Meal replacement shakes have been around for decades, usually featuring a powdered drink that promises to keep you full while staying low on calories. But while they may have been popular, experts were divided over whether they were healthy – or indeed whether they really worked. For those who are looking to shed the pounds in a more modern way, there are new brands that are shaking up the industry.
But do they work? Maeve Hanan, Registered Dietitian and founder of Dietetically Speaking, had mixed feelings.
“Some people find these to be convenient, and there is some evidence that they can promote weight loss for up to a year – and there is some emerging evidence that this may play a role in managing type 2 diabetes (although this needs to be done with a lot of medical and dietetic support),” explained Maeve.
“This evidence is related to low-calorie meal replacement shakes, whereas some of the new generation versions don’t focus on weight loss – but there are very few studies which have looked into these overall.”
Maeve also warned that some shakes contain types of sweeteners, which can cause problems for those who suffer with IBS.
If you are going to try a new diet plan using one of the shakes brands, it’s important to consult a doctor or dietitian first to ensure it’s right for you.
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Here are some of the latest complete nutrition shake brands and how they work.
This Instagram-friendly brand features plant-based formulas, and is made by one of the creators behind Elle Macpherson’s brand WelleCo – and it’s had impressive results for those wanting to lose weight.
Adil Bux, founder and CEO of Nuut said: “Although nuut was designed as a range of convenient, nutritionally complete meals, our weight loss plans have proven to be incredibly successful and highly cost effective. When we were featured on ITV’s Save Money Lose Weight earlier this year, one dieter, Sarah Deamer, lost two stone in just one month following nuut’s 123 reset plan!”
The shakes were created for those who are time-poor yet still want to eat nutritionally balanced meals without the fuss.
“We only use the best wholefood, derived ingredients and gentle natural sweetening with no aftertaste. We also include pre/probiotics for gut health and superfoods for added nutritional benefits,” added Bux.
The Nuut products are not one-size-fits-all, however, with different products designed to fit with modern diets.
“We have a range of bundles and plans that are designed to suit different eating types and lifestyles, from fasting options to keto, which is very popular in the UK after Adele’s recent weight loss,” commented Bux.
Shoppers can choose from keto, paleo or a Daily Balance blend to suit their lifestyle, with each pack containing as little as 197 calories.
Huel is one of the most widely recognised brands in the complete nutrition space – but it isn’t marketed as a meal replacement or diet product.
James Collier, Co-Founder and Head of Nutrition at Huel, explained: “Huel has not been designed to be a ‘weight-loss’ product. Just like any food, whether that’s pasta, steak or broccoli, weight loss is dependent on consuming fewer calories than the body needs. Now, if weight loss is your aim, you can make this difficult task easier by eating foods which are nutrient-dense (because even if you’re eating less you still need those essential nutrients) and foods which help keep you feeling full because the hungrier you feel, the harder it’s going to be to stick to your goals. This is where Huel comes in.”
The shakes contain 26 essential vitamins and minerals and are high in protein and fibre in order to keep you full.
“Huel is food made from six main whole food ingredients: oats, brown rice, pea, flaxseed, sunflower and coconut. Huel products have an ideal macronutrient split, with good-quality carbohydrate, fat and protein providing nutritious convenient food,” explained James.
“A lot of convenience foods are low in nutritional value. Nutritious foods that you cook at home are not convenient. We provide a solution to the two.”
Described as “real food alternatives to ultra-processed protein powders, diet shakes and meal replacements”, Purition is another modern take on the classic diet shake.
The products are made with natural whole foods and a blend of vegetarian or vegan protein.
It also has something for everyone, with 14 flavours in its range, “without flavourings” as the brand sticks to natural ingredients only.
The company recommends replacing one or two meals a day during the week with its Purition blends – again with convenience in mind.
But though the powders can simply be mixed with milk for a shake, they can also be used in other recipes to bump up the nutritional benefits.
The products are gluten-free, and suitable for those on a low-carb, paleo, vegan or even intermittent fasting diets.
These are just three of the newest brands – but the trend is showing no signs of slowing down.
However, though the brands market themselves as nutritionally complete, Maeve is not completely convinced.
“Meal replacement shakes can’t provide the wide range of nutrients (e.g. phytonutrients/antioxidants) which is found in whole food, and they also can’t replicate the ‘food matrix effect’ which is the way that the structure and nutrient content of food interacts with one another. For example, omega-3 supplements aren’t seen to have the same health benefits as compared with eating oily fish.”
Maeve also warned those who may find shakes affect their eating habits long term.
“Replacing most of your food intake with shakes could lead to a disordered relationship with food, especially if this is done in an extreme way in order to lose weight.”
Instead, Maeve recommends a healthier approach of eating well for overall health.
Maeve Hanan’s book, Your No Nonsense Guide To Eating Well is out in June.