Can you live on just meal replacement shakes?

Meal replacement shakes: they contain loads of valuable nutrients, help you achieve your macros, reduce sugar cravings, and are often successfully used to help you lose weight faster. Take Vivo Life’s WHOLE for example: 20 grams of protein, 22 vitamins and minerals, Omegas 3, 6 and 9 and 5 billion live cultures packed into one shake. You’re probably never going to make a meal packed with so much nutrition, so why don’t you just replace all of your meals with shakes? Could you survive on just meal replacement shakes? 

Meal replacement shakes for nutritional balance

I get it - there’s so many great things in a meal replacement shake, and you want to make sure you’re consuming more than enough of them. Well, while they contain tons of beneficial vitamins, minerals and superfoods, nutritional balance is also about eating real, healthy whole foods. 

The bottom line is that there are lots of things you’re going to miss out on if you’re exclusively consuming meal replacement shakes. Good quality shakes will bridge the majority of gaps in most diets, but there are still plant compounds like antioxidants and phytochemicals that you’re going to miss out on. Although you probably could live without these antioxidants and phytonutrients (think of *that* person you know who refuses to touch a vegetable) chances are you’re going to live a lot longer and feel a lot better with them. These nutrients are really beneficial for heart health, reduced risk of disease, and combating inflammation. 

Whole foods also contain digestive enzymes which play a key role in breaking down the food you eat, and help speed up chemical reactions that turn nutrients into substances that your digestive tract can absorb. Without digestive enzymes, your body will struggle to digest food, causing stomach aches, diarrhoea and gas. 

While meal replacement shakes are a great substitute for 1 meal a day, unless instructed by your doctor, we wouldn’t recommend replacing every meal with them. Unfortunately, there are simply some nutrients you can’t pack into a powder!

It’s also worth noting that there are some ingredients you may be getting that you don’t want, which won’t be beneficial to your body at all. Reports have found measurable levels of heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and lead in many supplements, which are a largely unregulated market, meaning it’s down to the manufacturers or company to test for them. If you ingested a contaminated meal replacement shake every day 3 times a day, you’d also be consuming group 1 carcinogens - which certainly aren’t good for you! That’s why you should always opt for a company who tests all their raw materials at the source and get the final product independently batch-tested like we do here at Vivo Life - you can read more on the hidden ingredients in supplements here. 

Meal replacement shakes for busy people

One huge reason why so many of us are meal replacement shake-drinkers is because, simply put, life is busy. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day, but that doesn’t mean we have to neglect our health or tuck into fast food every day. Meal replacement shakes help you skip the hours of meal prep altogether, instead providing a ready-made nutritionally complete liquid meal.

It might be tempting when you’re super busy to drink a meal replacement shake for breakfast, lunch and dinner - but if time is your only factor in consuming shakes, we wouldn’t advise you to replace every meal with a shake. That’s because of the reasons above (lacking beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals you’d get from whole foods), and because many liquid meal replacement shakes also lack adequate amounts of fibre, which are important for gut health, digestion and heart health. 

Although time is of the essence, you’re better off not cutting corners with your health. Shaving time off your morning and your snack by consuming a meal replacement shake once or twice a day won’t harm you, but you want to make sure you fill in any missing nutrients with solid food. Taking an hour or two out of your Sunday to meal prep a week’s worth of dinners will perfectly complement your liquid meals. 

It’s also unlikely you’ll be getting enough calories to fuel yourself for your busy day if you’re drinking meal replacement shakes on their own. Most meal replacements are between 150 and 200 calories, which is nowhere near the amount of calories you should be consuming for a meal. So if you are going to replace more than one of your meals with a shake, make sure you’re adding extra whole food ingredients to bulk it out. For example, adding your choice of plant milk, a handful of something green, oats, berries and seeds alongside your meal replacement shake (we’d opt for WHOLE) into a blender should only take a few minutes, but will hugely benefit your nutrition! 

Meal replacement shakes for weight loss

The equation for weight loss is simple: consume less calories than you’ve burned in a day. As meal replacement shakes tend to be low in calories (around 150-200 per serving), they can be used to help achieve a calorie deficit, whilst still helping you pack in all the nutrients you’d usually have in a meal. Meal replacement shakes (note: NOT protein shakes, which should not be used as a meal replacement) are usually fortified with a large amount of protein, essential vitamins and minerals. 

The high amount of protein - our WHOLE includes 20 grams - helps to keep you fuller for longer, as protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which should help you keep the snack cravings at bay. Consuming meal replacement shakes for all 3 meals also means you avoid eating unhealthy or processed foods when you’re feeling lazy, which may be another reason for replacing all your meals. 

However, even if you are trying to lose weight, a meal replacement shake shouldn’t completely replace a healthy, balanced diet, because it’s difficult to get every single nutrient from a single food source. Consuming too many meal replacement shakes may actually have a negative effect on your weight loss journey. First of all, the low calorie content means you might still feel hungry after drinking a meal replacement shake, and end up eating a more calorie dense food. Bodies that don’t receive enough nutrients can also experience problems with metabolism, which will slow or disrupt a weight loss plan. 

It’s also worth noting that using meal replacement shakes in place of food is an unsustainable diet plan for pretty much anyone. Sure, meal replacement shakes can help boost your metabolism and start off a weight loss journey, but trying to stick to it full time is unlikely to be successful or enjoyable. You’re much more likely to stick to your weight loss plan if it does involve some chewing and eating (nutritious and balanced) meals you enjoy! 

Sources

https://www.webmd.com/diet/what-are-digestive-enzymes#:~:text=Digestive%20enzymes%20play%20a%20key,has%20digestive%20enzymes%20in%20it.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7509468/