Ask Joslin: Are Meal Replacement Drinks a Good Choice?

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Is a canned drink better for you than having a sit-down breakfast made with real food? If your doctor or dietitian has suggested that you try a meal replacement (the formal name for the shake-in- a can advertised to people with diabetes on all the network television channels and prominently displayed in your local supermarkets and drugstores), you might raise an eyebrow or two.

After all, most of these come in dessert- type flavors such as chocolate and strawberry. And they taste sweet. Surely that isn’t the proper message to be sending to someone with diabetes—instead of having meals you should be gulping sweetened milkshakes to control your diabetes.

No, no one is suggesting that you replace regular meals with the 24 oz. frappes at the local ice cream parlor, but sometimes measured amounts of nutritionally complete shakes can be helpful.

People with diabetes who need to lose weight know what and how much they are supposed to eat, but a lot of physiological and psychological noise gets in the way, leading to continued overeating.

First, there’s hunger.  Because their stomachs empty faster than those of the general  population, people with diabetes (especially type 2 diabetes) find it difficult to feel sated on a appropriate serving of carbohydrates.

Second, figuring out food choices in the proper combination of protein, fat and carbohydrate can be challenging when you are initially learning how to eat with diabetes.  Sometimes it is just so much easier to go with the flow and eat whatever is offered.

In addition, there are the vagaries of everyday life.  Preparing a home cooked meal when you have 15 minutes to get the kids breakfast and run a comb through your hair may pre-dispose people to grabbing a muffin and a large latte on the way to the train.

So back to our question.

If you can plan and execute a healthy meal with fiber, healthy fat, a source of lean protein and low glycemic index carbs that tastes good to you, of course that is better than a drink in a can.

But if you need some time to learn what healthful choices are and need a chance to kick start your weight loss, a meal replacement might be just the thing. After all, despite the flavorings, they are portioned control in carb, fat and protein; contain at least 1/3 of your daily micronutrient requirements and generally are lower in calories than a healthful breakfast you would make yourself.  And they don’t usually raise your blood glucose level.

And clinical research is on their side- studies have shown them to be useful in achieving weight loss.  Maybe, they should make them in flavors such as roast chicken and quinoa and broccoli. (Just a thought!)

2 Responses to Ask Joslin: Are Meal Replacement Drinks a Good Choice?

  1. Shannon says:

    Try Shakeology it has a certified low glycemic index with 70 healthy ingredients! Hundreds of doctors recommend it and you can watch their reasons why online at

    • John says:

      Thanks shannon for the spam/pyramid scheme… Fail to tell folks you get a cut from that referral link.. Transparency in health (including the diet industry) is a big deal. No better than pushing Amway on a diabetic

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