Last Updated on March, 2023
You’ll often see praise for meal replacement shakes here and there. Meal replacement shakes are praised for being effective “shortcuts” to weight loss and building muscle, but there’s more to them than just how they help. Like other nutritional supplements, these shakes have a lot to watch out for.
Nothing is completely helpful and perfect, especially if you have too much of it. That’s especially the case for meal replacements. With the high demand for these supplements and a need for variety, many ingredients are used for their production.
However, not all of these ingredients are as helpful as manufacturers might claim. So you have to keep an eye out for plenty to avoid significant issues with your health. To help you avoid these, we’ve done some of our research and prepared an extensive list of the worst ingredients in meal replacement shakes.
Listing the Worst Ingredients in Your Meal Shakes
All of the ingredients we’re about to list are harmful in different ways. We’ll be explaining why these ingredients are harmful and highly recommend that you try to avoid regular consumption of these ingredients in any form. With that said, let’s get on with the list.
Many people are under the impression that the only harmful ingredients are artificial ones. That’s not true, as even natural herbs can be detrimental to our health depending on how they’re used. An example of this is senna, a popular ingredient in meal replacements.
This herb is a pretty strong laxative that has been used medicinally for years to treat constipation. However, it doesn’t belong in a proper meal unless you have digestion issues, especially not in meal replacement shakes meant to help your gut health instead of ruining it.
Many experts have strongly recommended avoiding regular consumption of senna as it leads to dehydration, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and more. In some cases, eating it too often can cause your bowels to stop functioning properly, which no one wants to deal with. (1)
Related: Can Meal Replacement Shakes Cause Gas?
A type of ingredient used in nearly all pre-made products, preservatives are one of the worst ingredients of them all. While there’s no doubt that they’re great at helping us keep some foods (such as meal replacements) for more extended periods, they’re not so great for us.
Despite being meant to “preserve,” these ingredients are ironically horrible for preserving human health. Several of the most popular ones have been proven to cause long-lasting medical issues and side effects. This mainly includes nitrates and benzoates.
These two, in particular, have been linked with stomach cancer and several other side effects. On the other hand, preservatives keep our food safe and even help us avoid illnesses. Of course, you don’t have to avoid them altogether, but try to limit their consumption as much as possible.
Maltodextrin or dextrins are some of the most popular ingredients in meal replacement shakes to give them a better texture. Many people love drinks such as these to be thick and creamy, but that’s hard to achieve with just powdered blends of healthy ingredients.
That’s where maltodextrin enters the picture. It’s a famous thickener used in many products such as these. It’s a powder made out of starch-based carbohydrates like rice and corn. While rice and corn are healthy and natural, maltodextrin isn’t.
It’s highly preserved and has artificial ingredients mixed with it. It’s especially harmful to anyone with diabetes because it carries a vast glycemic load. If you’re on any prescriptions, contact your doctor/dietitian before making this ingredient a part of your diet. (2)
4. Artificial Sweeteners
Why are meal replacement shakes hailed as such a great “shortcut” to weight loss and a healthier body? The answer is low sugar. So, how do meal replacement shakes taste so sweet and nice despite that low sugar? The answer to that is artificial sweeteners.
Weight loss products are loaded with these, and most meal replacement shakes feature them in abundance. But, unfortunately, while they’re good for weight loss, they’re horrible for our health. Most popular artificial sweeteners are proven to cause inflammation, issues with metabolism, and general problems with gut health.
As good as they are for making your body look good on the outside, they’re horrible for what’s on the inside, and that’s what’s more important. Keeping that in mind, avoid regular consumption of these sweeteners at all costs and buy meal replacements that don’t have them. (3)
Worth reading: Meal Replacement Shakes Without Stevia
We’ve already mentioned artificial ingredients in general, but one that’s worth explicitly mentioning is sucralose. It’s arguably the most popular in meal replacement shakes and is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar.
It isn’t suitable for those that want to manage their blood sugar level, as it’s known to cause frequent spikes if consumed regularly. It also eliminates some of the helpful bacteria in our gut, causing various health problems.
Sucralose is one of the most common sweeteners used in these supplements, and we recommend you avoid drinking it regularly, if at all. It does much more harm than good and will almost certainly harm you if you consume it daily. We advise that you look for shakes without them.
6. Artificial Flavors
Sweeteners aren’t the only artificial ingredients in meal replacement shakes you have to watch out for. To ensure regular sales of foods and drinks, you have to make sure they taste great. Artificial flavors help manufacturers with that very purpose.
The worst thing about these ingredients is that the people who make them aren’t legally forced to disclose exactly what they are. That means they could potentially include various harmful chemicals or allergens to give the product a good taste.
Consider avoiding these entirely, as they will likely end up harming you. There are no specific disadvantages because different manufacturers use different artificial flavors. However, all of these have cons, making it impossible to generalize what they are.
7. Xanthan Gum
A standard “stabilizer” used in many food products is xanthan gum. It’s an ingredient that helps make a meal replacement shake’s texture thicker. It’s most common in gluten-free products since it gives the texture that gluten usually would.
It’s a legally-safe ingredient but has been proven to cause issues when consumed regularly. Avoid making meal replacement shakes with this a big part of your diet, as xanthan gum is proven to slow down digestion. It can cause problems like weakness, nausea, fatigue, etc.
What’s more, xanthan gum can even act as a laxative for the body. So you don’t want any of those during your day-to-day diet unless you’re medically obliged to, as they can negatively affect the digestive system, which is another reason to avoid this ingredient. (4)
Fillers are an effective way for manufacturers to profit from their meal replacement shakes. So, they’re often found in these supplements. They’re a type of ingredient which bulk up the amount of protein in the shake.
While you might think that’s a good thing at first, that’s not necessarily true. While more protein is usually beneficial, its source is also essential. These fillers generally include ingredients like psyllium and coconut flour, which cause digestion issues.
These issues include bloating, constipation, flatulence, gastric distress, etc. To avoid these, make sure that you don’t consume too many “filler” ingredients.
9. Vegetable Oils
Many people are under the idea that vegetable oils are good for them simply because they come from vegetables. But unfortunately, that’s not the case, as these are refined and processed ingredients that aren’t as natural as they sound.
They include lots of OMEGA 6 acids, which are different from their healthier counterpart, omega3. While OMEGA 6 acids are also an essential part of diets, they shouldn’t be consumed too often, as experts have said they can lead to various issues for the body.
Eating too many OMEGA 6 acids will almost certainly lead to problems with the heart, including diseases such as cancer. You probably eat the recommended amount of these in your daily diet already, so avoid them in meal replacement shakes to make sure you don’t overdo it and open yourself up to problems like these.
Soy is another prevalent ingredient in meal replacement shakes because it’s one of the best alternatives for dairy. Since there are so many dairy-free shakes, many of them have soy. But, just because it’s one of the best doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for you.
Soy is an allergen and has horrible effects on those who eat it despite allergies. Even those that aren’t allergic to soy are advised to avoid eating it too often. It causes increased estrogen levels and can lead to other issues. (5)
There are lots of benefits to it, though. That means you don’t have to avoid it if you aren’t allergic completely. Just try not to consume it too often, as you’ll likely run into problems that way. So we recommend you buy a best meal replacement shake without soy.
Do All Meal Replacements Contain These Ingredients?
Every meal replacement shake features a unique formula. Because of that, they all feature unique flavor profiles, meaning none are entirely the same. So, there are always some ingredients that might be similar between the two shakes and some that are entirely different.
That’s the case with all of the ingredients we’ve listed above. They’re in many shakes, but they’re not in every single one. Many alternative options don’t feature any of these ingredients, and you shouldn’t have too much of a hard time finding them.
The world of meal replacements is very competitive. That’s why manufacturers try to pander to as many kinds of consumers as possible. Since some people already know how harmful all the ingredients we’ve mentioned are, some manufacturers avoid using them.
Try to buy their products instead of settling for one or two harmful ingredients in your meal replacement shake, especially if you plan to make it a big part of your diet.
Some of the Healthy Ingredients Meal Replacements Contain
Don’t be disheartened reading just about the worst ingredients in these shakes. There are many exceptional ones as well, and you must know more about them. So, let’s go through an overview of some of the healthiest ingredients that meal replacements contain:
- Healthy Protein: You’ll find a lot of good protein from various sources inside meal replacement shakes if you buy the right one. These sources include eggs, seafood, meat, and even some vegan alternatives, which are completely healthy.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Meal replacements are ideal for the number of vitamins and minerals they hold. This includes essential vitamins such as vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, and lots of other micronutrients which are helpful for the body.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are also vital for the body, but many people don’t get the recommended daily amount through their regular diets. The best meal replacements are usually filled with these, so you’ll be able to get more of them through these drinks.
- Whole Grains: Meal replacements might include whole grains in their ingredients. These have advantages, such as boosted gut health, lower risk of cancer, lower risk of heart disease, lots of fiber, and much more.
- Beneficial Carbs: Carbohydrates can be good for the body if you get the right ones and the right amount. Meal replacements include ideal sources for these, including nuts, grains, seeds, fruits, vegetables, etc, which should satisfy most people’s needs.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider and avoid while choosing meal replacement shakes to add to your diet. But, if you’ve gone through all the details we’ve shared above, you know what to look for in your supplements to make sure they’re as healthy as possible.
We’ve covered all of the worst ingredients in meal replacement shakes. Now that you know more about them, you can decide what approach to take. If you’re looking to try meal shakes with safe ingredients and no artificial sweeteners in them, check out our recommendations.
Feel free to ask us any questions and share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll cover any related details there if we haven’t already in the article!
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