The Essential Guide to Choosing the Best Meal Replacement Shakes

Last Updated 26th September 2019

We all strive to live a balanced, healthy lifestyle and enjoy nutritious whole foods for every meal. But between a hectic work schedule, family commitments and errands, preparing a healthy lunch or cooking a healthy evening meal often ends up at the very bottom of our to-do lists.

That’s where meal replacement shakes come in. Whether you’re looking for a simple way to cut your calorie intake and lose weight or simply need complete and quick nutrition on-the-go, meal shakes are a super simple and convenient way to eat a nutritious, healthy meal.

But the internet is a minefield of different meal replacement shake brands. And with marketing claims thrown at you left, right and centre the minute you start googling, it’s easy to feel put off buying one altogether.

Well, we’re totes with you on this one. Let’s take meal replacement shakes right back to basics and dive into the finer details – here’s your essential guide to choosing the best meal replacement shakes.

woman holding vegan berry meal replacement shake with straw

Let’s Talk Basics! What Are Meal Replacement Shakes?

Meal replacement shakes are basically a portable, convenient meal-on-the-go. They normally come as a powdered blend, which you’d add milk or water to, before shaking and drinking. If that’s not enough convenience for you, you can even purchase them pre-mixed – yep, meal replacement shakes are simply the ultimate fast food.

Shakes which are designed to replace meal should (and must) contain adequate levels of nutrition – protein, carbs, fat, fibre, vitamins – the lot. But the great thing about high-quality meal replacement shakes is that your body can receive all the nutrients needs to remain in tip-top health, whilst still be relatively low in calories.

And while those looking to lose weight often choose to replace one or two meals a day a shake, they can just be used as an ad-hoc meal when you’re lacking time – the choice is yours!

Bright pink meal replacement shake with green straw

Do Meal Replacement Shakes Really Work?

They’re portable, convenient, require minimal prep and come in some awesome flavours – but the real question is, do meal replacement shakes actually come with health benefits?

Well, it’s true to say that whether you’re hoping to shed a few pounds, maintain your current weight or just boost your nutrition after consistently missing meals, meal replacement shakes can be a highly effective health tool.

They work by replacing your regular meals, which may have been high in calories and fat, with a low calorie yet highly nutritious shake. By reducing your daily calorie intake (and entering a calorie deficit) you’ll naturally lose weight or maintain existing weight loss. Meal replacement shakes truly take the guesswork out of portion control and calorie counting – but that’s what makes them so effective and easy to follow.

And if you’re super busy and just seek a convenient nutrition boost, it’s fair to say that high-quality (quality is key here) meal replacement shakes are a nutritional powerhouse. If you pick the right shake, you’ll be able to get all the nutrients your body needs in a super convenient package. In terms of your long-term health, opting for a nutritionally balanced shake is miles better than regularly opting for processed convenience foods, or worse, skipping meals altogether.

But don’t just take our word for it – let’s take a closer look.

woman researching meal replacement shake products and ingredients

Can I Use Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss?

Meal replacement studies are numerous and most have demonstrated that meal replacement shakes produce positive results in terms of weight loss.

One particular study found that diet replacement (whether it’s in the form of shakes, soups or other products) leads to substantially greater weight loss compared to ‘regular’ weight loss initiatives.

Another investigation into the effectiveness of meal replacement shakes for weight loss discovered that programmes incorporating shakes lead to greater weight loss over the course of a year in comparison to other weight loss programmes. It concludes that meal replacement shakes should be considered as a valid option for the management of weight and obesity.

Overall, meal replacement shakes are a great weight loss tool which can enable you to lower your calorie count in a non-complicated manner, whilst still meeting your daily nutritional requirements.

If you want to know more about meal replacement shakes for weight loss, check out our in-depth guide to selecting the best meal replacement for weight loss.

Woman sitting on bed, about to weigh herself

How Much Weight Can I Lose Using Meal Replacement Shakes?

With a variety of factors coming into play, such as starting weight, gender and activity level, weight loss efforts will ultimately differ for everyone.

But as meal replacement shakes are low in calories yet high in nutrition, they can help you on track to meet the healthy weight loss of around 2lb per week.

However, whilst shopping around for meal replacement shakes, you’re bound to come across a myriad of crazy weight loss marketing ploys. The fact is, losing extreme amounts of weight in a short period of time is not only unsustainable but could also be very unhealthy.

If a meal replacement shake product promises rapid and extreme weight loss in short periods of time, make sure to check the ingredients label. Products like this often contain laxatives or senna leaves, which you should avoid at all costs – read why here.

Strawberry meal replacement shake for weight loss

What are the Best Meal Replacement Shake Ingredients for Weight Loss?

If you’re looking for a meal replacement shake to help you shed a few pounds, opting for one with healthy, nutritious yet weight-loss-boosting ingredients is key to your success.

And while new miracle weight-loss ingredients seem to pop in day-in-day-out (no thank you, laxatives) there are several natural, wholefood ingredients which have been scientifically proven to be highly effective as a weight-loss aid:

Oats

You’re probably already well-aware that oats are tasty, satisfying and super nutritious – but did you know they’re a great weight-loss tool, too?

As it’s reasonably low in calories yet super high in fibre, it’s no less than a winning weight-loss combo. Due to their high fibre content, oats absorb water inside the stomach. In simple terms, this means they take up a lot of space in your tummy, helping you to feel fuller for longerwithout consuming many calories in the first place.

Considering oats have also been proven to have positive effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, it makes total sense to make them a healthy diet staple.

Oats in glass jar and bowl of breakfast oats with raisins

Protein

Whether you’re looking to lose weight or not, protein is one of the most essential nutrients for good health. Protein plays a huge part in several important bodily functions, including cell repair and maintenance, hormones and enzymes. Your body simply couldn’t function without it!

But what about protein for weight-loss? Well, studies suggest that diets which are high in protein can help to boost satiety, increase the metabolic rate and decrease hunger, whilst simultaneously helping to build muscle. With one study discovering that participants who were fed a greater amount of protein had higher GLP-1 levels (a hormone which can help to reduce appetite) for 24 hours and another proving that participants who ate higher protein ate 400 fewer calories per day, protein is a true weight-loss hero.

It’s easy to get into a diet rut and neglect your body’s need for protein, but meal replacement shakes such as the Nutribuddy Shake Complete (which contains 7g of protein per serving) are a super simple way to boost your daily intake with minimal effort. Oh, and we don’t mean to brag, but despite being uber protein-packed, our shake is also 100% vegan… winner!

Nutribuddy Shake Completee pink tub
Read an in-depth customer review of Nutribuddy Shake Complete by JustHelina here.

Matcha green tea

Matcha green tea is regularly hailed as the healthiest drink on the planet – but trust us, it totally deserves its crown!

Study after study (don’t worry, we’ll get to those later) have proven that the combination of flavonoids, catechins and caffeine in green tea cause enhanced far oxidation and can help boost weight loss by increasing the amount of calories burnt. And unlike nasties like laxatives and senna leaves (which are, unfortunately, commonly included in low-quality meal replacement shakes) green tea is totally safe and provides endless health benefits – sounds like a miracle, huh?!

But don’t take it from us – let these results do the talking! One study concluded that green tea ingestion significantly increased fat oxidation under both resting and post-exercise conditions, while another discovered that green tea has a positive effect on weight loss and weight maintenance. Impressive, right?

Plus, if you’re not looking to lose any weight, it’s clear to see that green tea is nonetheless an incredibly worthwhile addition to your diet. Several studies have proven that green tea significantly increases the number of antioxidants in your blood, with some even touting it as an effective cancer preventative. Uh, can someone pass us a cup of green tea (or the Nutribuddy Breakfast Shake, which also contains green tea extract 😉), please?!

Nutribuddy Vegan Breakfast Meal Replacement Shake in jar

Chia seeds & flaxseeds

Chia and flax? What on earth are they?! Yep, we hear you! Well, both are types of seeds which are small in size yet mega on nutrition. Plus, as it turns out, both are a handy addition to any weight loss or maintenance regime!

So how do they actually help? Well, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds packs in 10g of fibre and 4.7g of protein and an endless list of nutritional benefits, yet contains only (approximately) 140 calories. We’ve already discussed how fibre and protein can keep you fuller for longer and help you curb your appetite for snacking – so it’s clear to see how these petite seeds could aid in weight loss initiatives.

And the story is fairly similar when it comes to flaxseeds. The soluble fibre present (and with 4g per 2 tablespoons, there’s plenty of it) in these nut-like seeds forms a gel in the stomach and slow down the absorption of food – put simply, this process makes you feel full for a very long time.

Yellow wooden spoons with chia seeds, sunflower seeds and nuts

How Should I Use Meal Replacement Shakes for the Best Results?

Can you lose weight or boost your nutrition by taking meal replacement shakes alone? In theory, yes – and if you’d previously been skipping meals or eating majority processed foods, the results can be pretty impressive.

But for optimal weight-loss – and, more importantly, good health – we’d recommend using meal replacement shakes alongside a healthy eating plan and exercise regime. After all, weight loss shouldn’t just be about reducing your calorie intake for a short period of time until you reach a certain goal. It should be about developing a sustainable, healthy lifestyle which you can adopt over the long-term.

To really kick-start your weight loss or healthy living regime, meal replacement shakes can be a great starting point – especially if you lead a very busy lifestyle. But ideally, you won’t solely rely on them for your health or weight-loss, and instead, use them as an aid in an overarching healthy lifestyle.

Woman in sports bra cutting fruit

Do I need to Exercise Alongside my Meal Replacement Shake Diet for Best Results?

While meal replacement shakes can work alone by simply decreasing your daily calorie intake, adding exercise into your routine will boost your results dramatically.

Increasing your daily activity levels is a winner in terms of weight loss, as well as both your physical and mental health. We genuinely believe in the saying ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ – exercise can quite literally change your mindset (hello, endorphins!).

If you’re not a mega gym buff (don’t worry, despite what Instagram might make you believe, most of us aren’t 😜), why not start slowly? Head out for a walk every day after work, join a once-weekly exercise class or simply opt to walk or cycle short distances instead of taking the car. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your fitness goes up if you start making physical activity, even in small doses, a daily priority.

2 women working out with weights for weight loss

Is It Healthy to Replace Meals with Meal Replacement Shakes?

So, we’ve deciphered that meal replacement shakes can be super effective in terms of weight-loss, but is it actually healthy to replace your meals with what is, ultimately, a drink?

The fact is, it all comes down to the meal replacement shake you pick. If you opt for a high-quality, nutritionally balanced shake which is free from artificial chemicals and added nasties, replacing meals with a shake is completely safe and healthy.

In fact, if you’re strapped for time and regularly resort to ready meals or instant food, high-quality meal replacement shakes can actually boost your health and help you meet your body’s daily nutrition needs. On top of this, in terms of losing weight and lowering daily calorie intake, people often miss out vital nutrients when preparing low-calorie meals themselves. For those who are lacking in nutritional know-how, meal replacement shakes can be a simple and convenient way to cut calories whilst still receiving all the vital nutrients the body needs to thrive.

On the other hand, if you pick a meal replacement shake which is totally artificial and fuelled by synthetic vitamins and chemicals, you may shed a few pounds – but your health could suffer in the long-run. It’s all about reading the label, shopping around and understanding exactly you’re consuming. Don’t fall for marketing ploys or miracle claims. Always check the ingredients and nutritional values, ensuring the product contains adequate protein, fibre and fats and is made from nutritious whole foods.

For more information, read our in-depth guide on healthy meal replacement shakes.

Green Vegan Meal Replacement Shake for weight loss

How Many Meals Should I Replace with Meal Replacement Shakes for a Healthy Diet?

We love meal replacement shakes (after all, we do make ‘em) – but we wouldn’t recommend replacing all 3 meals. Doing so is super restrictive (food is for enjoying, after all!) and you’re likely to end up consuming too few calories, which could lead to fatigue and deficiencies.

So, what would we recommend? Opt for a high-quality meal replacement shake to replace 1 or 2 meals per day. For the remaining meal or 2, focus on consuming healthy, wholefood-packed, balanced meals with plenty of protein (beans, nuts, tofu and lentils are great if you’re vegan) and lots of delicious fruits and vegetables.  

Don’t forget to keep up with that all-important hydration, too – drinking lots of water will help you to look and feel your best!

woman in forest, holding drink in recyclable mug

How Many Calories are in Meal Replacement Shakes?

To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Simply put, this is when you use more calories in energy than you take in.

The NHS states that in order to lose 1-2lb per week, you’ll need to consume around 500-600kcal fewer a day than you need. What you need, however, depends on your gender, weight and activity levels – you can find out here.

Meal replacement shakes generally contain around 200-400 calories per meal once mixed with milk, making it easy to cut calorie intake whilst still obtaining essential nutrients. For example, the Nutribuddy Shake Complete contains 358kcal if mixed with semi-skimmed milk or 230kcal if mixed with almond milk, whilst still providing an impressive range of vitamins and minerals, as well as 7.1g of protein in the powder alone.

Cat sniffing mixed berry meal replacement shake
Nutribuddy Shake Complete by JustHelina

Are Meal Replacement Shakes Low in Sugar?

Meal replacement shakes aren’t created equal. While some may be sugar-free and sweetened with a safe, natural sweetener, others may be riddled with sugar or sweetened with a harmful substance.

So, we’re probably boring you with this message by now, but there’s no single answer to this question – ultimately, you just need to read the label! Unless you analyse the nutritional values and ingredients of the shake you choose, it’s anyone’s guess as to what you’re putting into your body.

Check out our short guide on which sweeteners are best in terms of calories and satiety.

Jar of sugar-packed sweets

Are there any Side Effects from Using Meal Replacement Shakes?

If you follow our advice, read labels and opt for high-quality, natural, wholefood-packed, nutritionally-balanced healthy meal replacement shakes, you’re highly unlikely to experience any negative side-effects – though you’ll likely come across some positive ones:

  • Boosted satiety due to increased protein intake.
  • Higher nutrient intake due to the balanced nutritional profile of shakes.
  • Healthy weight-loss due to controlled calorie intake.

However, a few varieties of shakes have the potential to cause a range of unpleasant side-effects. Here are some to be aware of:

woman in pink blouse looking concerned

What are the Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Women?

As a general rule, women should consume at least 1,200 calories a day. Consuming fewer than this would make it extremely difficult to meet your daily nutritional requirements, making you feel tired and sluggish.

Therefore, a nutritionally balanced meal replacement shake which focuses on providing nutrition from whole food sources and provides around 200-400 calories per serving (with milk) is a good option for women looking to lose weight or boost their nutrition. Paired with 1-2 home-cooked meals, healthy snacks and drinks, you should find it easy to meet the requirement of at least 1,200 calories per day whilst still remaining in a calorie deficit.

Don’t be fooled by brands touting miracle weight loss claims – if you take a closer look, you’ll probably find their products contain added nasties and may even bring on a laxative effect. While rapid weight loss may sound appealing, it’s totally unhealthy – not to mention completely unsustainable.

For more information, check out our article on considerations when choosing the best meal replacement shakes for women.

A good meal replacement shake for women should offer the equivalent nutrition of a full meal including protein, carbs, fibre and fats. Ideally, it should steer well away from unhealthy additives and chemicals. The Nutribuddy Shake Complete is a fantastic example, offering a great range of macro and micro nutrients and slow-release carbs to keep you feeling energised and full.

Nutribuddy Shake Complete natural ingredient list
Nutribuddy Shake Complete’s minimal, natural ingredient list. Photo by Laura Lucas

What are the Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Vegans?

Choosing the right meal replacement shake becomes even more tricky when you’re vegan. You’ll find that the majority of meal replacement shakes contain whey, which is a protein found in the liquid part of milk that separates during the production of cheese. Nope, totally not vegan.

Thankfully, while vegan meal replacement shakes are less common, they can be just as effective. Plant protein sources such as soy (which happens to be a great source of protein, but a very common allergen), pea, hemp and rice all contain a range of amino acids. However, they are considered ‘incomplete’, so in order to consume a full amino acid profile as a vegan, you’ll need to combine multiple plant proteins on a daily basis.

With that said, when choosing a vegan meal replacement shake, opt for one which contains at least 2 sources of plant proteinespecially if you plan to replace your lunch or dinner (breakfast shakes can generally be more fibre-based, though some protein is still preferable).

Check out our in-depth guide to choosing vegan meal replacement shakes.

organic produce for organic meal replacement shakes

What are the Best Meal Replacement Shakes According to Reviews?

What’s the first thing we all do before purchasing a product? Check the reviews, of course! When you’re parting with hard-earned cash, there’s no better reassurance than seeing hundreds of 5* reviews and praise-singing testimonials.

But when it comes to a market as crowded as meal replacement shakes, should you believe everything you read online? Probably not. While we’d hope that the majority of testimonials placed on brands’ websites are real, you should be aware that a company is unlikely to show negative reviews on their own site. They’re trying to sell you a product, after all!

If you’re interested in reading reviews before purchasing a meal replacement shake, head to an impartial site which isn’t affiliated with any brand. Sites like TrustPilot are closely moderated to ensure reviews are real and never let companies pay to remove negative comments. Everything you’ll see (whether it’s positive or negative) is legitimate – it’s your best bet at seeing a genuine view of a company’s products and customer service.

Meal replacement shake for ibs review by @blondepitaya
Testimonial from one of Nutribuddy’s customers, @blondepitaya

Our Verdict

For many people, meal replacement shakes are a simple and effective way to lose or maintain weight or guarantee a nutritious meal when time is limited. But for many, picking one seems to be the tricky part.

Whatever you do, don’t purchase a meal replacement shake based on marketing claims and flashy advertising alone. Take a good look at the nutritional values and ingredients, ensuring that the product you’re purchasing is complete in nutrition, doesn’t contain laxatives (that’s a golden rule, gals!) and uses wholefoods rather than synthetic vitamins blends. If this data isn’t available online, you’re best avoiding the brand in question altogether.

On a positive note, there are plenty of great quality, nutritious meal replacement shakes on the market nowadays. If you’re looking for a vegan meal replacement shake which is packed with superfoods and can help you lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, Nutribuddy might be the perfect choice.


Stock image credit: UnsplashPexels & Pixabay

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nutribuddy Ltd.

Author Bio!

Alice Nutribuddy Author Bio

Post by Alice

After graduating from University with a 1st class marketing degree, I ventured into the world of freelance marketing. I now work as Nutribuddy’s Marketing Assistant on all things content and social media! Originally from North Wales but now based in Chester, I spend my free time writing on my blog, hanging out with my sausage dog and travelling. As a self-confessed animal-lover who’s trying to lead an increasingly eco-friendly lifestyle, I’m super happy to be working with an ethical, cruelty-free and vegan brand like Nutribuddy!