Are Meal Replacement Shakes Actually Useful?

Let’s first clarify that meal replacement shakes are not to be confused with protein shakes, though the differences are nit-picky: a meal replacement shake typically has between 200-500 calories and tick off a bunch of nutritional checkmarks with added vitamins, minerals, fiber, and some protein.

Meanwhile, a protein shake might be between 80 to 180 calories, has a narrower spectrum of vitamins, offers more versatility in what you can do with it, and unsurprisingly, contains a lot more protein. Most meal replacement shakes are marketed as weight loss aids, but others, like Soylent, are meant to eliminate the very first-world problem of wasting time to prepare and chew your food.

I agree with you that the Kool-Aid hype is strong in this one. There’s a lot of fanfare around Shakeology, and social proof is one of the most powerful biases to get people to believe something may be good, or at least worth trying.Shakeology seems reasonable at a glance: a serving of chocolate flavored Shakeology offers a respectable 17 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber with an impressively long list of vitamins and healthy-sounding “superfood” ingredients. Sounds great, but now let’s put on our skeptic’s hats.

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In general, added vitamins tend to have a big, fat health halo. People may believe that just because vitamins have been added to a food, it’s nowsupposedly better for you (case in point: Vitamin Suga—I mean, Water) and it’s okay to have more of it. Don’t be fooled. In fact, if your diet is varied and balanced, mineral or vitamin supplements have no clear benefit, writes the editors of this article in the Annals of Internal Medicine. More importantly, shakes (whether they’re protein or meal replacement ones) aren’t regulated very closely by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so don’t expect the product to fulfill its promises on the label, or contain the ingredients it says it does either.I’m not picking on just Shakeology here. These apply to any plastic bottle full of hopes and dreams.

One thing’s for sure, Shakeology has convenience going for it, but it’s expensive. If we do the math and break down the cost of a single container, it comes out to about $4.33 a serving. It doesn’t seem so absurd now. It’s about on par with a smoothie from Jamba Juice or a bottle of Protein Zone by Naked Juice, but still, there are more reasonably priced alternatives if you really, really want shakes.

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