Without a doubt, meal replacement shakes are among the most convenient ways to get the nutrition of a full meal without consuming excessive calories.
Ideally, a healthy meal replacement shake would contain between 200 and 400 calories and a good amount of fiber, vitamins, protein, and essential minerals.
However, adding unhealthy foods to your meal substitute can compromise this balance, making the sacrifice of skipping your normal meals pointless, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
Six healthy foods to add to meal replacement shakes include Greek yogurt, cinnamon, peanut butter, milk, frozen banana, and oats.
Read on for science-based explanations as to why these foods make great additions to your meal replacement shakes. However, before we get to that, let’s review some important background information about meal replacement shakes.
A Quick Overview of Meal Replacement Shakes
Meal replacement shakes are available in many forms, but they can be broadly classified into two categories:
Total Meal Replacement Shakes
First, we have the total meal replacement shakes like the Beachbody Shakeology shake. These shakes are uniquely designed to fully substitute your normal meals by providing all the essential nutrients your body needs for healthy function.
Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss
There are also meal replacement shakes that come specifically formulated to make weight loss easier. Examples of these include Medifast, Nutrisystem, and Orgain.
Typically, shakes of this type have limited nutritional value and are low on calories, which makes them an ideal choice when you’re trying to shed off a few pounds and don’t want to substitute your normal daily meals completely.
Generally, meal replacements are supposed to be used for a short period because they often don’t have all the nutrients your body requires to sustain itself. It’s okay to use them for a few weeks or even a month, but you shouldn’t live solely on this types of meal replacement shakes for long because you can end with nutrient deficiencies.
6 Healthy Foods to Add to Meal Replacement Shakes
The main reason people add food ingredients to meal replacement shakes is to supplement each serving’s nutritional value.
While this might seem counterproductive for someone trying to shed off a few pounds, you can still stay on track in that regard if you choose healthy foods as shake additives.
This way, your body will be well-nourished and energized throughout the day, and your weight loss journey will be more bearable. Some food additives may also improve the taste of your meal replacement shakes, making them more palate-friendly.
But what are these healthy foods you should consider adding to your meal replacement shakes?
Let’s review the best options below.
Adding ½ cup of greek yogurt in your meal replacement shake doesn’t just make it extra creamy and tasty; it also boosts its nutritional content. That’s because Greek yogurt is packed with proteins, calcium, probiotics, vitamin B-12, and potassium.
Depending on size, a serving of Greek yogurt may contain between 12-17 grams of proteins, which is significantly higher than the protein content in milk. Proteins are important because they help your body build muscles and healthy bones and boost your immune system.
Calcium helps your body build muscles and is a critical requirement for the normal function of vital organs. Despite this all-important role, our bodies can’t synthesize calcium on their own, and it has to come from food or dietary supplements.
Given that its deficiency may stunt growth in children and increase the risk of osteoporosis in adults (which can’t be cured, by the way), adding Greek yogurt to your meal replacement shakes could save you a lot in medical bills.
Vitamin B-12 helps your body make red blood cells and DNA and ensures healthy brain function. Potassium, on the other hand, helps your body control sodium levels and lowers your blood pressure.
Lastly, Greek yogurt comes with “good bacteria and yeast” (AKA probiotics), which help maintain a healthy gut and prevent diarrhea.
Oats are gluten-free whole grains rich in proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients. All of these nutrients are critical to normal body functions, and some may help you lose weight.
Let’s take a deeper look at the most beneficial ones.
Oats contain a unique form of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan, which helps lower your LDL cholesterol levels.
In case you didn’t know, there are two broad types of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein).
Dubbed “the good cholesterol,” HDL helps your body get rid of excess cholesterol by absorbing and carrying it back to your liver, which then flushes it out. High levels of HDL can help lower your risk of stroke and heart disease.
On the other hand, LDL is often referred to as “the bad cholesterol,” and rightly so. It makes up most of the cholesterol in your body and can increase your risk of stroke and heart disease if its levels get too high.
So by lowering your LDL cholesterol levels, the soluble fiber in oats may help lower your risk of two of the most difficult conditions to live with: stroke and heart disease.
That’s not to mention that Beta-glucan fiber also helps keep your gut bacteria healthy, making your digestive system more efficient and increasing metabolism.
Oats have unique antioxidants known as avenanthramides, which help lower your blood pressure by enabling the production of nitric oxide.
Typically, nitric oxide makes your blood vessels dilate and, as a result, facilitates better blood flow.
Without a doubt, oats are among the best foods with the highest mineral content. Each gram of oats contains minerals such as manganese, copper, magnesium, iron, zinc, and folate.
Manganese improves bone health, while copper helps in the making of red blood cells. As for magnesium, it’s a critical requirement in metabolic reactions.
Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen to the various parts of your body.
Meanwhile, zinc boosts your immune system, while folate helps in the synthesis of red and white blood cells.
In addition to aiding the development of a healthy musculoskeletal structure and boosting the immune system, the protein in oats may help you lose weight.
Since proteins are made of much more complex molecules than carbohydrates, your body will take longer to break them down.
This makes protein a more durable energy source for your body, which translates to a higher satiety rating (AKA, feeling full for longer).
Science agrees with this reasoning, too.
In one study (titled: Effects of high-protein vs. high- fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women), researchers set out to determine whether eating a high-protein afternoon snack improves satiety, appetite control, and reduces the chances of subsequent food consumption in healthy women. They then compared that effect to that of eating other common high-fat, energy-dense snacks.
They found that consuming a high-protein afternoon snack has a more positive effect on satiety and appetite control than high-fat snacks.
Another study (titled: Acute effect of oatmeal on subjective measures of appetite and satiety compared to a ready-to-eat breakfast cereal: a randomized crossover trial) compared the satiety impact of commonly consumed ready-to-eat breakfast cereal to that of oatmeal and found that the high fiber and protein content of oatmeal gives it a better satiety rating than cereal.
That means adding high-protein oat to your shakes can help you minimize your chances of snacking between meals, which is great for weight loss.
By dry weight, oats are mostly carbohydrates and starch. You’re probably thinking, doesn’t this make it counterproductive to add oats to meal replacement shakes when you’re trying to lean up? Not necessarily.
Let me explain.
About 11% of the carbohydrates in oats is fiber, and 85% is starch. We all know that fiber is good for weight loss, so the problem is the load of starch.
But here’s the twist: most of the starch in oats is a type known as resistant starch, which functions like fiber in your digestive system.
Much like fiber, it escapes digestion, which means it won’t be absorbed and possibly stored as fat. It also feeds the “good bacteria” in your digestive tract, which helps improve gut health.
So while including oats in your replacement shakes will certainly add some carbs, they’ll be more or less the amount your body needs to function, and most of the starch won’t tip off your calorie balance because it won’t get digested and absorbed.
Cinnamon is a spice made from the barks of the cinnamon tree. It has long been used for its medicinal value, and modern science has proved that cinnamon has health-promoting nutrients.
For starters, cinnamon has a very powerful antioxidant known as polyphenols, which help with weight loss and digestion issues.
It also helps reduce insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Cinnamon helps this all-important hormone perform its functions in your body, which includes lowering blood sugar levels.
Apart from this positive effect on insulin resistance, cinnamon has other mechanisms of lowering blood sugar.
In one of these mechanisms, a compound in cinnamon interferes with several digestive enzymes to reduce the amount of glucose absorbed into your bloodstream after a heavy meal.
The second mechanism involves a compound in cinnamon acting on cells by mimicking the effects of insulin. This helps improve glucose absorption by your cells, even though cinnamon acts much slower in this regard compared to insulin.
These blood sugar-reducing mechanisms combine with cinnamon’s positive effect on insulin resistance make it a great addition to meal replacement shakes when you’re trying to lose weight or control your blood sugar levels.
In case you don’t know how much cinnamon to use, the most effective dose is about half to two teaspoonfuls a day.
Peanut butter is a superfood in its own right and a recommended source of healthy fat. Apart from improving the taste, adding peanut butter to your meal replacement shakes will enhance their nutritional value to provide the following benefits:
Preventing Cardiovascular Diseases
Peanut butter has monounsaturated fats, which are considered healthy fats because they lower your body’s cholesterol levels, among other health benefits.
Peanut butter also contains p-coumaric acid, facilitating the healing of cells that have sustained damage from cardiovascular diseases.
Promoting Strong Bones and Enabling Your Body to Form Hemoglobin
Peanut butter comes packed with high contents of calcium and iron. Iron is a critical requirement in the synthesis of hemoglobin (which helps transport oxygen in your body) and is also instrumental in thermoregulation.
As for calcium, it promotes the formation of strong bones and muscles and helps ensure the proper functioning of your heart, nerves, and muscles.
Helping Manage Diabetes
Typically, people with low magnesium levels are more susceptible to type 2 diabetes. This is because low levels of magnesium in your body impede insulin’s ability to lower your blood sugar level.
Blending peanut butter with your meal shakes will help protect you from diabetes 2 since peanut butter is a great magnesium source.
Peanut also has the lowest G.I index of 14. G.I is a scale that is used to rank foods depending on how they affect your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Typically, foods that are digested slowly (and as a result, release sugar gradually into your bloodstream) have a low G.I ranking while their quick-digesting counterparts are ranked high.
Eating foods with a high G.I index will cause your blood sugar to spike rapidly, and eventually, your blood sugar level will fall rapidly. Such continuous fluctuations in your blood sugar level can result in type 2 diabetes.
Milk (Whole, Soy, Oat, Almond, Rice, or Flax)
Sure, water is widely regarded as the leanest base for meal replacement shakes because it’s calorie-and-sugar-free. But if you’re looking to supplement your dietary Vitamin D, adding milk to your shakes is a great way to do that. Vitamin D is important for building strong bones, immunity, and reducing depression.
In addition to Vitamin D, milk also comes packed with health-promoting nutrients. In one 240 ml-cup of whole milk, there are:
- 149 calories
- 8 grams of protein
- 8 grams of fat
- 12 grams of carbs
- Vitamin D
Being low in calories but high in protein, magnesium, and potassium means milk can help with weight loss and blood pressure regulation.
The high protein content, in particular, is very useful when you’re trying to shed off some pounds because it improves satiety and appetite control (we covered this earlier, remember?).
It also makes milk a great ingredient for post-workout shakes, because protein helps your muscles recover and improves your body composition.
What’s more, the little carbs in milk help replenish your energy after an intense workout, which reduces feelings of drowsiness and fatigue.
But while adding milk to your meal replacement smoothie can be beneficial for weight loss, it can also be counterproductive if you use it in excessive amounts.
Since the amount you should use depends on your body type, BMI, among other factors, it would be wise to consult with your physician before adding milk to your meal replacement shakes.
The other issue you might have with milk is lactose. If you’re lactose intolerant, but still want to take advantage of milk’s immense nutritional value, soy, oat, almond, rice, or flax milk types can be great alternatives, provided they come fortified (especially with Vitamin D) and don’t have too much added sugar.
Bananas are a delicious source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, copper, carbs, protein, and fat. Such a complete nutritional profile gives them a multitude of health benefits.
However, for purposes of our discussion, we’ll focus on those relevant to weight loss, heart health, and blood sugar regulation.
The high amount of potassium and decent magnesium content makes bananas great for heart health because both minerals help reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping the blood pressure low.
Meanwhile, the abundance of pectin and resistant starch in unripe bananas helps moderate blood sugar levels.
Pectin reduces the time it takes to empty your gut to keep you full for longer and subsequently check your appetite.
On the other hand, resistant starch functions pretty much like fiber in your digestive system and helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome (we covered this earlier on).
The one issue you might have with ripe bananas is that they have more sugar than unripe ones.
However, they offset the effect the extra sugar might have on your calorie balance by packing more soluble fiber than unripe bananas. Typically, soluble fiber helps with weight loss because it induces longer-lasting satiety and lowers LDL cholesterol levels.
Bananas (especially unripe ones) would make a healthy and tasty addition to your meal replacement shakes.
And since fresh bananas often result in frothy shakes, it’s recommended to freeze them for a while beforehand.
This way, you’ll improve your shakes’ consistency and give them a refreshing kick, which is great for palatability.
Ultimately, the above healthy add on ingredients to meal replacement shakes will help you achieve your weight loss goals.
However, as with many other weight-loss diets, adding too much of these foods may compromise your progress.
Even the healthiest foods still have some calories, and it’s up to you to find the sweet spot in terms of the right amounts to add by consulting with a physician.
If you’re interested in a healthy meal replacement, check out the following: 16 Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Nutrition & Health
- Bella All Natural:12 Things to Blend Into Your Meal Replacement Shakes
- Ideal Shape: 7 Ways to Make Your Meal Replacement Shakes Healthier & Tastier
- Medical News Today: Diabetes and peanut butter: Effects, research, and risks
- Healthline: 11 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Bananas
- Healthline: 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Cinnamon
- Healthline: Is There a Best Time to Drink Milk?
- Healthline: Magnesium and Diabetes: How Are They Related?
- edu: Bananas