Meal Replacement Drinks

It seems like meal replacement shakes and drinks are all the rage in the health and nutrition world right now. These “easy” and “conveinent” options for people to drink in place of a solid-food meal are nothing new. Slim-Fast has been promoting their shakes for almost 30 years now. Remember the slogan “a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, then a sensible dinner”? However, in the last 5 years or so many new companies have hit the market trying to capitalize on the current trend.

Meal replacement product sales in the US alone is now well over $4 Billion annually and continues to grow by 10-15% each year. So why are these drinks so popular? According to this very comprehensive report by Euromonitor International, most people are buying these shakes in order to lose weight. Other reasons given for purchasing meal replacement or juice drinks are to “increase energy” or  “improve athletic performance”.

The selection is endless and everyone touts their product as being the best. Typical marketing slogans include “essential vitamins and minerals”, “hunger blocking”, “low-carb”, “energy booster”, “endorsed by _______”, “stimulate metabolism”, “build lean muscle” and the always questionable “super-food”. No matter what you are trying to achieve, you are sure to find a meal replacement drink to help you reach your goal.

But are they really all their cracked up to be? Is it as simple as it seems? Can I just skip the trips to the grocery store trying to pick out healthy foods and just drink one of these a few times a day and be healthy, full of energy and “super”? Not so fast my friend. There is no true substitute for eating whole foods in their natural form. More than likely you are going to have no idea what most of the ingredients in one of these drink are. Many are laced with chemicals and preservatives to increase shelf life or improve taste. I’m always skeptical of something that can sit on a shelf or in your pantry for months or years…because there are no real foods that can sustain life that long. For instance, without naming names, I’ll give you the ingredients list from a top selling meal replacement powder that was recently recommended for weight loss by Women’s Health Magazine:


The first four ingredients alone tell me that this is complete junk and will NOT help you lose weight. They include sugar, maltodextrin (more sugar) and a vegetable oil. I honestly don’t know how they can market this as a weight-loss drink. It will do the exact opposite! I realize that there are actually some companies that make a meal replacement or energy drink with mostly good ingredients. For example, look at the ingredients list below:


Everything is Organic and there are no artificial sweeteners. But I still wouldn’t mix up a shake with this stuff every morning. The reason is pretty simple – no matter what foods you choose to eat and in what ratios of fats, proteins and carbs, whole foods are always better for you than refined foods (like juices or powders). When nutrients are isolated from their natural source, they don’t always function as intended. You can’t find Vitamin A or Zinc Oxide growing in the ground or walking around the prairie. In order to put them in a powder or drink, they are extracted from their natural source (carrots and beef in this example). A wide variety of solvents and chemical are typically used in order to remove these nutrients from the foods they are naturally found in. What long-term effects do these chemicals have on your body? Nobody really knows.

Don’t get me wrong – if you are currently eating the standard American diet of fast food and packaged food products, switching over to a quality meal replacement shake instead of getting a Waffle Taco from the drive-through on the way to work would be a huge improvement. So if you like the convenience of drinking a shake or juice on-the-go, be sure and read the ingredients list very carefully OR just buy yourself a good blender and make your own!

For less than the price you pay for a tub or bag of meal replacement powder, you could go to the store and stock up on real foods like dark leafy greens, almond/coconut milk, berries, flax/chia seeds, cinnamon, almond butter, etc. and make a shake without worrying about ingesting chemicals and isolated nutrients that your body may not recognize. You can play around with different ingredients and find a taste that you love. Here’s my favorite recipe:

  • 1 handfull of baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp of almond butter
  • 8-12 oz. of unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 whole banana
  • 1 tbsp of flax seeds
  • 1 cup of ice

The banana gives it some sweetness and the almond butter makes it smooth like a milk shake. You can’t even taste the spinach or flax seeds. This shake offers some great sources of iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamins K, C & E, fiber and healthy Omega-3 fats. Sometimes I switch the almond butter to coconut oil and the banana to some blueberries or strawberries if they are in season. The kids even like these shakes right out of the blender or frozen into a popsicle!

So the takeaway here is just to be very cautious when drinking a meal replacement shake or juice. The majority of the stuff on the market is not going to do what it advertises and could even have some adverse effects on your health. Do your research and don’t trust what the label says!

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