Meal replacement shakes are popular today for people dieting or those who are too busy for a meal. They can be an easy and quick way to get nourishment, but what many people don’t realize are the side effects they may have. Meal replacement drinks are generally safe and full of vitamins, minerals, and protein. But they do not affect everyone the same and they are not the best choice for consistent long-term use.
Common Side Effects
- Hunger – While a replacement shake may provide nourishment to put off hunger pains, it is not a meal. Your body still needs to consume nutrients from food to keep your systems running properly. Drinking too many meal replacements can lead to overeating when you do eat food, so keep a balance in your use.
- Water Balance – Meal replacement shakes often cause an increase in thirst, which can cause you to retain fluids if you drink a lot of liquids. It is also common for these products to have properties that cause them to behave like a diuretic, causing an increase in urination. Drinking large amounts of liquid will also cause increased urges to urinate.
- Weight Gain – Long term use of replacement drinks can lead to weight gain when you return to eating regular food. Your body’s system can forget how to process whole foods efficiently, which can lead to weight gain. Another factor is that most replacement drinks are high in calories because they are designed to encourage muscle gain or weight gain. They can help you lose weight if used in moderation to replace some meals, but not all meals.
- Nutrient Deficiencies – Even though meal replacements are full of vitamins and minerals designed to be suitable substitutes for real food, they can lead to nutrient deficiencies for a couple of reasons. First, not all drinks are made with the same essential nutrients. Second, they all are inherently lower in nutritional value than whole foods because they lack essential things like dietary fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients your body needs to function properly.
Effects of Fiber
The lack of fiber in a meal replacement shake is significant. Fiber does many things for your body that you may not realize. The most well-known fact about fiber is it helps food move through your digestive system for elimination. Without the proper balance of fiber in your diet, it can cause diarrhea or constipation. If either is chronic, it can lead to diverticulitis or hemorrhoids.
Fiber is what helps you feel full, that satiated feeling that keeps you from snacking between meals. Chewing food is also part of what makes you feel satiated. Replacement drinks are often downed quickly, which will leave you feeling full for a short time, but you’re more likely to feel hungry again soon.
It’s a good idea to keep in mind that meal replacement drinks are not created equal. The FDA does not regulate them, and they may contain additives you don’t want. They can contain traces of lead, mercury, heavy metal cadmium, or other elements that with chronic use can build up in your system and become harmful. High levels of metals can cause weakness, joint pain, headaches, and chronic fatigue.
Meal replacement shakes can be beneficial to a diet if you are looking to lose or gain weight, increase muscle, or for a quick shot of nutrition when you’re on the go. Just keep a good balance of replacement drinks with whole foods and you will reap the benefits without any harmful side effects.