The general formula for weight loss is to take in fewer calories than you burn. There’s nothing about weight loss shakes that magically makes you thin, but subbing for them over higher-calorie foods can help you slim down over time. The keys to getting the most benefit from shakes are using them as meal replacements and supplementing them with whole, nutritious foods and a regular exercise plan.
When you use a weight loss shake as a daily meal replacement, you cut calories from your diet – sometimes several hundred or more. That kind of dietary change is more likely to result in weight loss than increasing your physical activity, writes Mayo Clinic preventive medicine specialist Dr. Donald Hensrud. In a study published in the November 2012 issue of “Current Nutrition and Food Science,” researchers found that obese subjects who drank two meal replacement shakes daily and followed a low-calorie diet lost an average of 15 pounds in three months.
The makeup of your shake does have an effect on the results you’ll see. Endocrinologist Dr. Michael Tamber recommends picking a shake that is high in protein – with at least 10 grams – and low in fat and sugar, with a total calorie count of 100 to 150. Picking a higher-calorie shake may slow your weight loss progress, and drinking a shake that has a lot of sugar or fat won’t satisfy your nutritional needs or your hunger pangs.
Convenience is one major benefit of any weight loss shake. It’s a portable, quick “meal” that you can have at home or on the go, and it requires very little prep time. You also have the benefit of choosing everything you consume if you make your own shake. Using a simple recipe with protein powder, nonfat milk or yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit is one way to combine the benefits of real foods with the lower calorie value of a weight loss drink.
Low-calorie shakes aren’t the best choice for everyone. Dr. Monica Zangwill points out that they are often unsustainable in a diet plan because they don’t teach people to make smarter food choices or keep their calorie intakes low after returning to eating full meals. Shakes may also be less satiating than food. Mayo Clinic nutritionist Jennifer K. Nelson cautions against taking in a lot of liquid calories, writing that whole fruits and vegetables tend to be more filling. Before you restructure your diet to include weight loss shakes, get approval from your doctor or a registered dietitian.
References & Resources
- MayoClinic.com: Better to Cut Calories or Exercise More?
- “Current Nutrition & Food Science”: Meal Replacement Beverage Twice a Day in Overweight and Obese Adults
- HeraldNet: Protein Shakes Quell Hunger Pangs, with Differing Results
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Diet Shakes and Meal Replacements – Can They Really Help You Lose Weight?
- MayoClinic.com: Dieting? Beware of Liquid Calories