Nothing can split opinion amongst those on a diet more than the weight loss (or to give them their ‘proper’ name, meal replacement) shake.
People often tend to fall into the evangelical, ‘this will change your life’ camp or the dubious, ‘you want me to replace two meals a day with this shit?’ camp.
There is always plenty of noise swirling around the interwebs regarding meal replacement shakes, making it difficult to actually nail down the true facts from the anecdotal ‘it worked for my cousin’s sister’s dog groomer’s best friend’ evidence. We’ve rounded up the evidence from trusted sources to give you the lowdown on how weight loss shakes work, why they work (it’s not magic sadly) and what to look for when choosing one.
Weight Loss Shakes: Do they work?
The biggie – ‘cos no one wants to be living off a largely liquid diet for the hell of it. The answer? Yes-ish. Meal replacement shakes can work very effectively in the short term but only if you’re committed to using them in exactly the way it was suggested by your chosen program which is usually to replace two meals a day and then enjoy a low-calorie, balanced meal for the third.
The Weight Management Industry of Australia reports that meal replacement products have been shown in clinical trials to produce a weight loss of 3 to 9.5 kg over one to five years. They caution however that they are not a substitute for your entire daily food intake and should be used in conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise.
In other words, they are not a magic pill. They can help you lose a substantial amount of weight but to do so, you really do not to commit and work on building new habits for the long term.
Why do they work?
The science behind why meal replacement or weight loss shakes and other products work is not complicated. Typically, your standard meal replacement shake will be extremely low in calories (usually between 800kj-900kj per serve). If you are replacing your typical breakfast and lunch with a weight loss shake, your overall calorie intake will be dramatically reduced. Experts generally recommend that to lose weight steadily, women should consume around 1200 calories per day. Weight loss shakes make it very easy (in theory) to stick to this number of calories without the need for meal planning or prepping. In short, they help you eat less and consume fewer calories. In conjunction with a third, healthy meal each day and moderate exercise, you will be able to achieve a reasonable calorie deficit which means you are using more energy than you are consuming.
The downside? Fewer calories mean that your tummy may spend a lot more time rumbling, especially in the early days. If you are used to consuming more than 1200 calories (which many of us are), cutting right back can come as a shock to the system and leave you more prone to snacking or really going hell for leather during your non-shake meal each day.
The Canstar Blue survey of dieting Aussies found that 64% of those surveyed ended up snacking between meals after not feeling satisfied post shake which goes some way in explaining why less than 60% of respondents reported successfully losing weight while using meal replacement shakes. The moral of the story? You need to find a product and/or brand that leaves you feeling relatively full and satisfied.
What to look for when choosing a Meal Replacement product or weight loss shake?
There is no shortage of options when it comes to weight loss shakes. The market is absolutely saturated with products, all making slightly different claims but with the same end result — weight loss. The majority of products are made with skim milk powder and are high in protein and fibre and very low in fat. Many also contain ingredients like wheat and soy which is worth noting for those who may be sensitive or intolerant.
One of the most important things to note when choosing a product is the sugar content. Canstar found that some products can contain up to 23g of sugar per serve (almost 6 teaspoons!) while others contained less than 2g. The type of sugar it used is also important. Fructose, xylitol, stevia and a variety of artificial sweeteners are the most commonly used to ensure the shake tastes good. Clearly, avoiding products with an excess of sugar is going to be your best bet for sustained weight loss.
There are also a number of more ‘natural’ products hitting the market which are free from artificial sweeteners and use largely whole, organic ingredients. The downside to these weight loses shakes is the cost, sometimes more than double your typical supermarket brand.
Who makes the cut?
Canstar Blue commissioned market research agency Colmar Brunton to survey 6,000 Australian adults to gather data on the most popular meal replacement shakes. The results were taken from customers within the survey group who have purchased and used a weight loss shakes in the last six months – in this case, 891 people.
The following products were awarded either 4 or 5 stars (out of 5) for overall customer satisfaction
5 stars for customer satisfaction, effectiveness, hunger suppression, taste and variety of flavours.
IsoWhey offers a range of meal replacement snacks and shakes that use pure, grass-fed whey protein and 23 vitamins and minerals for a comprehensive nutritional profile. The shakes come in five different flavours and are free from gluten, artificial flavours, colours and sweeteners with 1.5g of sugar per serve. I like the fact that this has significantly less sugar than other brands!
Comes in the following flavours:
- Strawberries & Cream
- Salted Caramel
- Classic Coffee
- Madagascan Vanilla
- Ivory Coast Chocolate
- Banana Smoothie
- Madagascan Diabetic Formula
- Ivory Coast Chocolate Diabetic Formula
2. Aldi Slim & Trim
4 stars for overall satisfaction, hunger suppression, taste and variety of flavours and 5 stars for effectiveness.
The Aldi Slim & Trim range took out top place in 2013, 2014 and 2015 before being toppled by IsoWhey in 2016. The range has no artificial colours, sweeteners and gluten and no added preservatives. The formulation is high in fibre and protein and 99% fat-free. It does, however, contain 23.4g of sugar per 55g which is at the higher end of the scale.
Jody from Gympie says about the Aldi Shakes:
“I only like the coffee satchet, and it is quite delicious. The mix is really hard to dissolve though, so you end up getting a few lumpy bits in your shake… like a mini coffee-bomb, lucky it taste nice so I don’t mind too much.”
Tony Ferguson Meal Replacement Shakes
4 stars for overall satisfaction, hunger suppression and taste and 5 stars for effectiveness and variety of flavours.
The Tony Ferguson range offers a variety of programs including the VLCD (very low calorie diet), the rapid program, the classic program and the weight for life program which is only available in consultation with a Tony Ferguson Weight Loss consultant. The Rapid program is the most widely used and involves replacing two meals a day with Tony Ferguson shake. The shakes come in three different flavours and are high in protein and fibre and free from gluten. Each shake also contains 18.6g of sugar per 230ml serve (made with low fat milk).
4 stars for overall satisfaction, hunger suppression, effectiveness, taste and variety of flavours.
The Atkins range includes two ‘Atkins Advantage Mix’ shakes with protein, essential vitamins, fibre and less than 3g of total carbs (including sugar).
Should you try a meal replacement program?
That is a decision best made in consultation with your GP or a registered dietician. The Weight Management Industry of Australia reported that meal replacement shakes, when used in conjunction with a healthy eating professional have a better chance of working long term. It seems using weight loss shakes to ‘kick start’ your weight loss while gradually implementing healthy habits is the way forward. Many programs only recommend using their products continuously as meal replacements for 12 weeks at a time. This is thought to be enough time to establish weight loss and new habits which can then be phased into ‘normal life’.