Meal replacement shakes are marketed to help kickstart a healthier lifestyle, aid in weight loss programs and act as healthier snack options, but can we trust that they are our best choice to achieve these goals?
When you’re on a time crunch and need to eat on the go, sometimes meal replacements are the only option, so who can blame you? A smoothie or shake can be a great go-to—but only if it’s nutritionally balanced.
We talked to the experts to find out how to determine whether meal replacement shakes are your best bet and how to integrate them into your diet.
Meal Replacement Shake Guidelines
So should you integrate meal replacement shakes into your diet? Depending on your eating style, it can be a good idea to have a shake with salad or fruit alongside, given that the shake you choose is an appropriate one for your specific goals.
Eating healthy food is your best option, of course. But for simplicity and convenience—when time is of the essence and you just don’t have a moment to sit and eat—go for the shake that factors:
When It Comes to Replacing Meals
Rachel Kreider, a registered dietitian and supplement formulator for BodyBuilding.com, says that some meal replacement shakes can do just that—replace a meal. Look for shakes that are properly formulated though.
“Meal replacement shakes are a super convenient way to get nourishment,” Kreider explains. “But, look for a product that contains high-quality protein, fiber, healthy fat and a vitamin and mineral blend.”
When It Comes to Losing Weight
While some shakes can effectively help you control your calorie intake, which is a huge part of weight loss, it shouldn’t be your main source of fuel. Not all calories are created equal. In fact, Dr. Lori Shemek, diet and weight loss expert, nutritionist and psychologist, doesn’t recommend meal replacement shakes if you’re trying to lose weight.
“Overall, they tend to be short on calories, nutrients, fiber, healthy fat and protein,” she explains. “In order to lose weight, you must have all of these. If the shake is high in sugar—which, many are—it is promoting the fat storage hormone insulin.”
When It Comes to Snacking
If you’re on the go and need something quick and healthy, meal replacement shakes could be a great idea—given that they’re not packed with sugar or unhealthy fats, says Shemek. And while you can drink a meal replacement shake as a snack, you still have to make sure you’re consuming a balanced diet. Shakes can be a part of that, but not your only source for nutrients.
“All of this is goal dependent,” Kreider says. “If you want to lose weight, you’ll need to make sure you’re not consuming too many calories. If you want to build muscle, a product that contains high-quality protein is key and could be a great pre- or post-workout snack.”
Before You Drink a Meal Replacement Shake
And just like not all calories are created equal, not all shakes are created equal. “Some are packed with sugar, preservatives and troublesome ingredients, not to mention they’re not satisfying, which can lead to hunger and cravings,” Shemek warns.
You should also never confuse protein shakes with meal replacement shakes. If you consume too much protein, your body will increase glucose, which then triggers insulin.
Factor in your goals, understand what your body needs and take it from there. You may realize that a handful of nuts, a sliced avocado, a piece of fruit or a hard-boiled egg are your best go-tos when you’re strapped for time.