Are meal replacement shakes good for you and a healthy way to lose weight?

Dietitian Melissa Meier gives us the low down on whether meal replacement shakes are actually good for you.

Meal replacement shakes are nothing new. Instead of eating a meal, the idea is that you replace a couple of meals a day with a shake and voila, you’ll lose weight in no time.

They are constantly spruiked by celebrities, on the television, and across social media and if you’re wondering whether or not it’s worth your hard-earned coin, you’ve come to the right place.

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What is a meal replacement shake?

A ‘meal in a shake’ is designed to replace two meals a day in the context of a balanced diet (so the website says). They are often made from a mixture of protein powder, fibres and thickeners, and sometimes come fortified with a stack of micronutrients (think: b-group vitamins, calcium and folate).

Per serve some popular brands, on average, provide about 200 calories, 28 grams of protein, 0.4 grams of saturated fat, 16.1 grams of carbs, 2.3 grams of sugar and 6 grams of fibre.

Are they actually good for you?

Incredible before and after photos might make you think they are a good way to drop unwanted kilos, but would I recommend it? Probably not for the average Joe, for two main reasons:

  1. Meal replacement shakes are far from real food. They’re highly refined, ultra-processed powders, so you’re missing out on much of the goodness wholefoods provide. Sure, they might contain micronutrients thanks to fortification, but that doesn’t put them on par with whole foods.
  1. Meal replacement shakes teach you nothing about long term healthy eating. They’re a band aid for bad dietary habits and I’d bet my bottom dollar that many people would re-gain any weight lost as a result as soon as they stop using them. For long term weight management, you need to build truly healthy habits, learn about portion sizes and practice balance, on top of addressing other aspects of health like physical activity, sleep and mental wellbeing.

The verdict on meal replacement shakes

Meal replacement shakes do have a time and a place – but they should always be used under the guidance of a qualified dietitian. They can help to create an energy deficit and therefore contribute to weight loss, but look for brands that come jam-packed with added micronutrients.

In my opinion, however, meal replacement shakes have no place in a life-long healthy eating plan, so for most people, there’s absolutely no point in starting them in the first place.

If weight loss is on your agenda, I’d recommend focusing on slowly building one sustainable healthy habit at a time, rather than churning through quick weight loss solutions that don’t actually address the cause of weight gain in the first place.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.