The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes

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The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes

Today I am sharing the ugly truth about meal replacement shakes and answering the question, are they actually healthy?

One thing for sure and I think most people can agree, meal replacement shakes are convenient and a much healthier meal choice than fast food.

However, that’s not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

While many of these shakes are rich in protein and contain wholesome ingredients, some have partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and added sugars, among other unhealthy additives.

I remember from several years ago, indulging in the guilty pleasure of watching reality shows, I was strikingly intrigued by the confession of some housewife or pop star, who said she only drank her meals.

I didn‘t actually find it inspiring that she just consumed shakes instead of actually preparing real food.

Back then, and today, I support the healthy eating of real food.

Think about it. There’s the fullness of flavor and varying texture which are among some frills you get from eating actual meals.

Not to mention whole cuisines also provide micronutrients and other health benefits that prevail compared to meal shakes.

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The substitute shakes can be tasty and come in handy with busy and active lifestyles.

Unlike the reality diva I mentioned, meal replacement shakes should not replace each one of your meals.

Too much of anything is never a good idea, but in this article, we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of these shakes.

There are a few vegan-friendly products on the market that I think are worth reviewing and if you stay aboard the whole ride, I’ll even share some of my delicious DIY meal replacement shake recipes at the end.

So, if you’re ready, let’s dig in.

What Is a Meal Replacement Shake?

The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes; Young chef with smoothies

If I were to put it in simple terms, I’d say meal replacement shakes are trendy bottled, canned, or powdered beverages that promise the full nutrition of a single meal.

The meal shakes are one of an assortment of product types falling under the umbrella of meal replacements.

When broadened as a whole, foods in this category include meal bars, cereals, and prepackaged shelf-stable and frozen entrees people eat instead of higher calorie meals.

For managing or trying to lose weight, meal replacements, although having gained popularity in recent years, come in third for dietary approaches to weight loss.

First are reduced calorie diets and second, vitamin-fortified prepackaged meals.

Meal replacement shakes are attractive to those who want to reduce their caloric intake.

Those who are too busy or stressed and unable to manage full meals throughout their day and individuals who continuously travel and need fuel to make it by, are among the other groups of people who enjoy them.

Meal replacement shakes may be quick, portable, and easy but they are still inferior to actual meals.  

Why Use Meal Replacement Shakes?

The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes; smoothies with fresh berry

While I stand as a strong proponent of eating regular meals over replacing nutrition with a meal replacement shake, I think a meal shake is better to consume than going hungry if for you’re busy and can’t eat or settling for fast food.

These shakes have their benefits, and when you are on the go, they are a convenient alternative to processed convenience food, typically loaded with artificial ingredients, refined carbs, and sugar.

When you are in a hurry or stressed, a meal replacement shake is portable and much healthier than the other temptations lurking around every corner.

Did you know there are 250 “Mickey D’s” around all of New York City, with 75 of the McDonald’s franchise in Manhattan alone?

However, we’ll save a discussion on the Golden Arches for later.

Meal Replacement Shakes Vs. Protein Shakes

The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes; Apple-banana-peanut-butter-smoothie

At first glance, the difference between protein shakes and meal replacement shakes might seem obvious; a protein shake is likely to have a more significant amount of protein.

However, when looking at a list of differences between the two cousin-beverages, their distinction becomes somewhat nuanced.  

Protein Shakes

  • Primarily intended to fuel extreme workouts by helping a person build, firm, repair, and tone muscle tissue.
  • Contains, on average, 25 grams of protein.
  • Likely provide calcium but provide insufficient amounts of nutrients and minerals compared to meal shakes.
  • Meant to “supplement” a regular diet and not “substitute” a meal like meal shakes.
  • Typically contains few calories, less fat, and fewer carbs.

Meal Replacement Shakes

  • Intended to help individuals lose weight by replacing a complete meal.
  • Usually has less protein than protein shakes.
  • Enhanced or fortified with a blend of isolated minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
  • Has greater carbohydrates, fat, and calories than protein shakes.

Meal Replacement Shakes For Weight Loss: Do They Work?

The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes; Blueberry smoothie in a glass

Another benefit of meal replacement shakes is the help it offers people who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

Many people who start restricted diets to shed pounds, often complain of the difficulty losing weight when it takes so long sometimes to cook healthy meals.

That’s why processed foods can seriously derail a person’s weight loss efforts. The fat, salt, sugar and chemicals in those foods are designed to encourage overeating.

The International Journal of Obesity and the National Institutes of Health both have empirical evidence suggesting that replacing a meal or two with meal replacement shakes could accelerate weight loss.

Whole foods are the best to eat when cutting back on calories so you are satisfied and don’t become deficient.

Speaking of protein, it is one of the most influential components for healthy weight loss.

A neat benefit of meal shakes are their reputation for being a protein-rich beverage and protein is like your “BFF” for losing weight.

Researchers link protein with less belly fat, a significant body fat loss, heightened lean body mass, reduced LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, and enhanced weight maintenance.  

Are Meal Replacement Shakes Healthy?

The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes; Fresh healthy smoothie with blueberries, raspberries in glass jars and mint

You’re probably like “Duh, that’s why I’m reading this.”

Well, here’s the ugly truth folks: Nothing does a body better than eating whole foods.

Although many meal replacement shakes have wholesome ingredients, there are others not as healthy and made with corn syrup, chemical preservatives, and artificial flavors.

Many of these shakes have more grams of sugar and fewer grams of protein.

They add isolated nutrients which you have to be careful about because some manufacturers overdo it with the supplemental vitamins and minerals and exceed the daily amount significantly.

If you purchase a meal replacement shake, read the labels and be able to pronounce the listed ingredients.

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Try saying Retinyl Palmitate three times fast.

The alternative option, which takes less time than picking out a brand name meal shake and getting through the line at Trader Joe‘s, is to make your meal replacement shakes in your kitchen at home.

It takes two minutes and you can go at it with your blender with fresh ingredients.

However, no matter how you approach substitution meals, I wholeheartedly believe it‘s better to alter your lifestyle, in some way, so you have more time for regular meals.

Meal Replacement Shakes Reviews: 3 Healthiest Meal Replacement Shakes

The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes; Fresh healthy smoothies from different berries

While I will always be team pro-whole foods, I’m impressed with a few shakes on the market: Huel, Garden of Life, and Ka’Chava.

I think these are three of the best. I’ve provided links for each product so you can compare and read more about them.

1.Huel: Nutritionally Complete 100% Vegan Powdered Meal

2.Garden of Life Meal Replacement – Organic Raw Plant Based Protein Powder, Chocolate, Vegan, Gluten-Free

3.Ka’Chava Meal Replacement Shake – A Blend of Organic Superfoods and Plant-Based Protein – The Ultimate All-In-One Whole Body Meal

If you’d like a full rundown on a lot of the ‘healthiest’ vegan meal replacement powders on the market, this video gives a good breakdown.

3 Delicious DIY Meal Replacement Shakes Recipes

The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes; Assorted fruit shakes smoothies 2

Like I said earlier, if you’re going to substitute meals with a shake, why not make it yourself?

DIY meal replacement shakes lets you know and control all the ingredients, and you get to use fresh healthy food.

Try making a Green Thickie (Healthy green meal replacement shake) using one of my favorite recipes below.  

3 Delicious DIY Meal Replacement Shakes Recipes


Basic Green Thickie Recipe (Video)

Green Liquid Goodness To Keep You Going On The Go

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High Protein Shake Recipe Without Protein Powder

You can avoid processed powders altogether and still get a high amount of protein with this high protein shake recipe. I make this recipe every day and I’ve managed to build a large amount of muscle without the use of powders.

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6 Steps To Making Your Own Healthy Meal Replacement Shakes

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Final Thoughts

You shouldn’t look at a regular consumption of meal replacement shakes as a sustainable, healthy lifestyle if you are just living on processed powders.

If you choose to replace 1-2 of your meals per day with a meal replacement shake, I suggest you make your own healthy shake in just 2 minutes per day. Your body still needs to chew to keep your teeth healthy, so you need to eat at least one meal per day that you actually chew.

There may come a time when you’re in a rush, and your only choices are between a dollar menu and a meal replacement shake.

Which one would you choose?

Meal replacement shakes indeed have their place in active lifestyles.

Even though the traditional store bought powders aren’t the healthiest choice, I get why the meal shakes attract so many people.

Consider this though: it’s hard to fit enzymes, plant compounds, and certain antioxidants into a powder when they ultimately are best gotten from whole foods.

Also remember, if you’re going to drink a meal replacement shake, make sure the shake has little refined sugar and artificial flavors and is high in protein.

Or you can make a fresh homemade shake that tastes great and gets the job done.  I managed to drop 5 dress sizes with meal replacement shakes that I took just 2 minutes to make myself at home after I had a baby.

Discover more ways to get a “green meal in a glass.”

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The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes

If you enjoyed this article, The Ugly TRUTH About Meal Replacement Shakes, please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Katherine Kyle @ Green Thickies

Founder at Green Thickies
Katherine lost 56 pounds and recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Green Thickies.
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  1. I really like Huel and am glad you mentioned it! I have used it as my main source of nutrition during high velocity times, adding green powder to boost the nutrition. They are very responsible about how they source their ingredients and their micro- and macronutrient ratios. It also makes a darn good filler in a green thickie! I like one scoop per serving.

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