Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Last week, we talked about meal replacements products (MRPs), such as shakes and bars, and how they might fit into a weight-loss plan. We also talked about some of the benefits of MRPs, such as how they can eliminate some of the decision-making when it comes to making food choices and how they can provide a framework for a healthy, calorie-controlled eating plan, not to mention a source of nutrition for folks who tend to skip meals.

Are there any drawbacks to using MRPs? There are a few. First, there’s the nutrition profile to consider. A meal replacement product should do just that—substitute for a meal of “real” food. This means that any MRP that doesn’t contain a balance of carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals is probably not a good choice. Some MRPs may be mostly protein, for example. Below are a few pointers for finding a safe and nutritious MRP.

Choose an MRP that contains:

  • About 200–250 calories
  • 15–35 grams carbohydrate (avoid those with refined sugars [sucrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup] as the first type of carbohydrate in the ingredients list)
  • 10–15 grams protein (much more than this means you’ll probably take in too much protein for the day)
  • 5–8 grams fat (the main source of fat should be unsaturated; also avoid products that contain trans fat)
  • 3–6 grams fiber
  • 0–20 mg cholesterol
  • 100–300 mg sodium
  • 50% to 100% of the Dietary Reference Intake for vitamins and minerals

It’s also wise to avoid MRPs that contain added herbs or other stimulants, such as caffeine, ginseng, and guarana, for example.

Remember, too, that MRPs are intended to be used for one or two meals each day, not all three. This means that you should eat a portioned-controlled meal that contains fruits and vegetables along with an unrefined carbohydrate source and a lean source of protein. You can expect to lose, on average, between one and two pounds per week using an MRP.

Another possible downside to using MRPs is that they can get monotonous for some people. While some people may welcome a quick and easy shake as a meal on the go, others soon tire of drinking a chocolate-, vanilla-, or strawberry-flavored shake at every breakfast and lunch, for example. Others find that they miss the process of chewing food or that MRPs don’t fill them up. If you can’t stay with a plan for long, chances are it won’t be too successful for you.

Finally, some MRP plans have been criticized by members of the health-care community for not really teaching people about behavior change. They argue that, sure, you can lose weight while you’re on the plan, but what happens when you stop? If you fall right back into your old eating habits, the weight is going to pile right back on. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Many programs, such as Slim-Fast, offer ongoing education and support via the Internet, e-mail, and even by phone.

Many of my patients used to worry that MRPs weren’t good for people with diabetes. Actually, just the opposite is true. MRPs can definitely be part of a healthy meal plan for diabetes (provided that you follow the guidelines above). Even the American Diabetes Association agrees. A benefit of using an MRP is that you know the serving size, the carb count, and the calories. Several key research studies with people who have diabetes, including the Look AHEAD trial, are using MRPs, too.

As always, talk to your dietitian if you think a MRP might work for you. While not a magic bullet for weight loss, MRPs can be helpful for many.

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Meal Replacement Products: Do They Work? (Part 1)
Meal Replacement Products: Do They Work? (Part 2)


Comments
  1. I have eaten a Glucerna bar, Oatmeal and Raisin, and I find it awfully sweet. I wish it weren’t that way.

    Posted by Char |
  2. It is good to follow MRP plans. I try to keep the plans, but I have found that exercise like fast walking after a meal or sometimes even exercises that ate vigorous to in crease the body movement helps to bring down the glucose level.

    Posted by Padma |
  3. hi there - I’m interested in trying juicing for 2 days a week as a diet method. I use an insulin pump so I count carbs and i’m have trouble finding a resource for determining carbs in different juices suck as carrot, beet and mixes of green and fruit juices. Do you know of a good source for that info? any help would be appreciated

    Thank you,

    Nan

    Posted by nedenfield |
  4. HI I STARTED USEING MRP A MONTH AGO AND I’M AMAZED !!
    AS I NOW WENT FROM 276 PD TO 256 PD IN ONE MTH THATS WITH HAVING MRP TWICE A DAY AND HAVING A GREAT SUPPER, I ALSO HAVE SOME WHEN I FEEL LIKE A SNACK IN EVENINGS I JUST CANT BELIVE IT AND I JUST FOUND OUT I WAS A BODERLINE DIABETE SO I WAS VERY HAPPY THAT I HAD LOST THE 20 PD WHEN I FOUND THIS OUT ..THANK GOD FOR MRP IT MAY HAVE SAVED ME FROM BEING A DIABETE
    MARTY

    Posted by MARTY |
  5. Hi Marty,

    Congratulations on your weight loss. And glad to hear that meal replacements are working so well for you!

    Posted by acampbell |
  6. Wondering what type of MRP Marty is using? I am a diabetic and struggle with losing weight. I have tried WW and not doing very well with that. I like the idea of an MRP for one or two meals and one meal a day. Thinking it might at least jump start to motivate me regarding the weight loss process. Thanks

    Posted by Cindy A |
  7. Hi Cindy,

    There are various meal replacement products (MRPs) on the market; some are better choices than others. As I mentioned in my posting, choose a MRP that contains some carbohydrate (it shouldn’t be all protein) and sufficient calories (about 250 or so). Popular brands include SlimFast, Carnation Instant Breakfast, Glucerna, and Boost, but others are available, too. The key is finding one that gives you the nutrition that you need and that tastes good to you.

    Posted by acampbell |
  8. I’ve lost 45 lbs on the medifast MRP’s. I am still loosing, and do not find the program difficult at all. You can just look up medifast on the internet-google it. I was prediabetic, and not now. Also all my bad numbers on the bloodwork have gone down, and the doctor has discontinued some of my meds and reduced the other one I take.

    betty

    Posted by Betty |
  9. Hi I am a recntly diagnosed tye 2 diabetic and I control it by diet and exercise. I wanted to know is it ok for me to use Amaze Rx meal replacement shake mix to help me lose weight. the nutritional facts are:
    - 160 calories
    - 50 calories from fat
    - 6 grams of total fat
    - 1 gram of saturated fat
    - no trans fat listed
    - 40 mg. of cholesterol
    - 110 mg. of sodium
    - 130 mg. 0f potassium
    - 9 grams of carbohydrates
    - 5 grams of dietary fiber
    - 2 grams of sugar
    - 17 grams of protein
    Vitamins and Minerals:
    - Calcium: 45%
    - Chromium: 15%
    - Vitamin C: 690%
    - Vitamin A: 0%
    - Iron: 0%
    Based on the information listed above, do you think this is a good meal replacement shake for me to use as a part of a healthy diet plan?
    please let me know. Thank you.

    Posted by Erica B. |
  10. Hi Erica,

    Without really knowing what else you’re eating, I would say that this meal replacement could certainly work. By itself, though, it’s a little low in calories to be a meal. I’m not sure how you’re planning on using it, but I’d advise you to add some vegetables or a salad, a piece of fruit or a small container of yogurt, and a little bit of a heart-healthy fat to make this more nutritious.

    Posted by acampbell |
  11. Thank you acampbell for your comment earlier. To add to what I written earlier I was going to use at breakfast because I have a hard time getting up early enough to eat any at times. plus I was planning on using the shake at lunch too and eat a regular, sensible dinner in the evening.
    So this is my complete plan for using the Amaze Rx meal replacement shake mix everyday as part of a healthy weight loss plan. please let me know what your opinion is. Thank you very much.

    Posted by Erica B. |
  12. Hi Erica,

    Again, taking only this shake for both breakfast and lunch seems rather low in calories. Hopefully you’re not going below 1200 calories per day. If that’s the case, the two shakes would give you 320, leaving you with 880 calories for dinner. The balance of calories is a little out of proportion, and you may be consuming too many calories and carbs at dinner as a result. I’d suggest distributing your calories a little more evenly over the course of the day. At the least, try adding some fruit and a small amount of protein to breakfast, and the same at lunch, with some vegetables. You might also find that you need a mid-day snack, too.

    Posted by acampbell |
  13. Hi again I have a nutribullet system where you add fruits and veggies to your diet plan. I was going to use that in conjunction to using the meal shakes everyday. Is that good to do?!

    Posted by Erica B. |
  14. Hi Erica,

    I’d say that you can certainly try this plan, just making sure you’re consuming enough food and getting all of the nutrients that you need. Please be sure to let your physician know that you are trying this, however.

    Posted by acampbell |

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