Making Every Bite Count! Meal Replacement Formulas and Foods for Special Diet Needs

Making Every Bite Count!

Meal Replacement Formulas and Foods for Special Diet Needs

By Mika Bradford CN, CPhT, Collin County LIVING WELL Magazine

Every bite of food counts when your health is less than optimal or you are recovering from a medical event that has resulted in the reduction of appetite or the volume of food that can be eaten. All too often I am contacted by family members who struggle in search of nutritionally dense foods or meal replacements for loved ones who have special diet needs. Special diet needs can include dietary restrictions due to food allergies or intolerances, the increased need for calories, swallowing difficulties and health conditions such as kidney failure or high blood pressure.

Regardless of the health condition or dietary restrictions that have created the need for nutrition supplementation, it is imperative to know the process used to effectively increase or decrease body weight by altering the calories eaten each day and identify any unwanted ingredients in meal replacements. The first step is to identify the individual’s ideal or suggested target weight. The “ideal” weight can be determined with assistance from your physician at a routine office visit or by a nutrition consultant. The ideal weight or suggested BMI (body mass index) is determined by assessing a person’s height and weight. Once the current weight and suggested “ideal” weight have been determined, it is then possible to calculate the difference between the two and know the exact number of pounds that need to be lost or gained.

The second step is identifying the number of calories that must be consumed each day in order to maintain a person’s current body weight. The estimated number of calories your body needs to consume daily is determined by calculating age, height, current weight, level of physical activity and gender. For example, a woman who is 68 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing 121 pounds and inactive would need to eat 1,400 calories per day to maintain her current body weight.  If her “ideal” weight is 138 pounds, our goal will then be to facilitate a 16 pound increase. In order to see an increase of 1 pound per week in weight gain, an additional 3,500 calories above the number of calories needed to maintain her current weight must be consumed per week. This formula can also be applied to individuals who need to lose weight by reducing the calories eaten per week by 3,500 calories in order to lose 1 pound per week. This formula can be used to stimulate a change in weight greater than 1 pound per week; however, a 1 to 2 pound increase or decrease is considered healthful. If all of these calculations seem overwhelming take comfort in knowing tasks like these take time, even for those of us who have crunched numbers and scrutinized food ingredient labels for years.

Once weight goals have been identified the process of identifying appropriate foods or meal replacements can begin. Common meal replacement formulas frequently used to supplement diets with include Ensure, Boost and Glucerna. These products come in a variety of formulations including those appropriate for individuals with increased blood sugar or living with diabetes. While the original formulations of Ensure and Boost have lower levels of protein in comparison to the number of carbohydrates and sugars, formulas with increased protein are now available. I like to point out the protein to carbohydrate ratio to physicians and clients when providing meal replacement suggestions. Carbohydrates and sugars can be found in crackers, cereals which make up most of the common snack foods people eat. The importance in providing the appropriate amount of protein in the diet directly relates to the production of muscle mass that tends to naturally decline in older individuals or those less mobile.

When greater specificity is needed in a meal replacement formula such as low sodium or a higher concentration of calories in a smaller volume of liquid, clinical nutrition formulas can be ordered through a pharmacy or medical supply company. Clinical nutrition formulas are available for oral and tube feeding purposes. These formulas come in a variety of flavors; some are similar to a milk shake or juice. Thickened liquids and foods are also available for individuals who have swallowing difficulties or those who have a tendency to aspirate. Whatever needs you may have there are products and answers waiting to be found just a phone call away that can simplify your search and provide peace of mind.

Mika Bradford is a certified nutritionist and pharmacy technician. Mika has spent over a decade working in the manufacturing, retail and the clinical application of nutritional supplements. She has worked closely with clients facing a wide range of health issues, including those with special needs and long-term health conditions. If you have questions for Mika you may contact her at or 817-705-7221.