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Nutrition

Are You a Lunch Skipper? These Are the Best Meal Replacement Shakes You Can Buy

Liquid lunch isn't as gnarly as it sounds.

The time is 11:45 a.m. You have a meeting at noon, followed by a dentist’s appointment to get a filling. Your nephew is FaceTiming you for the sixth time in the last half hour. You would like to go to the gym today (you won’t). Your stomach rumbles. 

Scenarios similar to the above (read: my own) aren’t all that rare, and more often than not lead to missed meals. And while we bear no ill will with considered and intentional meal-skipping, depending on your lifestyle, accidental missed meals can lead to lack of energy, binge eating, and other emergent problems. Thus, the meal replacement shake. 

Think of MRE shakes as protein powders but for all the macronutrients and some of the micronutrients, too. They’re almost always powders mixed with 8 to 12 ounces of water, and most are between 250 and 500 calories per “meal.” 

As Americans have become busier and busier, our interest in such products has grown. Who could’ve known a meal that can be prepared in 30 seconds or less is appealing? Ultimately, though, many meal replacement shakes are very same-same, so we thought we ought to test several of the most popular options and share the best ones. These are the best meal replacement shakes you can buy.

What Are the Benefits of Meal Replacement Shakes?

Meal replacement shakes are a proven weight loss tool. Everyone’s weight loss journey is different, but most research suggests making use of meal replacement shakes makes sense for weight loss (1), especially when used with guidance from a medical professional. But even used as a part of a weight loss strategy without guidance, it’s not hard to see why they work—meal replacement shakes are nutrient dense, fiber-rich, but not too heavy on calories. Basically, they’re designed to make you feel full without overeating. 

What Are the Downsides of Meal Replacement Shakes? 

For one, meal replacement shakes are not whole foods. Eating whole foods gives you more control over what goes in your body—AKA you’re not overeating artificial ingredients like you will if you lean on meal replacement shakes for an extended period. It’s also difficult to ascertain the quality of ingredients inside most meal replacement shakes, as the brands are not required to provide any third-party testing information. Finally, most meal replacement shakes are going to be high in sugar or artificial sweeteners to make the nutrient load more palatable. This isn’t inherently bad, but worth knowing before buying a costly new product. 

What We Look for in Meal Replacement Shake Powders

Calculating value

There’s a lot to take in with meal replacement shakes, but fundamentally it’s a product category like any other: it’s only worth if for the right price. 

The simplest and we think best way to calculate value is on a cost per serving basis—the total cost divided by the number of servings per delivery. To that end, you’ll find that 99 percent of meal replacement shake powders offer significant savings on any traditional meal, though typically won’t hold you over for quite as long as a balanced meal might. You can expect to pay between $2 and $5 a meal when shopping for MRE shakes, with most options sitting right at $4 per. If you’re spending over that number, it should be for a specialized product of some kind (one that adheres to a food allergy, includes added supplements, etc.)

How many calories

Calorie load is another aspect of value, yes, but it’s a factor to consider independently as well. Meal replacement shakes come in a wide range of calories per serving—typically anywhere from 250 to 550. Consider your goals and take a long, hard look at the nutrition label before making the call to buy one over another. 

Taste & texture

To be blunt, we tried a lot of meal replacement shakes and many were unpleasant. Without writing a dissertation on solubility, let’s just say texture is the most common source of a less-than-stellar MRE shake. Some are grainy no matter how hard you shake them, some clump up far too easily, and some are able resist the blades of even the most powerful blenders to maintain their sandy quality. After testing, we reckon at least one in three MRE powders could be described as suspect regarding texture. 

Taste is another matter. Most are serviceable, but we recommend keeping it simple as a matter of course. Your chocolates, your vanillas, and your strawberries are more consistently palatable than sour birthday cake funfetti flavor.

Goals, goals, goals

No one MRE shake is fit for all people. Our top pick, Soylent’s Original blend, included. Gander at nutritional labels of a few brands and you’ll find some high-calorie protein bombs while others more closely resemble a traditional meal in their macronutrient makeup. The lesson is simple: don’t just take our word (or anyone else’s) for it. Finding the right product for your diet and lifestyle is absolutely necessary.

Identifiable ingredients

This one is simple: if there are ingredients that you don’t recognize (and can’t easily understand after a quick Google), approach with caution. Most companies in the nutrition and wellness space act responsibly and reasonably, but if you dig deep enough you’ll find products with an ingredient list that reads like something from a sci-fi novel. Know what you’re eating (or drinking, in this case).

How We Tested Meal Replacement Shakes

No meal replacement shake we will recommend in this guide is here based on reputation—we’ve tested and reviewed every one. Getting what you want and need out of your diet are our two guiding principles throughout every review. Does the shake’s macronutrient makeup make sense? Does the powder taste like aspartame? Are there ingredients in the powder that shouldn’t be? Regardless of brand size or rep, we ask ourselves these same questions (and many more). Have an MRE shake you’re curious about? Email this guide’s editor, Will Price, and we’ll try it out.

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