5 Reasons to Avoid Most Meal Replacement Shakes


Meal replacement shakes - Dr. Axe

It’s no secret that eating healthy can be tough.

That’s why that meal replacement drinks, protein bars and on-the-go health foods have exploded in popularity in recent years.

Many of these “healthy” alternatives claim to deliver the powerful nutrients our bodies needs to thrive.

But today I want to put those claims to the test and ask the question we’re all thinking, “Do they really live up to the hype?”

In this post, I’ll reveal the good, the bad and the ugly of many meal replacement “foods” out there.

What I found might shock you.  

Read on to find out…

What Is a Meal Replacement Shake?

For the sake of our discussion, we’re talking about bottled products you drink in place of breakfast, lunch or dinner. Hence the name “meal replacement.”

People regularly consume these drinks for a variety of reasons.

  • Some take them to increase calories and gain muscle mass
  • Others consume them to reduce calorie intake
  • Others still rely on them to provide their bodies with key vitamins and minerals (when they can’t get them from whole-food sources)
  • Last, but not least, some people consume them for healthy convenience. Because they’re so busy, they don’t always have time to sit down and consume a healthy meal.
Reasons to consume meal replacement

In most cases, these products are designed to be bought and sold in bulk and do NOT contain fresh ingredients.


Well, grocery stores keep them stocked on shelves for months. And they’re often kept in vending machines where they must be shelf-stable.

In other words, these shakes HAVE to have a long shelf-life. And they MUST be safe to consume without refrigeration.

When both of these features go into any food, it can be an unhealthy combination.

Because, in most cases, that means the ingredients need to be heavily processed. And as a direct result of all that processing, there’s little whole-food nutrition or nutrients left over in the food/meal replacement itself.

That means many of the necessary ingredients for healthy digestion, food absorption and a balanced diet are greatly diminished.†

Under the Hood of Popular Meal-Replacement Shake: Is It Actually Healthy?

One of the best ways to show you the disadvantages, upsides and buyer-beware warnings that come with meal replacement shakes is to break down a real-life example.

Inside some of the most popular options, you’ll find a mouthful of ingredients, including:

  • Corn Maltodextrin
  • Sugar
  • Blend of Vegetable Oils (Canola, Corn)
  • Milk Protein Concentrate
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkali)

Plus more than 30 other ingredients!

On top of that, some meal replacements have approximately:

  • more than 300 calories
  • more than 10 grams of fat
  • over 22 grams of sugar

Any way you spin it, it’s hard to imagine a world where this is a healthy option.

But since commercial synthetics are becoming more and more common, I want to take some time and explain why they’re potentially so unhealthy for the body.

5 Reasons To Avoid Many Meal Replacements

1. The “Vitamins and Minerals” Are Synthetic

All it takes is one glance at words such as:

  • Sodium Molybdate
  • Sodium Selenate
  • And Potassium Iodide

You instinctively know you don’t find those in nature.

Yet, ingredients like these are becoming more and more common in meal replacement shakes.

Whenever you see hard-to-pronounce ingredients, that’s an instant red flag for unnatural and highly processed foods. But the most flagrant offense comes from the fact that practically NONE of these items come from real, whole food ingredients at all.

In fact, most are completely factory made.  

A better option? Get essential nutrients from unprocessed foods — such as a mix of veggies and fruit, quality proteins (for a range of amino acids), and healthy fats.

2. Too Much Added Sugar

Today, many health foods today can come in flavors such as  “dark chocolate” or “butter pecan.” And I think that’s awesome.

But the sad thing about many meal replacement products is they come in these delicious-sounding flavors, but they’re LOADED with added sugar. In many cases, sugar or artificial sweeteners are listed in the top one-to-three ingredients.

No matter what your health goal is, added sugar is not the best option. We all know it’s empty calories. But even more menacing, it’s been linked to all kinds of negative health issues — from moodiness to stomach queasiness to increased inflammation. (1)

5 reasons to avoid meal replacements - Dr. Axe

3. Loads of Artificial Ingredients

Many meal replacement shakes are packed with ingredients that can barely be classified as foods, including:

  • Refined vegetable oils. We know these oils are linked to inflammation, which has so many more downstream health consequences. †
  • Thickeners and preservatives. One of the most popular offenders, maltodextrin, is a favorite addition to many meal replacement shakes. Not only does it have a very high glycemic index and can cause blood sugar spikes, but it’s also been linked to negative health effects, such as weight gain and autoimmune issues.†
  • Color and flavor enhancers. These are among the worst for gut health. Out of the flavor-enhancing options, the biggest two inflammatory ones are aspartame or sucralose. Every week, we’re finding out more and more negative side effects of consuming these dangerous chemicals. †

4. Indigestion? With Many Meal Replacements, Things Could Go Sideways

For many, meal replacement shakes represent a healthy alternative. This is particularly common for people who have a hard time eating fibrous, bulky foods — whether due to older age, dental problems or a digestive issue.

But relying on these products might not just be unhealthy. They could actually cause additional issues.



Too much sugar has been linked to a host of negative health effects, including blood sugar spikes, dental decay and fluctuations in hormones.†

And too much sugar is EXACTLY what many of these drinks deliver.

What’s more, because of the lack of fiber, probiotics and antioxidants, free radical damage and accelerated aging are usually not too far behind.

5. They Can Interfere With Your Weight-Loss Efforts

For anyone who wants to shed the pounds, you might be tempted to skip real food and sip on low-cal shakes.

But there’s one fatal flaw with this strategy: I believe that meal replacement shakes for weight loss don’t work over the long-term.

While you might drop a few pounds quickly, you’re more likely to end up feeling deprived, restricted, low in energy and full of cravings for the foods you actually enjoy.†

It’s far better to use these meal replacements from time-to-time and only as a backup for real, whole food-based meals.

4 Best Meal Replacement Shakes and Meal Replacement Alternatives

If you want to try meal replacement products from time to time, finding options that eliminate man-made chemical ingredients is key.

Here are the top meal replacement alternatives I recommend, many of which you can prepare ahead of time or even in bulk.

Green smoothie

Homemade Green Smoothies: Green smoothies are one of the best ways to get a healthy dose of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies into your diet within minutes.†

Puréed Healthy Soups: Many people don’t think of soups as a great on-the-go food, but the reality is they’re a healthy, savory way to fill up on more fiber, broth, veggies and herbsnot to mention the fact that soup is easy on digestion, filling and can be frozen for future use.†
Beef Bone Broth

Protein from Bone Broth: We all love the benefits of bone broth. It’s loaded with protein, collagen, amino acids, antioxidants, and powerful electrolytes. 

Those are three great options, but recently, I developed one that I believe ’s even better.

In the past, you’ve heard me talk about the world’s greatest superfoods such as bone broth, coconut, flax, green superfoods, tiger nuts, and fermented herbs.

But I’ve never been able to bring all of the world’s greatest superfoods together.

Until now.

Consume all your favorite superfoods at one time

For the first time ever, I combined ALL your favorite superfoods into one easy-to-mix, great-tasting powder. And you can check it out here. I believe this is the absolute best meal replacement option on the market today.

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

 This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using this product.