With the new year upon us, many people have set weight loss goals and are looking for effective and convenient ways to shed pounds. One option that has grown in popularity in recent years is meal replacement drinks and shakes. These pre-portioned, nutritionally balanced beverages are designed to take the place of one or more meals per day as part of a reduced calorie diet. But can you really lose weight by swapping out solid foods for liquid meal replacements? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
What are Meal Replacement Drinks?
Meal replacement drinks, often referred to as meal replacement shakes, are pre-packaged powdered drinks that are designed to provide complete, balanced nutrition in a convenient liquid form. The powders are mixed with water or milk and provide a nutritionally balanced combination of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Brands like SlimFast, Ensure, Glucerna, and Protein Shake are some of the most popular ready-to-drink and powdered meal replacements on the market.
These products are formulated to provide the key macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) as well as essential micronutrients. The protein comes from sources like whey, soy, and casein. The carbs sources include maltodextrin, oat flour, and sucrose. The fat sources are typically canola oil, sunflower oil or milk fat. Fiber, vitamins, and minerals like calcium and iron are also added to provide complete nutrition in each serving.
Meal replacement shakes provide a fixed number of calories, often around 200 calories per serving. They are intended to replace one or two meals per day, ideally along with a healthy snack or small meal. This controlled calorie intake creates the necessary deficit for weight loss while still providing essential vitamins and minerals.
Do Meal Replacements Shakes Help You Lose Weight?
Numerous studies have found that using meal replacement shakes and drinks can be an effective strategy for both short-term and long-term weight loss. Here’s a look at some of the key research findings:
- A 2010 study published in the Nutrition Journal followed 90 obese adults over a 6 month period. One group followed a diet using SlimFast meal replacements while the other group reduced calories through traditional food-based diets. Both groups lost significant weight, showing meal replacement shakes can be as effective as traditional diets.
- A one-year clinical trial published in Obesity followed 100 overweight or obese adults who used meal replacements shakes for all meals for 3 months and for one meal per day for 9 months. Participants lost an average of 25 pounds at the end of the year, showing the long-term potential of meal replacements.
- A 2014 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at six studies with over 600 participants. It found those using meal replacements lost 7.3% more body weight compared to those following conventional diets.
- A study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders had participants use SlimFast shakes as meal replacements for 6 months. Participants lost an average of 11.9% of their body weight and were able to maintain 50% of the weight loss even 24 months after stopping the meal replacements.
The key reason meal replacement shakes promote weight loss is that they simplify calorie control. By replacing one or two meals with a pre-portioned, low-calorie yet nutritious shake, it’s easier to reduce daily calorie intake. This can lead to the calorie deficit needed for weight loss without hunger or complicated nutrition tracking.
Benefits of Meal Replacements for Weight Loss
Using meal replacements as part of a weight loss strategy offers several benefits:
- Convenience – Meal replacements provide a simple, grab-and-go meal that requires no prep or cleanup.
- Portion control – The shakes provide precise calorie and serving sizes, removing guesswork that can lead to overeating.
- Nutritional balance – Shakes provide protein, carbs, fat and 20+ vitamins and minerals, allowing them to fully replace meals.
- Reduced calories – The controlled calories create the needed calorie deficit without discomfort or hunger pangs.
- Consistency – The easy routine helps participants stick to the diet plan long-term.
- Weight loss – As proven in multiple studies, meal replacements produce significant weight loss results.
Potential Drawbacks of Meal Replacements
While meal replacements can clearly help with fat loss, there are some potential downsides to consider as well:
- They provide no education on healthy whole food choices and portion sizes.
- Overreliance can lead to a lack of variety in the diet as well as reduced exposure to beneficial food compounds.
- Some shakes have high amounts of processed ingredients, sugars and artificial additives.
- The simplicity could increase feelings of hunger leading to cheating or binging at other meals.
- The cost over time can add up, from $1.50 – $3.00+ per serving.
- Some people experience gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas or diarrhea.
- Nutrient absorption may be reduced since shakes lack the fiber of whole foods.
To avoid potential downsides, experts recommend balancing meal replacements with healthy whole food meals and snacks, reading ingredient lists carefully, watching added sugar content, and transitioning to more whole foods over time.
Top 5 Meal Replacement Shakes
If you decide to try meal replacement shakes for weight loss, be sure to choose products with minimal processed ingredients and plenty of protein and fiber. Here are 5 top-rated options:
|Meal Replacement Shake||Serving Size||Calories||Protein (g)||Sugar (g)||Fiber (g)|
|Garden of Life Raw Organic Meal||2 scoops (46g)||170||28||1||4|
|Orgain Organic Protein Plant-Based||2 scoops (46g)||150||21||1||5|
|RISE Bar Meal Replacement||1 bar (67g)||210||20||1||4|
|SlimFast Advanced Nutrition||1 can (325ml)||200||20||24||5|
|Soylent Complete Protein||1 bottle (414ml)||400||20||9||3|
Tips for Success with Meal Replacements
If you want to maximize results from your meal replacement shakes, be sure to follow these best practices:
- Talk to your doctor before starting any new diet, especially if you have any medical conditions.
- Use the shakes for 1-2 meals per day at most, and balance them with healthy whole foods.
- Aim for shakes with at least 15g protein, 5g fiber and less than 15g sugar.
- Be cautious if also taking other supplements or protein powders.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
- Pay close attention to your hunger cues and snack healthy if needed between shakes.
- Exercise regularly for best fat loss results.
- Make your shake with water or unsweetened almond milk to limit calories.
- Stick with the plan consistently, replacing the same 1-2 meals daily.
The Bottom Line
Meal replacement shakes provide an easy, nutritious option for controlling calories and losing weight. The key is finding products that are low in sugar yet high in protein and fiber to keep you feeling full. While replacing all meals long-term can be overly restrictive, partially replacing 1-2 meals per day with shakes is an effective plan shown to produce sustainable weight loss results.
Always talk to your doctor before starting any new diet program. But if you’re looking for a simple, proven way to shed pounds, adding meal replacement shakes into your routine could be a great place to start.