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Can Meal Replacement Shakes Help You Lose Weight?

Unlike protein shakes, meal replacement shakes are intended to
provide the nutrition of a full meal (1).

Some come prepared in a can or bottle, while others come in a
powdered form that can be mixed with milk or water.

Most meal shakes contain 200–400 calories and a good amount of
protein, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.

Young Woman Drinking Meal Replacement Shake

For this reason, meal replacement shakes are a convenient way
to get a healthy, low-calorie meal on the go.

However, their ingredients and nutrient compositions can vary
substantially, with various proportions of protein, carbs and

Here is a complete overview of whether or not these shakes help
with weight loss.

They May Help You Avoid Unhealthy Meals

Meal replacement shakes are portable and convenient, and they
may help you resist the temptation to indulge in unhealthy

processed foods

In fact, one of the biggest barriers to losing weight is the
time it takes to prepare healthy meals.

When you are stressed or in a hurry, it’s much easier to grab a
processed convenience food or give in to fast food.

Unfortunately, typical processed foods can seriously derail
your weight loss efforts.

Most are full of sugar, refined
and artificial ingredients, in addition to lacking
beneficial nutrients.

Furthermore, processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and
fat activate the pleasure centers of the brain, which can also
lead to overeating (2, 3, 4).

Conversely, meals made from healthy, whole foods are best for
losing weight, but that is not always practical with a busy

Meal replacement shakes are easy to drink on-the-go and a
significantly healthier alternative to fast foods.

Bottom Line: Meal replacement shakes are
convenient. They’re also a healthier alternative to fast

They Provide Nutrients That Traditional Diets May Be Lacking

Chocolate Protein Shake With a Straw

Meal replacement shakes are designed to provide all of the
nutrients that you should consume in a complete meal.

When you cut
back on calories
, it can be difficult to get all of the
nutrients you need from your diet.

Shakes are often fortified with nutrients, which might fill
your nutrient gap while you are cutting back on calories.

The best meal replacement shakes contain protein, fiber
and essential vitamins and minerals.

For example, many commercial shakes are a good source of
nutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron and vitamin D, which
many people are lacking in their diets.

Bottom Line: Since meal replacement shakes
provide all the nutrients you should be consuming in a meal,
they can help you meet your nutrient needs while cutting

They May Help You Lose Weight Faster

Black Set of Scales and a Measuring Tape

Reducing your calorie intake is key to
losing weight

However, sticking to a low-calorie diet can be challenging,
especially if you end up feeling hungry.

Meal replacement shakes can help you feel full while consuming
fewer calories (5).

Several studies suggest that replacing one or two meals per day
with a healthy meal replacement shake may speed up weight loss
(6, 7, 8).

One analysis found that participants following a partial meal
replacement diet plan lost 5.6 more pounds (2.4 kg) in three
months than those following a food-based, reduced-calorie diet

Interestingly, fewer people following the meal replacement plan
dropped out of the studies. This might be because it was easier
to follow.

Moreover, one review found that four out of seven studies
reported significantly greater weight loss with meal
replacements than a traditional diet. Yet, the other three
studies found no difference in weight loss (7).

Also, one study found that those consuming a meal replacement
shake lost the same amount of weight as those consuming a
low-fat, low-calorie, controlled diet (10).

Furthermore, some studies have found that meal replacement
shakes boost weight loss in diabetics.

In one study, liquid meal replacements led to 1–2% greater
weight loss in obese subjects with type 2 diabetes than a diet
based on the diabetic exchange system (11).

Those consuming the meal replacements also had lower fasting
blood sugar and LDL cholesterol levels (11).

Another study found that meal replacement shakes in those with
type 2 diabetes contributed to slightly greater weight loss
than conventional dieting (12).

Meal replacement shakes may also help with weight maintenance
after weight loss has been achieved (13).

Bottom Line: Meal replacement shakes may be
useful for reducing calorie intake and boosting weight loss.

Some Are High in Protein, Which Helps With Weight Loss

Chocolate Protein Powder and Shaker Bottle

Not all meal replacement shakes are the same.

Nevertheless, many are high in protein,
which is one of the most important nutrients for weight loss.

Higher protein diets lead to greater satiety, which can help
you eat fewer calories
throughout the day (14, 15, 16, 17).

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One study found that men on a high-protein diet reported fewer
cravings and a reduced desire to eat late at night than those
consuming a moderate amount of protein (18).

Furthermore, high-protein diets have been associated with other
benefits, such as increased lean body mass, reduced body fat,
less belly fat and improved weight maintenance (19, 20, 21, 22, 23).

In a study comparing high-protein meal replacements and
high-carb meal replacements, both groups lost similar amounts
of weight in 12 weeks (24).

However, those in the high-protein group lost more body fat,
and their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels were lower (24).

Lastly, some meal replacement shakes are higher in protein than
others, so choose a shake that is high in protein and low in

Bottom Line: Meal replacement shakes that
are high in protein may help you lose weight and body fat.

Potential Problems With Meal Replacement Shakes

There are several benefits to using meal replacement shakes to
lose weight.

They are convenient for busy lifestyles, and they are helpful
for people who struggle to limit their food intake.

However, there are some potential problems with meal
replacement shakes.

Some Contain Unhealthy Ingredients

Plenty of meal replacement shakes are made with wholesome

Others contain unhealthy ingredients like added sugars, corn
syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, artificial
flavors and chemical preservatives.

Unfortunately, some shakes that are marketed for weight loss
contain more grams of
than grams of protein. That’s why you should always
read the label
before purchasing a meal replacement shake.

Look for a high-protein shake that also contains fiber and a
list of ingredients you can pronounce. A healthy meal
replacement shake should contain no more than a few grams of

They May Not Be a Long-Term Solution

Strawberry Protein Shake

Meal replacement shakes may not be a long-term solution for
weight management.

While many brands of meal shakes provide important nutrients,
they cannot completely replace a
healthy diet
full of whole foods.

In addition to vitamins and minerals, whole foods contain
antioxidants, plant compounds and enzymes that are difficult to
put into a bottle.

Some shakes do contain fiber, although significantly less than
the amounts found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables and

Additionally, drinking shakes for meals is not a sustainable
lifestyle for many people. It can be a socially isolating
practice, since many social events include food.

They Don’t Fix Unhealthy Eating Habits

In general, diets don’t work for weight loss. Long-term weight
loss requires long-term lifestyle changes.

While drinking meal replacement shakes can help you lose
weight, they don’t force you to change your eating habits.

If you simply go back to your old eating habits when you stop
replacing your meals with shakes, you will likely regain the

Bottom Line: Meal replacement shakes are
convenient, and they may help you lose weight. However, they
may not be a long-term solution for healthy weight

How to Choose the Best Weight Loss Shake

Man Pouring a Protein Smoothie into a Glass Mug

To choose the best meal replacement shake for weight loss,
ignore the claims on the front of the package and read the
ingredient list on the back.

Choose a product with the following qualifications:

  • At least 15 grams of protein per serving
  • At least 3 grams of fiber per serving
  • Less than 10 grams of sugar per serving
  • No corn syrup
  • No hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • At least 33% of the Daily Value for vitamins and minerals

There are several different types of protein used in meal
replacement shakes.

has been found to improve satiety and is a good
ingredient to look for in a meal replacement shake (17).

You can also make your own meal replacement shakes at home.
There are endless combinations of ingredients, but here is one
recipe to try:


  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1–2 scoops whey protein powder


Mix all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. This
homemade shake contains approximately 400 calories, 30 grams of
protein and 30 grams of

Bottom Line: Some meal replacement shakes
are healthier than others. Choose a shake that is high in
protein and low in sugar.

Take Home Message

Meal replacement shakes are a portable and convenient option
for an on-the-go meal. They may be an effective way to reduce
your calorie intake and lose weight.

However, be sure to choose a meal replacement shake that is
high in protein and low in sugar and artificial ingredients.

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