What are the Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss?

The meal replacement shake movement was popularized in the 1980s and 1990s with the introduction of shakes like SlimFast, which promised to help people lose weight by replacing one or two meals a day with a shake. Meal replacement shakes do offer a convenient, portable way to get your nutrition on the go, and they are a lifesaver for people who aren’t sure how or what to cook in order to create a healthy meal. The best meal replacement shakes for weight loss are nutrient-dense and have ingredients that you can pronounce, but there are many other qualities that you should also be looking for in a meal replacement shake. They even come in yummy flavors like vanilla bean. So, what is a meal replacement shake and what should you look for in a meal replacement shake if you’re hoping to lose weight?  

What is a Meal Replacement Shake?

Meal replacement shakes, in theory, are exactly what they sound like – the nutrition of an entire meal served in the form of a shake. Meal replacement shakes are sometimes lumped in with other types of shakes that are meant to be taken as a supplement pre- or post-workout, but the main difference between these shakes is the number of calories. Most meal replacement drinks are high protein, keto-friendly, contain between 200-400 calories, while shakes that are not geared towards weight loss might be much higher in sugar and have more or fewer calories, depending on their intended purpose. Protein shakes are a popular option for meal replacement shakes, but in order for protein shakes to serve as a true replacement, they should be on the upper end of the caloric range.Consider pea protein, milk protein, a protein blend, or whey protein. After all, when was the last time you ate a meal that was just 200 to 300 calories? Meal replacement shakes are designed to meet the nutritional requirements of a full meal and contain a enough protein, carbs, and fat, as well as dietary fiber and essential vitamins, minerals, probiotics, micronutrients, and macronutrients. In general, a true meal replacement shake should include between 20 and 30 grams of protein powder and at least 10 grams of fiber to help keep you feeling satisfied and meet your daily value. 

What Qualities Will a Great Meal Replacement Shake Have?

When you start looking for a meal replacement shake, there are three major qualities you should keep in mind as you read the labels. A great meal replacement shake will:

  • Keep you feeling full: The worst part of trying to lose weight is constantly feeling hungry, right? If it seems hard to believe that a shake could keep you feeling satiety and feeling satisfied, you’ll be surprised to know that the right meal replacement shake can do both. A great meal replacement shake should contain multiple sources of protein, the nine essential amino acids, and enough whole food superfoods to provide a nutritional boost throughout the day. Staying full means you’ll be less tempted to snack, so this quality is critical.
  • Contain no added sugar: One of the biggest problems with the majority of the meal replacement shakes on the market is that they are packed with added sugar to make them taste better. The problem is that added sugar can sabotage your weight loss goals! The average meal replacement shake contains the same amount of added sugar as a candy bar. When choosing a meal replacement weight loss shake for weight loss, look for shakes that only have natural sugar from ingredients like cacao, stevia, or fruit and skip the added sugar entirely like you would in a keto diet.
  • Feature low carbs and plenty of protein: While there’s no reason to completely cut our real foods like carbs out of your low calorie diet, we know that protein keeps our bodies feeling full longer than carbohydrates because it takes longer to digest. Protein also helps fuel our muscles for workouts. Therefore, look for protein meal replacement shakes that don’t contain fillers or extra carbohydrates, which will help make them naturally lower carb. 

What Meal Replacement Shake Ingredients Should You Avoid?

Remember, not all meal replacement shakes are created equal. You might find a product that claims to be a meal replacement shake but doesn’t contain enough calories, or a shake that has more added sugar than a candy bar and no nutrients. When looking to add a meal replacement shake for weight loss, be sure to read the labels and try to avoid the following unhealthy ingredients:

  • Added sugar: If meal replacement shakes have sugar in them, it’s best if it comes from natural sources, like cacao and fruit. As a general rule of thumb, if there is more sugar in the shake than grams of protein, don’t purchase it. Make sure to take note of the total number of grams of sugar, because even if it’s natural, it can still be excessive. 
  • Corn syrup: Along those same lines, sweeteners like corn syrup are another ingredient to avoid. High fructose corn syrup is even more potent than sugar, so drinking this in your meal replacement shake is more like drinking a dessert than eating a meal.
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils: Un- healthy fats like hydrogenated vegetable oils can contribute to chronic inflammation and put you at an increased risk of cardiac disease. You’re trying to lose weight to be healthier, so don’t throw it away by purchasing a shake that can contribute to heart damage. 
  • Thickeners and preservatives: Many meal replacement shakes use artificial thickeners and preservatives to make the formula more palatable and extend the shelf life of the product. In addition to being artificial, thickeners like maltodextrin also have a high glycemic index and can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes. Ironically, maltodextrin has also been linked to weight gain, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid by using a meal replacement shake, right? Steer clear. 
  • Color and artificial flavor enhancers: A sugar free meal replacement shake might sound like a healthier alternative, but if it’s packed with artificial sugar substitutes like aspartame and sucralose, put it back on the shelf. These artificial sweeteners are used to enhance flavor such as a fake peanut butter flavor, but they’re highly inflammatory and can be damaging to your gut health. If you can’t pronounce all of the shake’s ingredients, don’t buy it.

Speak with your dietitian or health care provider about this type of weight loss program with good tasting meal replacement milkshakes or smoothies and if it is a good fit for your health.

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