Having trouble keeping track of the calories in breakfast, lunch and dinner? Are you fighting to keep snacks under that healthy 100-150 calorie limit? Food intake is one of the hardest parts of weight-loss and that’s where meal replacement options come into play for many dieters. We looked under every rock, in medical journals and research reports to find the facts. You have the right to know what you’re in for when you choose a meal replacement.
What is a Meal Replacement?
A meal replacement is a pre-packaged meal, bar or shake that aims to “replace” traditional meals. They are packed with all the vitamins and nutrients you need. The International Journal of Obesity claims, “these types of interventions can safely and effectively produce significant sustainable weight loss and improve weight-related risk factors of disease.” The study dealt with partial meal replacement, not total meal replacement. Calories vary from one brand and product to another, so check that label to see if it fits into your weight-loss plan.
Partial vs. Total Meal Replacement
Too many dieters look to meal replacements as a total solution. This means they replace EVERY meal with a pre-packaged option. That is not how these products were intended. If you are on the run, or you don’t have time to pack a lunch or fix dinner, you can use meal replacements as an alternative.
Most Common Meal Replacements
There are a few meal replacements defined as the “go-to” in dieting. These include Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Slim Fast, Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine. Not all are created equal and some have a price tag that makes them impossible for some dieters.
Jenny Craig – With Jenny Craig you pay a monthly fee for consultations and guidance in addition to the meal replacements. According to the company website, food costs between $15 and $23 a day. That’s in between $450 and $690 a month for just one person.
Nutrisystem – Nutrisystem is a mail-order meal replacement diet that costs less than half of the most expensive Jenny Craig plan. The most expensive plan is about $12 a day.
Slim Fast – One of the most popular weight-loss plans that uses meal replacements is Slim Fast. You can purchase shakes and bars in your local store.
Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine – These two fall into the same category as frozen meal replacements. You will spend about $10 a day if you add fresh fruits and vegetables. You’ll also get a big jump in sodium intake, which can cause water retention that looks like weight gain.
The Extras Aren’t Included
Not one single meal replacement program encompasses all of the food you need to consume. The fine print always reads to add fresh vegetables and fruits to complete meals. If you’re not careful, these additions can boost calorie intake far above a healthy level for weight-loss, thus rendering the meal replacement useless. To keep calories under control:
· Skip creamy and high-calorie salad dressings.
· Don’t add a starch as a vegetable or fruit.
· Add dark green, leafy vegetables to your diet.
· Choose fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber.
According to Nutrition Journal, “fortified meal replacements tended to have a more adequate essential nutrient intake compared to the group following a more traditional food group diet.”
WebMD also talks about the importance of adding the extras. “To boost the fiber, you can always supplement your bar or drink with a few veggies, a can of vegetable juice, or a piece of fresh fruit.”
Who Should and Shouldn’t Use Meal Replacements
Not everyone should partake in meal replacements for weight-loss. If you have high blood pressure you should talk with your physician before giving this option a try. Most pre-packaged meals are high in sodium and that can increase blood pressure.
Children can use meal replacements, but not the same ones marketed to adults for weight-loss. Brands like Boost and Pediasure offer healthy options for kids.
We found no information on interactions between meal replacements and medications, but there are potential interactions between medications and certain foods. Talk with your doctor before using a meal replacement option if you are on prescription medications.
What Does Science Say About Meal Replacements
Science supports the use of meal replacements for weight-loss. There are numerous research studies that prove it can work as a healthy option that helps the dieter lose and maintain.
Nutrition Journal – “Our data suggest that the meal replacement diet plan evaluated was an effective strategy for producing robust initial weight loss and for achieving improvements in a number of health-related parameters during weight maintenance, including inflammation and oxidative stress, two key factors more recently shown to underlie our most common chronic diseases.”
Journal of the American College of Nutrition – “Ready-to-eat cereals may be used to promote weight loss when consumed as a portion-controlled, meal replacement.”
The Journal of Nutrition – “We concluded meal replacement is equally effective for losing weight compared with conventional but structured weight-loss diets. Dietary compliance and convenience were viewed more favorably by participants who consumed meal replacements than by those in a conventional weight-loss program.”
The Final Word on Meal Replacements
There’s a strong place in the weight-loss market for meal replacements. You should keep use to a minimum (no more than one per day), but some dieters get more benefit from adding in a very low calorie bar or shake as a snack to keep hunger under control.
This option is clinically proven and supported, so you can feel confident if you undertake a weight-loss journey using meal replacements as long as you add in fiber and nutrient-rich foods and keep calorie intake to a minimum.