By Summer Banks on Feb 20, 2018

There are countless options when it comes to fat loss and weight reduction, including meal replacements. Millions of people are seeking out new diet plans, supplements, programs and weight-loss methods all the time in order to shed those unwanted pounds.

One popular option is meal replacement products. You may have seen these online, in the local supermarket or drugstore, or even on a television infomercial.

We take an in-depth look at meal replacement, what options are available, how healthy these products are and what clinical research has been conducted.

What is a Meal Replacement Diet?

meal replacement diet

First off, meal replacements are prepackaged breakfast cereals, bars, shakes [13], frozen entrées, or protein drinks [3]. These products are intended to be consumed in place of one or more meals each day, which in turn should aid with weight-loss [1] [8].

Typically these foods, shakes and snacks [23] are supposed to contain the vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed for overall health and wellness. However, they are generally low in fat and calories in order to help you shed weight.

Depending on the meal replacement products you choose, these foods and drinks can be used for a number of weeks or for the long term to help with weight maintenance. The primary purpose is to reduce your overall calorie intake in order to promote weight loss [6].

To Sum It Up: A meal replacement is a shake, prepackaged meal, bar or bottled drink that is intended to work as a substitute for a regular meal, which may help you reduce your daily calorie intake, and in turn lose weight.

Types – Meal Replacement Powder, Meal Replacement Smoothie & Meal Replacement Bars

types of meal replacements

There are various types of meal replacements to select from [43]. It really just depends on what your personal preferences are and what products work best for your lifestyle.

Some options include popular brands such as Weight Watchers, South Beach Diet, Herbalife, Slimfast [14], GNC, MET-Rx, NutriSlim, Advocare, Medifast [2] [16], FullBar [19], and Special K [17].

You can choose from frozen meals, which are provided by brands like Weight Watchers or South Beach Diet, or you can go with shakes from Slimfast or MET-Rx. Naturally, the shakes are a bit more convenient for on-the-go lifestyles. These products are commonly available in supermarkets and drugstores.

Special K recommends eating their cereal [26] in place of meals in order to encourage weight-loss [17]. They also offer some bottled protein drinks.

Some research has been done comparing solid versus liquid meal replacement products. These studies revealed that both solid and liquid options are comparable in regards to appetite suppression, nutritional value, and weight-loss results [27] [49].

To Sum It Up: There are dozens of meal replacement options available, and these include protein shakes [45], frozen entrees, bars [15] [18] [46] and bottled drinks [22], which may suit different needs and preferences.

How Many Meal Replacements Per Day?

How many meal replacements per day?

The number of meal replacement shakes or bars you need daily really just depends on your weight-loss goals. You need to factor in the number of calories you want to cut out in order to reach your target weight.

Often these prepackaged meals, shakes [28] and bars are used once or twice daily, in place of breakfast and/or lunch. This is supposed to provide you with enough nutrition and energy to get through the day, while creating a substantial calorie deficit.

One clinical study showed that using meal replacements twice a day for six months led to significant weight reduction in obese individuals [35].

To Sum It Up: The number of meals you should replace each day with these products depends on the diet you are following, as well as your personal weight-loss goals.

Meal Replacement Nutritional Facts

Meal replacement nutritional facts.

Generally these products provide a sufficient amount of nutrients. When searching for the right meal replacement product, you must look at each shake, bar, frozen dinner or protein snack separately. After all, the nutrients or nutritional value they provide certainly does vary [12].

Pay close attention to the vitamins and minerals they offer, in addition to the amount or protein they provide. Getting enough protein in your diet can help increase energy and stave off hunger. Some products are rated better than others [29].

You should also factor in the sugar and carbohydrates they contain. Simple carbs may lead to unwanted weight gain and blood sugar spikes, triggering gains in fat [29] [38]].

Another factor to consider is MSG [monosodium glutamate] and Aspartame. These are both commonly used in meal replacement drinks and foods. Unfortunately some research has shown that they can lead to health problems [44].

To Sum It Up: All in all, many meal replacements do provide a good amount of nutrients for energy and health, but you must examine each product individually in order to gain a full understanding of what it contains.

Meal Replacement for Weight-Loss

meal replacements for weight loss

A number of clinical studies have demonstrated that meal replacement products can help with weight-loss [1] [4] [7] [11] [21] [39] [42]. After all, these shakes and foods often contain a lower calorie content than the average meal.

Research involving the consumption of 1-2 meal replacements (800-1,600 calories per day) can yield substantial weight-loss results, and improve overall health [1].

Results from six other studies revealed that partial meal replacement plans can aid with long-term weight management [7] [24] [35].

Note that there are some meal replacement shakes for weight reduction that are specifically more beneficial for women or men [33] [34].

Moreover, it is important to understand that protein is a key component in these bars, shakes, smoothies [30] and entrees. These protein sources include whey [47], soy [31] [48] and plant proteins. Plant proteins often come from sources such as rice and peas.

To Sum It Up: Various studies have shown that meal replacement products can assist with weight-loss. However, it is very important to stick to the directions/instructions in order to see the results.

Health Benefits of Meal Replacements for Diabetics

Health benefits of meal replacements.

Some meal replacement products are safe for diabetics and can help them lose weight [5]. However, pay close attention to the ingredients before making any decisions on specific meal replacements.

It is prudent to look for prepackaged meals and shakes that have a low glycemic index. This is often stated clearly on the package. It essentially means that they contain fewer refined carbohydrates, which can lead to blood sugar spikes [9] [37].

There’s clinical research involving obese individuals with type 2 diabetes. This research shows the positive effects of meal replacements and regular exercise on blood glucose levels [10].

Another study revealed that type 2 diabetics can benefit from a weight management program that involves meal replacements [32].

To Sum It Up: There are some meal replacement products that are safe for diabetics. You simply need to be careful about the foods, shakes and bars you choose.

Meal Replacements and Wellness

Health benefits of meal replacements.

Research shows that meal replacement shakes have additional benefits, aside from weight reduction [25] [36] [39] [50].

For example, some clinical studies have revealed that these shakes and prepackaged meals can help with metabolic syndrome. It’s a combination of health disorders putting you at risk for serious problems, including stroke, heart attack and diabetes [25] [50].

Moreover, research has shown that high protein meal replacements can help you maintain lean body mass [muscle]. One study involving 85 participants over the period of 12 weeks revealed a reduction in LDL cholesterol levels, maintained lean body mass, but no loss of fat [20].

Also, you can track nutrients, calories, protein and dietary fiber you consume each day.

To Sum It Up: There are some additional health benefits that can come from meal replacements, which include lower LDL cholesterol levels, the maintenance of lean body mass, and the reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.

Meal Replacement Side Effects

meal replacement side effects

There are some mild adverse effects that can occur with meal replacement foods, shakes and bars.

These side effects may include intestinal discomfort, bloating, gas, bouts of hunger, fatigue from fewer calories consumed, weight gain and even certain nutrient deficiencies [40] [41].

In order to avoid weight gain, be sure to pay close attention to the amount of sugar, calories and simple carbohydrates in each meal replacement you choose. As for nutrient deficiencies, it is imperative to make certain you select products that provide enough vitamins and minerals per serving. You can also take a multivitamin to supplement.

To Sum It Up: “Meal replacement shakes are exactly that – meal replacement shakes. By no means, they should be considered as a “full-time” replacement for normal meals, but quality shakes with sufficient amount of protein (and other nutrients) are a viable alternative to a traditional meal, especially when you are on the go or just finished your workout.” states Angie Mackintosh, owner of Black Belt Protein.

What is a Meal Replacement and What are The Health Benefits? Ingredients

The Bottom Line on Meal Replacements

When it comes down to it, meal replacement can be beneficial to those trying to get rid of some extra pounds. These shakes, foods, drinks and powders may help reduce daily calorie intake when used as directed.

Interested in trying a meal replacement diet? Gain a full understanding of your options before starting. After all, these foods and supplements vary greatly in price.

A Final Note: If you have any preexisting health condition, it is best to speak with your doctor before trying one of these products. He or she may have a specific recommendation for your condition and wellness goals.


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About the Author:

Summer Banks, Director of Content at Dietspotlight, has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with doctors specializing in weight loss and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University. full bio.