Every year, millions of people go on diets trying to lose excess weight and improve their health and appearance. Meal replacement shakes are a popular choice that has been around for decades, but is this weight loss option all it’s cracked up to be?
The side effects of meal replacement shakes vary from person to person. However, thanks to a few common ingredients, the most regularly reported side effects are related to indigestion. Other side effects include weight gain if not properly used, and problems that stem from certain ingredients.
In this article, we will take a look at meal replacement shakes and some of their common ingredients and examine the side effects of these weight loss aids. If you are curious about meal replacement shakes but are concerned about potential risks and side effects, read on.
Meal Replacement Shakes: The Basics
Meal replacement shakes are any drink designed to replace either a meal or act as a snack in between regular, solid food meals. These shakes provide a preset amount of calories and nutrients designed to provide you with the energy and sustenance to get you through the day.
The amount of nutrition within a meal replacement shake depends on the manufacturer and its intended use. Many shakes contain 150-200 calories. However, other brands offer around 400 calories per shake.
They are designed to aid in weight loss by providing a quick, easy meal with all the calories necessary without the temptation to overeat.
There is also evidence to suggest that the psychology of eating the same meal with the same texture over and over again can have a psychological effect that reduces appetite, which can also help with weight loss. However, there is not a consensus on the validity of this assertion.
While these shakes may help some people to lose weight, there are also some negative effects associated with meal replacement shakes that you need to keep in mind.
When using meal replacement shakes to lose weight, how you drink them is an important part of the process.
Many of these products contain calories that, while not equivalent to an entire meal, are much higher than other liquids. This means you have to use them correctly and not simply as a tasty drink.
If you are drinking a meal replacement shake in between meals and not altering your existing, unhealthy eating habits, these shakes can end up making you gain weight.
It is important to monitor your body and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to see the benefits of meal replacement shakes as a weight loss aid.
Synthetic Compounds and Artificial Ingredients
The medium of a prepackaged shake or dehydrated powdered does not easily incorporate whole foods, so many of these products rely on artificial ingredients.
Many of the vitamins and minerals in meal replacement shakes are derived through chemical synthesis. Though similar to naturally occurring versions, these compounds can be much more difficult for your body to absorb, which can lead to deficiencies that can have a variety of negative consequences.
Another problem with many of these meal replacement shakes is that they often contain emulsifiers like carrageenan. This red seaweed extract has come under fire in recent years for a growing association with various health issues.
Studies have suggested that carrageenan may be linked to digestive issues, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), colitis, and even colon cancer.
Many meal replacement shakes also contain artificial sweeteners, specifically sucralose. Many people think that since they aren’t drinking sugar, these sweeteners must be good for them.
However, they can lead to several health issues. People who are not used to consuming sugars can have the same effects on blood sugar levels, causing spikes and drop-offs.
There is also evidence that sucralose can damage the complex microflora of the gut, which can have a variety of negative impacts on long-term health. The development of diseases can increase with a reduced microflora diversity in the gut and other effects that scientists continue to study.
Most meal replacement shakes are sold as non-perishable, meaning they are packed full of preservatives. While not all meal replacement shakes use some of the nastier compounds, some contain nitrosamine, which has shown a troubling correlation between the substance and cancer in subjects.
Some of these products even contain senna, an ingredient in laxatives that can lead to diarrhea.
In short, here are the ingredients to stay away from in meal replacement shakes:
- Artificial Ingredients
- Emulsifiers Like Carrageenan
- Artificial Sweeteners Like Sucralose
An Incomplete Substitute
A balanced diet is about much more than just calories. The vitamins, minerals, and nutrients essential to a healthy body are difficult to incorporate into a single, prepackaged shake.
This is one reason that no doctor or nutritionist recommends completely replacing solid foods with meal replacement shakes. Vitamin deficiency is a dangerous condition that can have devastating long term effects on the body.
Although it would be an extreme situation, anemia could develop if proper vitamins are not maintained in the body. The lack of B12, folate, and vitamin C in most meal replacement shakes can eventually lead to fatigue, dizziness, and muscle weakness that characterize this serious health condition.
It is also difficult to get enough fiber from meal replacement shakes. Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, found in fruits, vegetables, and grains, and the lack of proper fiber levels can have negative effects on your body, ranging from irritating to dire.
Constipation is a common problem associated with a lack of fiber, and in more extreme cases, diverticulosis can occur. This is an irreversible condition that develops when the digestive tract loses muscle tone and small pouches form in the intestinal tract wall.
Low fiber can also further upset the gut’s microfauna balance and may even increase the risk of colon cancer.
Along with the physical issues associated with meal replacement shakes, there are also psychological effects from long-term usage.
The complex relationship that we form with food is born out in studying how different food experiences elicit psychological responses. Sensory-specific satiety is a term that relates to the decreased pleasantness of a certain food with uneaten food. This means that the more you eat a certain food, the less appetizing it becomes than other food.
This can have dramatic results when switching from a varied, solid food diet to a monotonous liquid one. Over time, cravings for other foods will increase, making sticking to a meal replacement shake diet more difficult. There is also the possibility that people may have an increased likelihood of returning to overeating and other unhealthy eating habits once they stop using meal replacement shakes.
The psychology of our relationship with food is a discipline that is constantly changing as new research is conducted. However, there aren’t many experts that would suggest eating a liquid diet is a healthy, long term nutrition plan.
This is why many nutritionists emphasize the fact that developing healthy eating habits is more effective in losing weight than any other single dietary solution, including meal replacement shakes.
There is no doubt that meal replacements shakes are a controversial topic in health and nutrition. While there are certainly some benefits of grabbing a quick meal on the go when time is tight, regular long term use of these products is not recommended by any health expert.
Some of these side effects, like diarrhea, could be seen after only a single serving of a meal replacement shake, while others would require years of continual use.
However, they are all potential risks that should be considered before adding these products to your diet. You don’t want to compromise your health.
Check out our Top Recommended Meal Replacement Shakes Here. These shakes are healthy and don’t make use of artificial ingredients and potentially harmful ingredients like common meal replacement shakes on the market.
- National Library of Medicine: Effect of Limiting Snack Food Variety On Long-Term Sensory-Specific Satiety and Monotony During Obesity Treatment
- National Library of Medicine: Health Benefits of Fruit and Vegetables Are From Additive and Synergistic Combinations of Phytochemicals
- US National Library of Medicine: Review of Harmful Gastrointestinal Effects of Carrageenan in Animal Experiments
- National Library of Medicine: Splenda Alters Gut Microflora and Increases Intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in Male Rats
- US National Library of Medicine: The Impact of the Gut Microbiota on Human Health: An Integrative View
- National Library of Medicine: Nitrosamine and Related Food Intake and Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review of the Epidemiological Evidence
- Medline Plus: Senna
- Cleveland Clinic: Diverticulosis & Diverticulitis of the Colon
- Fooducate: Food and the Brain: Hunger Satisfaction