The ways and reasons a person consumes these meal replacements or supplements help to determine if this is a good or a bad habit. There can be grey area too: a mixture of pluses and minuses. Many individuals are on the right track, but something is missing. With some guidance, they can learn to dissect the pros and cons of using products like these and make healthy choices.
- Let us start by reviewing the "Pros."
A heaping helping of a powder can be a wonderful replacement for other forms of protein when a person cannot eat them. Vegetarians and vegans are at particular risk of losing muscle mass, suffering from anemia, and are at greater risk of being underweight than people who eat animal-based foods. Some of these individuals manage to create an excellent balance from soy products, beans, and vegetables, but most people find it difficult to get enough protein this way. Products made from rice, soy, hemp, and other natural vegan sources provide another way to consume this necessary part of the diet.
They also provide nutritional assistance when a person can't eat those foods because of allergies, intolerances, or gastrointestinal issues which make eating solid food difficult. Added to shakes made with a fluid of some kind plus fruit and sometimes vegetables, an "instant meal" like this can offer an excellent caloric base. In this form, protein is easily and quickly absorbed into the body.
- Now let us take a look at the "Cons."
Many people believe that the best products are made from 100% whey. Numerous consumers who are unable to eat dairy products or drink milk can handle whey as it does not contain lactose. There are still many individuals, however who are allergic to casein or to both elements of dairy (whey is a dairy product). Then there are vegans who do not eat any foods derived from animals.
In these cases, substitutes are helpful such as a mix derived from beans and grains such as soy and hemp. These are excellent alternatives but do not supply as much protein per serving or are not effective at helping one to lay down calories and build muscle as whey does. That's not necessarily a bad thing unless a person needs to gain muscle quickly, but at least alternatives are available.
Not all whey products are made alike. 100% protein isolate is your better option. A protein concentrate can contain a varying amount of whey which may cost less, but is fattier.
Inferior products often contain other ingredients; in other words, they are not devoted to giving you the primary nutrition you are looking for. You will see additions such as sugar (referred to as sucrose, glucose, rice syrup, agave, etc). There are better replacements like xylitol and stevia which don't add much in the way of calories (keeping in mind that there are some calories in xylitol), but you don't need to pay for those. If you want sweetener, add it yourself, preferably in the form of a whole food like blueberries or banana.
Some would say the lack of anything but protein is a down side to these supplements: all you get from them is a single advantage. Individuals must really read labels to determine which products are meal replacements containing many vitamins and minerals and which ones contain that one single ingredient. Calories are good, but only the calories you want. If your goal is to lose weight or build muscle, research products very carefully.