Meal replacement shakes are no longer the preserve of slimmers. Now, there’s a new range of bars and shakes that cater to the general population, claiming to give you all the nutrients you need for a balanced, convenient meal.
So how healthy are they? Helen Bond, a dietitian from Derbyshire says they are ‘okay’ as an occasional meal when you’re busy, but should not be relied upon regularly.
‘Only a truly balanced diet with real food can provide the wide range of nutrients we need,’ she explains. ‘Public Health England also has a recommendation that breakfast should be 400 calories, lunch 600 calories and dinner 600 calories, and in many cases these shakes and bars fall below this.
‘Even when trying to lose weight, it’s not generally sustainable or healthy to eat less than 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day unless specifically recommended to do so by a doctor or dietitian.’
However, ‘when push comes to shove, these bars and shakes can provide valuable nutrients as a meal (or extra fuel for athletes) on a day when you might otherwise turn to fast food’; says Helen Bond.
Here, she assesses a selection of the meal ‘replacements’. We then we rated them.
PROTEIN WORLD THE SLENDER BLEND
600 g, £19.99, hollandandbarrett.com
To help with weight loss and post-workout toning, Protein World The Slender Blend is made with whey protein from milk, vitamins and minerals, ‘thermogenic’ [fat-burning] green tea and guarana, sweetener and inulin fibre
Per serving (made with almond milk): Calories, 207; saturated fat, 1.3 g; protein, 24.4 g; fibre, 7.1 g; sugar, 7.3 g; salt, 1.3 g
WHAT IS IT? To help with weight loss and post-workout toning, this shake is made with whey protein from milk, vitamins and minerals, ‘thermogenic’ [fat-burning] green tea and guarana, sweetener and inulin fibre.
EXPERT VERDICT: The whey is a good source of amino acids, needed to build muscle, and is hunger-curbing. You’ll also get 24 per cent of your daily fibre; almost as much as three slices of wholemeal bread. Note, this fibre is from inulin, which can cause stomach upsets in some people.
This also contains about 45 per cent of your daily protein, but is low in carbs so it is not useful after a workout, when both protein and carbs are needed to replenish energy stores in muscles. Guarana and green tea aren’t ‘thermogenic’ as such, as this would be dangerous, but they do supply caffeine, which boosts metabolism, similar to a cup of coffee.
But for sustainable weight loss, this is no replacement for balanced meals.
TASTE: Artificial sweetness, smooth texture.
3 out of 10
HUMAN FOOD GOJI BAR
Box of ten bars, £33, humanfood.bio
Per 75 g bar: Calories, 285; saturated fat, 1.5 g; protein, 12 g; fibre, 7 g; sugar, 22 g; salt, 0.1 g
WHAT IS IT? Dubbed ‘daily nutrition bars’, these contain hemp seeds, dried banana, dried dates, seeds and quinoa, plus vitamins and minerals, including all your daily vitamin B12, important for a healthy nervous system.
Dubbed ‘daily nutrition bars’, Human Food goji bars contain hemp seeds, dried banana, dried dates, seeds and quinoa, plus vitamins and minerals, including all your daily vitamin B12, important for a healthy nervous system
EXPERT VERDICT: With an impressive selection of vitamins and minerals, this bar is not dissimilar to taking a multivitamin tablet, with 50 to 100 per cent of the recommended daily amount of many key nutrients.
There is enough protein and fibre in a bar to count as a light meal, but there isn’t enough calories to sustain you for a lunch.
Have with a banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter spread on wholemeal toast to meet the recommended 600 calories for lunch.
A bar also has 22 g of sugar — the same as in a Snickers bar — and although most of it is natural from dried fruit, it could still contribute to weight gain.
TASTE: Very dense, not sweet.
7 out of 10
WEETABIX ON THE GO STRAWBERRY
Weetabix On the GO Strawberry is a breakfast drink made with skimmed milk, wheat fibre and added vitamins and iron
250ml bottles, £1.45, most supermarkets.
Per bottle: Calories, 209; saturated fat, 3 g; protein, 8.5 g; fibre, 4.3 g; sugar, 12 g; salt, 0.19 g
WHAT IS IT? A breakfast drink made with skimmed milk, wheat fibre and added vitamins and iron.
EXPERT VERDICT: This does a good job at mimicking the same protein and fibre as the traditional cereal. You’ll get a third of your daily iron, good for young women who tend to lack this anaemia-protective nutrient, and 14 per cent of your daily fibre, similar to a small bowl of brown rice.
On the downside, there’s about a sixth of your daily added sugar — far too much for a small serving like this — and, as it’s a liquid, this won’t fill you up for long.
And with just 200 calories, I’d be concerned that people might try to get by just on this, which is not enough, so have a banana and toast with peanut butter, too.
TASTE: Strong strawberry taste and fragrance.
4 out of 10
PLENNY BAR CARAMEL SEA SALT
12 bars, £23.63, jimmyjoy.com
Per 100g bar: Calories, 400; saturated fat, 1.7g; protein, 20g; fibre, 8g; sugar, 6.3g; salt, 1.28g
WHAT IS IT? A bar with ‘all your daily nutritional needs’. Oats, soya protein, flaxseed and sunflower oil are the main ingredients. Fortified with 27 vitamins and minerals.
EXPERT VERDICT: This is one of the few meal replacements that has a balanced nutrient profile; with 39 per cent of the calories from carbs, which are the body’s preferred energy source.
The 400 calories is about right for a light meal so it’s a good option if you don’t have time to prepare something balanced.
But you could have a Tesco chicken salad sandwich (369 calories) and a handful of cherry tomatoes instead, which would count as two of your five-a-day, which none of these meal replacements take into account.
It contains inulin fibre, which can cause gas and bloating in some people.
TASTE: Similar to a flapjack, but not sweet.
8 out of 10
Plenny caramel sea-salt bars have oats, soya protein, flaxseed and sunflower oil as the main ingredients
24 x 330ml bottles, £65.55, amazon.co.uk
Per bottle: Calories, 330; saturated fat, 1.9 g; protein, 17 g; fibre, 4 g; sugar, 8 g; salt, 0.7 g
WHAT IS IT? Made with soy protein, sunflower oil, a sugar called isomaltulose, plus vitamins and minerals, to fill you up for ‘three hours’.
Saturo chocolate is made with soy protein, sunflower oil, a sugar called isomaltulose, plus vitamins and minerals, to fill you up for ‘three hours’
EXPERT VERDICT: There is a decent amount of vitamins and minerals, and soya has a good balance of amino acids to maintain healthy tissue. A bottle has the same amount of fibre as a slice and a half of wholemeal bread.
Isomaltulose causes lower spikes in blood sugar than other sugars, so is healthier, but a 2018 study at the University of Otago in New Zealand found it didn’t fill you up as much.
Also 44 per cent of the calories here come from fat (a balanced meal should be 30 per cent), and there is so much oil in a bottle you may end up feeling sick.
TASTE: Like a full fat, creamy chocolate milkshake.
5 out of 10
HUEL BLACK EDITION CHOCOLATE
34 meals, £50, uk.huel.com
Per sachet (made with water): Calories, 400; saturated fat, 2.5 g; protein, 40 g; fibre, 6.6 g; sugar, 4.4 g; salt, 1 g
WHAT IS IT? Mix with water to make a shake. Each sachet contains pea protein, ground flaxseed, brown rice protein, coconut sugar, and gives you ‘ideal amounts of all the 26 essential vitamins and minerals’.
EXPERT VERDICT: At 400 calories, this can be a light lunch or a substantial snack, and it has an added probiotic (friendly gut bacteria) that helps maintain gut health. There is 22 per cent of your daily fibre in a shake, from seeds, but as a liquid meal replacement, it’s unlikely to fill you up like a solid meal, as chewing releases gut hormones that curb hunger.
Huel Black Edition chocolate contains pea protein, ground flaxseed, brown rice protein, coconut sugar, and gives you ‘ideal amounts of all the 26 essential vitamins and minerals’ in each sachet
The protein content is huge — as much as in a medium steak — but the body can’t efficiently use more than 30 g in one go for muscle-building; excess protein will be stored as fat.
A serving has a sixth of your daily salt, and a seventh of your sugar limit, which is a lot for a snack; and someone with an active lifestyle will need more carbs.
TASTE: Dark chocolate flavour, a bit thin.
4 out of 10
P.S. IS A SHAKE BASED ON YOUR DNA BETTER?
NGX starter pack, £89.99, amazon.co.uk
WHAT IS IT? You start by taking a cheek swab and sending it off in a prepaid envelope for DNA analysis. You receive a report in two weeks that tells you what you should be eating — for example, whether you need more of a certain vitamin or require different proportions of carbohydrate versus fat.
You also get a personalised shake (a month’s supply) based on these results.
EXPERT VERDICT: You’ll get some interesting results from the DNA test, such as whether your body uses carbs or fats more efficiently for fuel. But the significance to your health of a genetically tweaked shake may not be that much.
Results from the huge DIETFITS study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2018 found that people who followed diets supposedly matched to their DNA didn’t lose any more weight than those who didn’t.
The fact is, we don’t know enough about gene-based personalised nutrition for anyone to really benefit yet.
2 out of 10
In the NGX Starter Pack, you start by taking a cheek swab and sending it off in a prepaid envelope for DNA analysis