Are Meal Replacement Shakes Good For You?

Nutrition // 12WBT Staff

We’ve all seen it – and possibly been tempted – by the huge claims of those ‘weight loss smoothies’, or Meal Replacement Shakes. You know the ones: replace one or two (or even three!) meals a day with a smoothie or shake, and you’ll lose kilo upon kilo. Right? Wrong!

We asked 12WBT dietitian Lisa Donaldson about why those Meal Replacement Shakes just don’t work.

What is a meal replacement shake?

There are a huge range of Meal Replacement Shakes on the market. Rather than a whole food smoothie, Meal Replacement Shakes are often a powdered concoction you mix with water or milk.

The macronutrient combination can vary from brand to brand, but most focus on the protein content and very few have enough fibre. Given they are very low in calories, hunger can certainly be a problem. Plus, it’s a heavily processed ‘food’, which is never a good thing.

Why don’t I feel full after a meal replacement shake?

When you consume predominantly liquids, the process of chewing and savouring the meal is lost. It takes the body around 20 minutes to register fullness and if you are ‘drinking’ your meal, than that sensation of fullness may not occur.

When a body consumes a proper meal, made up of real, whole foods, the process of chewing, tasting and digesting is slower and more satisfying. For people who consume up to three shakes a day, ‘taste fatigue’ can be a huge problem.


But the packet says it contains fibre – that’s good for me, right?

Fibre plays a huge role in helping us feel full, as well as helping our bowels stay regular.

Even if a Meal Replacement Shake has added fibre, this won’t give you the satiety factor that a meal of vegetables/fruit/whole grains/nuts/seeds will give.

The body has to break down the cell walls of those whole foods, giving the digestive system a good workout. The consumption of a liquid meal will not leave you feeling full for a decent period of time.

Can it help me make long term changes?

In a word – no. A healthy lifestyle involves preparing real, nutritious food, and that takes time to learn how to do. Huge learning with great, life-long rewards!

The reason many people try Meal Replacement Shakes is because it takes the thinking out of what to do. The shake is already calorie controlled and it takes little preparation and no cooking.

In terms of weight loss and maintaining that weight, you don’t learn anything other than how to add powder to water or milk. It’s little wonder many people regain weight quickly after returning to ‘real food’ – living on shakes is just not sustainable.

What should I focus on to lead a healthy life?

A healthy life is about eating whole foods that not only give us the nutrients we need, but that we enjoy. We must not overlook that food is more than the nutrients it contains. It’s also about the social factor, the sharing and enjoyment of a meal. Can you imagine having a birthday party without a cake? Or sitting in a restaurant drinking your shake while everyone else shares a fabulous banquet? Definitely not!

Learning how to balance meals and cook easy and tasty recipes is far more important that those empty ‘Lose five kilos in two weeks’ promises, believe me!