Do Meal Replacement Shakes Really Work?

Nothing sounds better than a nutritious diet that’s cheap to purchase, requires no preparation, and tastes good. In the controversial world of supplements, meal replacement shakes attempt to meet all these requirements. Why have healthy food when you can get everything you need from a bottle?

Meal replacement shakes are a busy weight watcher’s best friend. Or they can be, if you choose the right ones. But can these drinkable products really replace food, tip the scale in your favor, and improve your life?

Are meal replacement shakes safe?

Fresh green smoothie

Fresh green smoothie | Sarsmis/Getty Images

As a product, meal replacement shakes are completely safe to consume. They contain a mixture of healthy and less healthy ingredients, but there isn’t anything in them that make them unsafe to drink.

But you can’t ONLY drink shakes. An all-liquid diet may seem like the fastest and easiest way to lose weight, but despite their name, meal replacement shakes aren’t meant to replace all your meals.

You can’t put everything present in whole foods into a bottle. If you could, scientists would have already done it. You won’t find enzymes or nutrients such as antioxidants in a meal replacement shake. You need those things to stay healthy, weight loss aside.

Also, the human body doesn’t treat liquid calories the same as calories from real food. There are biological benefits to chewing and swallowing that most of us don’t even think about. Calories from a meal replacement shake won’t satisfy you like the calories from an actual meal will. When it comes to weight control and overall health, this can make a big difference.

Can meal replacement shakes help you lose weight?

Most people can lose weight successfully reducing their calorie intake. Because a meal replacement shake contains fewer calories than the average meal — anywhere from 200 to 400 calories. In most shakes, you will also find protein, fat, carbs, and fiber.

But are meal replacement shakes a good weight loss tool? Some studies have shown that replacing one or two meals per day with a shake can help promote weight loss. In order to lose weight and keep it off, though, you need a long-term plan. And meal replacement shakes probably don’t count.

For one thing, meal replacement shakes don’t teach you how to buy or prepare healthy foods. They’re nutritious — in the technical sense of the term — but they don’t replace bad habits. They only replace a meal.

For another, a meal replacement shake won’t make you healthier or help you lose weight if you continue to eat large quantities of junk food. They may be convenient, but they definitely won’t work if they end up adding to an already high daily calorie count.

Can they work? Yes. But their effectiveness may depend on the brand, what you’re using them for, and the other lifestyle factors you’ve adopted (or haven’t) to promote safe and healthy weight loss.

Best meal replacement shakes: What to look for

Meal replacement shake

Meal replacement shake | iStock.com/Moussa81

These shakes are, for most people, safe. They can also help you lose weight if you aren’t using them as a crutch (incorporating them into a healthy lifestyle is key). You might be busy on weekends and want to take a shake on the road with you in the morning. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you do want to make sure you’re choosing your shakes wisely.

The best way to ensure you’re buying quality meal replacement shakes — regardless of your reason for doing so — is to read the nutrition information and ingredients list of each product carefully. Companies are required to say what’s in their shakes. It’s there for your benefit.

Look for meal replacement shakes that — per serving — contain:

  • At least 3 grams of fiber
  • 15 grams or more of protein (whey protein is best)
  • Less than 10 grams of sugar
  • More than 30% of Daily Value for its vitamins and minerals.

You can also make your own meal replacement shakes at home using whey protein powder, milk (dairy, soy, almond — it doesn’t matter), fruit, yogurt, and some type of natural sweetener such as honey. Homemade shakes may help you avoid excess refined sugar and other added ingredients.