Are meal replacement shakes bad for you?

I was considering titling this piece ‘Are meal replacement shakes too good to be true?’ but then I thought better of it. You see, something being ‘too good to be true’ implies that it is actually really bad for you and pretending to be a benefit, which is definitely not the case when it comes to meal replacement shakes.

Anything in large enough quantities or used in the wrong way can be bad for you, or have negative side effects. In terms of supplements and nutrition, knowing what to look out for and making sure you’re using high quality products from trusted sources can help to ensure that you are doing the best you can for your health. 

And let’s face it - meal replacement shakes are convenient, nutritionally dense, and designed to keep you fuller for longer throughout the day. Whilst we’ve stated in the past that living on meal replacement shakes isn’t the best of ideas, and that nothing can replace a whole foods plant-based diet in the long term, using meal replacement shakes in a sensible, structured way can be beneficial.

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether a particular meal replacement shake is right for you, and whether you want to incorporate them into your routine: 

    1. Are you going to make your own? Making your own meal replacement shake might seem like a daunting prospect, but if you have the time you can tailor your shake to your unique needs and flavour preferences. You can find out more about how to make your own meal replacement shakes in this article
    2. What are your goals? Understanding what your body needs in order to accomplish your goals can determine how you use meal replacement shakes in a beneficial way. If your intention is to lose weight, for example, swapping your breakfast or lunch for a meal replacement shake can help you to achieve a calorie deficit. If shakes are a supplement for your daily nutrition, then having one as a mid morning or afternoon snack can boost your nutritional intake. 
    3. How will they fit into your routine? If you’re up and out of the door first thing in the morning, or you don’t have the time to make breakfast, a meal replacement shake can be easily slotted into your routine. They are created with convenience and flexibility in mind, so they’re usually quick to prepare.  
    4. How many are you going to have per day? This will depend on the type of shake that you choose, and the recommended daily amount of the shake that you should be having. If the shake you’ve chosen is particularly nutrient dense, then it might state that you can only have so many servings per day. This is to ensure that you don’t take too much of certain vitamins and minerals which might cause side effects over a period of time. 
    5. What’s in your chosen shake? Making sure that you choose a shake which doesn’t contain artificial ingredients is really important. The more artificial bulking agents, thickeners and flavourings in your meal replacement shake, the more likely it is that you will find some side effects. Choosing a shake with all natural ingredients that are third party tested for heavy metals, herbicides and pesticides such as WHOLE, Vivo Life’s vegan nutritional shake, will help you feel confident in your healthy choice making. 
    6. Will there be side effects? If a meal replacement shake is used properly, there are few chances of side effects. Replacing a meal with a shake is not going to be the cause of stomach issues, and a liquid diet is sometimes recommended by healthcare practitioners for certain chronic conditions, like Crohn’s disease. If shakes have caused stomach problems for you in the past, it is likely to be down to the ingredients within that shake. A plant-based shake is likely to contain fewer allergens than other kinds, and may also be easier to digest and gentler on the stomach.  

There you have it. I suppose in summary you could say that the idea of a nutritionally supplemental meal replacement is not bad for you, but there are shakes out there which could have some unwanted side effects. It is also your personal attitude towards meal replacements which can impact how you use them - they are no substitute for a whole foods diet, and shouldn’t be relied upon as a cure-all for your nutrition and fitness goals. 

If meal replacement shakes feel like the right option for you, then make sure you are choosing a shake with all natural, third-party tested ingredients, and that you read the directions on the packaging. Ensuring that the rest of your diet is balanced, varied and full of whole foods will also help you with the live cultures, enzymes and other compounds that cannot be replicated in a shake. 

Finally - if you have time, tailor your shake to your needs and include flavours you like! This will make them more interesting, and you can also add in extra nutritional elements which suit your macros and make mealtimes more enjoyable. It will also add some variety to your shake to keep it fresh!