What Are Meal Replacement Drinks?
Meal replacement (MR) has become a popular strategy in losing and controlling weight by many people who seriously want to maintain a diet that is easy to manage. Substituting a full meal with just a meal replacement drink (powder form or liquid), a shake or a bar provides an easy solution to the challenges of planning and preparing meals, counting calories and balancing food groups. Some of the available brands are medically prescribed, while some are sold over the counter and over the Internet.
Diabetic meal replacement drinks are made specifically for type 2 diabetes patients since they are low in calories, sugar and fat content. They are usually called nutritional drinks, nutritional supplements or snacks. They may come in liquid or powder form (water to be added). Examples of these are Boost Glucose Control, Glucerna Shakes for Diabetics, GlucoBurst, Carnation Instant Breakfast, Ensure Shake, Enterex Diabetic, sugar-free Slim-Fast and more.
Most of these meal substitutes contain approximately 100-200 calories, with 2-5 grams of fat, 10-15 grams of protein, vitamins and minerals, and fiber. They usually come in various flavors and are packaged in convenient cans, bottles or sachets which can be stored even in office drawers for easy access. Recommendations for intake include substituting two meals and snacks with MR drinks and taking a full meal that is high in fiber and low in calories and sugar.
Advantages of Using Liquid Meal Replacements in Diabetics
The greatest advantages of using diabetic meal substitutes that have been scientifically proven are those of significant weight loss and blood sugar control. This was shown in a study done by the Center for Human Nutrition of UCLA, which concluded that after 12 weeks of taking MR, human subjects with type 2 diabetes were observed to have improvements in body weight, blood sugar and lipid levels. Other reviews of different MR drinks published by the American Diabetes Association likewise support this conclusion.
Other advantages of using liquid MRs include:
- Nutritionally complete – contains adequate amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals
- Convenience – easy to buy, store and prepare; easily available to busy people and travelers
- No need to plan, decide or choose what kind of foods to prepare; no counting calories, weighing portions or meal planning; no need to cook
- High in fiber content - good for digestion; promotes satiety and delays hunger
- Beneficial of senior patients who have difficulty chewing or swallowing, cannot prepare meals, skip meals or forget to eat
- Safe to use – no serious adverse reactions have been reported, including hypoglycemia
Risks or Disadvantages in Taking Meal Substitutes
Medical consultation is advisable before resorting to radical changes in diet or lifestyle. Abrupt decreases in caloric intake can result in weakness or fatigue, headaches and dizziness.
Buying these nutritional drinks can be expensive, especially those that are medically prescribed.
Some over the counter products should also be checked for their contents as written on the labels, because some contain more sugar than expected. The appropriate amount of calories, proteins, sugar, vitamins and minerals should also be verified by a dietitian or medical worker.
For this weight loss strategy to work, it has to be consistently followed for several months. Overdoing it or being tempted to stray from it may affect blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Although it is a more convenient way of controlling weight, discipline in maintaining the diet, engaging in regular exercise and improving lifestyle are more important approaches in achieving the goal.
Linda M. Delahanty, MS, RD, “Evidence-Based Trends for Achieving Weight Loss and Increased Physical Activity: Applications for Diabetes Prevention and Treatment” https://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/15/3/183.full.pdf+html
Yip I, et al, “Liquid meal replacements and glycemic control in obese type 2 diabetes patients”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11707563