How to Choose the Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Effective and Safe Weight Loss: A Comprehensive Review

Last Updated 17th July 2019

If you’re looking to shed a few pounds but lead a busy lifestyle and lack the time for meal-prep and a boosted exercise regime, meal replacement shakes for weight loss can be a safe, convenient and effective option. But with a minefield of brands to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start.

In this article, we’ll be explaining exactly how meal replacement shakes can help you lose weight, what ingredients you should be looking for, as well as what you should avoid. So, grab a cuppa and get comfy - let’s delve deep into the world of meal replacement shakes!

Berry meal replacement shake for weight loss with straw

Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss: The Lowdown

What are Meal Replacement Shakes?

Meal replacement shakes are a convenient, on-the-go option for a meal. A good-quality meal replacement shake should provide all the necessary nutrients to constitute a complete meal, without the hassle of prep and cooking time. They usually come in the form of a powder, to which you add milk or water, but they’re also sometimes available as a ready-made and pre-bottled drink.

How Can Meal Replacement Shakes Help with Weight Loss?

1. They’re Low in Calories

To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. When you burn more calories than you take in, your body starts to use your fat stores for energy, leading to the loss of weight.

Put simply, this means that in order to lose weight, the key is to begin consuming fewer calories and/or burn off more. A 2017 study refers to it as the ‘calories in, calories out’ strategy and concludes that the risk for obesity is primarily determined by calorie intake.

Scales with apple and measuring tape on

Meal replacement shakes are often used by those who want to lose weight but simply lack the time or knowledge to sustain a healthy eating or exercise regime. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, substituting 1 or 2 meals a day with a healthy, balanced shake can help you cut calories and enter a calorie deficit in a far simpler and easier way. A 2018 clinical study yielded results that suggested that a meal replacement diet is a more effective way to lose weight than traditional dieting methods. These results have actually prompted the NHS to consider recommending meal replacement shakes to customers wanting to lose weight.

Meal replacement shake smoothie bowl

2. They can have a Balanced Nutritional Profile

Furthermore, when following a traditional calorie-cutting diet, it’s easy to end up missing out essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients, especially if you’re short on time or knowledge. Unfortunately, this can quickly lead to excessive fatigue and dangerous deficiencies. High-quality meal replacement shakes, on the other hand, allow you to cut calories whilst ensuring you still receive all the vitamins and nutrients your body requires.

3. They’re Quick and Easy

Finally, healthy meal replacement shakes are great for those who previously skipped meals, and so, ended up eating processed convenience food or snacks later on in the day. In this situation, meal replacement shakes are a great way to make regular meals a habit and help prevent unhealthy snacking which could lead to weight gain over time. A 2017 survey found that a shocking 50% of Britons skip breakfast routinely. However, it is important to include breakfast in your diet as a morning meal can help you manage hunger throughout the day and thus avoid unhealthy snacks.

Busy city road in sunset

How Much Weight Can I Expect to Lose Using Meal Replacement Shakes?

The amount of weight you can lose by drinking meal replacement shakes depends on a variety of factors, including your height and weight, activity level, the number of calories you consume through other meals/snacks throughout the day and your metabolism. Therefore, it’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as results will inevitably differ for everybody.

However, because high-quality meal replacement shakes tend to contain fewer calories than your average meal, they’re capable of causing a healthy weight loss rate of around 2lb per week.

During your search for the perfect weight loss shake, you’re likely to come across miracle claims of rapid weight loss. But in most cases, these shakes, which are likely to be ridden with laxatives or chemicals, are best avoided. Why? Well, as the NHS claims, that even if diets making those claims do help you lose weight, you're in fact unlikely to maintain a healthy weight afterwards. The most effective way to lose and maintain weight is to lose it gradually, at a healthy rate.

Woman working out on fitness ball

What’s the Difference Between a Meal Replacement Shake and a Protein Shake?

Shakes here, shakes there, shakes literally everywhere! But while meal replacement shakes and protein shakes may look and often taste similar, they actually serve very different purposes.

Meal replacement shakes are usually designed for those looking to lose weight or for individuals who lead a very busy lifestyle, leaving little time to cook fresh, healthy meals every day. They’re formulated to replace a meal and therefore contain all the nutritional components of a balanced meal, including protein, carbs, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

Protein shakes, on the other hand, are generally designed for muscle gain, often (but not always) alongside an exercise regime. They act as a convenient way to increase your intake of protein, which is a necessary component of muscle growth and development.

So while protein shakes definitely have their place, they’re unlikely to contain the necessary components of a full meal and shouldn’t be used to replace meals.

Strawberry meal replacement shake for weight loss

How Many Calories are in Meal Replacement Shakes?

Generally, meal replacement shakes contain around 200-400 calories per serving once they’re mixed up with milk. Of course, the calorie content can vary greatly, depending on the liquid which you choose to mix your shake with!

The Nutribuddy Shake Complete, for example, contains 230 calories if mixed with 400ml of almond milk. It contains all the protein, fibre, slow-release carbs, vitamins and minerals to constitute a healthy, balanced meal, whilst still being low in calories and helping you to enter a calorie deficit.

Shake Complete

Choosing the Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss: The Ultimate Guide

The Dos and Don’ts of Weight Loss Ingredients: Not All Ingredients are Created Equal!

When choosing a meal replacement shake for weight loss, it pays to do your research.

Marketing campaigns will inevitably try to sway you with miracle weight loss claims, but do be aware that some meal replacement shakes on the market are packed with unhealthy (and potentially dangerous) ingredients. In fact, some low-quality, cheaply produced shakes are nothing more than an unhealthy, sugary, artificial drink.

And while it may be super important to you to shift some weight, it’s more important to look after your long-term health. Thankfully, there are a range of brilliant products available which can help you do both!

So, with a long list of meal replacement ingredients to analyse, what should you be on the lookout for and what should you avoid? Let’s take a closer look...

5 Essential Ingredients for Easy Weight Loss

Here are 5 of the best ingredients for weight loss.

1. Oats

When it comes to a healthy lifestyle and weight loss/maintenance, oats should be a diet staple. As well as being rich in dietary fibre, proteins, phosphorus, thiamine, magnesium and a host of other vitamins, they’re actually a seriously underrated weight loss aid.

Beta-glucan, the soluble fibre found in oats, absorbs water and swells once its consumed. This brings on a feeling of satiety and helps to slow digestion and, in turn, naturally suppresses the appetite. In fact, several studies have concluded that regularly consuming oats can help to reduce weight and decrease abdominal fat.

Healthy breakfast with granola

2. Chia seeds

You’ve probably seen chia seed recipes popping up all over your Instagram feed recently, but we promise they’re not just another diet fad.

A 2 tablespoon serving of chia seeds contains just 101 calories, but offers 11g fibre, 4g protein, 5g of omega-3 and around 30% of your RDI of manganese, magnesium and phosphorus. Yep, these tiny black seeds are literally bursting with goodness despite their low calorie content.

Plus, these superfood seeds are extremely weight loss friendly. Despite their small size, they pack a high protein content, helping to keep you fuller for longer. On top of this, just like oats, these tiny yet nutritious seeds are packed with soluble fibre, which absorbs water and increases the feeling of fullness. In fact, a 2017 study concluded that: “The study demonstrated that chia seed consumption as a mid-morning snack may induce short-term satiety in healthy individuals.”

3. Flaxseed

Flaxseed might have not garnered the same social media boom as chia seeds, but it’s an equally nutritious and efficient aid in weight loss. 2 tablespoons of flaxseed provides almost 4g of fibre, 3194mg of omega-3 fatty acids and an impressive list of vitamins, yet comes in at just 74 calories.

The fibre content, again, aids in a feeling of satiety and therefore can support weight-loss efforts by suppressing the desire to snack. A study conducted on the effect of flaxseed supplementation on body weight backs up these claims, deducing that: “Whole flaxseed is a good choice for weight management particularly for weight reduction in overweight and obese participants.”

Chia seeds and flaxseeds in spoon

4. Green tea

Green tea is one of the most popular and effective natural ingredients for weight loss - but it definitely deserves its trophy! Even if you separate green tea from its impressive weight loss benefits, it’s still worth including in your daily diet - loaded with antioxidants and disease-preventing properties, the health benefits are (quite literally) endless.

Green tea contains multiple compounds which can help to boost weight loss regime. Catechins, in particular, have been proven to stimulate the metabolism and therefore aid in weight loss and maintenance.

On top of this, since caffeine can stimulate the metabolic rate and increase the rate of fat burning, green tea is an easy way to consume a safe amount of caffeine.

But there’s just one problem. Many people (especially us Brits, who are simply addicted to a good ol’ cup of English breakfast tea), simply don’t like the taste of this health-boosting drink. Well, getting green tea in the form of a meal replacement shake such as the Nutribuddy Breakfast Shake means you can reap the benefits without even noticing it’s there!

Matcha green tea is good for weight loss

5. Protein

We’d call the macronutrient protein the single most important factor in weight loss and management. As well as having a higher thermal effect (basically, it burns more calories during digestion) than fat and fibre, it also provides far more satiety (it’ll keep you fuller for much longer) than carbs, fats and fibre.

A study conducted into the role of protein in weight management concluded that high protein diets, in comparison to high carbohydrate diets, have usually shown greater weight loss on the high protein pattern. It also discovered that enhanced satiety was the most important factor in the weight loss.

So, if you’re planning on substituting your lunch or dinner with meal replacement shakes for weight loss, be on the lookout for a reasonable protein content. The Nutribuddy Shake Complete is a great example of a high-quality formula, containing 7.1g of plant protein per serving alongside a balanced profile of other macro and micro nutrients, amino acids and vitamins.

Nutribuddy Shake Complete for weight loss ingredients

4 Popular Ingredients that will break your heart

1. Laxatives

Laxatives were designed to relieve constipation by stimulating bowel movements, so why are unethical diet brands increasingly adding these small pills to their products?

Well, the thing is, using laxatives will help you to shed the pounds, and at a rather alarming rate. But this type of weight loss is only temporary and could actually lead to serious health problems.

Generally, laxatives work by pulling water from the body into the intestines. The water then absorbs into the stool, allowing it to pass through with ease - hence why laxatives are prescribed for constipation! So while this process does cause weight loss, it’s literally just water weight - which will come right back as soon as laxative use is stopped and the body rehydrates.

And we’ve already predicted what your next question is - why can’t you just continue using them and keep the weight off? Well, say hello to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, gastrointestinal problems, laxative dependency and a whole host of other side effects.

So, to put it simply, if you spot laxatives or senna leaves on the ingredients list of a meal replacement shake, we’d urge you to run a mile (yes, literally) in the opposite direction.

Woman running along country road

Run a mile if you see laxatives on an ingredient list

2. Caffeine

Whether it’s a few cups of tea, a morning latte or a can of diet cola as an afternoon pick-me-up, you probably consume some form of caffeine on a daily basis.

But nowadays, caffeine is becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in fat-burning and weight-loss products. This is because of its metabolism-boosting and lipolysis stimulating effects, meaning it can free up fatty acids which will then be burned for energy.

To really see a noticeable effect from caffeine for weight loss, you’d need to be consuming significant amounts of the stuff. And while we’re not denying its weight-loss boosting capabilities, it does come with a hefty list of undesirable side-effects, including insomnia, increased blood pressure, anxiety and digestive issues, when used in high doses.

The bottom line? Caffeine definitely isn’t the worst ingredient on the list, but you should limit your intake.

Cup of coffee for weight loss

Losing weight with caffeine can have several undesired side effects

3. Synthetic vitamins and minerals

It only takes a quick glance at the ingredients list to figure out whether a meal replacement shake is full to the brim with unnatural, synthetic vitamins and minerals. If you spot ingredients such as Sodium Molybdate, Sodium Selenate and Potassium Iodide, you can be rest assured that little to no nutrition is coming from real, whole foods.

Our bodies were designed to effectively absorb vitamins and nutrients from whole foods, not synthetic chemicals. While synthetic vitamins definitely have their place in modern life, we’ll never be able to improve on the nutrition which nature has given to us. A study conducted in 2000 concluded that: ”natural vitamins are nutritionally superior to synthetic ones” - it makes total sense to opt for a shake which provides nutrition from whole food sources.

4. Artificial ingredients and chemicals

Low-quality, cheap meal replacement shakes are often ridden with refined and artificial ingredients and chemicals which, to be honest, we often wouldn’t even class as food.

Keep on the lookout for refined oils, thickeners, emulsifiers, preservatives, sweeteners and artificial flavourings. These types of ingredients can be determined to your long-term health - in fact, a study by the BMJ discovered the regular consumption of ultra-processed food is linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Tomato being injected with chemicals

It's quite shocking how many products contain artificial ingredients and chemicals

Does Natural Always Mean Healthy?

It’s easy to see the word ‘natural’ sprawled all over a brand’s website and automatically believe their meal replacement shakes must be healthy. But the truth is, labelling a product as natural is just that - a label. It doesn’t necessarily mean its good for you - in fact, depending on the ingredients, it could be the complete opposite!

For example, the laxative product senna, is actually a herb, and can therefore be labelled as ‘natural’. But as we’ve already discussed, laxatives are totally not a healthy or sustainable approach to weight loss.

So, while we always champion the use of natural ingredients, they don’t always go hand in hand with health. Even if marketing ploys inform you that a shake is 100% natural, make sure to check each individual ingredient and ensure it will benefit your long-term health as well as aid in your weight loss journey.

Poppy flowers in field

Some dangerous drugs contain opium which comes from the natural plant, poppy

Organic Vs Non-Organic

The Department for Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) explain that food can be defined as ‘organic’ when the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives are completely void in the farming process.

Basically, by choosing an organic product, you’ll have the benefit of ingesting no pesticides, artificial fertilisers or genetically modified components. With this, comes health benefits - organic fruit and vegetables contain dramatically higher quantities of antioxidants which, in turn, can boost immunity and prevent disease.

Organic food clearly comes with impressive benefits, but on the flipside, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every organic meal replacement shake is a healthier choice. The truth is, organic shakes can still be riddled with sugar and additives. If opting for organic ingredients is important to you, don’t pick one based on it being organic alone. It’s still just important to check the ingredients and ensure you’re picking and organic formula which is also free from additives and still has a balanced nutritional profile.

Handful of strawberries

Organic ingredients have several health benefits over non-organic ingredients

What About Vegan Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss?

With animal welfare, environmental and health benefits galore, it comes as no surprise that veganism is on the rise.

A recent study even claimed that avoiding animal products is the single most effective way for a person to reduce their environmental impact. Pretty impressive, right?

Vegan meal replacement shakes are an easy and effective way for vegans, vegetarians or those looking to decrease their meat intake to ensure they consume enough protein and amino acids in their daily diet. These sorts of shakes simply contain plant-based protein from sources such as seeds, nuts, grains and legumes rather than animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs.

High-quality, modern vegan meal replacement shakes such as the Nutribuddy Shake Complete combine multiple sources of plant-based protein to make up a nutritionally complete serving of protein and amino acids. So while whey proteins have traditionally lead the way in aiding weight loss and muscle growth, vegan protein varieties are now a viable, and equally effective, alternative.

But (and yes, we’re totally preaching the same ol’ message here) vegan meal replacement shakes aren’t all created equally. If you’re vegan, vegetarian or would just prefer to opt for a shake which is free of animal products, you should still be checking labels and considering the individual ingredients of each vegan meal replacement shake. Just because a product is vegan, it’s not automatically healthier.

Woman holding 4 tomatoes

What About Nutrition? Let’s Review Different Compositions!

High-Protein Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss

We’ve already highlighted the sheer importance of protein for weight loss and general health. As well as being a major component of pretty much every single cell and organ in our bodies, it also contributes to a feeling of satiety, which can help to curb cravings for unhealthy snacks, and thus, be an effective aid in weight loss.

But when it comes to picking out suitable meal replacement shakes for weight loss, protein shouldn’t be the only deciding factor. As you’re replacing an entire meal, it’s important to consume a balanced profile of protein, fibre, carbs (slow-release are best) and fats, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

So, in conclusion, yes, protein is a super important nutrient. Plus, high-protein meal replacement shakes are a great way to wave goodbye to cravings or aid in your workout regime. However, for optimum health, you should always make sure that a meal replacement shake’s nutritional profile - no matter how high it is in protein - contains all the other necessary components to form a complete meal.

Woman stretching on golden beach

Low-Carb Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss

Low-carb diets are, seemingly, forever gaining popularity. By limiting carbs and focusing on a diet of protein and fats, the body turns on a fat-burning process known as ketosis, which ultimately leads to weight loss.

But suddenly and drastically limiting carbs can lead to several side-effects including headaches, bad breath, cramps, weakness, constipation and fatigue, to name but a few. On top of this, if you choose to follow a low-carb diet but have limited nutritional knowledge, suddenly limiting food groups can quickly lead to dangerous deficiencies.

In cases like this, supplementing meals with high-quality, low-carb meal replacement shakes can be a good fit. This way, you can ensure your body receives all the essential nutrients whilst still remaining in a state of ketosis. As always, for the benefit of your long-term health, it’s important to ensure any low-carb meal replacement shake you pick is free from uber-processed and artificial ingredients or chemicals.

On the flipside, opting for a low-carb diet definitely isn’t the only way to lose weight. If your nutritional knowledge is lacking and you’d prefer to avoid having to learn the ins and outs of a low-carb diet, your best bet may be to opt for a normal, nutritionally complete and balanced meal replacement shake which is free from artificial ingredients and laxatives.

Fitness Weight Loss

Low-Sugar Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss

From weight gain to an increased risk of disease, consuming too much sugar is linked to numerous scary side-effects. But all too often, modern processed foods seem to be riddled with the stuff, making it all too easy to consume well over the daily recommended intake.

It should come as no surprise then, that the market is brimming with low-quality meal replacement shakes which use artificial sweeteners. This way, brands are able to make up for the bad taste of cheaply-produced products, whilst still being able to meet the demand for low-sugar diets.

And while these shakes may be low in calories, they could actually do more harm than good in terms of long-term health. It’s best to find a meal replacement shake which is either low in sugar and unsweetened or sweetened with a healthy alternative. But which sweeteners should you avoid, and which should you be on the lookout for?

Firstly, say no to any meal replacement shake which contains aspartame. While the safety of this widely-used sweetener is regularly debated, some studies have discovered that the substance can induce oxidative stress in the body and damage a variety of cells and tissues.

A safer and healthier option, however, is stevia. The herb, which is of South American origin, is naturally 100-200 times sweeter than sugar yet has little to no calories and side-effects. Safety studies have concluded that stevia is free of side-effects and may even have a positive effect on glucose regulation, making it an ideal choice for diabetics.

Bowl of sugary sweets

Low-Calorie Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss

In order to lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit. Controlling and/or lowering your daily calorie intake through meal replacement shake, can therefore be a healthy and effective way to lose weight. But the question is, how low is too low?

According to the NHS, very low calorie diets of 800kcal or less are usually only recommended for adults who are clinically obese. They should never be an initial go-to tactic for adult weight loss.

So, when it comes to low-calorie meal replacement shakes, make sure you’re not going too low. As previously mentioned, you should aim for a shake which contain at least 200-400 calories per serving, once mixed with liquid.

As always, make sure to opt for a low-calorie meal replacement shake which is nutritionally balanced and full of the necessary components of a full meal. Otherwise, you may find you don’t have the energy you need to take on the day and could even end up with dangerous deficiencies.

Woman doing yoga on wooden balcony

Complete Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss

We’d say that this is one of the most important aspects of picking a meal replacement shake for weight loss. Because you’re replacing a full meal - whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner - you need to ensure that the shake you choose contains all the macro and micro nutrients your body requires to thrive. Otherwise, you’re sure to be left feeling tired, unmotivated and you could possibly even become ill due to nutritional deficiencies.

As we’ve discussed, meal replacement shakes are available in multiple different compositions. However, no matter which formulation you pick, you must ensure it contains a good balance of protein, fibre, carbs and healthy fats, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. You can do this by checking the ingredients list and nutritional values, which should be readily available - if they’re not, avoid the brand in question at all costs.

Do remember that protein shakes and meal replacement shakes are inherently different. Yes, you can totally use protein shakes to boost your protein intake or aid your muscle recovery alongside a workout routine. However, in most cases, they don’t contain the required nutrition to make up a full meal.

Shakes and smoothies for weight loss

Our Verdict

With new products popping up every day, knowing which meal replacement shake for weight loss to pick is tricky. But whichever route you decide to go, we’d say the number one point is this:

Always read the label.

It’s easy to make mistakes when buying shakes and end up getting pulled in with impressive marketing claims, but you never know the full story until you’ve read the label and nutritional values.

After all, your weight-loss goals may be important to you, but your long-term health should be too. Avoid overly-artificial and chemical-ridden meal replacement shakes - especially those which contain laxatives or senna leaves. These shakes might help you shed the weight rapidly, but it’s difficult to sustain and could lead to lasting health damage - yep, you should place them firmly back on the shelf.

Overall, it’s best to opt for a nutritionally complete and balanced meal replacement shake which contains between 200-400 calories per serving once mixed with milk, is made using healthy ingredients of a natural origin, and doesn’t require the addition of synthetic or artificial ingredients.

Thankfully, there are lots of amazing quality meal replacement shakes on the market to fill these expectations. Nutribuddy, for example, checks off all that criteria and more. Our Breakfast Shake and Shake Complete have been formulated to contain all the necessary components of a full, healthy meal, but are 100% free from chemicals, laxatives, emulsifiers, thickeners and artificial flavourings. Best of all? They’re completely vegan and cruelty-free - so you’ll be doing your bit to help the environment, too!

Buy our meal replacement shakes as part of the great value Grab ‘N’ Go Goody Box.