When working to lose weight or get in shape, what you eat is the first leg of the journey. Well-balanced meals that provide you with the nutrients you need when you need them are ideal, but in a busy world where you’re trying to carve out time for fitness between your work and family commitments time and convenience are of the essence. When a full meal isn’t something you can grab on your way to the gym, a meal replacement shake can deliver a much-needed boost. Read on to find out the details behind these shakes, and our recommendations for the best meal replacement shakes, 2019 edition.
What Are Meal Replacement Shakes?
Whether canned, bottled, or in a powdered ready-to-mix format, meal replacement shakes are a convenient way to lose weight and/or get fit. When it comes to weight-loss shakes, the key is to find a meal replacement shake that is not only nutritious, but also filling enough so that you don’t feel hungry later in the day. For short-term goals, the right meal replacement shake can stand in for two meals a day (not all three), giving your body the nutrients it needs while limiting the calories consumed. There are only two ways to lose weight: either burn more calories than you eat, or eat fewer calories than you burn. Meal replacement shakes aim to help you reduce your calorie intake, and they work.
One study found that those who replaced one or two meals per day with a meal replacement shake for a period of 3 months lost nearly 6 pounds more than those who simply altered their diet to lower-calorie foods. The study also noted that at the 1-year mark, the group utilizing meal replacement shakes had significantly fewer members drop out of the study than the group on a low-calorie diet.
This suggests that using meal replacement shakes is more sustainable than exclusively monitoring one’s calorie intake and food portion control. In a busy world, sometimes being able to “set it and forget it” is not only great for freeing up your time, but can also lead to a longer-lasting commitment.
Using meal replacement shakes regularly to stave off hunger until your meal of whole foods at the end of the day is a convenient, reliable, and proven way to lose weight.
Are Meal Replacement Shakes Different Than Protein Shakes?
The answer to this question is: yes and no. Yes, because protein shakes consist almost exclusively of protein, often whey protein or specific amino acids, with no extra nutrients. They’re usually consumed by those seeking muscle growth or tissue repair, as in a post-surgery situation, for example. Protein shakes are designed to be a supplement in addition to multiple meals throughout the day, not a replacement. Protein shakes are for people seeking more intake, not less.
Meal replacement shakes also contain protein, just less than the typical protein powder or shake. Protein powders usually have a protein content of about 25 grams per serving, while meal replacement powders and shakes contain more like 10 grams of protein per serving. So while meal replacement shakes could fall under the category of “shakes containing protein,” protein shakes are specifically not meal replacement shakes. It’s sort of like how all squares are technically rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.
At the end of the day, protein does help with weight loss, not only by being more filling and satiating when consumed, but also because protein increases the calories you burn, even at rest. While some people use meal replacement shakes to lose weight, there are others who need them for weight gain, which is why the additional ingredients in meal replacement shakes make the difference: there are balanced amounts of vitamins, carbs, and fiber in meal replacement shakes that you will not find in protein shakes alone.
Meal Replacement Shakes: Pros and Cons
There are many attractive reasons to use meal replacement shakes, but there are also some caveats and drawbacks. People often wonder, “Are meal replacement shakes healthy? Are meal replacement shakes safe?” Let’s quickly explore the pros and cons.
The Pros of Meal Replacement Shakes
These are the reasons people might look at meal replacement shakes for their diet plan and say, “Yes!”
Meal Replacement Shakes Are a Healthier Alternative to Fast Food
When you need a breakfast you can consume while getting your kids ready for the day, or you’re looking for a lunch on the way to and from meetings or appointments, meal replacement shakes are wonderful to have on hand so you don’t have to resort to fast food or vending machine fare.
Meal Replacement Shakes Are a Better Choice Than Skipping Meals
Skipping meals entirely can often have some major side effects. Doing so risks putting your body into starvation mode (wherein it will try to pack on more fat in case of famine), and it messes with your blood sugar levels (frequent drops and spikes in blood sugar can ultimately contribute to developing type 2 diabetes).
Meal Replacement Shakes Can Help Save Time in Calorie Counting and Food Prep
The pre-made ready-to-drink variety of meal replacement shakes are especially time-saving—you don’t even have to stir anything! The nutrients and calories are listed on the back, so you know exactly what you’re getting, with no guessing, weighing, or measuring necessary.
Meal Replacement Shakes Can Provide Extra Nutrients That Your Meals Lack
Even in Western First World nations, we lack so many essential nutrients in our diets, from omega-3 fatty acids to calcium to vitamins galore. Meal replacement shakes often provide an array of daily vitamins and minerals you might otherwise find it hard to get enough of through daily meals alone.
The Cons of Meal Replacement Shakes
These are a few of the dangers of using meal replacement shakes that might make some people consider saying, “Maybe not.”
Some Meal Replacement Shakes Have Unhealthy Ingredients
Artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, preservatives for lengthening shelf life, sodium (bad for those with high blood pressure), and excess carbohydrates can be lurking in meal replacement shakes. Don’t just grab the first meal replacement shake you see and assume it has all you expect. Spend some time conducting research to find the brand that’s right for you. In addition to only healthy ingredients, you may want to make sure your product is non-GMO, organically sourced, gluten free, and formulated by an environmentally responsible company.
Meal Replacement Shakes May Not Help You Change Unhealthy Eating Habits
Nothing really beats whole foods when it comes to nutrition, and while you’re using meal replacement shakes specifically for the convenience of not having to think about a meal or two each day, if your eating habits are not optimal, meal replacement shakes can promote unhealthy habits, and eventually derail your diet and your health.
Meal Replacement Shakes Are Not a Long-Term Solution
Piggybacking off the last point, while meal replacement shakes are a good way to keep you satiated during busy times and a great way to lose some initial weight, ultimately you’ll need to return to a regular diet. Appreciating meal replacement shakes for all they can do is wonderful, but it’s also important that you don’t lean on them too heavily.
Meal Replacement Shakes Can Get Expensive
High-quality meal replacement shakes can get very pricey very fast. For as cheap as whole food ingredients like eggs, rice, and legumes can be, factory-produced meal replacement shakes can really break the bank, especially if you’re drinking two per day all week long. This is one more reason why meal replacement shakes are not a long-term option.
The 5 Best Meal Replacement Shakes: 2019 Review
Here are our recommendations for the top 5 options in meal replacement shakes.
Containing 44 superfoods, Garden of Life’s meal replacement shake contains the following ingredients per scoop:
- 20 grams of protein from 13 organic sprouted grains and seeds
- 7 grams of fiber (6 insoluble, 1 soluble)
- Organic and non-GMO
- No gluten, soy, dairy, or tree nuts
- No artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or preservatives
This product is raw to provide full nutrients due to the fact that heat treating and processing can denature proteins.
With a superfood blend containing only real-food ingredients, this meal replacement shake has a lot to offer, including:
- 16 essential vitamins and minerals
- 25 grams of whey protein
- 5 grams of branched-chain amino acids
- 3 grams of healthy fats
- 4 grams of glutamine and glutamic acid
A complete meal, this shake also contains enzymes, probiotics, and fiber from sweet potato powder (for healthy digestion). Ideal for both men and women.
A great choice for those on a keto diet, BioTrust’s blend includes:
- 24 grams of grass-fed protein
- 4 grams of fiber
- 4 grams of net carbs
- No artificial sweeteners
- Independent third-party testing
- Bioavailable prebiotics and protein-digesting enzymes
This meal replacement shake also utilizes a time-released protein powder blend, which helps with feelings of fullness and satiety throughout the day.
Ample’s original meal replacement is their balanced meal for omnivore eaters, with the following ingredients:
- 25 grams of protein
- 350 milligrams of potassium
- 14 grams of dietary fiber
- 25% of the daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D
- No gluten, soy, GMOs, or artificial sweeteners
Great for post-workout nourishment and meal replacement, Orgain’s nutrition shake includes:
- 16 grams of organic, grass fed protein
- 21 vitamins and minerals
- 10 organic fruits and vegetables
- No gluten, no soy, non-GMO
This product is also kosher and USDA certified organic.
Nutrition Is Irreplaceable
Though they’re not a forever solution, meal replacement shakes are a great way to help you reach your weight-loss goals and build lean muscle. With so many flavors and varieties to choose from, you can find all the health benefits you’re looking for in a high-protein, low-fat, healthy meal replacement shake. Choose wisely, and drink up!