Meal replacement diet plans are becoming more popular for people leading busy lives who also want to keep an eye on their weight. In the past, nutrition experts were concerned that people using meal replacement products were going short of essential nutrients, but these days, most meal replacements are nutritionally sound. As with all things in life, though, there are pros and cons attached to meal replacement diets.
First the good news – the pros.
Meal replacement products such as soups, shakes and bars are convenient, portable and calorie counted. With no cooking or calculations required, they’re ideal for people with busy lifestyles. There’s no need to plan the day’s menu – just pack your replacements and enjoy a healthy meal in the evening, when you do have time to cook and relax a little.
It’s a legal requirement for products described as meal replacements to provide all the nutrients and calories necessary for good health. In Europe, there are specific directives on the subject, so a meal replacement diet should never be nutritionally defective. The accompanying diet plan should ensure that the ‘real’ meal each day, plus any permitted snacks, are healthy choices.
Recent studies have shown that – contrary to previous beliefs – meal replacement products can help with both short term weight loss and healthy weight maintenance. In addition, there do not seem to be any unwelcome or unhealthy side effects attached to meal replacement products.
It’s not all good news, though. These are the cons of meal replacement diets.
As a short term solution, meal replacement diets are effective, but they are also expensive. Somebody has to pay for all the research and technology that goes into providing a balanced meal in a bar, shake or soup, and that somebody is the consumer. It’s cheaper to follow a conventional healthy eating plan using fresh ingredients.
Doesn’t help to develop healthy eating strategies
While meal replacement diets will help you to lose weight if you stick to the plan, they do little or nothing to educate you in healthy eating habits. Making bad food choices causes weight problems, and if you don’t learn to make good food choices as you lose weight, you’ll regain all the weight – and possibly more – once the diet plan ends.
Another point to remember is that, although meal replacement products are nutritionally sound, research suggests that the body can use natural vitamins and minerals found in foods more effectively than nutrients which are added to products to fortify them. Sometimes Nature knows best.
May encourage food cravings
A meal replacement diet is not likely to be as varied as a normal diet, and the slimmer may crave different tastes, even when they are not actually hungry. Food cravings can defeat the intentions of the most committed weight loss campaigner, and meal replacements could contribute to those cravings.
While meal replacement diets can help with calorie control and therefore weight loss, most nutrition and weight loss experts are agreed that the best way to lose excess weight and maintain a healthy body is to eat a varied, healthy diet which includes all the nutrients your body needs. This type of eating plan will also help you to make permanent and healthy changes in your diet. There is certainly no evidence that meal replacement diets are likely to cause unwelcome side effects, although more research is needed into the whole topic of weight loss through meal replacement.