By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

QUESTION: Are there vegan high-calorie meal replacement drinks that are comparable to popular non-vegan products like Boost and Ensure?

ANSWER: People choose high-calorie meal replacement drinks for many reasons. Maybe they have a small appetite due to illness or surgery and find it easier to drink a high-calorie beverage than to eat a meal. These products can be useful for people with chewing issues. They are often used during cancer treatment or for older adults with poor appetites. Products are ready-to-use — no mixing or other preparation is needed.

In addition to being a concentrated source of calories, these products are often a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Many of the commonly used products are based on cow's milk, but vegan products have now been developed. Orgain and Kate Farms Komplete are two vegan ready-to-use meal replacement products.

Orgain organic vegan nutritional shakes are based on a blend of brown rice, hemp, chia, and flax, sweetened with organic cane sugar. An 11-ounce aseptic carton provides 230 calories and 16 grams of protein. It has 2 grams of fiber and 9 grams of sugar in a serving. It is gluten-free and soy-free and has vitamins and minerals added.

Komplete vegan shakes are made with organic rice protein and pea protein. An 11.3-ounce aseptic carton supplies 310-330 calories, 17-19 grams of protein, and about one-third of the daily recommendation for many vitamins and minerals.

This product is sweetened with organic brown rice syrup solids and organic agave. It has both more sugar (19 grams) and fiber (5 grams) than Orgain shakes. Komplete shakes are higher in calories and many vitamins and minerals than Orgain shakes.

For comparison purposes, let's look at two non-vegan products, Ensure and Boost.

Ensure shakes have water, sugars, and cow's milk as predominant ingredients. An 8-ounce bottle provides 220 calories, 9 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, and assorted vitamins and minerals. Ensure Complete provides more calories (350) and protein (13 grams).

Boost shakes are similar to Ensure with an 8-ounce bottle supplying 240 calories, 10 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 20 grams of sugar. Vitamins and minerals are added, mostly between 20 and 100% of daily recommendations. Boost Plus has 360 calories and 14 grams of protein in an 8-ounce bottle.

The vegan products have similar amounts of calories and protein to these non-vegan products. Komplete is higher in fiber; Orgain is lower in sugar.

Thanks to Patricia C. for help with this article.