Meal replacement shakes are popular for weight loss and extra nutrients. Soylent and Ensure are two key brands in the market. So, this post compares Soylent vs Ensure.
The brands are interesting, as they both focus on prepackaged shakes.
The goal is to see how the products are similar and different. We also consider which one, if any, you should rely on.
Soylent is a fairly new meal replacement brand. It is normally associated with the movie Soylent Green, although the name came from the book that inspired the movie.
Soylent is promoted as a fast way to get nutrition – a way to avoid the time and energy of food prep. The shakes have been very popular and were funded through a Silicon Valley startup.
The formulation has gone through significant changes over time. The current version is Soylent 1.9, released at the beginning of 2018.
The Ensure brand comes from Abbot Laboratories. It is often promoted as a healthy option, one that can help to improve nutrition.
Abbot has been producing nutritional drinks since the 1990s and has been a major player in the industry (1). The initial focus was on advertising to seniors, although the product selection and emphasis has expanded over time.
Abbot has sometimes been excessive and misleading with advertising, including an implication that the shakes could replace a healthy diet.
Despite this, Ensure is just one of many nutritional shake options. Other brands, including Soylent, have many similar features.
Flavors and Variations
There are three individual product types from Soylent.
- Soylent Drink: A 14-oz readymade drink with 20 grams of protein. Flavors include Original, Strawberry, Cacao and Vanilla (just released).
- Soylent Cafe: A 14-oz prepared shake with 20 grams of protein and a focus on coffee. Flavors include Cafe Vanilla, Cafe Mocha and Cafe Chai.
- Soylent Powder: A powder that can be made into a meal shake. Comes in 15.8 oz packages (order 7 at a time) or 2.3 lb tubs (12 servings). Flavors include Original and Cacao.
Soylent doesn’t use gluten-free labeling, although gluten isn’t naturally present in any of the ingredients.
Ensure offers an extensive range of products, which can make the brand confusing. The various shakes are listed below, along with their key features.
- Ensure Original: A 8-oz prepared shake with 9 grams of protein. Flavors include Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Butter Pecan and Coffee Latte.
- Ensure Plus: A 8-oz prepared shake with 13 grams of protein. Flavors include Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Butter Pecan.
- Ensure Enlive: A 8-oz prepared shake that contains 20 grams of protein. Flavors include Milk Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry.
- Ensure Max Protein: An 11-oz prepared shake with 30 grams of protein. Comes in Milk Chocolate and Café Mocha flavors. Is also very low in sugar (1 gram per serving).
- Ensure High Protein: A 8-oz prepared shake with 16 grams of protein. Flavors include Milk Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry.
- Ensure Light: A 8-oz prepared shake that contains 12 grams of protein and no sugar. Comes in Milk Chocolate and Vanilla flavors only.
- Ensure Compact: A 4-ounce prepared shake that contains 9 grams of protein. Comes in Milk Chocolate and Vanilla flavors.
- Ensure Original Protein Powder: A protein powder that comes in vanilla only and contains 8 grams of protein per 8-oz serving.
The shakes are all gluten-free. Most are Halal and Kosher. They also contain milk and soy ingredients.
Similarities and Differences
The product types from Soylent all have similar nutritional profiles. They’re also larger than the Ensure products and include some less common flavors (like Cafe Chai).
In contrast, nutrition is the key difference between the various Ensure products. Many are designed to meet specific nutritional needs.
To examine the nutritional differences, we need to focus on a few key areas. After all, each brand has many different products.
The table below shows the nutritional details for the two protein powder products.
Soylent has a more appealing nutritional profile, with more protein and fiber than Ensure, along with less sugar.
The protein content isn’t amazing for either brand. But, you would get more protein if you prepared the powder with milk.
The sugar content is high in both cases. A healthy protein shake should contain less sugar than this.
With so many types, the outcomes for prepared shakes are more complex.
Swipe left to view more columns
Ensure High Protein
Even so, some general conclusions can be drawn.
- Many Ensure products are high in sugar (including Original, Plus, Enlive and Compact).
- Ensure Max Protein has the best nutritional profile, with a high amount of protein and low sugar.
- Ensure High Protein also has a good balance of nutrients. The higher sugars and lower protein make it less appealing but may mean that it is more enjoyable.
- Soylent isn’t amazing nutritionally, with 9 grams of sugars per serving. Still, the protein content is decent and the serving size is larger than any Ensure product.
- Soylent has more fiber than most Ensure shakes (the only exception is Ensure Enlive).
Other Nutritional Components
Both brands provide extra nutrition. This is why the products can be used to replace a meal.
- Soylent contains 20% the daily value of various nutrients, including iron, zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin K.
- The daily values in Ensure products vary from <1% to around 50%, depending on the product and the nutrient. Despite the variation, Ensure products tend to have more of most vitamins and minerals than Soylent.
Choice of Ingredients
Because these are meal replacement products, various ingredients are used to provide the desired nutrients. To avoid this, you need to focus on a protein powder.
While there are too many ingredients to examine in detail, there are key patterns for the prepared shakes:
- Protein Source: Soy protein isolate.
- Sweeteners: Isomaltulose, sucralose.
- Interesting Ingredients: High oleic sunflower oil and canola oil (for monounsaturated fats), isomaltulose, oat fiber.
- Less Appealing Ingredients: Artificial flavors, maltodextrin.
- Protein Source: Milk protein concentrate and/or soy protein isolate.
- Sweeteners: Corn syrup, sugar and/or sucralose.
- Interesting Ingredients: Blend of vegetable oils (for monounsaturated fats), short-chain fructooligosaccharides.
- Less Appealing Ingredients: Maltodextrin, artificial flavors.
Both brands rely on some artificial ingredients, along with various sweeteners. The inclusion of soy may not be appealing either.
For Ensure, the precise composition varies depending on the product. Some have fewer appealing ingredients than others.
Ensure Max Protein remains one of the best from the brand, with fewer concerning ingredients. Even so, it does contain maltodextrin, sucralose and artificial flavors.
Soylent and Ensure Reviews
Reviews for Soylent’s protein powder tend to be neutral or negative. Some people suggest that it is chalky or similar to ‘raw pancake batter’.
Perspectives on the prepackaged drinks are more variable. They include the following:
- Similar to slightly sweet milk (original flavor).
- Like drinking soy milk (original flavor).
- Tastes pretty good (chocolate and coffee flavors).
- Similar to chocolate milk (chocolate).
- Tastes less sugary than many other products.
- Like the milk after chocolate cereal (chocolate).
Overall, it seems like the drinks taste decent for protein shakes but that they don’t taste amazing. This is a good outcome, as the best tasting shakes tend to be high in sugar.
As with the ingredients, Ensure reviews vary depending on the specific product.
However, most reviews tend to be positive and many people state that they enjoy the flavors.
The most controversial product seems to be Ensure Max Protein.
- Some people say that it tastes awful.
- Multiple reviewers state there is a significant aftertaste.
This isn’t too surprising, as the product is very high in protein and low in sugar. Anyone who expected the sweetness of other Ensure products would be disappointed.
Buying Ensure and Soylent
Soylent can be purchased through the company’s website or found on Amazon.
When purchasing through their site:
- The protein powder costs between $1.54 and $2.83 per serving, depending on the options you choose.
- The prepared shakes cost $3.09 each on a subscription or $3.25 each as a one-time purchase (regardless of type).
In most cases, you need to buy 12 of the Soylent prepared shakes at a time.
Ensure is much more widely available, which is a key advantage.
You can easily find the shakes on Amazon, in grocery stores and in places like Costco.
The price varies depending on the specific shake, how many you buy and current specials.
- It’s not unusual to pay $1.50 or less per shake for the original version.
- The other shakes are often a little over $2 per shake.
- The protein powder is often around $20 for a 14 oz container (around $2.85 per serving).
Packs of 16 or 12 shakes are common for Ensure. You can also find 30-count boxes at some stores.
Soylent vs Ensure: The Final Score
Neither brand is amazing. Many of the products have too much sugar and some of the ingredients aren’t ideal.
Even so, the Soylent shakes and Ensure Max Protein aren’t too bad for prepackaged shakes.
Advantages of Soylent
- Soylent has a larger portion size.
- Some of the flavors are unusual and appealing.
- A decent amount of protein per serving (20g).
- Nutritional profiles are consistent, so you can simply choose based on flavor.
- Soylent tends to include more fiber.
Advantages of Ensure
- Can be purchased locally and online.
- Prepared shakes are inexpensive, especially when purchased in bulk.
- The wide product selection provides the chance to choose the products that suit you the best.
- There is a decent range of flavors.
- There is a high protein and low sugar shake.
There is no clear winner between the brands. The best choice will simply be whichever nutritional profile suits you the best.
While the products are good when you’re out or as a fast source of nutrition, their ingredients choices aren’t ideal. For anyone having shakes at home, it would be better to rely on protein powder and make the shake yourself.
This would give you more control over the ingredients, helping you to optimize your diet.