Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for best meal replacement shakes

Some dieters struggle to prepare healthy meals that are nutritious, calorie controlled, and satisfying. It’s also difficult to make sure that each meal provides enough essential vitamins and minerals. One popular solution is a meal replacement shake, a ready-to-go alternative for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. These shakes provide at least 35% of a person’s daily nutritional needs and help reduce cravings between meals.

Most meal replacement shakes are dairy-based, but there are some that use nondairy or vegan ingredients. Organic ingredients are also a major selling point, and there are brands marketed primarily to gluten-sensitive consumers. Weight loss is a common reason to drink a daily shake or two, but there are other reasons why these beverages are so popular. Post-surgical patients often keep them on hand during recovery. People with digestive issues may find them easier to process than regular foods. The trick is to find a brand that matches your specific dietary needs, whether that’s more protein, fewer carbohydrates, or something else.

If you’re in the market for a quality meal replacement shake, we at BestReviews have compiled a shortlist of worthy contenders. For more information about these products, we encourage you to read our shopping guide below.

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Meal replacement shakes are formulated to provide the recommended nutritional value of a small regular meal.

Key considerations

Nutritional value

A regular ice cream milkshake or blended fruit smoothie could qualify as a meal replacement, but the difference is the nutritional value. Meal replacement shakes are formulated to provide at least 35% of an average person’s daily intake of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, and protein. When shopping for the ideal brand, it pays to read the nutrition label on the packaging and consider all of the percentages listed.

Many meal replacement shakes add liquid vitamin and mineral supplements to meet the minimal 35% goal, but some go above and beyond the minimum, especially when it comes to protein and fiber. The type and amount of added sweeteners should also be considered.


Because many diet plans call for the consumption of one or two meal replacement shakes each day, flavor is a very important consideration. The most common flavors are similar to popular ice cream flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Other flavors may be fruit-based, such as blueberry or raspberry. Coffee and caramel are also popular choices, especially for breakfast meal replacements.

The important thing is to find flavors that appeal to your particular palate, because a lack of variety in a diet can lead to lack of interest and ultimately to quitting. Consider purchasing different flavors of the same brand to preserve the nutritional value but avoid boredom.

Diet compatibility

Some meal replacement shakes are sold as part of a larger diet plan endorsed by the manufacturer. Brands such as SlimFast encourage weight loss through calorie and portion control, while brands such as Atkins promote high-protein/low-carb ketogenic diet plans. It’s important to know if a new meal replacement shake is compatible with your specific diet or weight-loss plan. A high-protein diet calls for a replacement shake with a higher protein content, and a diabetic diet calls for a replacement shake with minimal sugar content. Shop according to the diet creator’s recommendations.

Meal replacement shake features

Shelf-stable packaging

Ready-to-go meal replacement shakes are often sold on unrefrigerated store shelves, so they must be shelf-stable. They don’t necessarily require refrigeration before consuming, but many users prefer to drink a cold shake as a meal. It’s important to refrigerate an opened meal replacement package, however. Some users prefer to drink half of a replacement shake before a workout to boost energy, then drink the second half after the workout to recover.


It isn’t unusual to find meal replacement shakes sold in packages of four, six, or eight. These sizes have an affordable price point and are easy to transport and store. For even better savings, however, you might want to consider purchasing multi-packs. Some manufacturers offer large cases of two dozen or more replacement shakes at a discounted price. For those consumers who plan on pursuing a long-term weight-control program, this may be the most economical route to follow.

Organic ingredients

As part of a healthier diet plan, many people want to avoid as many artificial ingredients and processed foods as possible. Some meal replacement shakes do contain sugar, and others use dairy-based ingredients that can trigger food allergies. Fortunately, there are many meal replacement shakes on the market that use organic ingredients and are dairy- or gluten-free.

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Did you know?
There are meal replacement shakes on the market that meet the requirements of most popular diet plans, including the Atkins, keto, and paleo diets.

Meal replacement shake prices

Because serving sizes can vary widely from brand to brand, it’s better to consider the price per fluid ounce when comparison shopping. Some meal replacement shakes may have a lower retail price, but the individual bottles could contain 8 ounces of product compared to another brand’s 12 or 16 ounces.

Inexpensive: If you spend less than $0.10 per fluid ounce, the most commercially recognizable brands (such as Atkins, SlimFast, and Ensure) dominate store shelves. There may also be store brands and generic brands available that have similar formulas. Most of these shakes are dairy-based and contain added sugar. The protein content may be 10 grams or less.

Mid-range: If you spend between $0.10 and $0.25 per fluid ounce, the replacement shakes are generally more specialized than the standard varieties. The protein content can be 15 grams or higher, and the net carb count is lower because of low-calorie sweeteners. This is where some organic brands can be found on pharmacy shelves or in specialized health and fitness stores.

Expensive: If you spend over $0.25 per fluid ounce, the most expensive meal replacement shakes routinely promote all-organic or natural formulas. High-protein shakes marketed toward athletes are commonly found at this price point. Higher-end shakes also incorporate alternative milks or sweeteners in order to appeal to vegan consumers. The vitamin and mineral content can also be noticeably higher in these top-of-the-line specialty brands.


  • Try different flavors. Having a variety of flavors on hand can help you avoid becoming bored with meal replacement shakes.
  • Supplement a shake with more protein. If the protein content of a meal replacement shake is low, try supplementing it with a handful of nuts, a boiled egg, or a piece of lean meat.
  • Try the shakes before workouts or as snacks. Meal replacement shakes can also be good between-meal snacks or pre-workout energy boosters.
  • Mix healthy “milkshakes.” High-protein replacement shakes can be blended with ice and vanilla extract to make a healthier “milkshake.”
  • Read the ingredients. Diabetics should pay close attention to the ingredients list on meal replacement shakes. Shakes high in carbohydrates can affect the user’s blood glucose levels.


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Meal replacement shakes with higher protein content can help users resist cravings between meals.


Q. I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Are meal replacement shakes safe for me to drink?
Many diabetics are urged to increase their protein intake and reduce carbohydrates, which include refined sugars. Some meal replacement shakes do contain added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which can raise glucose levels in the bloodstream. Read the ingredients list and nutritional information, and talk to your doctor, before starting any meal replacement program.

Q. Can I consume three meal replacement shakes a day, replacing my regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
Almost all diet plans recommend at least one well-balanced traditional meal per day, usually dinner. The ingredients in meal replacement shakes do not supply the body with all the enzymes, vitamins, and fiber it needs.

Q. I drink two meal replacement shakes every day and I haven’t lost much weight. What am I doing wrong?
Meal replacement shakes can help people lose weight as part of a healthier diet program, but they are not “weight-loss” formulas. You may want to examine other parts of your daily routine, such as grazing on snack foods or not exercising regularly. Successful long-term weight loss involves more than calorie reduction or increased protein intake.

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