Meal replacement shakes are a convenient way for people of all ages to get the nourishment they need when they’re in a hurry, on a diet, or can’t cook for themselves.
Meal replacement shakes are a significant step up from protein shakes or energy drinks, and won’t leave you with a sugar rush or a caffeine buzz.
There are a lot of meal replacement shakes on the market today. Some are worthy of the name. Some are not.
Our team of experts put scores of today’s most popular brands to the test and determined that the following are the best meal replacement shakes of 2023.
There were several meal replacement shakes jockeying for the number 1 position. But none of the others offered the same impressive nutrient profile and outstanding taste as Extant (formerly Idealshake).
What we like: It’s no easy trick to be both tasty and low calorie. But beyond that, you get a well-considered balance of macro and micronutrients, as well as digestive enzymes to aid nutrient absorption and a customer-friendly price.
Flaws: It contains some artificial sweeteners.
2. Ample Meal
Ample Meal addresses nutrition from all sides. There’s a nice mix of antioxidants, B vitamins, and probiotics, along with fiber to keep things moving, amino acids, and protein for energy, and prebiotics to boost digestive efficiency.
What we like: An hour after an Ample Meal, you feel energized and mentally sharp. Not bloated and ready to snooze. There are no artificial sweeteners, the carb load is modest, and the fiber ensures you stay on schedule.
Flaws: Contains some sugar so diabetics beware.
3. Organifi Complete Protein
Though the name screams ‘protein’, this meal replacement shake from Organifi is so much more. Sure, weight lifters are going to love the protein. But everyone else will appreciate the dozens of micronutrients that address every aspect of proper nutrition.
What we like: Organifi is low in calories and carbs, rich in B vitamins and essential minerals, and contains 20 grams of protein in each serving. This is a great choice for those watching their weight.
Flaws: 11 carbs per serving is cutting it close for keto-dieters.
4. Orgain Plant Based Meal Replacement Powder
Orgain makes a second appearance on our list via their high-quality Plant-Based Meal Replacement Powder. Everything here passes vegan and vegetarian muster, and the taste holds its own against the best of the rest.
What we like: For vegans who want to stay the course while addressing their nutritional needs, this shake powder is hard to beat. Toss a banana into the blender with it and you’re good to go for hours.
Flaws: The container is way bigger than it needs to be, which means a lot of unnecessary plastic waste.
5. Healthy Delights Keto Meal Replacement Powder
Those on the keto diet sometimes have a hard time finding nutrient-rich food that won’t violate carb restrictions. Healthy Delights Nature Fuel Keto Meal Replacement Powder is here to address that need. It’s low in carbs but high in beneficial fats and micronutrients.
What we like: The folks at Healthy Delights have done their homework and produced a nutrient-rich, low carb shake powder that somehow manages to taste good too. There’s nothing artificial in here and not a speck of sugar.
Flaws: Might not be enough carbs for non-keto dieters.
6. Orgain Organic Nutritional Shake
Not everyone has the time or inclination to mix their own meal replacement shakes. For them, there are pre-mixed shakes, of which the Orgain Organic Nutritional Shake is our favorite. Each 11 oz shake is loaded with vitamins, minerals, superfoods, and more.
What we like: Besides being low in calories, each shake contains 16 grams of protein, along with nearly two dozen vitamins and minerals. Orgain shakes are kosher, vegetarian, and GMO-free, and free of artificial anything.
Flaws: No artificial ingredients means it’s sweetened with sugar.
7. Garden of Life Raw Organic Meal Replacement Powder
Garden of Life is one of the best-known supplement makers in the country, and they put all their expertise to work in their Raw Organic Meal Replacement Powder. This is a potent blend of dozens of superfoods, B vitamins, protein, and more.
What we like: The plant-based protein makes this one of the few meal replacement shakes that’s safe for vegans. The micronutrient profile is impressive, and there’s a modest number of probiotics thrown in to help with digestion.
Flaws: Low in magnesium for some reason.
8. Premier Protein Shake
Premier Protein Shake has an impressive micronutrient profile and is low in calories and carbs for those watching their weight. If you are a dieter on-the-go, these tasty shakes are going to come in mighty handy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
What we like: It’s hard to argue with the convenience, taste, and nutritional value of these shakes. So we won’t. With just 160 calories and 5 grams of carbs, they’ll fit in nicely with just about any diet, including the keto diet.
Flaws: If you’re not watching your weight, the calorie and carb load might be too modest.
9. Vega One All-In-One Nutritional Shake
Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake is another vegan and vegetarian-friendly meal replacement shake that’s light and tasty, but packed with vital nutrients. There’s no bothersome whey protein and no gluten. But plenty of probiotics and antioxidants.
What we like: While the vitamin profile is not as extensive as some other shake powders, it makes up for that with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, plant-based protein, and a low calorie count.
Flaws: Contains Stevia, which some will like and some will not. And the carb count is probably a bit high for keto dieters.
10. Labrada Lean Body Meal Replacement Shake
Labrada Lean Body Meal Replacement Shake is high in protein and antioxidant-rich. It boasts an impressive vitamin and mineral profile, provides BCAAs for strength and vitality, and mixes easily with most non-carbonated beverages.
What we like: This is a good choice for men and women who spend time working out. You get the carbs you need to produce energy, along with the amino acids and protein you need to repair and build muscle.
Flaws: The ‘award winning taste’ is more like the ‘pretty good’ taste.
Who Needs a Meal Replacement Shake?
Meal replacement shakes fill a significant nutritional gap for busy professionals, students, dieters, seniors, and more. They are typically low in calories and carbs, and feature an array of nutrients that are necessary for the maintenance of good health.
Meal replacement shakes are not intended to take the place of whole foods on a permanent basis. They’re designed to fill in when you don’t have the time or ability to cook, when you need a tasty and effective way to stick to your diet, or when you just want something that will deliver important macro and micronutrients without making you feel bloated.
If you have elderly parents who have difficulty cooking, it’s always a good idea to have meal replacement shakes or meal replacement shake powder on hand for them so they can lean on them in a pinch. Likewise, if you have college-age kids – or you are a college-age kid yourself – meal replacement shakes are a big step up over the fast food so many young people default to.
How We Ranked
Ranking meal replacement shakes is primarily about what’s in them, and to a lesser degree, about taste, mixability, and cost.
In order for a meal replacement shake to earn a spot on our list, it needed to provide a host of vital micronutrients including the all-important B vitamins, antioxidant vitamins like vitamins C and E, minerals like calcium and magnesium, and macronutrients like protein and fiber. If a shake included prebiotics and essential amino acids, even better.
But what is just as important as what is in a meal replacement shake is what is not in it. A good meal replacement shake will have no sugar, or virtually none. It will also have a moderate to low carbohydrate load. And it will be relatively low in calories. Caffeine is another ingredient that is a staple of energy drinks, but which we really did not want to see in a meal replacement shake. Gluten too.
The shakes themselves (or the powder as the case may be) had to be produced in a Good Manufacturing Practices facility (1) in the US. And if that facility also processes food allergens, that should have been clearly indicated on the label so people would know.
Q: What is a meal replacement shake?
A: A meal replacement shake is a drink that provides important vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, and amino acids your body needs to fire on all cylinders. While they are often associated with weight loss diets, there are many different meal replacement shakes on the market. Some are very low calorie indeed, while others provide a more traditionally balanced nutritional repertoire. However, even those shakes are low sugar and relatively low in carbs.
Q: What is in a meal replacement shake?
A: Meal replacement shakes differ from protein shakes and energy drinks in that they strive to provide a healthy balance of essential nutrients. A typical meal replacement shake may include whey-derived protein, numerous B vitamins, and numerous antioxidant vitamins such as C, A, and E. Important minerals such as magnesium and calcium are also included. Along the essential amino acids (2) needed for muscle growth, healing, and more.
Q: Can you live on meal replacement shakes?
A: In a pinch, you will, without a doubt, be able to get by on meal replacement shakes alone for a while. By ‘in a pinch’, we mean if you find yourself isolated by a natural disaster and no other food source is available. That’s because these shakes are designed to replace ‘a’ meal, not all your meals, all the time. If you only consume these shakes, over time you’re likely to experience disruptions to bowel activity. Your mood may also take a hit, and you may find it difficult to get all the calories your body needs, with the result being low energy.
Q: Are meal replacement shakes good for losing weight?
A: They certainly can be. Many have fewer than 100 calories, which will fit right in with most weight loss programs. Even those not intended to aid in weight loss per se typically contain less than 300 calories. Considering the average person should limit themselves to between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day if they want to lose weight (3), 300 should not be a problem.
Q: Can seniors use meal replacement shakes?
A: Yes they can, and most probably should consider keeping some around. Many seniors these days are suffering from malnutrition (4) because they’re not always able to shop or cook for themselves. Meal replacement shakes – whether pre-mixed or powdered – provide a fast, simple, and effective way for seniors to maintain optimal nutrition. Most of the best meal replacement shakes contain one or two dozen vital nutrients, along with protein, calcium, and fiber. All things most seniors need but that they do not always get.
Q: Do meal replacement shakes produce side effects?
A: Most of the best meal replacement shakes avoid iffy ingredients that could produce adverse side effects. Most (not all) are sugar-free, low in sodium, and free of artificial ingredients. Many, however, get their protein from whey (5), some contain soy or soy byproducts, and others use sugar as a sweetener. So those with food allergies or diabetes will need to read the labels carefully.
Q: Can someone who is lactose intolerant consume meal replacement shakes?
A: Most companies that make meal replacement shakes use whey as a source of protein. Whey is a milk-byproduct which is likely to cause significant discomfort (6) in a lactose intolerant person. There are a couple of brands however – like Orgain Plant Based Powder – that should not pose a problem for lactose intolerant individuals.
Q: Can I add things to my meal replacement shake?
A: If you are using a meal supplement powder, and you have the time, technology (blender), and something to add like fruit, then sure. Why not? The only concern might be that whatever you add to your shake conflicts with the flavor of the powder. If you are interested in spicing up the meal replacement shake, we suggest you purchase an unflavored shake mix.
Q: Can diabetics use meal replacement shakes?
A: They can in some cases. Although it depends on the specific meal replacement shake. There are quite a few discount shakes out there that load you up on sugar and carbs (sodium too). And they should obviously be avoided by diabetics. The best meal replacement shakes, however, do not use sugar and are relatively low in carbs. It all comes down to reading the labels carefully and talking it over with your doctor first.
Q: Do meal replacement shakes contain gluten?
A: Out of an abundance of caution, most meal replacement shakes (pre-mixed and powder) are gluten-free. While gluten is not a problem for the vast majority of people, it is a problem for those with celiac disease (7). Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes people to experience symptoms such as joint swelling, headaches, diarrhea, brain fog, or all of the above.
Q: Do meal replacement shakes contain caffeine?
A: Some meal replacement shakes intended to promote weight loss contain caffeine. But if a meal replacement shake loaded you down with caffeine, then it did not rank for our list. The shakes we chose produce energy in a healthier, natural way by providing the minerals necessary to help transform food into energy, not by simply stimulating your nerves like caffeine does (8).
Q: Do meal replacement shakes interfere with prescription medications?
A: It is unlikely that meal replacement shakes will interfere with or cause adverse reactions with prescription medications. There are a few possible exceptions, however. For instance, zinc has been known to reduce the effectiveness of the antibiotic Cephalexin (Keflex) (9). If you are currently taking any prescription medications, talk to the doctor who prescribed them before you start using meal replacement shakes, just to be sure.
Q: Do meal replacement shakes have fiber?
A: Yes, the best meal replacement shakes contain fiber. Keep in mind, though, that there are different kinds of fiber that do different things. Pectin, for instance, can cause food to move slower through the digestive tract. Inulin is a type of soluble fiber that the beneficial probiotic bacteria (10) in your gut use as food. While cellulose is the kind of fiber found in wheat bread that facilitates regularity.
Q: Can I have a meal replacement shake for breakfast?
A: Absolutely. The nutrients, fiber, protein, amino acids, and more that the best meal replacement shakes provide will be welcome by your body regardless of the time of day.
Q: Can I give my kids meal replacement shakes to take to school?
A: For the record, it is always preferable that kids get their nutrients from fresh fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. That said, there is no reason why kids should be forbidden from having a meal replacement shake now and then. The most important thing is to choose the right one. Avoid shakes that contain sugar, lots of sodium, or lots of artificial ingredients. Avoid ‘diet’ shakes (unless otherwise directed by a doctor) and look for shakes with a well-rounded nutritional profile.
Q: Are meal replacement shakes keto-friendly?
A: The bedrock principle of the ketogenic diet (11) is limiting carbs to 30-50 grams per day. That might sound easy, but consider that A) a ‘normal’ diet averages about 300 grams of carbs per day and that, B) most of the foods we love like pasta, potatoes, and bread are carb-heavy. In light of those facts, cutting carbs by 90% or more is asking a lot. Some meal replacement shakes contain less than 10 carbs and are a viable choice for keto dieters.
Q: Are meal replacement shakes expensive?
A: Most of the best meal replacement shakes, whether pre-mixed or powder, wind up costing a couple of dollars each. Compared to the price of eating out, or even cooking your own breakfast, lunch, or dinner, that’s a pretty reasonable price for a meal.
Q: Do meal replacement shakes have to be refrigerated?
A: Most meal replacement shakes do not need to be refrigerated. Unless you open one and don’t finish it. Then it will have to be refrigerated. Of course, if you purchase meal replacement powder mix, then you won’t have to refrigerate that. Although, you should be sure to store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. If you have any questions or concerns, refer to the instructions on the label.
Meal replacement shakes are quick, convenient, and nutrient-rich. They provide everyone from teenagers to seniors a way to maintain proper nutrition even when their regular eating schedule is disrupted.
Meal replacement shakes are also a great way for people trying to slim down (or stay slim) to stay the course and achieve their goals.
No matter which one you choose, meal replacement shakes are an affordable, time-saving convenience that can help ensure optimal health.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended meal replacement shake, click here.