Norman and I enjoy a good meal replacement on a regular basis. They taste good, they are healthy and provide the basic nutrition we need to satisfy our hunger. They help us  release the pounds when we set the intention and they are quick and easy.

A meal replacement diet is just what it sounds like. Meal replacement programs typically provide between 800 and 1,200 calories per day. That’s why they’re often called low-calorie diets.

These diets usually require substituting one or two meals per day, with an additional healthy, low-calorie meal. There are considerable variations between programs, but the goal is the same. You replace your regular meals with low-calorie shakes and snacks to reduce overall energy intake. This beneficial calorie imbalance results in weight loss.

Most meal replacement programs suggest replacing two meals per day initially. That starts dieters off with more rapid weight loss. Then they transition to one replacement per day as a maintenance routine. Many scientific trials have supported the feasibility of this strategy. But it’s usually a relatively short-term fix. So, long-term success also depends on improved dietary habits and lifestyle modifications.

Before swapping out your ordinary food for packaged shakes, snacks, and soups, there are a few things to consider about the quality of the products. They should provide a balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), just like in a healthy meal.

Protein quantity and quality should be a primary concern. Aim for enough to provide the minimum daily recommended protein intake when added to your regular meal(s). A protein intake of 15-25 percent of total calories is generally accepted as safe in normally healthy adults. This would equate to 45-75 grams of protein on a 1,200-calorie-per-day diet.

The quality of the protein is also important. So, most meal-replacement shakes use dairy, soy, egg, or a mixture of plant proteins. This ensures the shake contains adequate levels of all the essential amino acids. A sufficient dosage of varied, high-quality protein will help conserve lean body mass (muscles and organs) during weight loss. For more information on protein, check out this page.

The amounts of carbohydrate and fat will vary significantly between different replacement products. Even though their specific dosages are less important than the protein, they’re still worth noting. The average adult already struggles to get the recommended intake of fiber (25-30 grams). So, the products should contain a beneficial amount of soluble and insoluble fiber.

The addition of some fat helps with satiety and improves the absorption of certain nutrients.

And, because you’re replacing meals, it’s important your meal replacement contains a mixture of vitamins and minerals. This helps account for nutrients in the food you replace. If not, a daily multivitamin can help you meet daily minimum recommendations.

The safest and most effective meal replacements contain an appropriate balance of micro- and macronutrients. That means adequate levels of quality protein, low-to-moderate carbohydrate content (with significant amounts of fiber), some healthy fat, and a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals.

Pros:

  • The diets involve premade products that eliminate or minimize the need for cooking and planning.
  • Can help break snacking and other mindless eating patterns.
  • Meal replacement products can be found in just about every supermarket health-food aisle and pharmacy.

Cons:

  • Lack of variety can affect compliance and long-term adherence.
  • There is high variation in the quality of processed foods.

Examples: Slim Fast, USANA RESET, Medifast, Body for Life, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig

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