I used to be anti-meal replacement shakes. The only shakes I used to drink were protein shakes. I looked over nutrition in search of high-protein, low-calorie muscle building drinks with no consideration of everything else my body needed for optimal health, repair, energy and growth. I looked fit, but I wasn’t healthy.
Whether you choose to create your own homemade meal replacement shake or you choose a product that meets your nutritional need, I am now a believer. I don’t drink it because I’m lazy or because I’m fat (although I did lose 10lbs by replacing 1 meal a day with a healthier shake option), I do it for my health. I have less inflammation, I have faster muscle repair, I have fewer cravings and I feel amazing. I actually am healthy! Go figure!
If you’ve been considering a meal replacement, I say go for it! Ideally, I’d LOVE to get everything my body needs in whole food. That is optimal, but not realistic for me. Honestly, in today’s hectic world, most of us need to improve our nutrition, and this is a practical way to do it. More nutrients, fewer calories.
Before you go pick up the first meal replacement shake you see, here are a few things to look out for because not all meal replacement shakes are created equal – and some are downright horrible for you!
How To Choose a Healthy Meal Replacement Shake
1. Does it say “Meal Replacement” on the label?
There are strict guidelines a brand needs to follow to be labeled a true meal replacement shake, so look for those key words on the label. Breakfast shakes, protein shakes, energy shakes and smoothies don’t count. Why is this important? Well, first of all, it’s important because a meal needs to be filling. It needs to give you all the nutrients you need, but it also needs to hold you until the next meal. Experts have decided a meal will require a certain amount of calories and nutrients to give your body what it needs to perform at 100%. If it is a complete meal, it should be very satisfying and filling. Besides, what is the purpose of drinking a meal replacement shake if you want to eat an hour later?
2. What is the calorie content?
That brings me to the next point. A shake under 200 calories isn’t a meal replacement. Breakfast shakes also rarely count. That’s also why they don’t label them as a meal replacement shake; because they can’t legally put that on their label. Sadly, mainstream brands prey on dieters’ desire to lose weight so they give consumers what they want, not what they need. So, they give dieters low-calorie options while cutting out other important nutrients. For instance, Ensure Active Light is not only too low in calories to be a meal, it has no staying power. With only one gram of carbs and 2 grams of fat, you will be lucky if that satisfies you for an hour. Extreme low calorie meal replacement options are nothing more than a small snack.
3. Does it have balanced macros?
Macro nutrients are protein, carbs and fats. Fat slows digestion, improving nutrient absorption. Carbohydrates and healthy fats also give you energy. Protein helps prevent muscle deterioration but it also can help keep you feeling full. Higher protein meal replacement shakes (over 20gms) will keep you feeling more satisfied, as well as help with your fitness goals. However, just because something is high in protein doesn’t make it the best option either. You need healthy amounts of fats, carbs and protein in each meal. If your label is not very balanced (like this Slimfast drink, left), it’s likely you need to choose a different option.
4. Does it have the proper amount of vitamins and minerals?
A legal meal replacement option must have a full range of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). The guidelines require a meal replacement should have 30% of the daily value of most vitamins and minerals if you are replacing at least one meal a day with a shake. This makes sense because a third of your meals should have roughly a third of required nutrients. My shake has over 23 vitamins and minerals, but I’ve seen many other meal replacement-like shakes that are lucky to have 3 or 4 vitamins listed on the panel. Ironically, some of the healthiest “looking” options are lacking is more ways than one. For instance, this Bolthouse Farms Green Goddess smoothie boasts Vitamins A & C, yet it only has 20% of recommended values for vitamin A and only 35% of vitamin C. I addition, they only have 8 vitamins listed on the panel, one of which is 2% calcium, 6% iron and 10% Riboflavin, which isn’t anything to brag about for sure.
I used to think I could slap some peanut butter and oatmeal in a protein shake and it instantly made it a meal replacement shake. While it might hold me longer, it was missing all the other nutrients my body needed. What have learned is this; when your body is getting the nutrition it needs, it isn’t “starving” for nutrition (AKA: Food). The importance of having a shake packed with vitamins and minerals goes beyond our health, it actually helps us be happier (more satisfied) dieters too!
5. Does it have any artificial ingredients?
I am constantly shocked at what so-called healthy companies are putting in nutrition supplements. The majority of companies, like Pure Protein, uses Sucralose to sweeten their products. Ensure, and nearly all the other popular brands, are packed with artificial everything – from sweeteners to flavors. Sadly, even if the shake has a good macro-nutrient profile, it often relies on fake sweeteners and flavors to make up for what they lack in other areas. The fact is, the FDA and other organizations that regulate the food industry don’t require brands to use natural ingredients. As long as it’s optional, most companies will always take the cheapest and easiest way so they can make the most profit. We may want to get healthy and lose fat, but big brands want a healthy bank account. That is business at our expense.
6. What does it cost?
When we shop for a car or house, we all know something must be wrong if it’s super cheap. Right? Yet, we expect great things for cheap prices when it comes to food, diet, gyms, etc. This is why it’s hard to find high-quality products on the shelves today. People don’t want to pay for it. However, it is impossible to create high quality products for cheap. In order for items to make it in the grocery store, corners much be cut – plain and simple. Basically, we get what we pay for. We can complain about it all day, but I don’t know why we would expect to get all the nutrients we need in a high-quality meal in less than what it costs to purchase a high quality whole food meal. My meal replacement shakes costs roughly $2.80. I couldn’t buy a lean cuisine for that, much less a balanced healthy meal with ample protein, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, vitamins and minerals that actually tastes good. I think $2.80 is a fair price. Most people are comparing apples to oranges. While you can get a Boost high protein shake (pictured above under tip #5) for around $1.25, you will get exactly what you pay for, including sugar and corn syrup (first ingredients after water), artificial flavors, inflammatory vegetable oils (5th ingredient) and soy protein (which is a whole other scary topic in of itself).
Hopefully, you can see by now that all meal replacement shakes are not created equal. And, hopefully, I’ve helped you know what to look for when shopping for the right shake for you. Luckily, there are a few good quality products out there for everyone. Whether you are wanting to supplement a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, trying to lose weight or just want to be the healthiest you possible, meal replacement shakes are a convenient healthy alternative – especially in this crazy unhealthy world!
CONTACT ME if you would like to learn more about my nutrition solutions or if you need other help. I love connecting with my readers and would love the chance to help!