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.
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
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
carbs and artificial ingredients, in addition to lacking
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
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
Reducing your calorie intake is key to
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).
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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
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
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.
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
Meal replacement shakes may not be a long-term solution for
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
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
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.