A step by step guide to healthy meal replacements, what they should and should not contain.
A meal replacement is a dietary supplement designed to take the place of regular meals. Not snacks but meals. Vitaminfood is committed to deliver health benefits in all its meal replacements.
In a time when we are always watching out for fake cheap thrills, many have become skeptical about adapting or buying meal replacement powders and shakes. This happens without considering whether it is the best option.
This article is an ultimate guide to making a healthy choice. It will help you differentiate the snacks and specific nutrition supplement from complete nutrition meal replacements. Meal replacement shakes stand as complete diets by themselves. The market is filled with cheap and unhealthy meal replacements retailing in large stores like Amazon and Walmart.
It is now upon individuals to understand what a good nutritional profile looks like. Vitaminfood has a rich and complete nutritional profile.
A healthy meal replacement equals a healthy diet. A healthy diet is one which:
- Protects against malnutrition- the diet should contain all nutrients vital for body development and have enough of those to sustain the bodily requirement.
Malnutrition will occur if the food is nutritionally incomplete or supplies too many nutrients that they cause health problems. This includes all nutrients – calories, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals.
It is surprising how many people suffered these inadequacies and excess in 2019 alone. Up to 1.9 billion were overweight and 462 million were underweight. This shades light onto the extent of malnutrition in the world.
In the third world and developing nations which are often hunger – stricken, the cause is inadequacy of complete nutrition. While in the developed nations covering mostly Europe, North America, Australia and some parts of Asia, the cause is having too much processed foods with less nutrients. There is too much food that provides too little of certain nutrients and too much of the macro nutrients.
- Protects against non-communicable diseases - NCDs are diseases which arise from within the body and therefore develop overtime.
They indicate a malfunction of certain organs or systems. Healthy diets prevent such malfunctions and naturally correct these issues. This effectively keeps off the chronic lifestyle diseases which arise due to a lack of fine tuning of the body.
A body just like an automobile thrives on good fuel.
- Intake of nutrients is in balance with the expenditure- too much of something is harmful.
Balanced foods leave enough space for complementary types of nutrients. As we eat we rarely take too much of a specific type of nutrient except in ignorance. Most of the excess is taken in because we do not realize that the limit has been exceeded.
Take for instance your sodium intake, which is supposed to be maintained at a maximum of 5g/ day. You get some from your morning cereal, then some more from your fries at lunch and a lot more from your steak at dinner. You lost count with the cereal and might have exceeded it at lunch or dinner.
Such a diet is unhealthy and makes it important to have knowledge of the approximate amount for the balance to be maintained.
Healthy replacements are those with the necessary ingredients and without the excesses per serving. It is such that meet the accepted standard of healthy diets rivaling fruits and vegetables. With their amounts on the nutritional factsheets, the approximation should tally with the recommended intake limits.
Factors to consider when determining the health rank of a meal replacement.
Having established what a healthy meal replacement should achieve, let us move to the factors determining whether the goals will indeed be achieved or will the health be compromised.
- Nutritional profile.
The best meal replacements are nutritionally complete. The nutrients include all the macros and micro nutrients:
*Carbohydrates- the calories served should range between 200-400 per serving or between 1400 – 2000 daily intakes. This amount is sufficient to get you through your day.
The amounts should also provide room for adjustment and variation according to your weight goals. A 200 calorie meal replacement feels more like a snack but is suitable for those looking to lose weight.
Other factors to note are:
Quality of the carbohydrates – high quality carbs come with a wide range of nutrients, including phytonutrients.
The highest quality is the least processed and unmodified one. Sources derived from fruits and vegetables are even higher quality for the rich nutritional accompaniment.
Quality is greater than the quantity…as it is often said; better little worth much than much worth little.
Dietary fibre - Fiber helps to slow the digestion of sugars and starches, thus preventing large spikes in blood sugar and insulin associated with diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain.
Fiber also helps move food along the gut by increasing its bulk. A healthy choice for meal shakes is one with at least 7g dietary fiber included.
*Protein- A good amount of protein is 25g per serving. So 25+ is good to go.
This supplies you enough for muscle growth, repair and development. Body builders and physically active persons may need more protein to maintain their muscle mass and get a muscle advantage.
Other factors to note on the protein include:
Protein source – common sources are whey and vegan/ plant protein which includes pea protein(what Vitaminfood uses), soy, rice protein.
The source is directly related to what effects it will have on you. Some sources like soy have serious long term side effects beside their many health benefits and cost advantages.
For Vitaminfood, pea protein is a universally beneficial protein source with no serious or long term side effects.
Protein profile – this is the number of amino acids present.
Plants have an incomplete profile often lacking in one or two essential amino acids. Choose a plant-based meal replacement with a higher number of essential amino acids; at least 9 out of the 10, and find a good supplement for that one which is deficient.
Common whole grain like wheat and quinoa resolves the methionine deficiency of peas.
A good choice also has a high number of Branched chain amino acids(BCAAs). BCAAs are useful in building muscle thickness and fro metabolism enzymes.
Digestibility and Absorption rate
These are measures of the ease of digestion and absorption by our bodies. The higher the ranking the better. How beneficial they will be for the body depend s on these two factors.
*Fats- fats are used in metabolism, hormone production, energy storage and heat insulation among other uses.
So they aren’t the devil they are preached to be. But they are a major area of your diet and meal replacements to watch because of the complications they can easily bring about.
Avoid trans-fats at all cost, maintain them at less than 1% of fat intake. Zero trans-fats is a good place to be.
Reduce your saturated fats to less than 10 % of total energy intake; <5% is even more advisable.
Opt for unsaturated fats which are from vegan sources like avocado, sesame, pumpkin seeds and nuts. This will effectively control your blood cholesterol and reduce your free radical toxicity.
Total fat intake should always be less than 30% of energy intake.
For those aiming to lose weight, a healthy recommendation is the one with the lowest fat intake, higher protein amount and moderate to low calorie intake.
*Vitamins and minerals - The meal replacement should also contain all essential micro nutrients. All 27 essential minerals and vitamins.
- Organically sourced - synthetic farm inputs and genetically modified plants greatly compromise
the safety of our food. The farm produce used for your meal replacement powder should be as natural and organic as you can.
Opt for these healthier alternatives and avoid the additional cost of chronic diseases like cancer. A little tour of a website could reveal this vital information.
Vitaminfood is one such organization that uses organic ingredients in the production.
- Allergens - casual as it may sound, allergens are a great health pointer. This varies from one person to another but those affected; whose number is substantial, need to watch out for allergens.
This includes lactose, gluten and soy, a common protein source. This can cause deadly reactions.
For those just starting out, it is important to observe any reactions that may arise due to introduction of a specific meal replacement.
The non-allergic effects could vary from bloating and passing gas to vomiting and nausea. Be keen and try different ones to find a comfortable fit. The allergens may never be there and if present it is largely because of the selected ingredients.
Healthy options aim for the least probability of allergens in their products.
- Nutrient balance - ensure your diet has a low glycemic index, low carbohydrate content, high
quality nutrients and no trans fat. A relative balance between nutrient types maintains an overall positive health progress.
A nutrient balance coupled with exercise has been hinted as a possible cure for diseases and desires like managing weight.
- No additives - additives are the problem with processed foods.
Additives compromise food that would otherwise be healthy. These are majorly sugar, preservatives and sweeteners.
You should choose a sugar-free meal shake or even better put meal replacement without added sugar. This is because the body never uses added sugar.
The added sugar disrupts the natural balance of blood glucose levels and may lead to Type 2 Diabetes.
A sugar-filled replacement is also not ideal because it makes one to crave more within a short time. The fullness effect is eliminated and the shake feels more like a snack than a meal. Rather than controlling weight, you will gain more very quickly and unhealthily.
Other additives are preservatives. Dried powder is preserved naturally but chemical preservatives have long term side effects to skin, liver and kidneys. Harmful chemicals contained are toxins to these excretory systems.
Highlights of a healthy option:
This list describes what your typical healthy shake or powder will look like and what the manufacturer will have highlighted. Some factors are not nutritive and therefore do not supersede the nutritional factors.
- Organically sourced products
- Probiotics that aid digestion
- Plenty phytochemicals – plant components in unprocessed foods linked to health boosts.
- Superfoods – these are foods with increased benefits. For us it is maca root powder which has significant and uncommon healthy benefits. These arent very common for meal replacements but would include moringa powder, saffron, neem tree and some cruciferous vegetables.
- Vegan consideration – vegans are prone to deficiencies due to lower absorption rates of plant diets and incomplete profile. A meal made with their consideration has extra nutrients.
- No artificial sugars
- Healthy sweeteners (natural and non-caloric)like stevia or monk fruit
- Dietary fiber included
- All essential vitamins and minerals – at least 60% of recommended daily intake.
- No artificial flavors or a neutral flavor – flavors might be a disguise for more harmful additives. Unless verifiable as natural, flavors should be avoided.
- Ease of preparation
- Thin smooth texture
- Creamy texture
- Allergen free
- Inflammatory ingredients – sweeteners, artificial flavors and colors
- Chalky inconsistency
- 100-200 calories – this is a snack not a meal
- Gluten, lactose and soy included (depending on your allergies)
- Heavy metals from chemical processing
- GMO farm produce
When is a meal replacement your best alternative?
Certain situations call for meal replacements. In some other cases it is a better option for its health benefits or to prevent unhealthier decisions.
A liquid diet prescription for recovery or cleansing is one such situation. The diet shakes can help you obtain a richer nutrient profile. People on diet plans can also use the pre-calculated amounts of substances in shakes to their advantage.
Those with busy schedules likewise benefit greatly from meal replacements. With a clear lack of time to prepare a meal or have a full course meal, maybe during lunchtime, complete nutrition can be achieved by use of meal replacements.
They are a wiser decision than a fast food joint or even some ultra-processed vegan alternatives.
Too unwilling to cook even when we have the free time. The time is all probably used up binge watching, catching up with friends or it is the scare of having to do dishes and clean the kitchen floor. Well, a meal replacement would also be a healthier alternative for your show time rather than ordering a pizza or an impossible burger.
Healthy meal replacements are also an ideal supplement for extra nutrients. If you are unsure of what you are or are not getting from your balanced meals, a shake will not hurt. Instead, complete nutrition shakes will supply you with all the micro nutrients that your body needs.
So get over the guesses and have some assurance about your nutritional profile. Deficiency of some nutrients like Vitamin B12 might take a long time before they kick in but so are its effects; they are almost irreversible. Once the reserves are entirely depleted, health turmoil begins.
Play it safe rather than sorry. A meal replacement shake every few days or weekly is all it takes to keep in shape.
Weight loss is another ideal scenario for these shakes. Especially plant-based meal replacement shakes. They go a long way in helping control carbohydrate intake by increasing the protein intake.
This allows you to lose extra fat and empty muscle while maintain good muscle mass altogether. The protein you get is also healthy; not from red and lean meat.
A Healthy inclusion plan for diet shakes
There are benefits for both solid and liquid meals. So a plan to healthily incorporate both options is a wise step.
The best plan is always what works for you.
Such a plan however, should be in the line of:
1 or 2 meals per day
This daily frequency can be repeated as often in the week as your regular meal demands. It can be daily or just twice a week depending on how many of your meals are complete and healthy.
A good meal replacement is also always a better option over fast food, so have it as many times as you would have had fast food.
Other concerns you might encounter are covered in the questions here.
Are plant-based meal replacements healthier than animal-protein meal shakes?
A bold answer would be yes.
Basically because animals products are linked to chronic diseases while plants are a healthy alternative. There are however unhealthier replacements because of poor regulation.
Plant-based diets benefits stretch from increased immunity and reduced inflammation to improved heart health. High quality plants will forever tramp animal based meals.
Plant based diets are beneficial beyond just your plate. They are good for the planet too.
Drinking vs Chewing food
Each of these has its unique benefits making it vital to maintain a healthy balance and not overlook one for the other.
Chewing is advantageous for its more perceptible alerts sent to the brain, flavor is picked up by tongue and respective enzymes produced better oral hygiene and teeth health and greater satisfaction.
Drinking is advantageous for increased nutrient density, increased absorption rate in the absence of soluble fiber, increased surface area for digestion by enzymes and juices.
To increase the benefits of drinking your food, take smaller sips and regulate intake of other sweetened beverages. Stick to water, your meal replacement shake and just one more drink.
Homemade meal replacements
What Vitaminfood offers is an excellent DIY (do it yourself) meal replacement.
The ready-made powder is supplied to you, you then scoop enough or according to your preference and mix with water. That’s it! The entire process!
Alternatively you might opt to blend in a banana, cherries, berries, cheer seeds, flax seeds and whatever else you feel obliged to add. Just mix them well in a blender. This could promote a feeling of natural or homemade and added nutrients.
The shake is healthy regardless but adding flavor and nutrients (fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds) won’t hurt at all. It will add a natural flavor for a neutral taste.
Vitaminfood does its best to deliver the healthiest meal replacement shake in the market. Judging by our nutritional profile, nutrient quantity and processing, we provide high quality to power you.
A perfect healthy diet suited for everyone is hypothetical primarily because of the variations. Variations in desires, diet plans and preferences and weight goals. Whichever variation though, it is important to highlight any unhealthy inconsistencies and rule out those options.
If you are looking to boost your health with meal replacements, Vitaminfood is the meal replacement of choice.