Which meal replacement powders are best?
There are times when preparing or ordering a traditional meal is just not an option, and that’s when many people seek out a healthy meal replacement product. A ready-to-go liquid shake might hit the spot, or else a pre-packaged granola-esque bar. However, the option with the most shelf stability and ease of preparation is a meal replacement powder. A meal replacement powder can be reconstituted into a shake simply by adding milk, juice, or water. It can also be added to other foods as a nutritional boost.
Meal replacement powders are available in a wide array of flavors, from the standard “ice cream” formulas to more exotic flavor profiles. Unlike meal replacement shakes, users can adjust the amount of powder to customize the final product. Meal replacement powders can also be pre-measured as a means of portion control. These powders usually contain a generous percentage of the consumer’s daily nutritional needs and are often used as part of an overall weight-loss or health-maintenance plan.
If you are considering adding a meal replacement powder to your daily diet regimen or simply want an option when traditional meals are not available, read our helpful shopping guide. We have compared dozens of meal replacement powders on the market today and created a short list of the most promising contenders. Topping our list is MET-Rx Original Whey Protein Powder Meal Replacement Shakes, a high-protein formula that’s portion-controlled, good for workouts, and affordably priced.
What to know before you buy a meal replacement powder
The object of a meal replacement powder is to provide the same nutrition as one standard meal, either breakfast, lunch or dinner. Most brands do meet this goal, with an average of 300 calories per serving. However, there are some noticeable differences with the ratio of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, fiber and vitamins. This is why consumers should consult the nutritional information label when comparison shopping.
Protein is an important consideration because many diets are based on a high protein, low carb regimen. Proteins in meal replacement powders are often derived from dairy, nut or plant sources, which can bring up the issues of food allergies or vegan compatibility. A meal replacement powder high in protein content generally keeps blood sugar levels from falling between meals, thus curbing hunger pangs.
Carbohydrates provide the body with an immediate source of fuel, so they cannot be excluded completely from a healthy diet. The key is finding a balance, with total carb content being equal to or lesser than the protein count. Carbohydrates can cause blood sugar levels to spike immediately after a meal, which is not recommended for diabetic users. Carbs can also be found in the type of sweeteners or stabilizers used to improve the flavor profile.
Fat content should match the recommended daily allowance (RDA) established by the FDA. There are meal replacement powders with little to no fat content, but the milk used to reconstitute the powder will add some percentage of fat. Completely fat-free diet products can trigger between-meal cravings, so some fat content in a meal replacement powder is not necessarily a negative thing.
Many manufacturers add vitamins, minerals, fiber and other supplements to the product in order to meet the standards of an average meal. These may be natural elements, or they may be synthetic vitamins in powdered form. Products containing 24 essential vitamins and minerals appear to be the standard to consider.
Because meal replacement powders are generally reconstituted with milk, water or juice, they need to bring some flavor to the table for consumer appeal. Many brands offer popular ice cream flavors, such as vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. These flavors can be artificial or natural, however. Other popular flavor profiles include cookies and cream, banana, mixed berry or coffee/mocha.
The variety of flavors generally keep users from becoming bored with a particular selection at every meal. Less boredom equals more interest in maintaining the overall diet regimen. Some flavors, especially coffee extracts, can add caffeine to the mix. The level and type of sweetener can also be affected by the product’s flavor profile.
Most popular diet plans have their own recommendations when it comes to total protein, carb and fat intake. Some meal replacement powders are formulated to match the requirements of a specific diet plan, such as SlimFast or South Beach. Others are promoted as being compatible with a variety of diet plans. A keto-friendly brand may also be safe to use with another high protein/low carb diet plan, for example. This information should be fairly easy to discover, either on the package itself or a company’s website. Using the wrong meal replacement powder for a specific diet, such as a high carb brand on a diabetic food plan, can have a serious effect on the user’s health or weight-loss goals.
How much you can expect to spend on a meal replacement powder
The retail price point of a meal replacement powder depends largely on its ingredient list and its package size. Basic meal replacement powders found on store shelves tend to cost less than $10 for a limited number of servings. Expect to pay between $20 to $30 for brands associated with popular diet plans, and $50 or more for professional-grade products targeted towards body builders, professional athletes and consumers with specific dietary restrictions.
Meal replacement powder FAQ
Are there meal replacement powders that are vegan-friendly?
A. Yes, there are meal replacement powders that avoid using dairy products as their base, and they use plant-based ingredients. The protein sources can be anything from nuts to legumes to grains, but you may have to add amino acids to make the protein “complete.” Soy-based products generally meet this “complete protein” standard.
Are meal replacement powders safe for a diabetic to use?
A. Some meal replacement powders do contain a significant amount of carbohydrates, mostly in the form of sweeteners. If you are diabetic, or on a general low-carb diet, you’ll want to make sure the protein content is equal or higher than the carb count to avoid blood sugar spikes.
What are the best meal replacement powders to buy?
Top meal replacement powder
Our take: The MET-Rx shake is very thick and filling for all users, but we recommend it highly for athletes and bodybuilders looking for maximum protein content.
What we like: Exceptionally high protein content. Mixes well with water or milk. Low-fat formula. Formulated for athletic metabolism and nutritional needs.
What we dislike: Consistency is thicker than expected. Some complaints about the flavor profile.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top meal replacement powder for the money
Our take: SlimFast powder is very shelf-stable, and it is a nutritious meal substitute for dieters, not just a snack or shake.
What we like: Affordable price point. Low in calories, with a variety of flavors. Mixes well with water, juice or milk. Contains 24 essential minerals, vitamins and supplements.
What we dislike: Minimal protein content, not quite as satisfying between meals. Uses sweeteners, not ideal for diabetics.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: This meal replacement powder is ideal for those who enjoy the flavor and energy boost of coffee. We appreciate its appetite-curbing formula.
What we like: Contains caffeine as an energy boost. 16 grams of slow-release protein, maintains a sense of fullness. Can be served hot, cold, or blended. Several coffee-inspired flavor profiles available.
What we dislike: On the expensive side. Texture can be gritty or dry.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Michael Pollick writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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