I've been asked about meal replacement shakes a lot lately, and there are more than ever on the market. Some believe that they are the answer to the health concerns of our generation, but I disagree.
I generally do not promote the use of these types of products, although they do have a role in specific cases.
Here are my main concerns:
Most meal replacement products are promoted as weight loss aids because they contain a range of nutrients, but only a few hundred kcals. That may sound appealing, but if you're relying on these products for all your nutrition, you're energy intake will be very low- as in 1200-1600kcal/day. FYI 1200kcal/day is appropriate for a 4 year old, not an adult human!
What's more, cutting your energy intake and following meal replacement regimes like this does not result in successful weight loss. You can read more about why diets don't work here.
(There are some products on the market now that can provide significantly more energy, if used correctly.)
The nutritional content of meal replacement products are stringently controlled under EU law. This means that they contain a relatively good range of nutrients, if you consume appropriately or alongside appropriate food. Be aware that some nutrients are present in very high amounts and that consuming nutrients which have been heavily processed is not necessarily the same as consuming them in foods.
Fibre and gut health:
Meal replacement shakes generally pertain to provide a reasonable amount of fibre. However, this often comes from ground oats or seeds (like flax). The process of grinding these ingredients affects their fibre content. (I'm not convinced that this is always taken into account).
Some shakes (and diet supplements) use additives such as senna, rather than fibre-containing ingredients. These encourage bowel movement. Prolonged use of these can essentially make the bowel lazy. If senna (or any other laxative) is responsible for your bowel movement, your bowel stops doing its job. This reliance of the gut can be harmful for gut health. (FYI "skinny teas" and similar products rely heavily on senna- weight loss on these products is water weight due to diarrhoea. It is not true fat loss as advertised.)
Importance of eating:
Meal replacement shakes ignore the importance of the eating experience- in our culture, religions, social and family lives. The interactions we share over meals are important for our health too!
I understand that work, school, university and life in general can be crazy at times, but surely we would all be better off if we took even a few minutes to sit and eat a meal- rather than drinking a shake alone at our desks.
If you feel you really do not have the time or means to cook or buy a meal, shakes certainly have a place. But they should not be the mainstay of our diets. Life is too short- think of all the delicious food and fun times you are missing out on!
If you want more information on meal replacements, let me know and I can write a more in depth piece and of course I would be happy to work with anyone seeking personalised advice.
Lots of love,
Little O x