Meal replacement drinks are becoming more popular among seniors, and you’re probably thinking about how nicely they’d fit in your fridge. But do they live up to the hype or is this just another fad? Learn if they’re something you should add to your diet.
Meal replacement drinks are basically what they sound like: an entire meal in liquid form. They contain a full serving of calories, macromolecules and nutrients. More or less, they’re the realization of futuristic ideas like the ration bar Yoda steals from Luke in Star Wars. Meal replacements also come in other forms like bars. Liquid meal replacements are generally geared towards people who can’t eat solid foods because of a medical treatment or people who need to get a full meal in but don’t have much time.
Some seniors might want to consider keeping meal replacements drinks stocked and incorporating them into their diet. They provide a convenient way to ensure you get the nutrition you need. They’re especially helpful for seniors who have a hard time chewing or who don’t have a great appetite. Bethesda Gardens offers healthy personalized meals on a flexible schedule, so your dietary needs will always be accommodated for, but you can also keep items in your own assisted living apartment to eat or drink as you like.
The other big draw of these kinds of drinks is they’re oddly delicious. This makes them a great choice for seniors who want a tasty treat but don't want to compromise their health.
The distinction between meal replacement drinks and protein and nutrition shakes is very important. Meal replacement drinks have all you need for one meal whereas nutrition drinks don’t. The difficulty is that the line between the two can be blurred sometimes.
Nutritional drinks, like protein shakes, are meant to be dietary supplements, almost like a vitamin. But a lot of the time, these drinks will also contain a large amount of calories. This can be problematic, especially for seniors, as you might not be able to have it as part of a meal without exceeding the recommended calorie or protein intake, but you also can't drink it alone because it doesn’t have the necessary nutrients for a full meal.
And the marketing of these drinks doesn’t really help in this area. What really should be a meal replacement is sometimes marketed as a nutritional supplement and vice versa. The only sure way to know what you’re getting is to look at the label and see how the calories, protein and other nutritional information match with your diet plan. It’s also important to consult a nutritionist before adding any dietary supplements to your diet, and they will likely be able to recommend the best drinks for you.
Which meal replacement drink is right for you will depend on your personal dietary needs, but there are some specific things you should look out for. Not all meal replacement drinks are healthy, and there are some things you should likely avoid all together. The only sure way to know you're buying a drink that’s healthy for you is to consult a nutritionist, but here are some things you can look for on the label.
• Added sugar. Sugar is one of the most important things to look for. Consuming too much added sugar can cause many health issues including diabetes and heart disease. The American Heart Association suggests that women consume no more than 24 grams of sugar daily and men no more than 36. When you consider that one 12 ounce can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar, it’s really easy to exceed the limit. So you probably want to go with a low sugar option.
• Artificial sugar. If you do go for a lower sugar option, it’s likely the drink will contain artificial sweeteners. There’s a lot of stigma around artificial sugar, but most scientific evidence seems to indicate they are safe. The Acceptable Daily Intake of these sugars is much higher than added sugar. For scale, one can of Coke with added sugar would exceed a safe intake level while it would take over 37 cans flavored with aspartame to exceed the acceptable level. So an artificially sweetened meal replacement drink is likely the better option.
• Calories. Meal replacement drinks are usually either high calorie or low calorie. Which one is best for you depends on what you’re trying to do. If you just want more nutrients in your diet without the added calories, then the low calorie option will likely suit you. If you want a drink that will fill you up and give you more energy throughout the day, then higher calories is best.
• Protein. It’s important to get enough protein to support strong muscles and bones, but you don’t want to get too much. Checking how much protein is in your drink and factoring that in with the rest of your diet ensures you get the correct amount.
This article isn’t health advice; it's just a quick rundown of meal replacement drinks. You should see a medical provider before you make any changes to your diet, especially adding dietary supplements.