Meal Replacement Diet: A Beginner’s Guide and Meal Plan

The Meal Replacement Diet is a weight management strategy where one or more traditional meals are replaced with specially formulated products, typically ranging from 200-400 calories, that provide a balanced ratio of essential nutrients.

The main benefit of this diet is its convenience and the ease with which calories can be tracked for weight loss. Popular brands in this category include Soylent, Slimfast, and Huel, offering different types of meal replacements such as shakes, bars, and soups.

What is a Meal Replacement Diet?

A meal replacement diet is a weight loss approach that involves replacing one or more meals with specially formulated food or drink products. These products are designed to provide the necessary nutrients and control calorie intake, making it easier to manage weight loss goals.

The purpose of a meal replacement diet is to promote weight loss by creating a calorie deficit of 250-500 caloires per day while ensuring proper nutrient intake. By replacing high-calorie meals with portion-controlled meal replacement shakes and bars, individuals can reduce their overall energy intake and improve body composition. The function of meal replacements is to provide a convenient and structured approach to weight management, making it easier to adhere to a calorie-controlled diet.

How does the Meal Replacement Diet work?

The Meal Replacement Diet works by substituting one or more daily meals with pre-packaged, calorie-balanced ready-to-eat food products.

According to a 2019 study by Nerys M. Astbury from the University of Oxford, individuals on a Meal Replacement Diet experienced a mean weight loss difference of -1.44 kg (-3.17 pounds) compared to those on alternative kinds of diets, when assessed after one year.

For weight loss, the Meal Replacement Diet proves more effective when coupled with support, showing a mean weight loss difference of -2.22 kg (-4.89 pounds) compared to other diets with support. Additionally, with an enhanced level of support, the mean weight loss difference was -6.13 kg (-13.51 pounds) compared to alternative diets with regular support after one year. Therefore, the Meal Replacement Diet, especially when combined with different levels of support, can be considered a valid option for managing overweight and obesity.

What products are included in the meal replacement diet plan?

Products included in a Meal Replacement Diet plan typically consist of meal replacement smoothies, cookies, powder, drinks, gummies, bars, and shakes.

meal replacement diet products shakes and bars
What products are included in the meal replacement diet plan?
  • Meal Replacement Smoothies: These are liquid meals that usually contain around 200-400 calories and are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. They function as quick and convenient meal options, particularly suitable for breakfast or lunch.
  • Meal Replacement Cookies: These cookies are designed to be low in calories (about 150-250 per cookie) and high in protein and fiber, serving as a satisfying snack or quick meal when you’re on the go.
  • Meal Replacement Powder: This is a powdered form of nutrients that you can mix into water, juice, or milk, typically containing 100-200 calories per serving. It functions as a customizable base for shakes and smoothies, allowing you to add fruits or vegetables as you like.
  • Meal Replacement Drinks: These pre-packaged drinks often contain around 200-400 calories and are rich in nutrients. They serve as a convenient and portable meal option, particularly for those who are too busy to prepare a full meal.
  • Meal Replacement Gummies: These gummies contain around 50-100 calories per serving and are fortified with vitamins and minerals. They function as a supplemental option to a regular meal, rather than a complete meal replacement.
  • Meal Replacement Bars: These bars are calorie-controlled, often containing around 200-300 calories, and are nutrient-dense. They serve as a convenient meal option for people who are on the move.
  • Meal Replacement Shakes: These shakes are liquid meals that usually contain around 200-400 calories and are fortified with essential nutrients. They function as convenient meal options, particularly for people who prefer a drinkable meal.

What are the key ingredients in meal replacement diet products?

The key ingredients in meal replacement diet products, as outlined in the 2009 study by M Cabanillas, predominantly consist of macronutrients like carbohydrates (45%), fats (29%), and proteins (26%), along with an average of 4.45 grams of fiber.

These products also provide an average of 266 Kcal per meal. Micronutrients such as iron and vitamins B1, B6, and D are typically above 33% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per meal, although there is variability in levels of calcium, magnesium, folic acid, and vitamin B12 among different products.

What are the benefits of a Meal Replacement Diet?

The following list shows the benefits of a meal replacement diet.

benefits of the meal replacement diet
What are the benefits of a Meal Replacement Diet?
  • Control of portion sizes: Meal replacements provide pre-portioned meals, making it easier to control calorie intake.
  • Convenience: Meal replacements are convenient and time-saving, as they eliminate the need for meal planning and preparation.
  • Nutritional balance: Meal replacements are designed to provide essential nutrients, ensuring a balanced diet.
  • Reduced temptation: By replacing one or more meals with a meal replacement, individuals may reduce their exposure to unhealthy food choices.
  • Structured eating plan: Following a meal replacement diet provides a structured eating plan, making it easier to adhere to dietary guidelines.
  • Community support: Meal replacement diets can often be implemented within a community setting, providing additional support and accountability.
  • Versatility: Meal replacements come in various forms, such as shakes, bars, or portion-controlled ready meals, providing options for different preferences and dietary needs.

What are the health benefits of a Meal Replacement Diet?

The health benefits of a meal replacement diet, which are listed below, primarily include weight loss and improved cardiometabolic indicators like cholesterol and glucose levels. These diets can be convenient and easy to follow, making them a useful tool for those looking to manage their weight.

  • Weight loss: A meal replacement diet has been shown to be effective in promoting weight loss.
  • Improved cardiometabolic health: Participants on a meal replacement diet have experienced improvements in cholesterol and glucose levels.
  • Long-term weight maintenance: Some studies have shown that individuals who follow a meal replacement diet are more successful in maintaining their weight loss in the long term.

What are the health risks of the Meal Replacement Diet?

The health risks of a meal replacement diet, as outlined in the 2022 study by Rebecca A. Harris from The University of Sydney, include potential adverse effects on mental well-being such as depression, anxiety, and mood changes. The restrictive nature of the diet may also induce food cravings, and emotional distress, and reduce social engagement, which could further impact mental health.

  • Adverse effects on mental well-being (depression, anxiety, mood changes)
  • Food cravings due to diet restrictiveness
  • Reduced social engagement and isolation
  • Emotional distress
  • Cold intolerance
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain

What are the types of Meal Replacement Diets?

The main types of meal replacement diets include partial meal replacement diets, meal replacement only diets, meal replacement bar diets, meal replacement shake diets, meal replacement liquid diets, and meal replacement juice diets.

  1. Partial Meal Replacement Diet: This diet involves replacing one or two meals with meal replacement products while still incorporating whole foods for the remaining meals. Caloric intake for the replaced meals generally ranges from 200-400 kcal per serving.
  2. Meal Replacement Only Diet: In this diet, all meals are replaced by meal replacement products, typically leading to a very low-calorie intake of less than 800 kcal per day.
  3. Meal Replacement Bar Diet: This diet involves replacing meals with nutrient-dense bars that usually contain around 200-300 kcal each.
  4. Meal Replacement Shake Diet: This diet replaces meals with shakes, which can vary in calorie content but generally provide around 200-400 kcal per serving.
  5. Meal Replacement Liquid Diet: This is a more extreme form of a meal replacement diet where all meals are replaced with liquid formulas, often resulting in a very low-calorie intake of around 500-800 kcal per day.
  6. Meal Replacement Juice Diet: This diet replaces meals with juices made from fruits and vegetables. The calorie content can vary widely but generally stays below 300 kcal per serving.

What are the best partial meal replacement diets?

The best partial meal replacement diets often vary depending on individual needs, but popular options include Huel, Special K, and SlimFast among others. These diets are known for their nutritional balance and convenience, making them a popular choice for weight management.

  • Huel: A plant-based meal replacement that provides around 400 calories per serving and includes a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. It’s high in fiber and includes 27 essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Special K: Known for its cereal-based meal replacement, Special K offers shakes and bars that are around 180-190 calories per serving, designed to replace one meal a day.
  • SlimFast: Offers shakes and snack bars aiming to replace two meals a day, with shakes containing about 200 calories and 10 grams of protein.
  • Premier Protein: Primarily offers protein shakes with 160 calories and 30 grams of protein, intended to replace one meal or serve as a protein supplement.
  • Equate: Walmart’s brand of meal replacement shakes, offers about 180 calories and 10 grams of protein per serving.
  • Soylent: A vegan-friendly meal replacement shake that provides around 400 calories per bottle, along with 20 grams of protein and 26 vitamins and minerals.
  • Exante Diet: Offers a variety of meal replacement options like shakes, bars, and soups, generally around 200 calories per serving.
  • Nutrisystem: Provides pre-packaged meals designed to be low in calories (about 150-300 per meal) and high in protein.
  • Optavia Diet: Offers ‘fuelings’ which are small meals or shakes, meant to be consumed every 2-3 hours, each containing about 100-110 calories.
  • Herbalife: Known for its shakes, teas, and supplements, Herbalife shakes contain around 170 calories and 9 grams of sugar per serving.
  • 310 Meal Replacement: Offers plant-based shakes with around 110 calories per serving, aimed at replacing one or two meals a day for weight loss.
  • GNC Meal Replacement: Offers a range of protein shakes and bars designed for weight loss, with around 200-300 calories per serving.
  • Ensure Meal Replacement: Primarily aimed at the elderly or those needing to gain weight, Ensure shakes provide around 220 calories and 9 grams of protein per serving.

What are the cheapest meal replacement diets?

Special K is the cheapest option among meal replacement diets.

How to do a meal replacement diet?

To do a meal replacement diet, replace one or two regular meals with energy-restricted meal replacement products like shakes or bars, aiming for a calorie intake of 800–1500 kcal/day for weight loss.

how to follow meal replacement diet
How to do a meal replacement diet?

Ensure that the meal replacements are nutritionally balanced and consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice, especially considering high attrition rates and the varying physiological responses to meal replacements. The following list shows how to do a meal replacement diet.

  1. Consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice and to assess your eligibility for a meal replacement diet.
  2. Choose nutritionally balanced meal replacement products like shakes, bars, or smoothies that fit within an 800–1500 kcal/day calorie range.
  3. Replace one or two main meals each day with your chosen meal replacement product.
  4. Monitor your calorie intake to ensure it aligns with your weight loss goals.
  5. Incorporate a balanced meal for other eating occasions, focusing on vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  6. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
  7. Engage in regular exercise to complement the diet for better results.
  8. Monitor your weight and metabolic parameters like blood pressure and lipid levels.
  9. Adjust the plan as needed, especially if you experience high attrition rates or if the diet becomes difficult to maintain.

What can you eat on the meal replacement diet?

On the meal replacement diet, you can consume meal replacement products such as shakes or bars that are designed to replace one or more meals per day with the goal of reducing daily energy intake for weight loss.

  1. Meal replacement shakes
  2. Meal replacement bars
  3. Portion-controlled ready meals
  4. Conventional foods
  5. Self-selected meals and snacks

These products are typically portion-controlled and provide the necessary nutrients to support weight loss.

What foods should you avoid on the meal replacement diet?

Foods to avoid on a meal replacement diet would generally be those that contribute to a high caloric intake, as the aim is to maintain an energy-restricted regimen. Particularly, avoid foods high in sugars, fats, and empty calories that do not align with the low-calorie or very low-calorie targets of the meal replacement plan.

  • Sugary snacks and desserts
  • High-fat foods
  • Fast food
  • Processed foods
  • High-calorie beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Foods high in simple carbohydrates
  • Fried foods

What is the meal replacement diet meal plan?

The meal replacement diet meal plan is a 7-day menu that runs from Monday to Sunday. It typically replaces two or fewer regular meals with shakes, bars, or other products designed to provide a balanced ratio of essential nutrients while being low in calories.

meal replacement diet meal plan
What is the meal replacement diet meal plan?

One regular meal, usually consisting of lean protein, vegetables, and whole grains, is also included each day. The following table outlines the meal replacement diet meal plan.

DayMeal 1 (Replacement)Meal 2 (Main Meal)Meal 3 (Replacement)
1SlimFast ShakeGrilled Chicken Salad with VeggiesHuel Shake
2Special K BarBaked Salmon with Steamed BroccoliPremier Protein Shake
3Huel ShakeTurkey Breast with QuinoaSpecial K Bar
4Premier Protein ShakeBeef Stir-Fry with Brown RiceEquate Shake
5Soylent ShakeTofu Stir-Fry with Mixed Veggies310 Meal Replacement
6Exante Diet SoupChicken Caesar SaladHerbalife Shake
7Nutrisystem MealLentil Soup with Whole Grain BreadOptavia Fueling

What are the best meal replacement diet recipes?

The best meal replacement diet recipes offer a balance of essential nutrients while catering to specific dietary needs such as veganism, keto, or low-carb. They are designed to be easy to make, delicious, and satisfying, ensuring you stay on track with your weight loss or health goals.

  • Smoothie Meal Replacement Diet: Blend 1 cup of almond milk, 1 banana, a scoop of protein powder, and a handful of spinach for a nutritious and filling smoothie.
  • Vegan Meal Replacement Shakes: Combine 1 cup of plant-based milk, 1 scoop of vegan protein powder, 1/2 banana, and 1 tablespoon of almond butter in a blender and blend until smooth.
  • Keto Diet Meal Replacement Shakes: Mix 1 cup of coconut milk, 1 scoop of keto-friendly protein powder, a teaspoon of MCT oil, and a handful of ice cubes in a blender until creamy.
  • Low-Carb Meal Replacement Shakes: Blend 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk, 1 scoop of low-carb protein powder, 1/2 avocado, and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a low-carb shake.

What are the best shakes for the meal replacement diet?

The best shakes for a meal replacement diet are often determined by individual preferences, but popular options include Orgain, Ka’Chava, and Premier Protein for their nutritional balance and taste. Here’s a list for reference:

  1. Orgain meal replacement shake – Known for high-quality organic ingredients.
  2. Ka’Chava Meal Replacement Shake – Praised for its natural, whole-food ingredients.
  3. Fairlife Nutrition Plan Protein Shake – Offers high protein and low sugar.
  4. Atkins meal replacement shakes – Low in carbs, suitable for those on an Atkins diet.
  5. Kaged Clean Meal Meal Replacement Shake – Focuses on clean, natural ingredients.
  6. Garden of Life Raw Organic Meal Replacement Shake – Organic and suitable for vegans.
  7. GNC Total Lean 25 Lean Meal Replacement Shake – Offers 25 grams of protein per serving.
  8. Purely Inspired All-in-One Meal Replacement Shake – Includes fruits and veggies in the mix.
  9. 310 Nutrition All-In-One Meal Replacement Shake – Low in sugar and high in protein.
  10. MRE Lite Redcon1 Meal Replacement Shake – Known for its whole food ingredients.
  11. Premier Protein Protein Meal Replacement Shake – High in protein and low in sugar.
  12. Soylent Protein Meal Replacement Shake – Designed to replace a full meal, offering balanced nutrition.

What are the facts about a meal replacement diet?

The concept of a meal replacement diet is not new; it has historical roots going back to the 18th century with the invention of Pemmican by Native Indians. In the modern era, the idea of a meal replacement pill gained traction in the 1920s, leading to various forms of meal replacement products.

These products are often used in fad diets like the Cambridge diet, which heavily relies on low-calorie meal replacements. In the European Union, meal replacement products are subject to regulatory guidelines that specify calorie and fat content, among other nutritional criteria, to ensure they meet basic nutritional needs.

What are the long-term effects of a meal replacement diet?

The long-term effects of a meal replacement diet are weight loss, improved cardiometabolic risk factors, and maintenance of weight loss. A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis published in Obesity Reviews Journal found that meal replacements led to greater weight loss in 1 year compared to other weight loss programs. Participants who followed a meal replacement diet also experienced improvements in biomarkers such as cholesterol and glucose levels.

Is a meal replacement diet part of a healthy diet?

Yes, a meal replacement diet can be part of a healthy diet when used as part of a comprehensive lifestyle intervention and under medical or nutritional supervision.

Are there any meal replacement diet success stories?

Yes, there are many success stories with meal replacement diets. These diets have helped people lose weight, improve their eating habits, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, individual results may vary, so it’s important to find a meal replacement plan that works for you and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new diet.

What is the daily caloric intake on a meal replacement diet?

The daily caloric intake for the meal replacement diet can vary, but a 2018 study by Xiaohui Guo specifically set it at 388 kcal for the dinner meal replacement. This level of caloric intake was shown to significantly improve body composition and metabolic parameters in individuals with overweight and obesity over a 12-week period.

Are there vegan or vegetarian options for meal replacement diets?

Yes, there are vegan or vegetarian options for meal replacement diets, such as the Vitamin World Vegan Meal, which combines oat fiber, potato extract PI2, and soybean protein isolate. These plant-based meal replacements aim to promote satiety and weight control by leveraging dietary fiber and protein.

Are meal replacements nutritionally balanced?

Yes, meal replacements can be nutritionally balanced and are effective in improving health-related quality of life, as shown in the ACOORH trial. The study found that participants who used a protein-rich, low-glycemic meal replacement experienced significant improvements in both weight and HRQOL.

How much protein is in a typical meal replacement shake?

The protein content in a typical meal replacement shake can vary, but it generally ranges from 15 to 30 grams per serving. The specific amount of protein will depend on the brand and formulation, so it’s important to read the nutritional label for accurate information.

What’s the difference between a meal replacement diet vs protein shake diet?

A meal replacement diet involves shakes or bars that are designed to provide a balanced ratio of essential nutrients, including carbohydrates, fats, and protein, often along with added vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, a protein shake diet primarily focuses on providing high levels of protein and may lack other essential nutrients. While meal replacement shakes aim to serve as a full meal substitute, protein shakes are generally intended to supplement a regular diet and are often consumed for muscle recovery or protein supplementation.

What’s the difference between a meal replacement diet vs whole food diet?

A whole food diet focuses on consuming foods in their most natural state, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, and avoids processed or artificially formulated products.