Meal Replacements

Having trouble keeping track of the calories in breakfast, lunch and dinner? Are you fighting to keep snacks under that healthy 100-150 calorie limit? Food intake is one of the hardest parts of weight-loss and that’s where meal replacement options come into play for many dieters. We looked under every rock, in medical journals and research reports to find the facts. You have the right to know what you’re in for when you choose a meal replacement.

What is a Meal Replacement?

A meal replacement is a pre-packaged meal, bar or shake that aims to “replace” traditional meals. They are packed with all the vitamins and nutrients you need. The International Journal of Obesity states, “these types of interventions can safely and effectively produce significant sustainable weight loss and improve weight-related risk factors of disease.” The study dealt with partial meal replacement, not total meal replacement. Calories vary from one brand and product to another, so check that label to see if it fits into your weight-loss plan.

Partial vs. Total Meal Replacement

Too many dieters look to meal replacements as a total solution. This means they replace EVERY meal with a pre-packaged option. Total meal replacement, like Nutrisystem, is proven to promote weight loss. The programs are progressive – teaching the user how to transition from total meal replacement to partial or no meal replacement with time and progress.

Protein Powder, Whey Protein and Meal Replacements

Not every meal replacement is created equal. You’ll find that some meal replacement shakes offer ingredients satisfying your caloric needs. On the other hand, some meal replacement shakes contain protein powders and whey protein designed to curb hunger and promote fullness.

Common Meal Replacements

There are a few meal replacements defined as the “go-to” in dieting. These include Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Slim Fast, Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine. Not all are created equal and some have a price tag that makes them impossible for some dieters.

Jenny Craig

With Jenny Craig you pay a monthly fee for consultations and guidance in addition to the meal replacements. According to the company website, food costs between $15 and $23 a day. That’s in between $450 and $690 a month for just one person.


Nutrisystem is a home-delivery meal replacement diet costing less than half of the most expensive Jenny Craig plan. Most users spend between $8 and $13 a day on food, including snacks. There are more than 160 foods to choose from, so variety is not a problem. Nutrisystem incorporates meal replacement shakes in most meal plans, if desired, but it’s not necessary to lose weight.

Slim Fast

You can purchase shakes and bars in your local store. Slim Fast is known for protein powder shakes.

Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine

These two fall into the same category as frozen meal replacements. You will spend about $10 a day if you add fresh fruits and vegetables. You’ll also get a big jump in sodium intake, which can cause water retention that looks like weight gain.

The Extras Aren’t Included

Some meal replacement programs don’t include all of the food you need to consume. The fine print always reads to add fresh vegetables and fruits to complete meals. If you’re not careful, these additions can boost calorie intake far above a healthy level for weight-loss, thus rendering the meal replacement useless.

To keep calories under control:

  • Skip creamy and high-calorie salad dressings.
  • Don’t add a starch as a vegetable or fruit.
  • Add dark green, leafy vegetables to your diet.
  • Choose fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber.

According to Nutrition Journal, “fortified meal replacements tended to have a more adequate essential nutrient intake compared to the group following a more traditional food group diet.”

Who Should and Shouldn’t Use Meal Replacements

Not everyone should partake in meal replacements for weight loss. If you have high blood pressure you should talk with your healthcare provider before giving this option a try.

Children can use meal replacements, but not the same ones marketed to adults for weight loss. Brands like Boost and Pediasure offer healthy options for kids. Both contain protein powder and some flavors contain whey protein. There’s research showing the connection between protein powder and fullness.

But, there are potential interactions between medications and certain foods. Talk with your healthcare provider before using a meal replacement option if you are on prescription medications.

What Does Science Say About Meal Replacements

Science supports the use of meal replacements for weight loss. There are numerous research studies that prove it can work as a healthy option that helps the dieter lose and maintain. There are also multiple studies showing the benefits of protein powder, whey protein, and meal replacements.

Research from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition concluded, “ready-to-eat cereals may be used to promote weight loss when consumed as a portion-controlled, meal replacement.”

According to the Journal of Nutrition, “meal replacement is equally effective for losing weight compared with conventional but structured weight-loss diets.”

The Final Word on Meal Replacements

There’s a strong place in the weight-loss market for meal replacements. This option is clinically proven and supported, so you can feel confident if you undertake a weight-loss journey using meal replacements as long as you add in fiber and nutrient-rich foods and keep calorie intake to a minimum.

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