Dec 22, 2010

What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part Nine: Meal Replacement Drinks

Beware: Just like meal replacement bars, meal replacement drinks are used to entice the consumer, via quick-fix scams and false promises.

In closing Part Eight, we discovered that veggie drinks are an excellent meal replacement choice, providing you choose appropriately or build your own. However, veggie drinks are not the only way to get health-on-the-go; we are saturated with hundreds of diet and protein shake options. Unfortunately, the billion-dollar fitness industry makes its money off quick-fix scams and false promises. Beware: just like meal replacement bars, meal replacement drinks are used to entice the consumer, using the aforementioned techniques.

Next time you pick up a so-called “diet or protein shake" or vegetable drink, make sure you carefully examine the ingredients. This is because, like most commercial beverages, many of these pre-made drinks contain a lot of sugar and other sweeteners, fat, and an array of preservatives and additives. In many diet and protein shakes, the "protein blend" used is questionable, as are the claims touted in their advertising and on their labels.

For example, let's take a peek at Slim-Fast diet shakes, with over 50 ingredients—the third of which happens to be sugar. While one can of this drink is low in calories (180), it still contains 23 grams of carbs, of which 18 grams comes from sugar. The number one ingredient is fat-free milk (a liquid choice covered in Part Five)—not necessarily bad, except for those who are lactose intolerant. But considering that it is not organic milk, it's a red flag for those of us who care about cows. Even though they have thrown in some vitamins and minerals, enhancing its nutritional value, you only get 10 grams of protein out of the Slim-Fast can, yet you'll consume 6 grams of fat (1.5 grams saturated), which, at the end of the day, may not be worth it.

After a brief analysis of the nutrition label, the next step is to dig deeper into the ingredients. For the sake of time, we'll just probe into the protein blend (the sixth ingredient) used in Slim-Fast. It is
Milk Protein Concentrate (known as MPC), a commonly used additive in products like processed cheese (Kraft singles), coffee creamers, frozen dairy desserts, crackers, energy bars, and nutritional drinks. MPC's "are created when milk is ultra-filtered, a process that drains out the lactose and keeps the milk protein and other large molecules. The protein components are then dried and become a powder."

Apparently, in 2009, the dairy industry was (is) suffering a "crisis" which is neither my concern nor the focus of our "expedition." According to Ethecurian online magazine, this dairy crisis is not just a result of the recession; it also has to do with MPC. For the most part, MPC is imported, and from countries "with very poor food safety records (China, India, Poland, the Ukraine)." Moreover, ironically MPC is an ingredient "used to make glue" and is not approved by the FDA, yet "it somehow manages to be included in the ingredient list of over $10 billion worth of food, primarily fast food and junk food."

So, Slim-Fast may be "fast," but will it make you slim? Only in your head, because in reality, the bad outweighs the good it offers. Now, we could spend hours dissecting all of the bad pre-made meal replacement drinks on the market, but that would be a waste of time. More important is to become skilled in reading labels—setting you free to make "good" choices all of the time.

While we addressed green drinks at out last stop, protein shakes and smoothies (the good ones) usually start with water, ice, real juice, organic milk, soymilk, sugar-free yogurt, frozen yogurt, and/or fresh fruit. Additionally, protein powders are sometimes included in the mix. Most commonly used are whey, casein, egg, soy, and rice, or a combination—each carrying their own "pros and cons." According to Web MD, "protein is one of the body's main building blocks for muscle, bone, skin, and other tissues" and is essential to your daily diet for overall health and wellness. It is critical for athletes' endurance and strength, as well as for fitness enthusiasts and for those seeking to lose weight. This leads to a commonly asked question: how much protein?

Most nutritionists and those in the medical profession "recommend daily intake of protein for healthy adults [of] 0.75 g of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 45 to 56 g of protein a day, while exercisers' range should be 1.4 to 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily." For those trying to gain weight or increase lean body mass, you may consider siding with the higher figure, and it is better to "feed the muscle"—around 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.

Fortunately, most of us can obtain enough protein via our daily diet; meal replacement drinks could be your guarantee. Protein shakes and smoothies also offer an avenue for other "nutrients on the run" and a vehicle for providing energy throughout the day, especially if they are of superior quality. They are much better solutions than skipping a meal or resorting to fast food or junk food.

What about meal replacement drinks for weight loss? Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. reminds us that "protein shakes aren't a magic bullet"—there is none—but they may help you reduce your caloric intake, and as we know, "burning more calories than you consume is key to losing weight." That said, a balanced diet of natural, whole foods (not processed, man-made foods)—lean protein (animal and plant-based sources), fruits and vegetables, whole grains as well as foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids (fish and plants)—is ideal for all health and fitness goals.

Therefore if you are considering a pre-made protein shake or smoothie, either in a can (not ideal) or at your local fitness center or juice bar like Jamba Juice, make sure you know what is in it—ask questions. Or construct your own using pure and wholesome ingredients. Here are two ideas to get you started:

Power Protein Shake (makes one)


2 scoops of quality protein powder (Living Fuel Living Protein is one of the purest on the market, and they produce a number of other sound products like Living Fuel Super Greens)
1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 banana
1/4 cup mixed berries (fresh)
1/4 cup water (or juice, but it will add more calories)

Preparation: Combine first 4 ingredients in a blender or Magic Bullet, add water and mix until well blended.
Nutritional Value: 334.5 calories; 24 g protein; 58 g carbs; 1.6 g fat; 10 g fiber; 170 mg sodium
Note: If you want to add more value to your shake, try 1 Tbsp. of flaxseeds: 48 calories; 2 g protein; 3.3 g carbs; 3.3 g fat; 2.7 g fiber; 3.4 mg sodium.

High-Fiber Vegan Smoothie (makes one)


1 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup mixed berries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup soymilk
Ice if you are not using frozen (additive-free) fruit.

Preparation: Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
Nutritional Value: 175 calories; 5.4 g protein; 35.5 g carbs; 2.6 g fat; 13.4 g fiber; 61.4 mg sodium

Drink to (for) your health, and "I'll be back" for the final installment of our beverage journey. Oddly enough, we are in the middle of the Holiday Season, where "'Tis the Season to be jolly"—marking our last STOP fitting: alcohol, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nevertheless, I won't be a "party pooper" until after Christmas. In the meantime, "drink responsibly," and Merry Christmas!

Article first published as What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part Nine: Meal Replacement Drinks on Blogcritics. Author: Christine LakatosPublished: Dec 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm @ MY DIVA DIET: Fitness Flash

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