Functional Q&AThe flipside of meal replacement wonder shakes

The flipside of meal replacement wonder shakes

Is the wonder meal replacement shake really the best way forward? What are the ingredients that go into some of them? Are they truly keeping up to all that they claim to be or is there a deeper side to this?

You’ve seen the advertisements talking about this wonder drink that replaces a meal. It spins you into the world of perfect food amidst your busy schedule. It’s said to be available wherever you go. And who today doesn’t get lured by the words low carb or keto? In fact, it convinces most people that they do not have time to plan meals and that this is the only way that they can get that perfect nutrition in. It also promises you to deliver a meal which can prevent acidity. They promise you of weight loss due to the inclusion of protein. It claims to balance your blood sugar. And finally, it says that it is perfect for your digestion since it is broken down. So what actually happens when you consistently replace your meals with these ready to go meal replacement smoothies or shakes? Let’s dive deep into some of the common ingredients listed on popular brands.

A smoothie has taken over the nutrition world by storm. It does bring in a load of nutrients in at once. Multiple portions of fruit and vegetable goes in. It’s easy on digestion since it is broken down. It can ensure delivery of fat, fiber and protein together. It can be tailormade to the individual based on the state of their health and what needs to be worked on. All of this is true. Adequate good fats can support your hormones. So what can be a source of concern in the ready meal replacement shakes out there? They do fortify it with the required vitamins and minerals, and they tell you that it is low carb! So where do you need to have caution?

Some of them have nut powder, chia seeds, MCT oil, whey, casein, pea protein, isolated soy protein, hemp, Maltitol, Erythritol, Xylitol, Xantham gum, Isomalt, anti caking agents like INS551 and many more similar, and probably unknown names. We are convinced that we cannot be healthy or lose weight unless we include these in our daily lives.

Coconut oil vs MCT oil

MCT oil has been the rage all over. I must admit that it is very highly spoken of in the functional medicine world. MCT stand for Medium Chain Triglyceride, which refers to the length of the fatty acid chain. Medium chain triglycerides are found naturally in mother’s milk and coconut oil. This category of essential fatty acids are used very differently in the body and are preferentially used for fuel, so you have more energy. It helps in myelination, which is the forming of myelin sheath around nerves, helping in nerve transmission. Coconut oil in nature has Lauric acid, Caprylic Acid, Caproic acid, Capric Acid and a  small amount of long chain fatty acid. MCT oil is manufactured to remove the long chain fatty acid, by a process called fractionation. Lauric acid is not present in MCT oil. Lauric acid, known for its potent antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial property is unique to coconut oil. Today, it is all in the rage, but do remember that coconut oil has stood the test of time. While, MCT oil might not be bad for you, it is not manufactured in nature.

Excess soy can be estrogenic

Isolated soy protein is something that soothes a vegan’s mind for daily requirement of protein. It’s common to see many people having huge amounts of soy as the source of protein, especially in meal replacement shakes. While some amount of select soy might be beneficial, multiple reports have shown that soy in excess is concerning. Isolated soy protein are estrogenic, and excess sonsumption is linked to the development of breast cancer due to estrogen dominanace. Daily consumption in higher levels, can cause the development of all the concerning symptoms of estrogen dominance.

Maltitol is considered  a sugar substitute but it is still a carbohydrate and has a glycemic index. It might be lower than sugar, but it can still impact on blood sugar. Of course, it can be dulled by the addition of fats, but maltitol can cause abdominal pain and discomfort in some people, where they might not connect it to their consumption of ready meal replacment shakes. It can also be a laxative and induce diarrhoea, but this depends on how much is consumed. It can cause excess gas and flatulence. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that the body’s digestive system does not adapt to the artificial sweetener.

Isomalt is another sugar substitute and like other alcohol sugars, it can cause flatulence and diarrhea. Xylitol can raise blood sugar levels and is produced in a process called hydrogenation, which is similar to how trans fats are produced. While we get scared by the word trans fats due to its connection to diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, we do not connect artificial sweeteners to all of this. We think that it is a safe sugar substitute. Erythritol is yet another sugar substitute, and while it may not have anything dangerous, what should be of concern is that each of these artificial sugars are acceptable in moderation and in excess can cause digestive distress, flatulence and even diarrhea. When a brand uses multiple sugar substitutes, you might want to think how they add up to impact you.

Anti caking agents like INS551 is something that is used commonly in the food industry to improve products. The food industry has used nanotechnology to improve its products. There has been much debate about the safety of this use in the food industry. Some studies found it to cause oxidative stress and free radical damage, cytotoxicity, alteration in gene expression and the cell cycle.  Other studies say that it exists naturally and is safe for human consumption.  Most research says that silica might exist in nature, but when we alter the form of any naturally existing particle, we could possibly create a problem. Finally most researchers have a problem with the nanoparticle of E551, saying that it may increase the risk for bioaccumulation within body organs and tissues, especially the lungs. It has been a source of concern and there has been research linked to the dangers of its use for human consumption. And, at the end of the day, we want to eat whole food as much as possible. No matter how healthy something appears on the surface, exercise caution if it is processed and requires the addition of something like this.

Now that we’ve explored some of the ingredients in popular meal replacement shakes, do make a note that while it might not contain sugar, it contains not just one, but multiple sugar substitutes. While each on it’s own might not pose a problem, by adding up multiple substitutes, the result might be no better than consuming sugar. If you are someone prone to digestive distress, be observant if your symptoms were aggravated after beginning a meal replacement shake. Further, if your digestion is distressed already, rather than prevent acidity, it can create reflux, with your inability to break down a rich shake. This multitude of artifical sweeteners can also be a root cause of your body staying in a state of chronic inflammation.

Finally, a smoothie might be a great option for someone with a busy schedule, but it really does not take a load of time to prepare a quick one with fresh ingredients. Further it can free of sugar substitutes, proteins that impact multiple people who are Estrogen dominant and free of thickeners, stabilizers and gums. If you are looking for added protein, a pure whey protein might be a better option, if you can tolerate dairy. If not, look for protein from hemp or almonds. A meal replacement shake might give you a quick opportunity to lose weight, but if health is your priority as well, it;s definitely not the best option.

1 Comment

  • Prabha Kannan

    Yes definitely no instant mix and drink product can compare with a good fresh balanced meal at home! But having said that,I know that not everyone can have that luxury...so how about some recipes for smoothies which are healthy, balanced and easy to make?

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