The health foods market is saturated with meal replacement products. From social media adverts to the guy in your office handing out referral codes whether you want them or not, it’s inescapable.
On the one hand, meal replacement shakes can seem like a gift from the Heavens. No need to prep and prepare breakfast or lunch, and all the calories and nutrients you could ever need instead of that sad looking sandwich you left in the fridge. They give you time back in your lunch break, an extra 10 minutes in bed, or the feeling that you’re doing right by your body and its needs. They promise you weight loss, increased fitness and a boost to your health, all whilst being conveniently powdered and handily delivered straight to your door.
On the other hand, how do you know for certain that the product you choose is actually beneficial for you, and not full of bulking agents, chemicals and highly refined artificial ingredients? It’s a minefield, so I’m here to break it down for you. This guide will go through some of the most common ingredients in meal replacement shakes and what they do, so that you’ll know if the product you pick is right for you, your body, and your nutrition.
Maltodextrin, and other thickeners
Maltodextrin is an artificial thickener made from highly refined starchy ingredients such as potatoes and rice. It is generally used in meal replacement shakes to improve the appearance and texture of the product, giving it that smoothie-like consistency, as well as improving shelf life.
However, it ranks highly on the Glycemic Index, meaning that it can cause blood sugar spikes and is therefore not suitable for people with diabetes, and others on certain prescription medications.
Xanthan Gum, and other stabilisers
Xanthan gum is a stabiliser, used to enhance the texture of certain products. This is particularly true of gluten free products, where stabilisers are used to mimic the expected textures. However, it’s also used in things like wallpaper paste, which is somewhat concerning!
Xanthan gum has been shown to slow digestion to a point that dramatically lowers blood sugar in the body, which can lead to faintness and dizziness if consumed in larger quantities.
If you like a thicker texture, why not choose a lower calorie shake option with a boosted nutritional profile, and then add a banana! Vivo Life’s WHOLE is 148 calories per serving, and contains 20g of protein, 22 essential vitamins and minerals from plant-based sources, and essential fatty acids. Plus it tastes great, whether you want to add anything else to it or not!
Aspartame, and other sweeteners
If you’ve never heard of this controversial ingredient, well, be prepared for a wild ride! Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in a lot of diet and ‘sugar free’ products, used because it’s very sweet without containing any calories.
However, its safety is often called into question, and there have often been calls for it to be banned, although this hasn’t happened. Whether aspartame is dangerous on the levels that those who want it banned believe or not, it is still an artificially created ingredient. Look for products which contain natural sweeteners instead, like stevia, which is the sweetening ingredient in many of Vivo Life’s products.
Carrageenan, and other preservatives
Carrageenan is an artificial preservative added to meal replacement products to increase their shelf life and use-by dates. However, aside from being artificial, it is also believed that carrageenan can induce internal inflammation, and can even lead to the development of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes.
If you’re on the lookout for a meal replacement that doesn’t contain preservatives, then keep your eyes peeled for all natural ingredients on the packaging, and brands who derive as much of their product as possible from whole foods. True, your product may have a shorter shelf life, but it doesn’t come at the potential risk of your health.
Overall then, meal replacement shakes can be a brilliant way to manage weight and aid in nutritional balance but, as with any dietary change, understanding what you’re putting into your body before you commit to a product is important. Here are my 5 top tips for choosing a meal replacement shake:
- Look for a brand which offers natural ingredients with no artificial sweeteners or flavourings - bonus points if they independently test for heavy metals and other contaminants.
- Avoid thickening and bulking agents, such as maltodextrin, which can have a negative impact on your blood sugar.
- Ensure that your meal replacement of choice has the right amount of calories for your goals, and that it’s on track with your macros.
- Choose the product which offers high nutritional value, and includes elements you might struggle to find in your diet.
- Find one that tastes really good! (Like a caramel biscuit, perhaps!)