes
  • whole fruit
  • nonstarchy vegetables

Glucerna is designed to provide the body with carbohydrates that are slower digesting, much like low-GI foods. For best nutrition, balance your diet with low-GI foods, using products like Glucerna only occasionally.

The protein in Glucerna products may also be helpful for type 2 diabetes. Protein does not increase blood sugar. Protein can satisfy hunger longer so you’re less likely to eat too many carbs. According to Mayo Clinic, most adults require between 46 and 56 grams of protein daily. If you don’t currently get enough protein in your diet, the high-protein content in Glucerna may help. However, natural protein sources may be a better option. Fish, poultry, soy, lean red meat, and beans and legumes are great sources of natural, unprocessed protein.

Potential risks and considerations

As with most “man-made” food, the ingredient list for many of Glucerna’s products looks more like a science experiment than actual food. The more we learn about processed foods and their ingredients, the less it is recommended. The ingredient list for the Glucerna Shake and Crispy Delight Bars are just two examples. The third ingredient in the shake is fructose, a questionable ingredient for everyone, but especially for those with diabetes. In most cases, whole unprocessed foods are a better choice than highly processed options.

Glucerna shakes and snacks are unlikely to cause any severe side effects. The greatest risk lies in possible overreliance on the products for diabetes management. Eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates is important, but you also need to exercise regularly to maintain good blood glucose levels. Plus, whole foods provide the best nutritional value, no matter what a supplement label might claim.

Another consideration is weight loss. Low-calorie, high-protein meal replacements can gradually help you lose weight when you combine them with a healthy diet and exercise plan. Eating too many Glucerna products may actually hinder your weight loss efforts if you add them to your existing diet instead of using them as meal replacements.

Glucerna is not a diabetes cure

Type 2 diabetes management requires changes to your diet. Glucerna meal replacement shakes and snack bars may help if you have trouble managing your diet on your own. Still, it’s important to remember that Glucerna is not a substitute for a healthy diet. If you want to see real results, it probably won’t help to eat these products sometimes and then eat unhealthy meals. Glucerna is sometimes used as a weight loss tool. You should discuss this with your doctor before using it this way. As long as your dietitian agrees, Glucerna is a healthy snack that might be able to supplement your diabetes management program. 

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