Atkins-Glucerna Face Off
We begin our reviews of beverages with a contest between a marketing champion and an upstart contender: Glucerna shakes vs. Atkins shakes.
Glucerna: CARBSTEADY® or CarbSpike?
Glucerna shakes are heavily promoted to diabetics as a beverage that doesn’t cause blood glucose to spike. Is Glucerna really CARBSTEADY® (a registered trademark of Abbott Laboratories), or does CarbSpike better describe its effect on blood glucose? How do Glucerna Shakes compare to Atkins Shakes, designed to be low carb?
A couple of years ago, my endocrinologist urged me to use Glucerna shakes as part of a 600 calorie a day diet he wanted me to go on. I took one look at the ingredients – 26g carbohydrate – and told him it looks more like the stimulus for a Glucose Tolerance Test than something diabetics should drink. Last month, a woman handing out Glucerna samples at Costco told me it’s good for diabetics. I took another look at the label and told her I was very skeptical. I decided, however, to give it a try, and to compare it to Atkins Shakes.
At Costco, a colorful box with a “new look” has 24 8 oz Glucerna Shakes. It sold for $29.99 (16¢/oz). The box prominently claims “Delicious shake designed for people with diabetes” and “To Help Minimize Blood Sugar Spikes*”. The fine print: *Clinically shown to help minimize blood sugar spikes when compared to a standard nutritional beverage. Study BK02. Abott Laboratories, 2007.” So far, so good – they acknowledge the importance to diabetics of minimizing blood sugar spikes. I wish RDs were taught this.
Glucerna Ingredients – The first nutrient in the Glucerna Shake ingredient list is corn maltodextrin, a cheap filler with a glycemic index of 105 – way above table sugar (65) and even glucose (100). An ounce of maltodextrin has 28g carbohydrate, just 1g of which is fiber.
The next Glucerna ingredients are sodium and calcium caseinates and sucromalt. Sucromalt is a low-glycemic alternative to sugar.
Abbott Laboratories proclaims that “Each delicious Glucerna shake has CARBSTEADY®, which includes slowly digestible carbohydrates designed to help minimize blood sugar spikes.” Perhaps Glucerna shakes include some slowly digestible carbs, but their #1 nutrient is rapidly digestible maltodextrin.
How can Abbott Laboratories justify putting so much carbohydrate into a product designed for diabetics? The Glucerna web site says “Digestible carbohydrate intake should not fall below 130 grams per day.” It cites “American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes. Diabetes Care Jan. 2011 34:S11-S61.” What the ADA actually said:
“The RDA for digestible carbohydrate is 130 g/day and is based on providing adequate glucose as the required fuel for the central nervous system without reliance on glucose production from ingested protein or fat. Although brain fuel needs can be met on lower-carbohydrate diets, long term metabolic effects of very-low carbohydrate diets are unclear, and such diets eliminate many foods that are important sources of energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and are important in dietary palatability.”
More recently, the 2012 ADA Standards of Care say that “For weight loss, either low-carbohydrate, low-fat calorie-restricted, or Mediterranean diets may be effective in the short-term (up to 2 years).” The ADA is now officially agnostic. Glucerna can’t hide behind ADA’s skirt any more.
As noted in the 130g Carbs/Day RDA page on this web site, the Institute of Medicine report that “set” the 130 g/day carbohydrate RDA failed to weigh the benefits of carbohydrate restriction for those with diabetes against any real benefits of carbohydrates. It considered only the entire population, and was a colossal blunder in any event. This is Abbott Laboratories’ excuse to make the top nutrient in their shake for diabetics a cheap, rapidly digestible filler that spikes blood glucose? Is corn maltodextrin an important source of fiber, vitamins or minerals?
The Glucerna shake label proclaims it is “HOMEMADE”. I wonder just what is “homemade” about this product of giant Abbott Laboratories, which employs 91,000 people worldwide and had revenue of $38.9 billion in 2011.
According to Abbott Laboratories, “In a clinical study that compared Glucerna Shakes and a leading standard nutritional beverage, Glucerna Shakes produced a smaller peak change in blood sugar and a lower blood sugar response over four hours.” So, what is this “leading standard nutritional beverage” Abbott Laboratories compared Glucerna Shakes to? None other than Abbot Laboratories’ own Ensure product. Ensure Nutrition Shakes have an appalling (to me, at least) 41g carb per serving, of which 18g is sugar and just 1g fiber. The top nutrient in Ensure Nutrition Shakes: corn maltodextrin, just like Glucerna. Not hard to beat this.
How do Glucerna shakes stack up against real competition?
The Contender: Atkins Shake
24 Atkins shakes come in an unassuming brown box, $40.99 from netrition.com (16¢/oz). Atkins packaging emphasizes “Only 1g Net Carbs”.
The top nutrients are a diary protein blend, cream, and safflower oil. These are truly low carb ingredients. According to the nutrition facts label, there are just 2g total carbs and 1g fiber per 11 oz. serving (3 oz. larger serving size than Glucerna).
Just comparing ingredients, I would expect Glucerna Shakes to significantly raise blood glucose and Atkins Shakes to have little or no effect.
I conducted 7 Meal Tolerance Tests of each beverage. All of the tests were done after fasting at least two hours. One preprandial blood glucose measurement was made no earlier than 5 minutes before starting to eat. A postprandial blood glucose measurement was made between 60 and 70 minutes after finishing eating.
Atkins wins by a knockout!
Glucerna “homemade” vanilla raised my blood glucose by an average of 27 mg/dl. I consider that an unacceptable glucose spike.
Like I told my endocrinologist, Glucerna shakes seem better suited to Glucose Tolerance Tests than to helping diabetics maintain steady blood glucose. Not CARBSTEADY®, but CarbSpike.
If you walk into the office of an endocrinologist or dietitian and see Glucerna shakes lying around, my advice is to walk right back out.