A Healthy Approach to Weight Loss & Wellness Meal Replacement
Gina Worful, RD
With the multitude of weight loss strategies available, meal replacement shakes are often an appealing and effective approach for consumers. Attempts to lose weight while keeping up with a fast-paced lifestyle makes meal replacement shakes portable, convenient, and a healthier alternative to fast food.
Plain and simple, if you want to lose weight, calories consumed must be less than calories burned.
While preparing fresh and healthy meals daily would be ideal, this unfortunately is not a reality for most. Therefore, substituting one or two meals per day with a nutritionally balanced meal replacement shake can significantly reduce calories and help maintain proper portion control.
These shakes can help support healthy weight loss by safely reducing calories without depriving the body of key nutrients or limiting intake to the point that insufficient calories slow the metabolism. Numerous studies support the efficacy of meal replacement shakes for weight loss.
One study in particular, led by Steven Heymsfield, M.D. of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital (New York City, NY), compared meal replacement shakes with conventional low-calorie diets. Findings showed that on average, people who drank meal replacement shakes for one or two of their meals every day, consistently lost 7%-8% of their body weight after one year, while those following a conventional low-calorie diet lost only an average of 3% of their body weight (1).
A researched Meal Replacement Shake that meets the criteria.
While meal replacement shakes may provide for effective weight loss, there are key components to a healthy shake that consumers should take into consideration before making a purchase.
1. Provides essential vitamins and minerals
A variety of vitamins and minerals are vital due to their direct involvement in daily body processes, such as proper growth and development, tissue repair, energy production, and even weight loss! Look for a meal replacement shake that contains at least 25-30% of your daily value of key vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, B vitamins, and important minerals, such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, iodine and iron.
Since a shake replaces one meal, it should provide about one-third of recommended daily values.
2. Provides a high-quality and an appropriate amount of protein with meal replacement shakes
The term “high-quality” refers to the body’s ability to absorb and utilize the protein consumed. Protein sources, such as whey and soy, are high quality sources that provide all the essential amino acids required for muscle synthesis and repair. A meal replacement containing one of these protein sources is sufficient.
According to a study published in 2013 by the Journal of Nutrition, however, a blend of whey, casein, and soy can enhance muscle synthesis greater than if they were taken separately due to the synergistic effect of combining the unique properties of these protein sources.
Whey protein is rich in branched chain amino acids that are quickly digested and assimilated by the body. Soy protein digests at slower rate than whey, providing a gradual supply of amino acids. Combining different sources of protein may offer an optimal assortment of amino acids, while digesting at different rates to maximize the amino acid availability in the blood for muscle growth and repair (2).
Adequate protein consumption is important to preserve muscle mass and maintain metabolism during weight loss however, excessive amounts of protein are unnecessary. When choosing a meal replacement shake, aim for 10-20 grams of protein per serving.
3. Focus on Fiber With Meal Replacement!
Fiber has been touted for numerous remarkable health benefits yet consumers still find it challenging to meet the recommended 25-35 grams per day. Fiber contributes to any healthy diet by reducing constipation, maintaining intestinal health, providing prebiotics that act as food for healthy bacteria in the GI tract, stabilizing blood sugars, and lowering bad cholesterol. Fiber may also support weight loss by promoting satiety due to the longer time required to digest, as well is its “bulking” properties. Foods high in fiber also tend to be lower in calories.
Soluble fiber, in particular, is frequently added to meal replacement shakes due to its ability to dissolve in water and may help in normalizing blood glucose and reducing cholesterol. Digestive-resistant maltodextrins are soluble fibers that are unable to be digested and absorbed by the body. These fibers are fermented to produce short-chain fatty acids in the intestines.
Short chain fatty acids act as a prebiotic by providing energy to colonic bacteria to stimulate growth and promote a healthy digestive tract. Consumption of digestive-resistant fiber is a safe option for diabetics to improve health by potentially reducing insulin resistance and normalizing blood sugars. Aim for at least 3 grams of fiber in a meal replacement shake.
4. Watch out for sugar
When dieters are diligently adhering to their daily meal replacement shakes and still can’t seem to lose a pound, it is more than likely that their shakes contain more sugar than a candy bar. Simple sugars are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream causing a rapid spike in blood glucose and insulin.
Excess sugar intake can easily lead to weight gain making it highly challenging to reach weight loss goals.
Excess sugar intake can easily lead to weight gain making it highly challenging to reach weight loss goals. Many meal replacement shakes use alternatives to reduce the amount of added sugar. Sucralose, and other artificial sweeteners, remain undigested by the body, thereby providing zero calories.
This may be beneficial for those trying to reduce sugar intake and/or control blood sugars.
The FDA currently approves these sweeteners as safe. Choose a meal replacement shake that contains less than 7 grams of sugar per serving.
5. Make reaching your goals easy!
Restrictive and unappealing diets are highly unsuccessful, so enjoying what you eat, or drink for that matter, can make all the difference in committing to your goals. Some products offer healthy and affordable options; so don’t succumb to expensive gimmicks that will break your budget.
Whether your goals are to trim down, bulk up, or improve overall health, choosing the right meal replacement shake can be a safe and effective strategy to reach your goals.
Gina Worful is a registered dietitian working as an independent consultant while obtaining her master’s degree in Human Nutrition.
1. Heymsfield SB, van Mierlo CAJ, van der Knaap HCM, Heo M, Frier I. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. Int J Obs. 2008 April;27(2).
Available at https://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v27/n5/abs/0802258a.html
2. Reidy PT, Walker DK, Dickinson JM, Gundermann DM, Drummond MJ, Timmerman KL, et al. ProteinBlend Ingestion Following Resistance Exercise Promotes Human Muscle Synthesis. J Nutr. 2013 January 23.
Available at https://jn.nutrition.org/content/early/2013/01/22/jn.112.168021.abstract
I am currently using the The Wellness Company Products.