By now, even if you haven’t tried one, you should be well aware that there are shakes out there that are packed with all the nutrients of the whole foods you eat daily. It means that instead of actually making a meal or weighing up calories before engorging yourself you can just as easily get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need in one foul slurp.
One thing to note is that they are predominantly used by people who have struggled to lose weight in the past or control their diabetes. Yes, meal replacement shakes can be used by just about anyone for reasons of convenience or detox but with worldwide obesity on the rise, they could offer an answer.
Here we’ll unpack the science behind meal replacement shakes and whether or not you should be including them in your diet.
If your weight loss program just wasn’t cutting it then you’ve probably been recommended a meal replacement shake. This way, you get a controlled amount of calories in liquid form that’ll boost your energy, provide you with the nutrients you need and get you back home in time for dinner.
A study undertaken in 2003, found that during a 40-week trial, people who received a partial meal replacement diet lost significantly more weight than those who had been on a standard reduced-calorie diet.
There might be a number of reasons behind it. First of all, meal replacement shakes provide a set number of calories in one go. So you know what you’re getting which makes tracking your calorie intake much easier.
Also, having your meal in a shake-form removes the sensory experience from eating, and as a result help you avoid overeating.
The ease as to which it is to prepare a quick shake can also help you stick to your diet plan.
So meal replacement shakes can be quite effective when it comes to short-term weight loss and diet management.
But it’s not all good news.
First of all, it’s difficult to see a diet consisting only of meal replacement shakes as a long-term solution. Replacing meals with shakes, albeit healthy ones, should be viewed as a way to get started taking in more healthy nutrients and not as a solution to prevent future weight gain. This is due to the monotony of the shakes and the fact that you should be eating proper nutritious meals every day.
Another issue is that many ready-made meal replacement shakes do not have the correct amount of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals in them and are usually characterized by having the same nutritional value as processed foods. This can lead to malnutrition and an inadequate way of maintaining a balanced diet.
So should you consider meal replacement shakes?
Our advice is to maybe make them a part of your daily routine – for example replace your breakfast with a shake. It’s convenient, can help you build up a habit, but will still leave you with a full day to get nutrients from other food sources.
The issue with commercial shakes, which we touched on before, is that they’re readily available in juice bars and stores but are also normally high in sugar, poor protein sources and processed ingredients. It means that you’re more likely to end up becoming deficient by not balancing your diet.
So what should you do?
Buy a blender and make your own shakes – it won’t take that long and you’ll have peace of mind knowing what’s going in your shake. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be able to chop and change what goes in it; making for some interesting combinations until you find the one that you just can’t get enough of.
Remember when making your shake to add a form of protein (soy, whey) with water/milk, vegetables like spinach and kale, fruits like banana, diced apples or dates. Include nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts) for that extra fat content and add in a little extra (yoghurt or oats) for a comprehensive, nutritious shake. These are just suggestions as you can just about add whatever you think tastes great, as long as its balanced.
It’s always good to keep with the mantra that protein more satiating than fats and carbs, and is what’s going to keep you full during the day.
Unfortunately, shakes can’t provide all the nutrition of whole food sources like fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants, vitamins and minerals – supplement shakes with a low-calorie snack that contains these. This is why it’s better to select the food sources yourself.
One thing to note is that it is not viable to keep replacing your meals in the long term. After a while you’re going to have to become conscious of the nutrients going into your shake and implementing those into real meals, while managing portions. And always consult your dietician before, who’ll be able to make recommendations based on you.