How to Choose A Meal Replacement Shake That Actually Works
20 min read
- Meal replacement shakes are an important nutritional tool for more than just weight loss.
- Consumers often confuse protein shakes with meal replacement shakes but they are actually very different. Protein is a relatively cheap commodity, whereas meal replacements are complete nutritional solutions for health proving the most bang for your buck.
- The vast majority of shakes on the market may actually do more harm than good. The Essentials offers a superior option for optimal wellness.
If you've ever felt tired, stressed and under nourished due to a busy lifestyle, chances are you've looked to supplement your diet to get the nutrients you need.
More than just a tool for weight loss, meal replacement shakes are arguably the most complete solution to give your body what it needs.
But, not all meal replacement shakes are created equally.
Losing weight, building a healthy body, and living an active lifestyle may perhaps be on everyone's list of life goals but not everyone has the time to get to the gym, eat a perfect diet, attend to work and social priorities, and still have the energy to keep up with the kids and family life.
This often leaves many of us chasing the newest health fads, trying to biohack our way fit, and trying all the latest diet gimmicks in search of an easy and effective way to look and feel good with more energy to do the things we love.
Sure, a regular exercise regime is an important part of any health journey, but arguably more important is the food you eat to fuel your body.
However, finding a balanced meal in an unbalanced world has become overwhelmingly complicated.
For this reason, among many others, more people are turning to meal replacement shakes as a way to get clean and convenient fuel on the regular.
There's just one problem...not all meal replacement shakes are created equally.
Keep reading to discover the main benefits of meal replacement shakes and how to choose one that is right for your health and lifestyle goals.
To skip to the section that interests you most, simply click on the topic listed below.
Did you know?
39%The popularity of meal replacement shakes is on the rise. A recent market research report reveals that nearly 4 in 10 Americans use performance and nutrition drinks as a breakfast substitute.
Top Reasons To Use a meal replacement shake
In the fast-paced, always-on world of today, sitting down to enjoy a wholesome meal has become somewhat of a luxury.
As a result, convenience and "fast-fuel" often trumps healthy choices.
The holy grail is to get the best of both worlds — quick and convenient plus delicious and nutritious.
Now, that's a winning formula for health, longevity, and getting the most out of life!
And that's the allure of meal replacement shakes.
As more consumers struggle to get what they need from food alone, a growing number of people have turned to dietary supplements to complement their daily routine.
The most common uses for meal replacement shakes are:
- A Healthy Breakfast Alternative
- Low Calorie Meals for Weight Loss
- To Boost Energy Throughout the Day
- To Get the Nutrients Missing from Food
- Curbing Hunger Between Meals
- To Live a Healthier Lifestyle
- Prepper & Survival Food
Often marketed as a one-stop solution for health, these shakes, bars, and powders appear to be the obvious choice for anyone looking to get the most bang for their buck.
But, are these magical powders actually all they're cracked up to be?
It's time to find out if they really do provide all the superhuman benefits they claim, or if they just the next passing trend in the world of wellness.
Well, it depends.
It all comes down to knowing what to look for when choosing a product.
Fortunately, a little bit of education is all that separates you from getting one step closer to your wellness goals or falling victim to the powerful marketing machine that drives the big business of nutrition.
So before you go searching the interwebs for "best meal replacement shakes" or "meal replacement shake discounts" you'd be wise to spend some time to up your nutritional IQ by learning what to look out for before deciding if a meal replacement shake is right for you.
What is A Meal Replacement Shake?
While more people are familiar with protein shakes, they primarily offer just that —protein.
They’re also often low in calories and will leave you hungry in an hour or two.
Meanwhile, meal replacement shakes offer the full spectrum of nutrients present in a full meal.
The most common forms of meal replacement shakes can be found as ready-to-drink (RTD) liquids, or powdered forms that you can be easily customized to meet your specific taste and texture preferences by mixing with plant-based milk or water, or combining with other fruits and veggies to create a delicious smoothie that really packs a nutritional punch.
Of course, a true meal replacement by definition shouldn't require other foods to be added, but if you have the time and a blender, it's tough to resist making your own Insta-worthy smoothie or bowl.
Before you drink a meal replacement shake, check its nutritional label and go through the ingredients.
1. Serving Size
Knowing the volume is especially important when comparing products to know that you're getting the most value for your money.
The easiest way to do this for powdered products is to simply look at the number of scoops or grams per serving.
Some products require a pretty hefty volume of 60g or more, which may be a warning sign of unneccessary fillers or a way to artificially inflate the nutrient quantity to give the impression that you're getting more for your money when in reality, the opposite is usually true.
2. Percentage Daily Value
A general rule of thumb for meal replacement drinks is that they contain a minimum of 20% of the Daily Value for a wide range of essential vitamins & minerals.
It's quite easy to identify a protein shake marketed as a meal replacement when it has less than 33% DV or only a few nutrients listed on the supplement facts panel.
The top shakes typically deliver 50-100% of your daily nutritional needs in just 1-2 servings.
3. Fiber & Net Carbohydrates
One of the major categories of nutrients that most Americans are lacking is fiber.
Getting plenty of fiber is important part of what makes meal replacment shakes an effective way to curb hunger and keep satiated between meals.
Fiber also plays an integral role in gut health and keeping us regular.
A general rule of thumb is to choose a product with at least 5g of dietary fiber per serving.
Those following a low carb or ketogenic diet should also pay close attention to the total and net carbohydrates.
When limiting carb intake, you'll want to minimize the amount of carbs you drink throughout the day.
While low carb meal replacement shakes do exist, the vast majority of meal replacement shakes are quite high in total and net carbohydrates.
4. Macro & Micronutrients
What makes meal replacment shakes a better option for health than greens supplements is the inclusion of important macronutrients like protein and healthy fats.
When choosing a meal replacement shake the general target for protein should be about 15-25g per serving.
This is an adequate amount of protein for both kids and adults to keep you full and mimick what you would typically get from a small meal.
More important, however, are the micronutrients.
This is where things get tricky.
The challenge with most meal replacement shakes is that they fail to consider the exact level of nutrients missing from food.
Even more problematic, is that 99.9% of products on the market rely on synthetic vitamins & minerals that are petroleum-based and not as easily absorbed by the body as whole food nutrients.
5. Ingredients List
The most important part of reading any nutrition label is the ingredients list.
This becomes even more important with dietary supplements because they are not directly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
A simple rule of thumb is to avoid any products with a long list of ingredients that you can't pronounce.
While it's generally best to look for few ingredients on the label, meal replacements are usually an expception to this rule due to the broad spectrum of nutrients they provide.
Keep in mind that not all binders and additives are required to be disclosed, which is why testing and transparency are key to look for.
Cheaper products tend to use cheaper ingredients, meaning more hidden maltodextrin fillers, pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals.
But, even some of the more expensive choices on the market may include these things which it's always good practice to simply ask the manufacturer about their sourcing and whether their products contain any of the excipients and additives mentioned.
Related Post: Is Essential Nutrition The Secret To Optimal Wellness?
Should I buy organic?
Choosing a product that uses organic ingredients is an excellent way to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals consumed through our diet and can be used as another evaluation criteria to determine whether the company truly sourcing the best ingredients or just trying to make a buck.
Keep in mind, just because something is "Organic" doesn't mean it is "Healthy" which is why it's always best to read labels and check the ingredients list!
The Top 5 Red Flags to Look Out For
In this day and age, learning to listen to your body is crucial to holistic health, and depriving your body of nutrition by drastically restricting calories is going to do more harm than good.
If one of your goals is to shed pounds but remain as healthy as ever, meal replacement shakes should be an essential part of your health routine.
Unfortunately, not all meal replacements are created equally, which means there are some important things to watch out for before choosing the one that is right for you.
1. Meal shakes marketed as weight loss shakes
Let's just set things straight. A meal replacement shake on it's own will not make you lose weight. That said, the question on the top of everyone's mind is...
Are meal replacement shakes good for weight loss?
Although meal replacement shakes can help you lose weight, there is much more that comes into play.
The key to safe and effective weight loss actually has more to do with nutritional status and metabolic function than simply whatever shake or diet you choose.
Maintaining a caloric deficit for extended periods of time will cause you to lose weight, but the type of weight you lose will largely depend on how you nourish your body.
Any serious weight loss goal should prioritize body composition as opposed to just the number on the scale because retaining lean body mass will actually help to speed up metabolim and burn more calories as a result - even while you sleep!
Shakes are a great go-to option when you need nutrition immediately, eliminating the likelihood of you reaching for food that may not nourish your body.
Keep in mind, however, meal replacement shakes aren’t a magic bullet that will magically melt your fat away in an instant.
Meal replacement shakes function to help you consume fewer calories throughout the day, replacing higher-calorie meals.
Unlike basic protein shakes, meal shakes work more effectively at keeping you full and help fight hunger cravings.
A meal replacement's ability to control hunger cravings is determined by the quality and type of ingredients, macronutrient profile, and fiber content.
In summary, meal replacements can help you lose weight temporarily, but the focust should really be on making sustainable lifestyle choices that will help to keep the weight off permanently.
2. Difference between Complete Meal Shakes and Protein Shakes
Drinking shakes that have high protein can be great for building muscle and curbing appetite, but they are an incomplete solution for total body wellness.
For most people, getting enough protein isn't a challenge, but getting enough nutrition has proven to be quite challenging.
Because most protein shakes only contain one main ingredient - protein - you'd still need to supplement with other nutrients and vitamins to get everything you'd receive from some of the top meal replacement shakes.
Taking multiple supplements on a daily basis can be expensive and difficult to manage.
Nobody likes popping a handful of pills every morning just to maintain a healthy baseline, which is another key reason why meal replacements are better than a daily multivitamin.
A better option for getting the nutrients you need is to fill your diet with fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, as protein shakes alone cannot give you the essential substances your body needs to function.
A complete and balanced meal includes a good source of protein, but you must also fulfill your other nutritional needs as well.
Often the most important nutrients lacking in the diet come from fiber, greens, omegas, and healthy fats, which you can easily get using a complete meal replacement shake.
One of the main advantages of meal replacement shakes vs. protein shakes is that they are meant to leave you feeling full and satisfied, meaning they more closely resemble what you would expect to get from a regular meal.
3. Meal shakes marketed as a complete food replacement
It’s perfectly healthy to indulge in meal replacement shakes in moderation, but you might be wondering if you can resort to these yummy beverages as a permanent or complete replacement for solid meals.
It's not wise to completely give up on food altogether to live only on meal replacement shakes.
There's nothing wrong with looking to optimize efficiency or using liquid meals to kickstart a weight loss program for a week or two, but it's certainly not a sustainable long-term solution for most people.
Plus, as pointed out in Breath, the New York Times best-selling book by James Nestor, there are a ton of health benefits that come as a result of chewing food instead of blending everything you eat into liquids.
Eating real food is an important part of maintaining a healthy bone structure, digestion, nasal pathways, and other important biological functions that help our bodies to operate as designed.
Even so, there’s evidence that meal replacement shakes are a good idea for a certain group of consumers.
Including the right meal replacement product, one that is low-glycemic, into a low-calorie diet can actually help manage type 2 diabetes, according to a 2018 randomized controlled trial published in Nutrition & Health, since it restricts your calorie and sugar intake.
In summary, it’s best practice to supplement a whole food diet with a meal replacement shake instead of foregoing food entirely.
And remember, always consult a medical professional before starting any restrictive dietary program...especially one that requires you to live entirely on shakes alone.
4. Meal shakes that emphasize macros but skimp on the micronutrients
No matter what anyone tells you, the perfect diet doesn't exist.
There is no perfect macro ratio and no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition.
The macronutrient profile in your shake should align with your personal health objectives.
If youre goal is to gain weight with a meal replacment, you'll want to choose something with more calories and more protein than if you were trying to lose weight.
The best all-in-one nutrition shakes contain a good ratio of macros PLUS essential vitamins and minerals, a full serving of greens, antioxidants, adaptogens, and other key nutrients that are scientifically proven to support long-term health.
Filling the most common nutrient gaps in a modern diet is arguably one of the most important functional benefits of a good meal replacement shake.
Why can't I just take a daily vitamin instead?
Many people love multivitamins because they’re marketed to provide all the nutrients you need to enjoy a healthy body.
However, multivitamins are an incomplete solution and there isn’t much evidence showing that they work.
In fact, a 2018 study reveals that the majority of synthetic vitamins are largely ineffective, whereas meal replacement shakes are the preferred option recommended by doctors for a complete source of nourishment.
Although multivitamins appear to be packed with nutrients, they often aren’t what you specifically need and aren't well absorbed by the body.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate these products, either, so it’s best to nourish your body with other options that more closely resemble real whole foods instead of synthetic chemicals constructed in a lab.
In more specific cases, like nutritional deficiencies, you’ll need to amp up your intake of a specific nutrient rather than choosing a multivitamin supplement.
A better choice for addressing nutrient deficiencies is to follow a balanced diet of whole foods complemented by a micronutrient-filled meal shake plus targeted supplementation.
5. Meal shakes with unhealthy ingredients lurking in the label
A meal shake can be a fantastic way to keep your body fueled until your next meal — that is if you choose correctly.
There will always be some brands that don’t do much for your body and are packed with fillers and highly processed ingredients.
The majority of meal replacements shakes on the market are really just milkshakes in disguise and shouldn't be considered any healthier than their junk food counterparts.
Before purchasing a meal replacement shake, make sure you turn it over to read the nutritional label.
The following are the most important things to look out for when buying a meal replacement shake:
Synthetic Vitamins and Minerals:
They are not as easily absorbed by your body as their natural counterparts meaning the product is less effective.
Excessive Amounts of Sugar:
This can send your blood sugar skyrocketing, contributing to insulin sensitivity, weight gain, chronic inflammation, and other metabolic disorders.
Artificial Ingredients that don’t provide any nutritional value:
Among the most important things to look out for when choosing a meal replacement shake are common allergens like soy, wheat, and corn.
You should also try to avoid animal-based protein powders like whey protein because they are among the worst offenders of using artificial sweeteners like sucralose.
Contrary to common belief, whey protein shakes are bad options for health and very destructive to the planet.
Hidden Chemicals & Additives:
One of the most common food additives is maltodextrin - a starchy white powder that many manufacturers incorporate to improve a food’s appearance, texture, and shelf life.
Corn and soy-based maltodextrins have been linked to high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain.
Meal replacements that contain xylitol, erythritol, and allulose can be counterproductive because they actually disrupt the healthy microorganisms in your gut - an essential component to all aspects of health.
Related Post: Top 10 Best (And Worst) Natural Sugar Substitutes
In summary, meal replacement shakes are a perfectly healthy way to keep yourself fueled when enjoyed in moderation, but they should not be used as a complete substitute for whole foods.
Finding a healthy balance between real whole foods and meal replacement powders will ensure your body is provided with everything it needs to keep you happy, healthy, and strong!
Now that you know what to watch out for, read on to discover how to choose the best meal replacement shake for your health and lifestyle goals.
Did you know?
The term "Natural" means almost nothing when it comes to food & nutrition supplements. As per FDA guidelines, it only requres that a product contains no artificial ingredients and is "minimally processed" which is why things like Oreos, Cheetos, and animals raised with hormones fall under the "natural" label.
A better option? Look for products exclusively derived of Real Whole Foods & 100% Plant-Based ingredients.
5 Most Critical Criteria For Choosing Shake That Works
As you discovered in the previous segment, meal replacement shakes are one of the most convenient modern inventions — and with the existence of things like the Internet and the smartphone, it’s a pretty tough crowd to beat!
They’re nifty beverages that often come in a powdered form, giving you all the nutrients and vitamins you need in just one drink.
However, there are plenty of meal replacement shakes out there that overpromise and underdeliver, that may work temporarily to fill you up, but lack the essential nutrients you really need!
If you're considering incorporating meal replacement shakes into your weight-loss plan or you’re simply curious about it for other health purposes, there is a world of benefits that you can achieve when armed with the right solution.
Here are the five critical criteria to find a meal replacement shake that actually works:
1. A Balanced Meal Comprised of Real Whole Foods
Unlike their protein powder competitors that are overpriced and do very little to improve health, meal replacement shakes are exactly what their name suggests: they're meals on the go.
Packed with all the nutrients your body needs like protein, fiber, and other minerals and vitamins, they intend to provide the full nutrition profile you would expect to get by consuming a full meal.
Some of the best meal replacement shakes out there include a blend of the world's most nutritious superfoods that are packed with health-boosting benefits.
Many of these "superfoods" have been used by numerous cultures around the world for generations but have been lost in the modern, western diet.
Beyond their superior nutritional properties compared to synthetic vitamins, the best superfoods contain therapeutic benefits that positively impact health.
Keep in mind that more of something isn't the best approach when it comes to nutrition.
It's about achieving the right balance of nutrients that work in synergy to achieve the desired health outcome.
INSIDER TIP: How to tell if the ingredients are from real whole foods or synthetic vitamins
These days, you'd need a Ph.D. to read most nutrition labels.
The easy way to identify if the ingredients come from synthetic vitamins or whole foods is to read the text in parentheses to the right of the vitamin or mineral or listed after the ingredient on the label.
Synthetic vitamins will have chemical-sounding names like ascorbic acid whereas whole foods will list the plant source and often the part of the plant that it is derived from.
If there's nothing listed within the supplement facts panel itself, chances are that it comes from real whole foods but always double-check the ingredients section or ask the manufacturer to be sure.
2. An Effective Meal Replacement Shake Controls Hunger & Cravings
Meal replacement shakes aren't magic but they do work to control hunger, especially when you're in a pinch.
Due to their convenience and portability, they can be used to successfully ward off any temptation to indulge in a greasy burger and french fries.
Our penchant for fast food is anchored on stress and busyness, as fast foods are easier to order.
Unfortunately, opting for these foods can derail your health and weight loss efforts.
To counter this cycle effectively, meal replacement shakes are the best option.
Since they're nutrient-dense, they keep you fuller longer.
And, unlike the fake meat phenomenon, a good meal replacement offers clean protein from plants, not genetic mutations designed in a lab from chemicals and synthetic ingredients.
Protein is a key nutrient for satiety but it's only one piece of the puzzle since hunger is a hormonal response that can be triggered when certain nutrients are not provided in adequate amounts.
This is what separates a true all-in-one nutrition drink or meal powder from your basic protein shake.
You can even use meal replacement shakes to whip up a tantalizing and creative dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.
You can use them to bake the healthiest brownies, cookies, or even cakes!
That way, you’ll satisfy your sugar cravings without actually raising your blood sugar levels.
Meal replacments are largely considered as one of the most versatile options to curb hunger without sacrificing on taste or nutrition.
3. Includes All the Essential Vitamins & Minerals
Everyone needs to reach their daily value of vitamins and minerals, but it can be difficult to do without inspecting the ingredient label of each food product you consume.
These nutrients are deemed essential because the body doesn't produce them on its own, meaning we must get them through food and dietary supplements.
When we don’t have enough of these in our body, then our system will funnel it towards supporting crucial functions instead of investing in processes that help us age well.
In short, a nutrient insufficiency will make you age much faster than you should!
Fortunately, meal replacement shakes contain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that work together to enhance body processes and functions.
They also have a natural synergy that boosts these effects even more, especially when derived from whole foods.
You won’t get that same buff from synthetic and fortified vitamins and other products; in fact, they might even contain substances that can harm your body!
4. It's Sustainable & 100% Plant-Based
It's no secret that plant-based meals help save our planet.
Unlike whey meal replacement shakes that are heavily processed and require a lot of natural resources, plant-based shakes are made with all things good and green.
It's a simple choice that allows you to live a more sustainable lifestyle while still accomplishing your health goals.
Other choices of meal replacements make use of animal farming, which contributes to deforestation, air pollution, and excessive use of fresh water supply.
By switching from animal-based protein shakes like egg, whey, and collagen, you can reduce your carbon footprint by one-third.
And, since you're well on your way to living your best life, you might as well do it for the environment, too!
Plant-based meal replacement shakes make use of vegan protein, giving you a crucial macronutrient without having to consume meat products that fuel the industry.
They’re also a much better option than whey and animal-based protein since they can give you the equivalent or even more of the nutrient in the same serving with better absorption so you're body can utilize it more effectively.
By choosing a product with complimentary protein sources like pea and rice will supply you with the full range of essential amino acids so you're not missing out on any of the performance benefits.
Now that's a win-win for your health and the planet!
Related Post: Plant-Based Protein vs. Whey Protein
5. Great Taste Without Artificial Sweeteners or Sugar Alcohols
The struggle that many people experience when trying to switch to a healthier diet is that they don’t enjoy what they’re eating.
For this reason, many people revert back to unhealthy eating habits, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy and holistic lifestyle.
However, if you want to move forward with achieving your weight and fitness goals with a delicious shake, you’ll need a product that tastes great without the harm that artificial sweeteners can have.
Be wary of sugar alcohols!!!
Although they don't add calories, they have been known to disrupt the healthy bacteria in your gut, which will produce the opposite result of what you are trying to achieve in the first place - better health.
In the famous words of Hippocrates, "All health starts in the gut."
When used in small quantities, organic coconut sugar, palmyra blossom, and monk fruit are great natural sugar substitutes that actually contain trace levels of nutrients.
A good rule of thumb is that total sugar content should be limited to just 5g or less per serving.
Some of the most popular meal replacement shakes have over 20g, which defeats the whole purpose of using them in the first place.
The Ultimate Meal Replacement Shake
Meal replacement shakes can be the perfect companions for your weight loss journey, but be sure to choose wisely!
Make sure that your shakes are high in protein, low in sugar, packed with the right nutrients, and are always 100% plant-based.
Choosing the right meal replacement shake will impact your entire health journey, so never neglect your research and choose wisely!
If you're on the hunt for a meal replacement shake, you're probably doing so because there is a specific health obstacle that you have or an objective that you'd like to achieve.
Increasing energy, building muscle, improving sleep, and general lifestyle improvement are just a few to mention, but the most common of all is to lose weight.
But, meal replacement shakes are just one important piece of any wellness journey.
Long-term success and total transformation require a holistic approach beyond what meal replacement shakes can offer, which is why we created the LYFE Transformation Program.
If you already have a pretty good handle on your diet and lifestyle objectives and are simply interested in supplementing your diet with more plant-based foods then, give our Essentials Nutrition Shake a try!
More than a meal replacement shake, it's essential fuel for life!
You can choose between decadent chocolate and delicious vanilla and can shake it, blend it, or bake it.
No matter how you make it, The Essentials is the first and only complete nutrition shake made entirely of real whole foods created to fill the specific nutrient gaps of modern diets.
It's time to demand more for your health and finally say goodbye to expensive pills and sketchy supplements.
- Mustad VA, Hegazi RA, Hustead DS, et alUse of a diabetes-specific nutritional shake to replace a daily breakfast and afternoon snack improves glycemic responses assessed by continuous glucose monitoring in people with type 2 diabetes: a randomized clinical pilot studyBMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care 2020;8:e001258. doi: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2020-001258
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology. (2018). Supplemental Vitamins and Minerals for CVD Prevention and Treatment. Available at: https://www.jacc.org/doi/full/10.1016/j.jacc.2018.04.020 (Accessed: 14 February 2021)
- PubMed.gov (2003). Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12704397/(Accessed: 14 February 2021)
- Levitsky DA, Pacanowski C. Losing weight without dieting. Use of commercial foods as meal replacements for lunch produces an extended energy deficit. Appetite. 2011;57(2):311-317. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.015
Disclaimer: The LYFE Fuel blog is for informational purposes only. The information does not serve as a replacement for professional medical advice or treatment. We kindly ask you not to ignore professional medical advice because of any information you’ve read on https://lyfefuel.com/. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult a physician or appropriate health care expert.