Do meal replacement shakes work?
It seems everywhere you look these days, someone has recently lost weight with one of the new meal replacement programs or someone’s received a new BMW for selling them. And while diet shakes – also known as meal replacement shakes – are nothing new (Slim-Fast has been around since the seventies), there are still some serious questions about just how safe and how healthy they are.
These meal replacement shakes come under numerous brand names. Some of the more recently popular include Vi-Shape (Body by Vi) and Shakeology (Beachbody). Both companies, like those that have come before, recommend you use their shake in place of one to two meals each day in order to help supercharge your weight loss attempts. Shakes like these say you can add other fruits and healthy add-ins without jeopardizing your results, and that you will drop pounds without feeling deprived.
So, how do meal replacement shakes work?
Despite their varying ingredients and promises, the way most meal replacement programs work is by simply reducing your daily caloric intake. If you are accustomed to eating a burger and fries at lunch or even a turkey sandwich and a salad, a 90 calorie shake will represent a fairly significant drop. Anytime you cut calories like this, you will see weight loss results.
The reason meal replacement shakes sometimes seem to work better than diet alone is that they make it easy. One of the top barriers to weight loss is a lack of convenience. We are people of convenience—we like our foods quick and easy to prepare, and when you are trying to eat healthy in a traditional way, this isn’t always easy. Meal replacement shakes are simple; they are quick, and they represent that calorie deficit that is crucial in weight loss.
If you’ve never been able to maintain a lower-calorie, healthy way of eating, a meal replacement program makes it easy and does all of the work for you, allowing you to just consume the product and not worry about counting calories, keeping a food log, stocking the fridge with veggies, or adding up points.
Are there any problems linked to meal replacement shakes?
Our bodies are designed to digest food. From the entry point of our digestive system, our teeth and our saliva are specially formed to begin the digestion process, and they are partial toward solid foods. This doesn’t mean that drinking your calories is inherently bad, just that the natural way of life is through eating whole, natural foods.
Studies have shown that people on meal replacement programs may still seek out that chewing reward, actually eating more than people on a traditional diet. But, is drinking one or two meals per day necessarily a bad thing?
When you consider a meal replacement program, any meal replacement program, you must take the ingredients into consideration. Sure, weight loss is mostly about calories in and calories out, but where are those calories coming from and what are the potential effects of those ingredients?
The majority of meal replacement products contain a slew of ingredients that are unpronounceable and definitely don’t sound like food. This is a red flag. If your food ingredients are created in a lab somewhere, you can bet there’s a study out there discussing the potential health risks.
One of the main questionable ingredients in these formulas is artificial sweeteners.
Although sucralose (the main ingredient in Splenda) is said to be derived from natural sugar and is found in numerous modern “diet” products, it has been linked to numerous health issues. The components of sucralose are toxins and long term consumption has been linked to shrinking the thymus gland, as well as nervous system disorders, migraines and even cancer.
Maltodextrin is another sweetener (they need these shakes to taste good, after all). This one hasn’t been linked to the same catastrophic illnesses and issues as sucralose and another dangerous sweetener—aspartame—but it is typically derived from genetically modified corn (GMO), and therefore all of its effects are largely unknown.
While we could break down every ingredient in the meal replacement shakes, that would take a while, and it would likely bore you. Instead, a good rule of thumb is this: If a product contains more than one or two (or ideally, any) ingredients that you have to “Google,” it likely isn’t the healthiest thing in the world. You may drop the pounds, but at what cost? And how soon will you regain weight after you stop drinking the shakes?
Meal replacement alternatives
Meal replacement programs work because they are highly structured and offer a lower calorie meal than what you are accustomed to. But the long-term effects of these shakes, aside from weight loss, are largely unknown.
Fortunately, you can get the same benefits of a meal replacement formula with your own shakes and smoothies, made with natural ingredients and prepared in advance for convenience sake.
Green smoothies are a great substitute for the chemical-powders of meal replacement programs. Using a few vegetables like kale or spinach, cucumber, and celery, along with some fruits for truly natural sweeteners, you can get the convenience of a meal replacement program without the unpronounceable ingredients and without the health and pocket cost. While green smoothies won’t land you a new car, they could be the answer to your weight loss woes and to overall health.