Meal Replacement Drinks Review

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Last Updated: Oct 09, 2020

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Meal replacement drinks offer an excellent alternative to solid food when you don’t have time to prepare a balanced meal or when you’re trying to lose weight.

Unfortunately, some of the most popular are also the unhealthiest, including those produced by Soylent or SlimFast…

So I broke up this article into two sections: Healthy and Unhealthy meal replacement products.

The original version of this review combined products of various categories, including conventional, vegan and keto meal shakes. I have since broken these topics into separate blog posts to improve their readability:

If you’re wondering why I haven’t included such brands as Ambronite and Huel, it’s because I have since moved them into a separate blog post that focuses on a plant-based diet.

Healthy Meal Replacement Drinks

Product ComparisonRating
Ample Original★★★★★
100%FOOD★★★☆☆
Super Body Fuel Schmilk★★★★☆

My perfect meal replacement drink would be 100% paleo-compatible and meet the following nutrition criteria:

  • Delivers all essential nutrients (including protein, fat and carbs)
  • Has only organic ingredients
  • Uses macadamia nut, avocado, coconut or olive oil as the source of fatty acids
  • Uses egg white or beef protein as the source of amino acids
  • Contains little sugar with a low glycemic index (to help keep blood sugar levels under control)
  • Contains no artificial sweeteners, like high-fructose corn syrup
  • Is fortified with digestive enzymes
  • Is loaded with micronutrients, such as essential vitamins and minerals

But few things in life are perfect, and I have yet to find a 100% paleo-compatible meal replacement drink. The product that comes closest is Ample Meal, with both its Original and Keto formulas. As a result, Ample is my winner of this review, closely followed by Super Body Fuel.

With all that in mind, here are my thoughts on the best meal replacement drinks.

Ample O – Original Formula

Ample - Original Formula
Ample – Original Formula
 Highlights
  • Healthy source of protein, fat and carbs
  • Available with 400 or 600 calories to meet your precise calorie intake requirements
  • Fortified with crucial vitamins and minerals that the American diet is deficient in
  • No artificial flavour
  • Pre-bottled — just add water

To save an additional 15%, you can sign up* for Ample’s newsletter.

The Ample Original formula is what I use most when traveling because it provides a perfect balance of protein, fat and carbs.

I’m a big boy and I have a big appetite, so I usually stick with the 600-calorie version of Ample, which offers 36 grams of protein per serving and 14 grams of fiber per serving. But if you’re on a low-calorie diet or are trying to hit weight loss goals, the 400-calorie version of this organic meal might be sufficient.

Ample’s premise is to provide a nutritious, balanced meal in a bottle prepared from premium, real-food ingredients. The company’s meal replacement powder is available in two sizes and three formulas: Original, Keto and Vegan.

Besides the premium ingredients, what I like most about Ample is how quickly and easily I can prepare a shake when I’m traveling. While I like the earthy taste of Ample Original, I prefer the silky texture of Ample K.

Nutrients in Ample Original

Nutritional Information
Calories 400 (600)
Protein 26g (36g)
Fat 22g (35g)
Carbohydrates 24g (35g)
Sugar 4g (6g)
Artificial ingredients None
Non-GMO Yes
Gluten-free Yes
Lactose-free No
Price $39.00 ($48.00) for 6 bottles
Cost per 100 kcal $1.63 ($1.33)

To learn more about my experience with Ample Meal over the past 18 months, check out my in-depth review. Additionally, you might be interested in the recent improvements Ample Foods has made to its Original, Vegan, and Keto formulas, such as removing chia seeds as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Try Ample Original*

100%FOOD – Low Carb

100%Food - Low carb meal replacement shake
100%Food – A low-carb meal replacement shake
 Pros
  • Most calories of all reviewed products
  • High protein content
  • True meal replacement drink
 Cons
  • Potentially discontinued product
  • High in carbs and sugar
  • Uses soy

Even though 100%FOOD’s meal replacement shake is not entirely paleo-compatible and has 26 grams of sugar, it’s still an exciting product.

I wanted to give it a try to see how it tasted, but it appears as if the product is no longer available for purchase. I don’t know for sure, but it looks like the manufacturer has discontinued this food replacement drink.

PS: The term “low carb” is misleading, because this product contains a ton of carbs!

Nutrients in 100%FOOD

Nutritional Information
Calories 670
Protein 50g
Fat 22g
Carbohydrates 67g
Sugar 26g
Artificial ingredients None
Non-GMO No
Gluten-free No
Lactose-free No
Price Discontinued
Cost per 100 kcal Discontinued

I know some of you were looking to compare “100 food vs. soylent,” but unfortunately I can’t provide an in-depth comparison without access to the product. On paper, both Soylent and 100%Food score relatively similar, with a few differences.

Find on Amazon*

Super Body Fuel

Super Body Fuel Meal Replacement Powder
Super Body Fuel meal replacement powder
 Pros
  • You can mix it with any type of milk (such as almond milk)
  • A lactose-free vegan protein powder
 Cons
  • If combined with dairy, it’s no longer vegan or lactose-free
  • Contains a lot of sugar (depending on what liquid you use)
  • Should be refrigerated for two hours before consuming it

Super Body Fuel offers a variety of oat-based meal powders to cater to different tastes and dietary lifestyles, including:

I covered the Super Fuel and Keto versions in separate articles, so this review focuses on Milk Fuel and Athlete Fuel.

Both are oat-based meal powders that are low in plant-based protein and fat. Both products are lactose and gluten-free. However, Super Body Fuel designed both Milk Fuel and Athlete Fuel to be mixed with whole milk. That not only increases their contents of macronutrients, but it also introduces lactose.

I do want to note that you shouldn’t be concerned about the fat in whole milk. I’m simply pointing out that using milk as the liquid base for a meal replacement shake changes its nutritional composition. Mixing any powder with milk is going to result in a drink with additional calories, sugar and protein, and that’s something you need to be aware of as it may affect your dietary goals. With that said, if you’re going to consume dairy you should absolutely choose whole over low-fat milk. I explain why in my article “Is Dairy Bad For You,” which I recommend you take a few minutes to read.

If you’re lactose intolerant, or just try to avoid consuming dairy (like I do), you can certainly use nut milk instead of cows’ milk. There are plenty of healthy dairy alternatives. Just keep in mind, again, that changing the liquid will change the nutritional composition; if I need more calories than my almond milk provides, I add some avocado oil to quickly and easily avoid a calorie deficit.

Note that the nutritional table below assumes the use of whole milk. If you use any other fluid, such as almond or cashew milk, the macronutrients below are going to change.

Both products are available in various flavors, including:

  • Plain (unsweetened)
  • Original (Milk Fuel only)
  • Vanilla
  • Cinnamon
  • Pumpkin Spice
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee

Nutrients in Milk Fuel (Athlete Fuel)

Nutritional Information
Calories 500 (630)
Protein 24g (47g)
Fat 19g (21g)
Carbohydrates 58g (62g)
Sugar 23g (23g)
Artificial ingredients None
Non-GMO No
Gluten-free Yes
Lactose-free No
Price $25.00 ($50.00) for 20 meals
Cost per 100 kcal $0.63 ($0.76) – without milk

For the versions with flavor, Super Body Fuel uses monk fruit extract as a natural sweetener that does not have any sugar or calories. Out of all the products I have tried, I like the taste of Milk Fuel and Athlete Fuel (when mixed with almond milk) the best.

Try Super Body Fuel

Unhealthy Meal Replacement Drinks

Product Comparison
Boost High Protein (3/5)
Ensure Original (2/5)
Ensure High Protein (2/5)
Ensure Plus (2/5)
Ensure Max Protein (2/5)
Ensure Enlive (2/5)
Ensure Clear (1/5)
SlimFast (1/5)

I generally do not recommend any of the products listed below because they contain numerous unhealthy ingredients, such as soy, vegetable oils that have high amounts of omega-6, corn syrup, and other nasty additives.

However, I wanted to mention them anyway for the sake of completeness — and because they are popular despite their low-quality ingredients.

Boost – High Protein

Boost High Protein Drink
Boost High Protein Drink
 Disadvantages
  • Insufficient calories
  • Not a true meal replacement product
  • Contains a lot of sugar

Much like most of the other low-priced products in this review, the Boost High Protein Drink cannot replace a meal and contains numerous artificial ingredients that make it a poor choice for a healthy lifestyle. If you’re looking specifically for a protein shake, I’d recommend one of the high-quality protein powders that I reviewed in another article.

Try Boost High Protein*

Ensure Nutritional Shakes

Ensure nutrition shakes
 Disadvantages
  • No replacement for a meal
  • Unhealthy ingredients

Ensure offers a variety of “nutritional” shakes including:

  • Original: Low in protein and fat, but high in carbs
  • High Protein: Moderate amounts of protein, but low in fat
  • Plus: Reasonable amount of calories, but mostly from carbs and sugar
  • Max Protein: Classic protein shake that’s low in calories but high in carbs
  • Enlive: Reasonable amount of calories, the right amount of protein, but high in carbs and sugar
  • Clear: Low in protein, zero fat, but plenty of carbs

I would not consider any of the above a real meal replacement drink. Most Ensure shakes lack sufficient calories, and the ones that have almost enough calories to be classified as a meal replacement shake derive them from carbs (sugar). Overall, Ensure doesn’t offer any product I would consider buying. I recommend you stay away from all of these shakes.

Find Ensure on Amazon*

Ensure Original Nutrition Shake

Ensure Original Nutrition Shake
Ensure Original Nutrition Shake
 Disadvantages
  • Not a meal replacement
  • Insufficient calories
  • Contains a lot of sugar
  • Contains artificial and unhealthy ingredients

Try Ensure Original*

Ensure High Protein Nutrition Shake

Ensure High Protein Nutritional Shake
Ensure High Protein Nutritional Shake
 Disadvantages
  • Not a meal replacement
  • Insufficient calories
  • Low in calories and fat
  • Contains artificial and unhealthy ingredients

Try Ensure High Protein*

Ensure Plus Nutrition Shake

Ensure Plus Nutritional Shake
Ensure Plus Nutritional Shake
 Disadvantages
  • Not a meal replacement
  • Delivers most calories from carbs and sugar
  • Contains artificial and unhealthy ingredients

Try Ensure Plus*

Ensure Max Protein Nutrition Shake

Ensure Max Protein Nutritional Shake
Ensure Max Protein Nutritional Shake
 Disadvantages
  • Not a meal replacement
  • Low in calories and fat
  • Contains artificial and unhealthy ingredients

Try Ensure Max Protein*

Ensure Enlive Nutritional Shake

Ensure Enlive Nutritional Shake
Ensure Enlive Nutritional Shake
 Disadvantages
  • Not a meal replacement
  • Delivers a lot of its calories from carbs and sugar
  • Contains artificial and unhealthy ingredients

Try Ensure Enlive*

Ensure Clear Nutrition Shake

Ensure Clear Nutritional Shake
Ensure Clear Nutritional Shake
 Disadvantages
  • Not a meal replacement
  • Insufficient calories
  • Contains a lot of sugar and no fat
  • Contains artificial and unhealthy ingredients

Try Ensure Clear*

SlimFast Original

SlimFast Original
SlimFast Original
 Disadvantages
  • Not a meal replacement
  • Insufficient calories
  • Contains a lot of sugar
  • Contains artificial and unhealthy ingredients

SlimFast produces the most popular weight loss shakes in history. At the same time, it’s by far the worst product I have reviewed, and I would highly recommend you refrain from buying it. SlimFast made a name for itself in the weight loss community, but it did so at the expense of consumers, who thought SlimFast offered a healthy option for losing weight.

Let me be clear: SlimFast is terrible. It has nothing your body needs or should be exposed to. It’s the fast-food of diet shakes. (Honestly, that’s probably being too generous.)

Try SlimFast*

Benefits of Meal Replacement Drinks

Life is busy, and maintaining a healthy diet is hard. Sometimes there’s little time to prepare a healthy meal (or to find one when you’re traveling). That’s where meal replacement drinks and liquid food can help.

I consider myself fortunate because I have a dedicated paleo cook in my household (my wife). As a result, eating healthy while I’m at home is not an issue. Finding paleo-compatible meal options at most restaurants is usually not a problem either. I can always have a salad or a piece of meat with some veggies.

Ample vs. Soylent: Comparison of meal replacement drinks
You can always find a couple of bottles of Ample in my suitcase

However, sometimes I’m out and about without access to a healthy source of food. Examples include work-related events (such as a trade show), or birthday parties our kids have been invited to. Other times, I have to skip breakfast because of a very early flight. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities in my life not to have a proper meal.

Update: Since I started intermittent fasting a few months ago, I have routinely been skipping breakfast without the need for a meal replacement drink.

Meal replacement drinks and/or liquid food are the perfect solution in those types of situations. Depending on the type of shake, they can offer a healthy and nutritious meal on the go — one that doesn’t take much time to prepare.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Often Should You Use Meal Replacement Shakes?

In my opinion, you should only use them when necessary. Here are the two scenarios in which I think consuming meal replacement shakes or drinks makes the most sense:

1. When you need to eat but you don’t have access to food. As I noted above, I travel regularly, and sometimes I’ll find myself sitting on a train at dinner time, or I’ll be running late for a meeting and can’t stop and find a nutrient-dense meal. In cases like these, it’s better to have an imperfect meal replacement drink than to deprive my body altogether.

2. When the alternative to not drinking one is making a bad dietary choice. Sometimes the only option is a bad option. If I’m going directly from Point A to Point B (without having the option to go home and prepare a healthy meal), I might drink a meal replacement on the way to curb my appetite and help me avoid making a decision I would later regret.

In other words, you should only use meal replacement shakes when you don’t have the option of eating a real, nutritious, well-balanced meal. As with vitamins and supplements, these products can be helpful tools for filling dietary gaps and staying on the right track — but they should never be used as a shortcut, or as a way to avoid changing the unhealthy parts of your lifestyle.

What are The Best Vegan Meal Replacements?

Based on my ingredients analysis, I consider Ample V, Ambronite, Huel and Super Body Fuel some of the best products. To learn more, I highly recommend reading my dedicated vegan meal replacement shakes review and comparison.

Again, that’s Ample V, Ambronite, and Huel as complete meal replacements, and Super Body Fuel and Garden of Life as low-calorie options.

Is Drinking Your Food Bad?

Chewing your food has definite advantages over drinking it. For starters, while chewing food, your body has time to prepare and start the digestive process (which begins in your mouth). Eating solid food is also usually slower than guzzling down a 600-calorie meal replacement shake in 30 seconds, which can help you control your appetite — a key aspect of weight management.

However, there are things you can do to mitigate the disadvantages of liquid food. For example, take small sips instead of guzzling it down like water. Ample has written an excellent article about the pros and cons of drinking food, and I’d recommend you check it out.

Meal Replacement Drinks vs. Protein Shakes

It’s essential to differentiate between meal replacement shakes, such as the ones from Ample Meal or Soylent, and other types of drinks. For example, protein drinks may provide enough protein but they usually lack other essential components, such as fat. More importantly, they don’t provide sufficient calories to replace a meal, and often contain additives you should avoid, like corn syrup.

So if you’re wondering whether you can drink Muscle Milk as a meal replacement, the answer is no. Keep that in mind when shopping for meal replacement drinks.

I have included a few popular products in this review that I would not classify as meal replacement drinks because they lack calories and fat. Examples of such products include:

Atkins Ready to Drink: 160 calories and 10 grams of fat

Boost High Protein Shake: 240 calories and 6 grams of fat

Ensure (various): 160-350 calories and 6-11 grams of fat

Garden of Life: 120 calories and 2 grams of fat

Slimfast: 180 calories and 5 grams of fat

I decided to include those products anyway for the sake of completeness, and so you know the difference.

Can You Survive on Protein Shakes?

You might be able to survive for a little while, but unless you’re stuck in the jungle or shipwrecked on an island with nothing but a case of Muscle Milk, please don’t try!

I realize this question is somewhat hypothetical, but it presents an opportunity to reiterate the fact that the most important aspect of any diet plan is making sure that it’s properly-balanced and comprised of nutrient-dense foods. Protein shakes focus on delivering one nutrient to your body; they aren’t especially concerned with the others. And they’re often laced with stuff you don’t want or need, like artificial sweeteners.

Your body needs the right mix of nutrients to function properly, including macronutrients, micronutrients, minerals and vitamins. No single product can provide that to the extent that a healthy meal can.

What’s the Relationship Between Meal Shakes and Diabetes?

If you have diabetes or suffer from pre-diabetes, I would recommend talking to your doctor before making changes to your diet plan. But as you probably know already, you should stay away from fast-acting carbohydrates and, in particular, sugar.

For meal replacement shakes, that means sticking with products that are low in net carbs and high in fiber. That means your best bet is probably Ample’s Keto formula.

How Do You Make a Homemade Meal Replacement Shake?

Making homemade meal replacement shakes is relatively easy. In the past, I would use my favorite protein powder as a base and then add fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and mix it all in a blender.

I recommend using a protein powder that contains a blend of grass-fed whey protein (i.e., whey they come from grass-fed cows) and egg white protein. If you need a vegan protein powder, try to find a blend of rice protein and pea protein. Of course, you can also use a low-calorie vegan meal powder as your base, such as one of the brands I have reviewed here.

These days, I use Naked Meal, a low-calorie, ketogenic diet compatible meal powder as my base. You can find my favorite recipe, which includes a frozen banana and spinach, at the end of my Naked Meal review.

Download Comparison Table

Given the size of the table and the available screen space, especially on mobile devices, I decided to create a more detailed PDF that you can download here. If you prefer the on-screen version instead, you’ll have to scroll horizontally to see the full table.

Ample Foods 100%FOOD Super Body Fuel Super Body Fuel Boost Ensure Ensure Ensure/th> Ensure Ensure Enlive Ensure Clear SlimFast
Formula Original (400 cal) Low Carb Milk Fuel Athlete Fuel High Protein Original High Protein Plus Max Protein Enlive Advanced Clear Original
Ready to drink With Water With Water With 2 Cups of Whole Milk With 2 Cups of Whole Milk Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Calories 400 670 200 330 240 220 160 350 150 350 180 180
Protein 26g 50g 8g 32g 20g 9g 16g 13g 30g 20g 8g 10g
Fat 22g 22g 3.5g 5g 6g 6g 2g 11g 1.5g 11g 0g 5g
Carbohydrates 24g 67g 35g 39g 28g 33g 19g 50g 6g 45g 37g 25g
Sugar 4g 26g 0g 0g 15g 15g 4g 20g 1g 22g 18g 19g
Artificial Ingredients No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Non-GMO Yes No No No No No No No No No No No
Protein Source Grass-fed Whey Protein, Grass-fed Collagen Whey Protein and Soy Protein Oats Oats, Brown Rice Protein Whey and Casein Whey, Casein, Soy Whey, Casein, Soy Whey, Casein, Soy Whey, Casein Whey, Casein Whey Whey, Casein
Fat Source Coconut Oil, High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Macadamia Nut Oil, Sunflower Lecithin Flax Seed, Hemp Seed, Sesame Seed Added milk Added milk Canola Oil, Sunflower Oil, Corn Canola Oil Canola Oil Canola Oil, Corn Sunflower Oil Canola Oil N/A Soy Lecithin
Micronutrient Density ★★★★ ★★ ★★ ★★ ★★★
Vitamin Density ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★★★
Probiotics Yes No No No No No No No No Yes No No
Paleo rating ★★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★
Gluten-free Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Unit price $39.00 N/A $25.00 $50.00 $24.48 $34.99 $39.96 $49.99 $29.97 $31.29 $23.97 $13.58
Cost per 100 kcal $1.63 N/A $0.63 $0.76 $0.43 $0.66 $1.04 $0.60 $1.67 $0.56 $1.11 $0.63

Final Words

The one thing that I have learned is that some manufacturers market their replacement products as honest-to-goodness meal replacement drinks even though they lack the (macro)nutrients necessary to replace a full meal. If you take those products out of the comparison, you’re left with only a handful of options.

If you then apply any specific dietary requirements (such as paleo or keto requirements), your available choices become even more limited. Overall, I consider Ample Meal the winner because the company uses the highest-quality ingredients and also offers both vegan-friendly and Keto meal replacement shakes.

Super Body Fuel also makes a delicious product that costs less but requires you to mix it with milk and/or oil.

If you know of a meal replacement shake or powder I haven’t yet included in this review, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’d also love to hear about your preferred meal replacement products.

1 thought on “Meal Replacement Drinks Review”

  1. As always a really interesting article, very objective. You make very good points on why to go with Ample over Soylent.
    If Soylent manages to produce a “Wheylent” And keep the price per bottle….. now that is a keeper there!
    Keep the great articles coming!

    Reply

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