Meal replacement shakes are a good option when you are short on time and you need something that provides nutrition with minimal effort to prepare. They can be used for both weight loss and weight gain, and can help increase nutrient intake for individuals with low appetite.
Stephanie MacNeill, a registered dietician from Oakville, Ontario, says that while she always recommends people get their nutrition from real, whole food, meal replacement shakes can be a good alternative in a pinch.
To quote Soylent: Meal replacement shakes and drinks can replace any meal, but they are not intended to replace every meal.
What should you look for in a meal replacement shake?
Macneill says that in general, a good meal has between 20 and 30 grams of protein, 10 grams of fibre, some healthy fats (including omega-3s), a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and enough calories to keep you feeling satiated – usually between 200 and 400.
With that in mind, a meal replacement shake should satisfy the same criteria. Many products that call themselves “meal replacements” are often too low in protein and calories to qualify as a meal on their own, so it’s important to read labels carefully.
Macneill also recommends checking out the ingredients label, since there are many products on the market that contain added sugars, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetables, artificial flavours, and chemical preservatives, which should be avoided. It should not contain large amounts of artificial ingredients or colours (if any), and, as much as possible, have a short, easily-understandable ingredient list.
The cost of meal replacement shakes can also vary substantially, from as little as $2.00 to nearly $5.00 per serving, so it is wise to compare the nutritional value of the product with the price, particularly if cost is a concern.
Best meal replacement shakes of 2020
- Best meal replacement drink – Soylent
- Best meal replacement powder – Vega All-In-One Nutritional Shake
- Best tasting Canadian meal replacement – Rumble Supershake
- Best meal replacement for weight loss – Slimfast Advanced Nutrition
- Best protein shake – Precision Nutrition All Natural Whey Protein
Best meal replacement drink – Soylent
- Nutrition: 400 calories, 21 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 37 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 300 mg sodium, 20 g protein
- Size: 414 ml
- Number of servings: 12
- Cost/serving: $4.75
- 28 vitamins and minerals
- Plant-based protein
- 500 mg omega-3s
- Higher in calories therefore closer to a full meal
- Nut-free, lactose-free, vegan
- Contains soy
- Lacking in variety
- Contains artificial flavours and sweeteners
- Low in fibre
- Contains maltodextrin
Nutrition and ingredients
Soylent is one of the only products on the market that contains adequate calories to effectively replace an entire meal. Some may find the fat content to be high, but most of that is the health-promoting poly and monounsaturated fat.
Soylent also has a good micronutrient profile, and contains 20% or more of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this product. Without any actual fruit or vegetables added to the formula, it is quite low in fibre. Additionally, the first ingredient in the drink is maltodextrin, which is known to spike your blood sugar even more than regular sugar. For this reason, Soylent may be unsuitable for people with diabetes.
For the most part, Soylent’s taste gets good reviews. There are some users, however, who find the product to be either too sweet, too artificial-tasting, or to have a chalky, undesirable texture. Some users have reported that the original flavour is less sweet-tasting, so that may be a better option for some, as opposed to the chocolate.
At $4.75 per serving, Soylent is more expensive than the average meal replacement drink. While the ready-to-drink format is more convenient since it requires no preparation, the company does offer a powder, that is $2.50 per serving.
That being said, Soylent is designed to replace an entire meal so that you don’t have to eat anything else with it, therefore reducing additional food costs. It also is a good value for someone who would otherwise be purchasing their meals at a restaurant, which would likely provide less nutrition for a higher price.
Best meal replacement powder – Vega All-In-One Nutritional Shake
- Nutrition: 170 calories, 5 g fat (1g saturated fat), 13 g carbs (7 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 240 mg sodium, 20 g protein
- Size: 625g tub
- Number of Servings: 15
- Cost/Serving: $4.70/serving
- 100% Vegan and gluten-free
- Certified Organic
- 20g protein
- Only 1g sugar
- 500mg Omega-3
- 1 Billion CFU’s probiotics
- Contains greens
- High in several vitamins and mineral
- Is low in one essential amino acid
- Contains some heavy metals
- Price is higher than average
- 170 calories/serving is too low for an entire meal
- Flavored options sweetened with stevia
Nutrition and ingredients
From an ingredients standpoint, Vega One presents an excellent option to help you fill the nutritional gaps in your diet. All of the ingredients are organic and 100 percent vegan. While typical nutritional supplements use whey protein isolate as the main protein source, Vega uses vegan pea protein instead.
While some may consider pea protein to be inferior when compared to whey protein, it is an excellent alternative for those who are trying to consume less animal products. It’s one draw-back is that like other legumes, it is low in methionine, one of the nine essential amino acids.
To add some extra nutrition, it also contains fruit and vegetable powders including spinach, kale, lettuce, pomegranate, blueberry, and agave. These added ingredients provide probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, going above and beyond what a traditional protein powder normally delivers.
The fruit and vegetable powders are also the reason behind its high fibre content, a nutrient that is usually missing in many whey-based nutritional supplements.
Stevia is used to sweeten the powder as opposed to regular sugar or artificial sweeteners. This is why it contains only one gram of sugar per serving, while some protein powders and nutritional supplements on the market can have 20 or more grams of sugar per scoop.
One drawback is that it has been found to contain higher levels of heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, compared with other brands. The amounts found in Vega products are not high enough to cause acute health effects, but could be problematic in the long term.
It is also important to note that at only 170 calories per serving, it would make a good snack on its own, but is not high enough in calories to replace an entire meal. If you are looking to use it as a meal replacement, you should consider blending it with other ingredients like fruit, milk or a milk alternative, and a fat source to keep you satiated.
It comes in 8 flavours, including the classics chocolate and vanilla, as well as vanilla chai, berry, coconut almond, mocha, natural, and unsweetened natural. The organic version, unfortunately, only comes in chocolate and vanilla flavours.
As with any food supplement or product, there are those who enjoy the taste and those who do not. Reviewers who like the taste say that it has a smooth texture and does not taste “grassy”, which is common with plant-based protein supplements.
Those who do not like the flavour, however, argue that it doesn’t blend well, has a chalky mouthfeel and leaves chunks. There are many people who claim that they used to love Vega One, but the new formula is not as good.
If you are considering trying it for the first time, it is sold in many retail locations in single packs, which allows you to try it before spending $70 on an entire tub.
The cost per serving is significantly higher than many other products on the market, however many loyal customers justify the price because of the additional nutrition it provides with the added fruit and vegetable powders.
Best tasting (and Canadian) meal replacement – Rumble Supershake
- Nutrition: 250 calories, 8 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 26 g carbs (5 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 200 mg sodium, 20 g protein
- Size: 330ml
- Number of servings: 12
- Cost/serving: $4.60
- 20g protein
- Fair trade, organic, non-GMO
- Gluten, lactose, and soy-free
- 2500mg omega-3s
- High cost
- No vegan/non-dairy options
- Higher in sugar
- No vitamin and mineral information
Nutrition and Ingredients
At 250 calories, 20g of protein, and 8g of fat per serving, Rumble Shakes are much closer to the size of a full meal than many other meal replacement shakes. Much of the fat content comes from flaxseed and MCT oil, which provides omega-3s that are often missing in our diet.
It’s all-natural ingredient list includes grass-fed protein (a combination of milk and whey protein), grass fed butter, green tea extract, and organic vegetables like kale, broccoli sprouts, carrot, and spinach.
All of the Rumble products are low in allergens, making them accessible to a wide variety of people, however there are no dairy-free options, so they are not suitable for vegans.
The downside is the sugar content. The ingredient list includes brown rice syrup, tapioca syrup, and maple syrup, as well as monk fruit juice concentrate, all of which contribute to the 11g of sugar in every serving.
The ingredient label also lists a number of vegetables, however there is no micronutrient information included in the nutrition facts, so it is impossible to know how many vitamins and minerals you are getting with one of these shakes.
Rumble gets high praise across the board for its taste. The company is still relatively new, so they currently only offer 3 flavours: Dutch Cocoa, Vanilla Maple, and Coffee Bean.
Users have remarked on the shakes’ taste with comments like “best tasting protein shake out there” and “how can something so good for you taste so good?”. While all three flavours are highly-rated, it seems that the chocolate flavour is the favourite among customers.
At $4.60 per serving, Rumble Shakes are certainly one of the higher-cost options on the market. With this price, however, customers are getting a product that is Canadian-made, Fair-trade, and is made with all-natural ingredients.
With Rumble, you can feel good about your purchase because the company is a member of One Percent for Hunger, a non-profit organization that takes 1% of Rumble’s profits and donates them to charities that fight hunger.
Best meal replacement for weight loss – Slimfast Advanced Nutrition
- Nutrition: 180 calories, 9g fat (1.5g saturated fat), 7g carbs (5g fiber, 1g sugar), 180 mg sodium, 20 g protein
- Size: 4 x 325ml
- Number of servings: 4
- Cost per serving: $2.99 per bottle
- 20g protein
- 1g sugar
- 24 vitamins and minerals
- No non-dairy options
- Contains soy
- Contains some artificial sweeteners
- 180 calories is low for a meal
Nutrition and ingredients
Slimfast Advanced Nutrition markets itself as a “specially-formulated weight loss high-protein drink designed to curb your hunger”. While earlier products were high in sugar and offered little in nutrition, Slimfast has vastly improved their formulas in recent years.
The macronutrient profile is not bad. Containing 20 grams of protein, 9g of fat (with only 1.5g saturated fat and 0g trans fat), and only 1g of sugar, the product offers a fairly balanced nutrition profile.
The shakes are too low in calories and fibre to constitute an entire meal. Eating a piece of high-fibre fruit alongside the shake, such as an apple or pear, could help increase both the calorie and the fibre content.
From a micronutrient standpoint, these shakes have a lot to offer. They contain 100% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B12, and at least 35% of 22 other vitamins and minerals.
Additionally, Slimfast comes with an entire program to help you lose weight. The plan allows you to eat two meal replacements, three 100-calorie snacks (such as Slimfast snack bars, fruits, or vegetables), and one 500-calorie meal that you make yourself.
One downside to the Slimfast shakes is that all of their products contain dairy, so there are no options available for people who are lactose intolerant or who follow a vegan diet.
Slimfast has not always had a great reputation in terms of taste, but since they have improved their formulas, their ratings have improved. In Canada, there are 4 flavours available in stores, including chocolate, vanilla, strawberries and cream, and bananas and cream.
Beyond flavour, users generally say that the shakes are smooth, easy to drink, and thick enough to be satiating.
In terms of helping you lose weight, Slimfast typically delivers on it’s promise. There have been a number of studies that have shown that people who follow portion-controlled meal plans see a reduction in both body weight and body mass.
At $2.99 per bottle, plus the expense of other snacks and products required by the program, Slimfast can get expensive, but depending on your goals, the results may be worth it. The program is also designed to be followed for only a short period of time, so the cost would be temporary.
It can also be purchased in the form of a powder that just requires you to add water or milk. This option, while less convenient than the ready-to-drink formula, is slightly less expensive.
Best meal replacement for weight loss – Precision All Natural Whey Protein
- Nutrition: 140 calories, 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 3 g carbs (1 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 80 mg sodium, 26 g protein
- Size: 375 g tub or 850g tub
- Number of servings: 11 or 24
- Cost/serving: $2.30/serving or $1.95/serving
- Made with New Zealand whey
- Raised without steroids or hormones
- No artificial colours or flavours
- 26g of protein
- Contains dairy
- Not a significant source of other vitamins and minerals
- 140 calories is too low to be an entire meal
Nutrition and ingredients
It contains filtered whey protein concentrate that is imported from New Zealand, and is gently processed at low temperatures.
It is the highest quality protein on the market today, largely because cows in New Zealand are pasture-raised without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. New Zealand whey isolates are also filtered to remove much of the lactose, making it 99% lactose-free, making it a suitable choice if you are lactose-intolerant.
The milk from grass-fed cows also tends to have a lower fat content, and the whey isolates undergo a filtration process that removes excess fat and carbohydrates even further. Isolates are typically easier to digest as well, making them a great choice for a readily-available source of protein.
It contains a broad range of amino acids, which means it is a complete protein. It is gluten-free, and is sweetened with stevia, so it contains no sugar or artificial sweeteners.
At 140 calories per serving and only 2 grams of fat, however, this powder is not substantial enough to equate to an entire meal. Blended with some milk or a milk alternative, fruit and/or vegetables, and a fat source such as a spoonful of peanut butter, would add more vitamins and minerals, and create an excellent meal replacement when you are on-the-go.
Since this product is made from whey isolate, it does contain dairy, so it is not suitable for anyone who has an allergy, or who does not consume dairy products for other dietary reasons.
It only comes in 3 flavours – French Vanilla Creme, Chocolate Velvet, and Unflavoured. All 3 flavours, however, generally receive good reviews from consumers.
Most people agree that the powder blends just as well in water as it does in a smoothie, and it does not have that characteristic “chalky” taste that is common in many protein powders.
Many consumers suggest blending the powder with milk as opposed to just water to improve the flavour, but that is purely a matter of personal preference.
Precision’s products are priced slightly higher than many other whey isolate protein powders on the market, but this price is reflective of the products’ quality. It is available in a 375g tub, or in a larger 850g tub, which equals about 11 and 14 servings per container, respectively.
The 850g tub is the better value of the two, with the cost per serving just under $2. Both sizes, however, can be found in many health food stores across Canada, as well as in the health food sections of most large grocery stores.
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Can meal replacement shakes help me lose weight?
Meal replacement shakes can help you to lose weight for one simple reason: portion control.
Depending on the product you use, they can help you feel full while consuming fewer calories, and there have been several studies to demonstrate that replacing one or two meals each day with a shake can be an effective weight loss tool.
The issue is that they are not a good long-term solution. Most shakes do not provide all of the important nutrients your body needs, and do not fix unhealthy eating habits, so you run the risk of putting weight back on after you transition off the shakes.
What are the benefits of meal replacement shakes?
Meal replacement shakes are a convenient way to get some nutrition when you’re busy and don’t have time to sit down to a meal. They are helpful for people who are trying to lose weight, since they provide worry-free portion control.
As MacNeill said, however, they do not replace the nutrition that is provided by whole foods, and often are lacking in fibre and calories to keep you satiated. Some brands can also contain high amounts of sugar and artificial ingredients.
Meal replacement shakes can be a healthy addition to your diet, but should not replace every meal of the day.
Over to you
How often do you replace a meal with a shake? Do you prefer ready to drink or powder? Do you have other healthy meal replacement tips or ideas? Share your experience in the comments!