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Are Meal Replacement Shakes Healthy?

A Lean Life Editor David

Published by David Williams

As an engineer, David loves technical product comparison and analyzing the data to assess top products.

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Are meal replacement shakes healthy? More and more people are asking that question, as busy schedules and busy lives result in less time than ever to cook full meals.

And for people looking to get fit and eat healthy, supplements have become the norm.

One product that’s gained a lot of popularity over recent years is the meal replacement shake.

But are meal replacement shakes healthy? Do you need them to reach your goals? What are some potential drawbacks to keep in mind?

Let’s discuss.

What Are Meal Replacement Shakes?

How Healthy Are Meal Replacement ShakesA meal replacement shake is a dietary supplement designed to replace a meal. Unlike a protein powder, these meal replacement shakes have a more balanced nutritional profile, providing enough of various essential nutrients: proteins, carbs (including fiber), fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Calories per serving can vary depending on the exact formula. Still, many products offer at least 300 to 400 calories, which can be enough to sustain the average person for two or more hours. Additionally, this calorie count is enough to constitute a small meal. 

Like protein powders, you mix a serving of the supplement with a liquid, such as milk or water, shake/mix it up, and enjoy.

Are Meal Replacement Shakes Healthy?

Meal replacement shakes are healthy and a fabulous addition to your diet, but are not meant to ever be your only form of food consumption. As discussed in the previous point, these supplements are formulated to provide a portion of almost all essential nutrients your body needs.

So, by definition, they are good for your body.

The problem is that people sometimes go overboard with supplements and replace a large percentage of their daily meals with artificial powders.

At first glance, this isn’t an issue. After all, you’re supplying your body with the nutrients it needs to operate at its best, so where is the harm?

Unfortunately, the subject is more nuanced, and looking at the nutritional profile of a food or supplement isn’t always enough to make the right decision. Nothing can replace whole foods because they often provide helpful compounds that contribute to good health and well-being. 

Antioxidants are one prominent example of such helpful compounds. These natural substances protect healthy cells and molecules in the body from oxidative stress resulting from exposure to reactive oxygen species (ROS). (12)

The Foundation of Your Healthy Diet

So always make sure to build the foundation of your diet on healthy, balance whole foods, and not supplements. Healthy and whole foods impact every part of your being, to include:

  • General and overall health
  • Hearth health
  • Your looks 
  • Your energy levels and vitality
  • Your skin and aging
  • Your nails and hair
  • Your bone strength
  • Your cardio health
  • Your muscles and strength
  • Your body’s ability to maintain all of these as you hit middle age and beyond

So you want to be sure to build a strong foundation around nutritious whole foods: healthy fruits, lean meats, full-color spectrum of vegetables, whole wheats, healthy protein, complex carbs, and more. A balanced, well-rounded diet.

And of course everyone has different needs and individual concerns, so always first consult with your personal physician on the best course for you.

Meal Replacement Shakes

Unique Advantages of Meal Replacement Shakes

1. Convenient

Meal replacement shakes provide a convenient way to get some healthy calories into your body, which can be particularly useful when you’re on the run and don’t have the time for a meal.

2. Filling

The second notable benefit of meal replacement supplements is how filling they are. A meal replacement shake fills you up and keeps you satiated for hours despite being a liquid. So in that regard, they are great for weight control because they squash cravings of otherwise unhealthy snacks.

3. Affordable

Meal replacement shakes are affordable and work well even for people looking to lead a healthy lifestyle on a budget (and a time crunch).

Some Drawbacks of Meal Replacement Shakes

1. Artificial Ingredients

Most meal replacement shakes have some artificial ingredients inside. This is not always a bad thing, but something to keep in mind.

2. Low in Calories

Some meal replacement shakes don’t provide many calories per serving and can make it challenging to get enough energy if you rely on them too much. But on the flip side, this can be an advantage if you’re trying to get lean and lose some weight.

The Bottom Line

So, to answer the question “Are meal replacement shakes healthy?” Yes, they are very healthy and a great supplement to include as part of your busy life. And they are not the same as protein shakes, which is something many people confuse.

Meal replacement shakes are supplements that can complement a healthy diet and solid exercise plan. They are packed with nutrition and scientifically formulated to make every calorie count in terms of nutrition. So the opposite of what are known as empty calories like beer or alcohol. Empty calories are calories that provide no nutritional value. (3)

But, just as meal replacement shakes can be helpful and nutritious, going overboard and relying solely on these products for your nutritional needs can create bad habits, and rob your body of some essential compounds that it needs.

Overall, however, they are a great and nutritious addition to your dietary wheelhouse!

Click to see our Editor’s Choices for “Best In Class” meal replacement shakes:

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Antioxidants. The Nutrition Source. (2021, March 3).
  2. Reactive oxygen species. Reactive Oxygen Species – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.).
  3. Understanding empty calories. Harvard Health. (2016, June 16).