Can meal replacement shakes cause stomach issues?

The food and drink we consume is fuel for our physical performance and cognitive function. It also impacts our general wellbeing and overall health, so making mindful choices is important. Many people use meal replacement shakes as a convenient option for days in the office or breakfast on the go, with others using them as an aid to weight loss. 

However, meal replacement shakes are no substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. They offer a quick alternative to a desk lunch, or something easy to transport when heading out for the day. If they are part of a weight loss programme, they can offer a lower calorie alternative to a meal whilst also offering essential vitamins and minerals. 

It can be difficult to get every nutrient the body needs from a single food source, and some dietary requirements make it even harder to consume everything we need just from food, so having a meal replacement shake enriched with a high nutrient profile is a bonus. For example, perhaps you’re caring for an older person who struggles to eat enough, or just need a flexible and convenient option for rounding out your diet.

Do meal replacement shakes cause constipation, diarrhoea, wind or nausea? 

When a meal replacement shake is part of a varied, healthy and balanced diet, there’s no reason why they’d cause you any stomach issues, such as diarrhoea, constipation or bloating. It is not the act of replacing a meal with a shake which can lead to stomach issues. In fact, some specialist diets for serious digestive problems, such as Crohn’s Disease, call for a liquid diet to ease the pressure of digestion on the damaged areas of the gut. 

What can cause stomach problems, however, is the type of meal replacement shake that you choose. If you choose a meal replacement with heavily refined or artificial ingredients you might find that this causes stomach issues, and even acid reflux in some cases. Artificial sweeteners, bulking agents and the like are all thought to contribute to bloating, cramps and other digestive issues, such as constipation and diarrhoea.

Another potential source of digestive discomfort is whey protein, which is commonly used in many meal replacement shakes. This can cause discomfort for anyone with lactose intolerance, including stomach cramps and uncomfortable bloating after consumption. A plant-based nutritional shake might be more appropriate if you suffer from an intolerance to dairy. Around 65% of the population have an impaired ability to digest lactose after infancy, which shows just how common this intolerance is!

Fibre is also important for a healthy digestive system, and some meal replacement options can lack the dietary fibre we need. This can lead to stomach issues such as constipation and diverticulitis, where small pockets form in the large intestine. Meal replacement shakes can also fall short of certain digestive enzymes and live cultures, such as amylases, proteases and lipases which are all found in a whole foods diet - these help you to absorb the nutrients you consume and improve your digestive health. 

However, knowing where these ingredients come from is important. If everything in your meal replacement is a natural ingredient, then there is little reason why it would cause stomach issues, unless you have an intolerance to one or more of the ingredients. If you choose a meal replacement shake with heavily refined or artificial ingredients, you might find that this causes some stomach issues, and even acid reflux in some cases. 

How to avoid stomach issues from meal replacement shakes:

Knowing where the ingredients in your meal replacement comes from is important to ensure that you are doing the best you can for your digestive health. If your meal replacement shake uses natural ingredients, like Vivo Life’s - which only contains the highest quality plant-based ingredients, then there is little reason why it would cause stomach issues. If you continue to suffer from stomach problems, it may be that you have an intolerance to one or more of these ingredients, and you might consider seeking advice from your doctor or a nutritionist. 

Of course, changing your diet in a drastic fashion has the potential to cause stomach problems as your body readjusts. Moving from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one, for example, can cause a transitionary period during which you may find your bathroom habits changing. 

Essentially, it’s not the action of replacing a meal with a shake that can cause issues with your stomach, it’s the ways in which you approach it - ensuring that your shake contains good ingredients, that you’re not replacing too many meals, and that your meal replacements do not come at the cost of a healthy balanced diet.