How to pick a good meal replacement shake

Protein shake bottle and powder

Meal replacement shakes have been a hot topic online. A quick and easy breakfast or lunch, a meal in a bottle can be convenient to grab as you're dashing out the door. What's the harm? It's good for you, right? 

The sheer number of options available also makes it difficult to know what is best. With everything from dairy-free to vegan and organic meal replacements, it's no wonder we're confused. Will you get your macronutrients (macros)? Will they help or hinder your weight loss journey? 

While these products claim to help with weight loss, they are not necessarily the secret sauce. Here's what you need to know.

Meal replacement shakes won't magically fix unhealthy eating habits

While specially designed meal replacement shakes can be helpful for a quick meal on the go, they won't stop you from going through the drive-thru after your workout. Healthy and sustainable weight loss requires behavioral changes you can practice and stick with for life. There are no quick fixes. 

Meal replacement shakes can be a tool to help fill in a nutritional deficit when you can't have a meal. Think of them as a supplement to an already healthy diet. Calories from real food are treated differently than calories from liquids, so getting real food in is important. If you want to use meal replacement shakes, they need to go hand in hand with nutritionally balanced meals to lose weight and stay healthy in the long run. 

Not all shakes are created equal

Although meal replacement shakes can be healthier than skipping a meal altogether, they are not all equal in nutrition or quality. If used properly, one product may enhance your weight loss, while another could work against your efforts. 

Ask yourself: Does the shake contain the macronutrients of a well-rounded meal? Many shakes include protein but may lack essential vitamins, minerals or healthy fats. Some protein shakes contain much more protein than you need, which could cause weight gain.

"What makes a healthy meal replacement shake is its nutritional quality and how you use it," says Jacquelynn Schwartz, Nebraska Medicine registered dietitian nutritionist. "You need to check the labels to ensure your fat and carbs are where you want them to be within your diet. Don't be afraid of a little bit of fat and fiber if you're replacing a meal. If your shake provides mostly only protein, eat a piece of fruit with it."

Things to watch out for when looking at labels:

  • Note the serving size. If there's more than one serving per container, you could be drinking more calories than you want
  • Watch out for too many added sugars. Look for five grams or less per serving
  • Aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving
  • Look for around five or more grams of fiber per serving
  • Avoid artificial flavors and potential allergens

"The beauty of the New Direction® weight loss program is that what we offer uses specifically designed meal replacement shakes," says Schwartz. "Made to fit perfectly within the diet we prescribe, we are confident about what is in them. Everyone on the plan is medically supervised to assure you are staying healthy and nutritionally balanced throughout your weight loss journey."

Real food is best for your body, but meal replacement shakes can be helpful as a tool

"How you're using meal replacement shakes is more important than which brand or type you're using," says Schwartz. "If you're not getting enough nutrition from the food you're eating and using them to fill in what you're missing, that's OK, but if you're adding them on top of an already calorie-rich diet, they will work against weight loss. I also would advise you not to use them as a sole source of nutrition unless you're following a structured, medically supervised meal replacement program."

If you're dieting and want to use meal replacement shakes, reach out to your doctor or a nutritionist to determine which type of plan is best for you. Structure and support are key factors in nutrition and long-term weight loss success. 

How can New Direction® help with weight loss?

The New Direction® program is a physician-supervised weight-loss program that uses meal replacements to help you achieve rapid weight loss. There are two different plans to choose from depending on your goals. Weekly education classes teach you how to transition to healthier eating and lifestyle habits and develop a new relationship with food. In fact, the program was named New Direction® because it encourages people to adopt a new approach to food and eating.

"This program is well designed, and you have a whole team to support your weight loss goals," says Schwartz. "We're not only here to help you lose the weight but also help you keep it off."

The Nebraska Medicine Bariatrics Center offers both medically managed and surgical solutions to help you reach your weight-loss goals. To schedule a free information session, please call us at 402.559.9500.