What is Glucerna?
Glucerna is a brand of meal replacement shakes and bars. It is made by Abbott, and designed specifically for people with type 2 diabetes. Those with prediabetes and type 1 diabetes may also use Glucerna. These products are low in calories and sugar and high in protein. They also contain artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and acesulfame potassium, which may cause potential health risks.
When Glucerna is used as part of a healthy diabetes diet plan it offers some promise in terms of weight management and blood sugar (glucose) control. Though the products may provide some assistance, be aware of possible complications.
Glucerna may contain varying ingredients based on flavor, such as vanilla and chocolate, but all 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 milligrams 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. They also have much-needed potassium to regulate sodium levels. The potassium content is 380 milligrams, about 11 percent of the recommended daily value for adults and children over the age of 4.
Along with key nutrients, Glucerna contains 25 percent or more of the recommended daily value of the following:
- vitamin D
- vitamin B-12
- vitamin A
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 include conditions like blurry vision, nerve damage, and kidney disease. When not controlled, diabetes may lead to serious complications.
Being overweight is one risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Eating a healthier diet can help manage weight. It’s important to monitor carb intake when you have diabetes because carbohydrates directly raise blood sugar. Fast 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 fast-acting 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 low calorie counts. But most brands contain a lot of sugar, making them an unhealthy choice for people with diabetes. Glucerna is different because its products are lower on the glycemic index and have less sugar. The company also claims 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
- vitamin E
- phytosterols (for cardiovascular health)
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. This 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 such as pears, grapefruit, oranges, and apples
- non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus
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 also satisfies hunger longer so you’re less likely to eat too many carbs. According to the Mayo Clinic, most adults require between 46 and 56 grams of protein daily. If you don’t 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, tofu, lean red meat, beans, and legumes are great sources of natural protein.
As with most man-made foods, the ingredients listed on many of Glucerna’s products may not look like lists of actual food. The more we learn about processed foods and their ingredients, the less they are recommended. The ingredient lists 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 addition, the Glucerna line of products contains artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. The intake of artificial sweeteners remains controversial. Studies have shown that these sweeteners can increase sugar cravings and lead to overeating, which can both be harmful to health, especially if someone is diabetic. Some studies have also shown a significant association between artificial sweeteners and 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. Getting enough protein and managing your carbohydrate intake 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.
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. Speak with a dietitian to determine if Glucerna may be an appropriate product for you on occasion.