Weight loss | August 23, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
Eating healthy and losing weight can be tough. This is why meal replacement programs have exploded in popularity in recent years because they often result in fast weight loss. But not all meal replacement programs and products are created equal. So let’s have a look at what makes a good weight loss meal replacement program and what the evidence is for their use.
Many companies who sell a meal replacement product i.e. a shake, soup or bar, will usually have their own version of a meal replacement program or very low calorie diet (VLCD). It usually details how many meals you replace per day and what you can eat throughout the rest of the day.
The aim of the program is to consume less calories so that weight loss can occur.
Evidence from multiple studies shows that meal replacement products really do work. If followed correctly they can have a positive effect on body weight and body composition in people who are obese or overweight. In addition to this, studies have found meal replacement programs can reduce biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which are key factors more recently shown to underlie common chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
If you’re thinking isn’t eating healthy enough? The truth is meal replacement products have been found to give an extra advantage in weight loss when compared to eating low-calorie meals.
The most popular way to replace a meal is to supplement with a shake. Usually you mix powder with water and voila there’s your meal! The main ingredient of a meal replacement product is protein derived from whey, milk proteins, peas, rice or soy. Depending on the brand some will have a higher carbohydrate and sugar content compared to others. There is also a wide range of vitamins and minerals added to the shake to make sure you are receiving enough nutrients.
As an alternative to shakes meal replacement bars are an easy alternative if you are on the go.
Soups and desserts are other alternatives which are available on the market.
Not all products contain healthy ingredients. Things to avoid include artificial flavours and sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose, sugar, fructose, vegetable oils, and milk proteins. Some people are sensitive to corn maltodextrin, soy, dairy or lactose and may need to select a product which is free from any potential allergens.
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As well as checking meal replacement products for any hidden nasties, an example of a meal replacement program should be based on the following core principles.
Replace one to two meals a day with a good quality product. Some products recommend you replace all 3 meals per day. Usually this method isn’t advised unless you need to lose weight in a very short amount of time i.e. before a surgery.
If you’re only replacing one meal a day it is best to look for a product that contains around 3g of sugars per serve. With a lower carbohydrate content, you can then afford to add a few extra things to bump up the nutritional value. Examples include blending the shake with baby spinach leaves, berries, cinnamon powder, chia seeds and almond milk.
For the meals where you don’t consume a shake it is recommended you eat a low carbohydrate, wholefoods meal. A good rule of thumb is to include a palm-sized portion of protein and fill up the rest of your plate with vegetables. Examples of meals include:
Foods to avoid on a meal replacement program includes starchy vegetables such as potato, tinned food, vegetable oil and grains such as wheat, rye, corn and oats. Although wholegrains are a healthy addition to a diet they are very high in carbohydrates which can work against you during weight loss. You also want to be avoiding anything processed and focus on fresh ingredients to ensure you are getting a highly nutritive diet.
A meal replacement program shouldn’t leave you feeling ravenous and unsatisfied. Incorporate a high protein snack such as 12 almonds, a boiled egg, a piece of fruit or half a protein bar. Listen to your bodies needs and only eat a snack if you feel hungry.
Exercise is considered an integral component of any successful weight loss program. It helps to burn off extra calories, maximises fat burning, raises your metabolism, decreases barriers to weight loss such as insulin resistance and builds lean muscle mass. Incorporate a range of different cardio and resistance exercises for at least 30 minutes each day.
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Seeking the advice of a nutritionist or naturopath will help to make sure you remain motivated and receive ongoing support. They will often individualise a plan for your own needs and this is very important if there are other factors involved such as underlying conditions and medications.
One of the main drawbacks of a meal replacement program is that once finished the weight can slowly pile back on. This is less likely to happen if you stay on a weight maintenance program that incorporates one meal replacement a day. It is also essential that you continue to exercise and eat healthy, well portioned meals.
Cook CM, et al. A Commercially Available Portion-Controlled Diet Program Is More Effective for Weight Loss than a Self-Directed Diet: Results from a Randomized Clinical Trial. Front Nutr. 2017 Nov 7;4:55