How to Choose Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight loss

While there are different types of shakes, in this article we’ll focus on shakes to replace your meal and help you lose weight. These are called meal replacement shakes.

These shakes have to include protein, vitamins and minerals and must be low-calorie and low-carb to reduce your calorie intake. They contain fewer calories than a full meal but still provide all the nutrients your body needs to keep it healthy.

If you’ve been looking at this type of shake, you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of options available.

Understanding the way the ingredients effect our bodies will help us determine guidelines so we know which shakes are best for the purpose of weight loss and how to make our daily meals and snacks healthier.

Note: These are the guidelines I used when I selected my “Top 3 meal replacement shakes” shared in my recent guide “How to lose weight with Meal replacement Shakes“

The most important ingredient: Healthy Diet Habits

In “How to lose weight with Meal replacement Shakes“, I’ve shared my meal replacement shakes diet plan. I replaced my breakfast with a shake.

Besides breakfast, in our day, we have 2 more main meals (lunch and dinner) and 2 or 3 snacks.

If we’re committed to losing weight we need to make all our meals and snacks healthier by reducing sugar, avoiding processed food and avoiding overeating.

Sticking to healthy diet habits will get you the results you want much faster. The key to a healthy weight loss journey is making healthy habits part of your lifestyle – healthy habits will deliver the results you are looking for.

That’s why, for each feature, I’ll mention what your meal replacement shake should have and how can we add that feature to our daily diet plan. That way, not only will your shakes be healthier but your diet will be too!

So, the question is, what must your meal replacement shake contain if you want to lose weight?

Here are the 10 most important features that your meal replacement shake should have. The how and why are all explained below in simple and easy terms.

1 – Very low sugar: less than 3 grams

Your liver processes sugar (fructose or glucose) and when levels are high this forces the liver to convert sugar to fat in your body.

We should always avoid added sugars and sugar-rich foods, especially if we want to lose weight.

As you may already realise I do believe sugar is the number 1 cause of weight and health problems on our society and I’ve written several articles about it. Pick one and a quick read will change your mind and hopefully motivate you to change your sugar habits.

“My 20 Days No Sugar Story” my personal story of getting rid of sugar on my diet.

“How Sugar Makes You Fat” my friend Emilio explains how scientifically sugar makes you fat.

“Welcome to 20 No-Sugar Days Diet” Free Challenge, 20 days with no added sugar, can you do it ?

Meal Replacement Shakes

The best shakes for losing weight are low in sugar, less than 3 grams, or even less than 1 gram.

In our diet

We must limit or avoid foods that are sugar-rich:

  • Granulated sugar
  • Soft drinks
  • Candies
  • Cookies, Cakes & Pies
  • Jams
  • Fruit Canned in Syrup
  • Sauces (Mayonnaise, Ketchup, Barbecue )
  • Ice creams

Note: Fruit contains fructose but it’s almost impossible to have high levels of fructose in our body even if you eat a lot of fruit.

2 – Low-Calorie: force our body to use fat for fuel

Anything that contains energy has calories, so anything we eat or drink contains calories which provides energy for our body.

If we consume more energy than our body needs, we’ll gain weight as excess energy is converted to fat. Lowering our calorie intake will force our body to use stored energy (fat) for fuel.

Meal Replacement Shakes

Look for shakes with less than 200 calories per shake

In our diet

For our daily diet remember:

  • 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
  • 1 gram of alcohol = 7 grams

Fat is the food component containing most energy which means it contains more calories – over twice as many as protein or carbohydrate.

Eggs, meat, fish even some fruit contains fat ( avocado for example). Our body needs that fat and also the vitamins and fiber that exist on those foods.

In our daily diet, what we have to avoid are the called “Empty Calories”

Some examples:

  • donuts
  • ice cream
  • cookies
  • cakes
  • hot dog

Learn what foods contain Empty Calories and why we should avoid them or find substitutes. Read more

3 – Adequate Low-Carbohydrate: to provide energy and eliminate cravings

Understanding how Carbohydrates (Carbs) work

Carbohydrate (Carbs) are mainly found in milk, grains, plants and fruit. After being ingested, they are transformed in sugar (fructose, glucose and galactose). If our body doesn’t need glucose for energy, it’ll be stored as fat in our body. If, on the other hand, we don’t have enough glucose, your body will use protein to fuel your body, reducing muscle mass in the process which and may result in an increased stress on the kidneys and reduction in metabolic rate

We need Carbohydrate for energy and there are two types: simple and complex.

Simple Carbohydrate are easily processed in our body, rapidly producing energy but which lasts only for a short period of time. These can be found in Milk (lactose), Sodas and juices (fructose).

Complex Carbohydrate takes longer to process and be absorbed. Energy is produced more slowly and it lasts for longer, fuelling the body for longer periods of time. We feel fuller for a longer after eating complex carbs – especially when compared to simple carbohydrates. Eating more complex carbs helps to reduce the feeling of hunger and cravings. Complex carbs can be found in whole grains, bread, vegetables and pasta.

More about simple and complex carbs at “Simple Vs. Complex Carbs“.

Our main source of Carbs should be complex carbohydrate, and simple carbohydrate should only be eaten occasionally.

Note: Processed food usually contains high levels of simple carbs. Remember our previous hot dog example? (check the hot dog example here) It contained 10% of the recommended daily value. .

Simple carbs are almost everywhere. Take a moment to think about it and you’ll probably quickly realize that you consume way more simple carbs than you should. Switching to complex carbs is a good way to control your blood glucose, keep yourself feeling fuller for longer and lose weight more quickly. The good and bad carbs for weight loss explained here.

If you would like to know more about carbs, I’ve published a guide called What Are Carbs ? A Beginner’s Carbs Guide .

Meal replacement shakes

To reduce blood sugar and lose weight, meal replacement shakes must be low in carbohydrate but, if the shake is low-carb, how I get energy?

Good question! These shakes replace the carbs with protein and include foods low in carbohydrates but high in dietary fibers. By reducing carbs we reduce sugar and calorie levels but by providing protein and healthy fats, your body still has food for energy.

More about dietary fibers at “5 – Include fiber: keeps you feeling fuller for longer”.

In our diet

Avoid simple carbs:

  • Whole Milk
  • Sodas
  • Juices
  • Corn syrup
  • Processed food (cake, cookies, candy bar…)

Use healthy complex carbs like:

  • Whole grains ( Quinoa, Brown rice, Buckwheat, Oats)
  • Potatoes
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumbers
  • Carrots

4 – Protein: to boost your metabolism

Found in eggs, fish, meat and dairy products, protein is processed in our bodies to build, restore and maintain muscle. On my article “The Power of Protein” I explain the role of protein on our body.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein for each1 kilogram of body weight for a sedentary adult and up to 1.7 grams for an adult building muscle mass.

Learn more about how protein works at “Beginner’s Guide to Protein Powder

How protein helps you to lose weight?

1 – Reduce cravings: Protein slows down digestion, which makes us feel fuller for longer. This reduces cravings and saves calories by preventing overeating.

2 – Boost metabolism: Our body uses energy to process all the type of foods we eat (fat and carbs) into smaller components. To digest protein, our body uses more energy when compared to fat or carbs. Eating protein requires a lot of energy so every time we eat it we boost our metabolism and burn more calories.

3 – Burn fat: Previously we have learned that surplus/extra sugar is stored as fat. This fat can’t be burned alone and our body needs the help of protein or carbs. Keeping good levels of protein helps our body to transform this fat into energy.

Meal replacement shake

Must contain around 20 grams or less of protein.

In our diet

Depending on your lifestyle, calculate your daily protein intake (explained here). Based on that, plan your meals so you have enough protein in your diet. When calculating your daily protein intake don’t forget to count the protein included on your meal replacement shake.

5 – Include fiber: keeps you feeling fuller for longer 

Why Fiber?

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Whole berries, like strawberries and raspberries, are the richest fruits.

How fiber helps you to lose weight? Filling your stomach with fibrous vegetables will reduce hunger without adding a lot of calories.

More about the importance of fiber on my article “The Importance of Fiber“.

Foods rich in dietary fiber will:

  • give us energy, without increasing our blood sugar levels
  • feeling of fullness
  • slows carbohydrate metabolism
  • keep the digestive system healthy and reduce bloating


Meal Replacement Shakes

Include dietary fibers, from 5 to 10 grams per serving.

In your diet

We should include fibers (soluble and insoluble fiber) in most meals. Here are some high-fiber foods:

  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Rice bran
  • Bran
  • Almonds
  • Green peas, boiled
  • Split peas, boiled
  • Raspberries

Lean more about the differences between soluble and insoluble fiber, fiber benefits and more foods high in fiber that you can use in your daily meals.

6 – Include Vitamins: essential for your body to function properly

About Vitamins

Vitamins are essential to our body, but our body can’t produce vitamins, so we have to eat them. Vitamins are present in a lot of foods. Keep your vitamins level high so your body can work properly.

Meal Replacement Shakes

Look for shakes containing Vitamin A, B6, C, D and E and calcium.

In our diet

Food examples, that you can include in your meals to provide you with…

Vitamin A – Sweet potatoes, Spinach, Milk, Eggs, Carrot

Vitamin B6 – Chickpea, Poultry, Fish

Vitamin B12 – Cooked clams, Papaya, Salmon, Beef iver

Vitamin C – Sweet red peppers, Orange, Cantaloupe, Broccoli

Calcium – Plain low-fat yogurt, Dairy products

Vitamin D – Salmon, Cod liver, Cereals, Orange, Yogurt

Vitamin E – Sunflower seeds, Almonds

7 – Contain Healthy Fats: mono and polyunsaturated fats

Why Fat?

Our diet needs to contain several things to be deemed healthy. We need protein for growth and repair, vitamins and minerals to keep the systems of our body functioning properly, carbohydrates for energy, water to keep us hydrated and fiber to keep our digestive system in good shape. And, contrary to what a lot of people believe, we also need fats too. Learn why you need healthy fats and how to reduce “bad” fats here.

Meal Replacement Shakes

Total fat must be lower than 7 grams per serving

Total fat is divided by

  • Saturated: should be low-saturated fat (1 gram max)
  • Trans: should be trans-fat free (0 grams)
  • Polyunsaturated: from 0 grams up to 7 grams
  • Monounsaturated: low-monounsaturated (1 gram max)

In your diet

If you haven’t read it I recommend you “How to choose healthy fats”, where you can not only learn about how fat works but how and why you can replace some bad “fat” habits for healthier “good” fat habits.

Here are some examples:


  • Butter for Non-hydrogenated margarine
  • Full fat milk for low fat milk
  • Fried foods for grilled foods
  • Chocolate bars for nuts and seeds

Emilio goes straight to science explaining why “Not All Fats Are Created Equally“.

7 – Low on Sodium: to avoid water retention

How salt works in our body

Our body needs to keep a balance between salt and water. If we consume more salt (recommended 2,300 milligrams per day) our body will retain more water to balance out the excess. An extra of 400 mg of salt in our body results in a 1 kg (2 pounds) weight increase.

Keeping good (low) levels of sodium in our body helps reduce water retention and avoids known problems associated with high sodium levels (Problems with high levels of sodium).

Meal Replacement Shakes

Low levels of sodium: less than 300 mg per serving.

In our diet

As  we’ve seen before with our hot dog example, processed food usually contain high doses of sodium. Avoid processed food, don’t use too much salt when cooking and before buying food check the label for quantity of sodium to minimize your intake of dietary salt.

8 – Probiotics: improve your digestive health and immune system

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria that help keep our digestive systems healthy and actively reduce problems in our gastrointestinal tract.

It’s important to include these “good” microorganisms in our diet to help our body in the digestion process and also to prevent diarrhea, gas, and cramping resulting from low levels of this beneficial bacteria.

Meal Replacement Shakes 

Why it’s important to include Probiotics?

Some customers have reported upset stomachs from protein shakes. Meal Replacement shakes are very different from protein shakes, but they share one common ingredient – Protein! As we’ve seen before, protein can be  hard to process and takes a lot of energy. By improving the digestive system, probiotics significantly decrease the chances of suffering an upset stomach.

In our diet

Include in your meals or snacks foods containing this healthy bacteria. “How Probiotics Have Helped Me“, my experience with probiotics.

Here are some examples where probiotics can be naturally found:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Dark chocolate
  • Miso soup
  • Sauerkraut

9 – Natural Appetite Blockers: feel full for hours and fight cravings

How do they work?

Natural appetite blockers send signals to the stomach and brain to induce feelings of fullness and satisfaction. In the right quantities, this can keep you feeling full for couple of hours.

Contrary to artificial appetite suppressants (learn more about these), natural appetite blockers don’t cause side effects or any discomfort.

Meal Replacement Shakes

Dietary fibers are natural hunger blockers, and you can find them in some of the best shakes. Some other shakes include, besides dietary fibers, alternative natural appetite blockers like Slendesta (“What is Slendesta”), which can give extra help to block hunger.

In our diet

Usually we start to feel hungry a couple of hours after our last meal. Including some food with natural appetite blockers in our snacks will help us to control our hunger and regulate our appetite.

Foods containing natural appetite blockers:

  • Almonds
  • Coffee
  • Ginger
  • Avocado
  • Apples
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Wasabi
  • Green Tea
  • Oatmeal
  • Cinnamon
  • Flax Seeds

10 – Optional: gluten-free, vegan, soy-free, lactose-free, Non-GMO

Are you lactose intolerant? Do you have a soy allergy? Looking for Non-GMO foods? Are you Vegan?

Today you can find meal replacement shakes that are:

  • USDA Certified Organic
  • Non-GMO Project Verified
  • Vegan
  • Gluten Free
  • Dairy Free
  • Lactose Free
  • Soy Free
  • No Fillers
  • No Synthetic Nutrients
  • No Artificial Flavors or Sweeteners
  • No Preservatives

In our diet

When we buy fruit and vegetables from our local grocery store (Why you should buy seasonal locally produced food), look for Non-GMO products.

For all the other products, remember to check the food label and see if they’re appropriate based on your allergies and choices.

Find the Best Meal Replacement Shakes for you

Where can I find meal replacement shakes with these features?

There are a lot of good and bad options available on the market. To avoid the bad options and select the best of the good options I have investigated how these shakes work and the function of each ingredient.

That’s why I’ve produced these guidelines to help you find the top 3 products on the market.

You can find my top 3 in the article “Best meal replacement shakes for weight loss”.

For each shake I’ve shared my personal review and written about nutritional facts, taste, price and allergies.

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Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m so happy that you’re here! I've shared my story here

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