The truth about meal replacement shakes and your health
You might think meal replacement shakes are the solution to all your weight woes. A magic fix that’s quick and easy to do, right? Well there’s a lot more to it than you might have thought. Find out why meal replacement shakes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
What are meal replacement shakes?
Powder that you combine with water or milk, meal replacement shakes are usually made up of milk powder (this provides protein), vitamins and minerals, flavours and thickeners. Most have very little fibre and only a small amount of fat.
They are usually very low calorie/kilojoule, and make up the bulk of what’s known as a Very Low Calorie Diet, or VLCD.
Some meal replacement shake programs are nutritionally complete. That means that when you follow the directions and have the correct amount of shakes per day, you will get all the nutrients your body needs.
The directions need to be followed closely though and the program is safest when done under the supervision of a medical professional. This is because a full program doesn’t suit everyone. For example, if you’re larger framed or more physically active, 3 shakes per day is unlikely to have the amount of protein you need and muscle loss could result.
Are meal replacement shakes good for you?
If you’re on the go, a meal replacement shake can be a good alternative to a meal and is by far better than having nothing. Many people like the convenience of being able to have it on the go and not having to cook.
There are some downsides though that explain why meal replacement shakes often don’t satisfy you for long. The little fibre in meal replacement shakes means there’s nothing to ‘bulk’ them up and fill your stomach. The fact that they’re liquid also means they’re digested quickly, leaving you hungry soon after.
There’s also the psychological link that’s missing. Chewing food send signals to your stomach and brain that food is coming, and that you’ll soon be full. Without this it’s easy to feel unsatisfied, after all living off only liquids in not what we’re designed to do!
While you’ll likely lose weight by swapping meals for shakes, the hard truth is that when you ‘go off’ any diet, you’ll gain the weight back. Once you start eating normal food again, if you haven’t made changes to make your eating habits healthier, you may well end up back where you started.
What are the best meal replacement shakes for women?
When choosing a meal replacement shake it’s important to look at the nutrition information on the packet. Choose a shake that is higher in protein, and one that has some fibre. Chemist bought shakes are more likely to be the nutritionally complete type, so will have less fillers and more important nutrients.
Can you make your own recipes?
If you plan to swap two or more meals per day to shakes, it’s best to go with the commercially prepared ones, as these will have all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs.
If you’re only having a meal replacement shake occasionally or once a day, there are many ways you can make it yourself and skip the packet mix. Aim to get as many nutrients in as possible. For example, protein can be included with dairy or soy milk or yoghurt. Healthy fats could include chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds or nut butters. Fibre can come from any fruit you choose, or vegetable if you’re feeling adventurous!
Prepared by Kara Vogt – Accredited Practicing Dietitian