A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

5 reasons for using meal replacements

person scooping protein powder shake

A nutritionist can help you decide whether meal replacements are right for you and your health goals.

Breakfast? Check.

Lunch? Too busy, skipped it.

Dinner? Long days, usually dine late.

If you think this schedule aids in your weight-loss goals, think again. A 2015 Ohio State University study suggests skipping meals can actually cause more fat gain instead of fat loss.

This begs the question: Are meal replacements a safe option for busy people or to achieve weight-loss goals?

What are meal replacements?

“If you have a choice between skipping meals or using meal replacements, it may be beneficial to choose meal replacements,” said Kristene Schulte, a Marshfield Clinic registered dietitian.

Meal replacements can come in different forms such as drinks, shakes, bars or soups. Meal replacements also are different from protein shakes, which are often less filling and designed to provide more protein. Each has controlled quantities of calories and nutrients.

“It’s extremely important to understand meal replacements are specially formulated and meant to replace meals. They will provide a significant amount of calories along with a variety of nutrients,” Schulte said. “Unless you’re trying to gain weight, you shouldn’t add these on top of your full breakfast, lunch or dinner.”

They are not like vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements, which do not add calories.

If you are watching your weight and still feel hungry after you’ve had a meal replacement, consider adding low-calorie vegetables or fruit, Schulte said.

Reasons to consider meal replacements

Different situations may make meal replacements a good fit:

  • Your doctor prescribed a liquid diet for recovery after surgery.
  • You are regularly skipping meals.
  • You would like to lose weight.
  • You are ill and have little appetite.
  • You don’t have time for cooking and cleaning up the kitchen, but still need to eat!

Disadvantages

Consider these downfalls:

  • Meal replacements have varying calorie counts and sugar content. Read labels and make sure ingredients line-up with your health and wellness goals.
  • You may not like how they taste. Some people complain of a chalky taste.
  • You may become bored or miss the variety of eating full meals.
  • Cost can be high. Meal replacements are often more expensive than healthy, home-cooked meals.

Your doctor can help you decide

Talk with your doctor before beginning any diet program. Your provider can refer you to a dietitian if you are unsure about which path to take.

“Meal replacements aren’t for everyone,” Schulte said. “If you begin using them as long-term weight-loss solutions, it’s best to talk with your doctor about referral to a registered dietitian who can evaluate your needs and help you incorporate your goals into a well-balanced, nutritious plan.” 

Marshfield Clinic offers Nutrition Services at multiple locations.

Learn about the HMR® program for weight loss offered through Marshfield Clinic.

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