We live in an era where time for preparing wholesome, home cooked meals are little; and most people eat on the go. It is no wonder that many of us have at some point tried meal replacement shakes. Some people find it easier to use kilojoule controlled meal replacement shakes for weight loss than preparing healthy meals. But how effective are commercial meal replacements for weight loss?
What are meal replacements?
Meal replacement products are designed to replace one or two main meals per day, while the remaining meal and snacks eaten, are based on healthy guidelines. These products come in different forms: bars, shakes and soups. Meal replacement products are meant to replace certain meals and not the entire daily nutritional requirement.
Most meal replacement products contain between 800 - 1700 kJ and contain added protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Possible benefits of meal replacement products
1. They may help you to avoid unhealthy meals
- Meal replacement products are convenient and portable and therefor might prevent you from buying unhealthy fast foods
2. Meal replacement products contain added nutrients which may be difficult to obtain when cutting down on calories
- Shakes are fortified with vitamins, minerals and fibre and can help you reach nutritional requirements
3. They might help you to lose weight more efficiently
- Meal replacers contain added fibre and can have a lower glycemic index, which can help you to feel fuller for longer
4. They are low in calories and therefor can assist with weight loss
- Studies show that this weight loss are short lived once the individual return to their old habits. Meal replacement products work best when combined with dietary counselling and ongoing support from a registered dietitan as part of a healthy lifestyle
Possible problems with meal replacement products
1. They don't fix unhealthy habits
- It is costly and difficult to use these products for life. At some point, you stop using them, and most likely return to bad habits
2. They aren't regulated
- Not all meal replacement products are regulated like medicine, therefor some products might contain harmful or banned substances. Professional sports people should take extra care when choosing these products
3. They can be costly
4. The initial dramatic weight loss is barely sustained
5. They inhibit social interaction with friends, colleagues and family - especially when eating out
6. They don't contain all the micronutrients, antioxidants and phytonutrients that are found in real food
7. Bioavailability of nutrients (how well your body absorbs nutrients from the product) are rarely tested for.
How to decide if a meal replacement product is a good one
Choose a product that meets the following requirements:
- At least 15 grams of protein per serving
- At least 3 grams of fibre per serving
- Less than 10 grams of sugar per serving
- No corn syrup
- No hydrogenated vegetable oils
- At least 33% of the nutrient reference value for vitamins and minerals
Meal Replacement - In conclusion
Meal replacement products can be a suitable option for those where other dietary strategies have not worked. They are not considered to be superior above other traditional approaches, and should never replace your total daily food intake. The use of these products should be combined with a healthy eating strategy, to ensure that bad eating habits are also addressed.
They do not contain all the nutrients found in real food and might influence long-term health.
By Claudine Ryan, Registered Dietitian, RD (SA)