What to Look for in a Good Meal Replacement Shake

Last Updated on by Valeria Salamanca

A great way to build muscle fast without adding on any extra pounds of fat is by consuming pure sources of quality protein. Many foods contain high levels of protein however they also contain harmful substances such as fat, carbs, sugar, and more. When combined with the protein content in your diet, these substances can degrade the absorption quality of your ingested protein. This can lead to insufficient protein intake resulting in a decline in energy, muscle building ability, and more. Meal replacement shakes are a great solution for poor protein absorption or a lack of overall nutritional value in your diet.

While certain foods do contain essential vitamins, minerals, protein, and more, your diet may not always consist of these foods depriving you of the nourishment. For example, if you are trying to cut down on your total carb intake, a meal replacement shake can help make up for lost nutrients without adding on carbs or fat.

Meal replacement shakes can also help you lose weight very efficiently, meal replacement shakes contain uncontaminated sources of vitamins and protein that undergo pure reactions in your digestive system. By using raw protein, your body is able to breakdown and convert the substance at a much faster rate without wasting energy on burning fat or filtering out toxins. There are a lot of great meal replacement shake options available, however, before choosing one for your diet, you need to verify a few things.

Meal replacement shakes come in a variety of formulas, flavors, forms, and potency levels. Before ingesting any meal replacement shake as part of your regular diet, make sure that it meets all of the characteristics you’re looking for to achieve your ultimate fitness goal. Someone who is substituting actual meals with meal replacement shakes due to obesity will have different nutritional needs than someone who just wants to lose a few pounds for aesthetic reasons.

Many positive benefits exist in using meal replacement shakes especially for people concerned about weight, that’s not to say that meal replacement shakes don’t come with their share of downsides as well. One of the major downsides of using meal replacement shakes is that while most of them only contain ingredients which are safe for consumption, there are products out there which use potentially harmful chemicals including preservatives and food coloring.

The best way to ensure that you’re using a high-quality all-natural meal replacement shake is by reading the ingredients on every shake that you purchase. This will allow you to get an exact run-down of all the substances in your chosen meal replacement shake so you can decide If it’s right for your body or not.

There are a lot of meal replacement shake options available on the market designed to help you lose weight or achieve virtually any other health goal you have set. Below, you’ll find some of the top recommended meal replacement shake options available, use all of the information listed to make an educated purchase decision when you buy your meal replacement shake.

What to Look for

There are some basic guidelines to follow when choosing a good meal replacement shake.

  • Calories

Fewer isn’t necessarily better when it comes to counting calories. If you are replacing a meal with your shake, you want it to do just that – replace it with something as similar as possible. In order to do so, it requires a set number of calories.

Wendy Bazilian, author of The Superfoods Rx Diet, recommends that a meal replacement shake contain at least 325 to 400 calories per serving. If this seems high to you — considering it’s just a beverage — remind yourself that it is a meal and not “just a beverage.” Furthermore, a meal replacement shake should keep you satiated until your next meal. It’s of little value to you if you’re ravenous an hour after drinking it.

WebMD has a slightly different take on calorie count. Their recommendation for a meal replacement shake is 220 to 230 calories. For me, that’s not a meal replacement; it’s a snack. A rather large snack, but a snack, nonetheless.

I don’t remember the last time I had a 220 calorie meal. That’s the number of calories in about 6 oz of skinless chicken with nothing on it. If you’re active, it’s simply not enough, in my opinion.

  • Protein

Bazilian recommends that a good meal replacement shake contain 15 to 25 grams of protein. This is a fair amount to keep you full and boost your protein intake if that’s your goal. For me, it’s about a third of my RDA (recommended dietary allowance). You can calculate yours using this online calculator.

On a day-to-day basis, I tend to consume more protein than my RDA. So if my meal replacement shake only had about 20 grams of protein, I’d probably eat some raw, unsalted nuts with it. You can easily supplement your shake with additional foods in order to tweak the nutritional content of your meal and tailor it to your specific needs, but more on that later!

  • Fiber

Fiber is an important component of a healthy diet plan. It’s one of those things that you really don’t fully appreciate until you don’t get enough of it! Bazilian suggests aiming for at least 5 grams of fiber per
shake serving.

Ideally, it should be a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber. They work differently in the body and your digestive system will benefit from a combination of the two. However, if your shake only contains one variety or the nutritional information doesn’t specify, don’t sweat it. It’s not critically important and hopefully, you’re getting a combination of the two types of fiber from other sources.

  • Fat

Repeat after me: “Fat is my friend.” While recent research has refuted the notion that all fat is evil and to be avoided at all costs, it can still be difficult to mentally get past the fact that your shake is high in fat, especially if you are striving to lose or maintain your weight.

However, fat – healthy fat – is fantastic stuff. Aside from a myriad of health benefits — check out this list of foods high in healthy fats and their benefits — it will help keep you feeling full longer. If your meal replacement shake has 10 to 13 grams of healthy fats, as Bazilian suggests, you’re far more likely to feel satisfied after having your shake. It’ll feel a lot more like a meal than a small appetizer.

I should add that WebMD states that a good meal replacement shake should contain five grams of fat or less. This reflects their overall lower calorie count recommendation. Again, for my own diet, this would be too low. When fat – and protein – content are too low, carbohydrate content often goes up.

Carbs are a necessary part of a balanced diet, but they won’t keep you feeling as full as fat and protein do. Furthermore, while fiber is a carbohydrate, the remaining carbs can end up being in the form of starch and sugar, both of which have little nutritional value, if any.

Other Considerations

A meal replacement shake should provide a good portion of your RDA of most vitamins and minerals. I prefer naturally occurring nutrients as some researchers argue that synthetic vitamins and minerals are not as readily absorbed by the body. The jury is still out on this one; you can choose which you prefer.

If you’re not sure whether the nutrients in your shake are naturally occurring or not, check the ingredients list. If they’re not listed, they’re naturally occurring, even if they’re listed in the nutritional profile.

Sugar content is an important consideration when choosing a meal replacement shake. Generally, the lower the better. However, my preference is to steer clear of artificial sweeteners and would rather have a bit of sugar – or better yet, stevia – in my shake. While some naturally occurring sugar is fine, aim to steer clear of shakes that have added sugar.

Finally, overall nutritional value is an important factor to consider when choosing a meal replacement shake. Look at the ingredients list. Many commercial shakes are basically a milkshake with an added multi-vitamin. You wouldn’t have a milkshake for dinner (Or perhaps you would. I don’t judge!) so why buy a meal replacement shake with essentially the same ingredients?

The nutrition information is important, but so is the source of those nutrients. Does the fat come from an unspecified vegetable oil that can cause inflammation, or is the source more nutritionally sound such as flax seeds?

Some Shake Recommendations

No meal replacement shake is perfect, but here are a couple of top picks:

Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake

I love this shake. So do a lot of other people as it has a four-star rating on this site with over 3700 customer reviews. The ingredients list reads like a list of foods I’d actually eat at a meal. It has no added sugar or artificial sweeteners. I do find it a little on the sweet side but a squeeze of lemon or a little extra water cuts it right down.

Depending on which flavor you go with, half a cup of frozen cranberries also reduces the sweetness and adds a nice tang.

This shake is also a little low in calories. If you’re able to make it to your next meal without feeling ravenous, then great! I can’t. So, I supplement it by eating a handful of raw, unsalted nuts or some roasted chickpeas. They provide some added fiber and healthy fats and stay full longer. If I’m having a really active day, I just have two servings (82g) instead of one.

Quick Facts:

  • Serving Size: 41g
  • Calories: 160
  • Protein: 20g
  • Fat: 5g
  • Carbohydrates: 10g (Sugar: 1g; Fiber: 6g)
  • 50% daily intake of vitamins and minerals
  • 1.5g omega-3s, probiotics, and antioxidants
  • Non-GMO project verified, vegan certified, low-glycemic, gluten-free, and made without dairy or soy ingredients

Garden of Life Meal Replacement – Organic Raw Plant Based Protein Powder

This is another fantastic meal replacement shake. It also has a four-star rating on this site. The only drawback, in my opinion, is the low calorie and fat content. You can supplement your meal with a handful of raw nuts and/or some avocado slices if you feel you need to. Again, increasing the serving size is also an option.

Quick Facts:

  • Serving Size: 35g
  • Calories: 115
  • Protein: 20g
  • Fat: 1.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 8g (Sugar: < 1g; Fiber:7g of which 1g is soluble)
  • Contains 44 superfoods
  • 1.5 billion CFU probiotics and enzymes for easy digestion
  • Organic, gluten free, Star-K kosher, vegan, dairy free, soy free, non-GMO whole food protein

Herbalife Formula 1

Herbalife Formula 1is a gluten-free meal replacement shake that is packed with tons of vitamins and fiber. Herbalife Formula 1 is made using rice proteins, peas, and quinoa to provide you with a solid base of protein to help develop a healthy and happy life. Herbalife Formula 1 contains 10g of premium protein per serving that is easily digested by the body which makes it fast absorbing. Herbalife Formula 1 only contains 6g of sugar and is vegetarian-friendly which makes it a great meal replacement shake option for those with sensitive systems.

Purchase Herbalife Formula 1 Here

Nutrisystem’s TurboShake

Nutrisystem’s TurboShake is a high-quality meal replacement shake that offers a potent blend of minerals and protein. Nutrisystem’s TurboShake is safe for vegetarians and diabetics to consume due to its all-natural ingredients. Nutrisystem’s TurboShake is filled with 15g of protein in each serving which makes it a very powerful protein supplement. Nutrisystem’s TurboShake also contains a unique blend of probiotics which help support intestinal health and belly fat reduction. Nutrisystem’s TurboShake comes in multiple flavors and provides a comprehensive protein supplement to anyone in need.

Purchase Nutrisystem’s TurboShake Here

Beachbody’s Shakeology

Beachbody’s Shakeology is formulated to provide you with full-body nutrition so you can stay active, healthy, and slim. Beachbody’s Shakeology contains 7g of protein per serving and is designed to help you reduce junk food cravings so that you can maintain a steady diet and lose weight in the process. Beachbody’s Shakeology derives its nutritional value from fruit powders and cane sugar. Beachbody’s Shakeology is the perfect whey protein meal replacement shake that is also vegan-friendly, the shake helps you generate maximum energy and aids in digestive health. Beachbody’s Shakeology is available in a variety of flavors and is perfect for those who want a powerful protein shake that can take the place of their meal.

Purchase Beachbody’s Shakeology Here

When you begin looking for the meal replacement shake that best suits you, you need to focus on protein content and the quality of the ingredients used to create the supplement. This will help you avoid potentially harmful products and increase the rate at which your body absorbs nutritional value from the supplements you ingest. Meal replacement shakes are primarily used for weight loss and toning purposes however with the right combination of ingredients, a meal replacement shake can even be used as a booster to your normal diet.

All of the tips mentioned above will help you choose the perfect meal replacement shake that best fits your intended fitness goals. Take the time to formulate a decisive exercise strategy that will allow you to see what areas need the most nourishment for your diet and other variables that will play into how well you achieve overall health. As long as you follow the guidelines implemented in this article, you should be able to use meal replacement shakes as the perfect aid to your overall diet.

Drawbacks of Meal Replacement Shakes

I am a big proponent of mindful eating – sitting comfortably to eat while slowly savoring every bite. It’s been proven to aid in weight loss because you’re more likely to only eat until you begin to feel full. It also helps with nutrient absorption because food is chewed more thoroughly.

Unfortunately, meal replacement shakes don’t really promote mindful eating. Gulping down a quick shake while on the go – as convenient as it may be – might sabotage your weight loss efforts in this respect if it conditions you to inhale your food quickly while on the go.

Many people who use meal replacement shakes to lose weight find that they gain the weight back when they stop drinking them. If your plan is to drink them indefinitely, then great! If not, be aware that your weight may begin to creep back if you stop using them.

They’re not real food. Even the best meal replacement shake is no match for some lean chicken, a fresh salad, and some brown rice. Shakes need to be processed in order to extend shelf life and while many shakes aren’t necessarily a nutritional nightmare, they certainly don’t come close to resembling the ingredients in their original forms.

They’re boring. I like variety in my diet. I love using lots of herbs and spices in my cooking and enjoy a wide range of flavors. Even though most shakes come in more than one flavor, I find they get tiresome.
Other Options

If you’re looking for quick, healthy food on the run, there are some other options. Throwing together a couple of foods that contain protein, fat, and fiber can take next to no time. I love combining raw almonds with pear, or hummus with crudités.

Final Thoughts

The term “meal replacement shake” is a bit of a misnomer, I think. There really isn’t anything that truly replaces a proper, freshly prepared meal. However, with today’s fast-paced life, speed and convenience are often indispensable. Besides, you’re better off having a meal replacement shake than opting for fast food or – worse still – nothing at all.

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