Packaged, powdered shakes are designed to help you lose weight by reducing the total number of calories you consume. If you use shakes as occasional meal replacements, you could save hundreds of calories a day and you could lose up to several pounds a month. In some cases, though, the shakes may not be providing high-quality nutrition. To make the healthiest choices, learn more about what to look for on a shake’s nutrition label.
A healthy meal contains a balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and so should a healthy diet shake. Protein may be the most important nutrient in your shake, as it is more satiating than carbs or fats, so getting enough protein will curb hunger pangs before your next meal. You should look for shakes that have at least 10 grams of protein, recommends Everett Clinic endocrinologist Dr. Michael Tamber. Whey, soy, brown rice, hemp and peas are all isolated sources of protein that provide some nutritional benefits. Most carbs in your drink should come from natural ingredients, rather than from added sugar, so look for drinks that limit sugar to a few grams and fat to no more than 2 grams.
Vitamins, Minerals and Additives
Weight loss shakes are classified as dietary supplements, and often are mixes of isolated nutrients and additives, rather than whole foods. Because whole foods provide naturally protective substances such as phytonutrients and antioxidants, supplemental shakes generally have lower quality nutrition. Shakes that contain added vitamins, minerals and fiber may provide some advantages over drinks that aren’t supplemented with any nutrients, but it’s healthiest to make sure you’re getting those added vitamins and minerals through whole food sources at other meals, too.
You may think that very low-calorie shakes are the best choices for weight loss, but that isn’t necessarily true. When you’re using a shake as a meal replacement, it needs to have enough calories to keep you full for at least several hours -- but not as many calories as you’d have in a regular meal. You should choose meal replacement shakes that are less than 200 calories, according to Emily Rubin, a registered dietician at Jefferson University Hospital, in a 2013 interview with ABC News. If your shake is lacking in a particular nutrient, such as fiber, you can supplement the drink with a high-fiber snack such as 1/2 cup cooked lentils or brown rice.
If you have a blender or food processor, making your own shake is a guaranteed way to get a healthy meal replacement while maintaining control over what’s in the shake and how many calories it contains. It also gives you the opportunity to feature whole food ingredients, which boosts the shake’s nutritional profile. Start with a base of 1/2 cup of water or nonfat milk. For protein, add nonfat yogurt, more milk or protein powder. To flavor the shake and add vitamins and minerals, blend in a frozen banana, a cup of fresh or frozen berries or cocoa powder. Finish by blending in crushed ice, pour and serve.