Meal replacements – can powder beat real food?

Meal replacements – can powder beat real food?

by Eunice Chua 04 Feb 2020

First, there were the multitudes of protein shakes that took the fitness scene by storm. Nowadays, meal replacement shakes have emerged as an alternative for entire meals. On the surface, these shakes contain significant amounts of protein, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals – the important stuff. The question is, can nutrition powders completely replace food?


Sure, meal replacement shakes contain a lot more minerals and vitamins than we’ll ever get from eating greasy takeaway or instant noodles. They also make for a good meal substitute for days when you’re rushing and all you need is a quick and convenient meal that isn't loaded with empty calories. But that’s all these shakes were meant to be – occasional substitutes in place of unhealthy meals. Ideally, they should be used to supplement a healthy, balanced diet comprising whole and fresh food. Just because nutrition shakes contain all the stuff fitness dreams are made of doesn’t mean they can replace real food. Why?


1. Not all essential nutrients can be found in nutrition powders

These powders don’t exist in nature for a reason. They’re artificial, and even the best powders can’t contain all the nutrients you need. Consuming a variety of different powders in order to obtain different nutrients can lead to over-consumption of certain overlapping nutrients, which isn’t a good thing (as we’ll explain in the next point). Furthermore, nutrients often exist in different forms which have different levels of benefits. Magnesium is one example – the lowest grade of this mineral is magnesium oxide, which doesn’t do exactly wonders for your body due to its poor bioavailability, yet it’s one of the most popular forms of magnesium used in powders due to its low production cost. Eating more whole food like baby spinach will prove to be more effective (and satisfying).


2. They deliver nutrients in dosages that may be too high for our body

Too much of a good thing is certainly true in the case of nutritional powders. The high concentration of specific nutrients in the shakes often exceed the maximum amount your body can absorb at a time, which may not be a good thing. For example, some nutritional shakes deliver twice the amount of calcium our body can take in at one go. Studies have found that ingesting excessive amounts of nutrients (particularly in a distilled form) over long periods can result in cellular damage and lead to liver or kidney issues.


3. They don’t help with long-term weight-loss

Nutritional shakes definitely help you lose weight because they’re very good for controlling your calorie intake. But swapping all your meals for powder won’t benefit you in the long run, because once you go back to your regular diet, the effects may be lost. The idea is to incorporate the nutrition shakes into your diet, along with healthy meal planning and exercise, rather than simply treating the shakes as an all-in-one solution for weight-loss.


Nutritional powders are not a bad thing at all. In fact, the right ones can make decent supplements to your diet and give it an edge, just not as full-on replacements. A final note – be careful about your choice of supplement, as not all manufacturers tend to be discerning as they should be when it comes to the quality of their ingredients.