Due to formulas changing and requests for additional shakes, we've updated this post as of 9/18/17.
This subject comes up ALL THE TIME with people we work with and the coaches in our community. People are always trying to compare different shakes that are on the market. There is so much skewed information since the people that are usually telling you the benefits of a particular shake are also selling that shake. Full disclosure: we are Beachbody Coaches, drink Shakeology daily and also sell it. BUT...unlike a lot of other posts that attempt to compare these shakes, I want to share the facts: calorie information, macronutrient information, nutritional information, added ingredients, cost and let YOU decide what makes the most sense for you situation.
The only bias that might show up in this post is that I put a huge emphasis on long term health over short term weight loss. I believe lasting weight loss and finding your ideal weight is a side effect of being healthy. I also don't believe that meal replacement shakes should be used as a way to restrict calories. They should be used to give you quality, convenient calories that promote health. If you want to know why I don't believe in calorie restriction we have a couple other posts about that, Calorie Deficit Diets, The Truth Revealed and Stop Eating Less and Exercising More. I also have a bias towards restricting artificial foods, flavors, and preservatives.
I compared the chocolate shake from the following companies:
Calorie and Macronutrient Information
When I first started looking at these numbers I originally didn't include the serving size. I then realized that it is needed to accurately look at nutritional density. The idea is to compare gram for gram, which shake packs in more nutrients. When looking at all of the numbers keep in mind the serving size. For example if you look at total carbs and compare IsaLean to the Herbalife Shake you would think that Herbalife is way better but the serving is less than half, so gram for gram, IsaLean has fewer carbs.
A few other things to pay attention to in this graphic:
Calories. Like I mentioned earlier, shakes shouldn't be a way to restrict calories, so I like to look at the shakes that contain slightly higher values, 150+. All of these shakes if made without adding any extra ingredients would still be pretty low in calories to "replace" a meal, in my opinion. Obviously meal size will be determined by the size of the person but I usually recommend 400+ calories per meal.
Carbohydrates... these have a bad reputation in the weight loss world. I would say the average person probably does consume too many calories from carbohydrates, but that doesn't mean you need ZERO to lose weight. The main idea when it comes to carbohydrate management is to avoid carbs that quickly gets transformed into blood sugar or have a high glycemic load. The lower the total carbohydrate, the higher the fiber, and the higher the protein will all lower the glycemic load of a food. One thing you will want to cross reference regarding carbs is whether a shake is artificially sweetened. If they are artificially sweetened the sugar to fiber ratio will be skewed and as I mentioned earlier, I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners. Keeping that in mind the shakes that I like based on their carbohydrate content and sugar to fiber ratio include; Vega One Nutritional Shake, DoTerra Trim Shake, Beachbody Shakeology, Isagenix Isalean, Garden of Life. I like these because of the higher fiber content and lower % of sugar in regards to total carbohydrates.
Overall, fat is pretty negligible across the board. Protein strictly by the numbers, most of these shakes have a good percentage of their calories coming from protein. The only one that is pretty terrible is GNC Lean Shake. We will talk about quality of ingredients later.
Vitamin and Mineral Content
This first graphic shows the percentages of the vitamin content in each shake. One thing to consider with this graphic is nutritional density in relation to total grams consumed or total calories. A shake like Thrive Lifestyle Mix is a pretty low calorie shake at 123 calories but has a number of RDA values of 50% or more, so overall pretty nutritionally dense.
The 4 shakes that standout as the ones containing the highest concentration of vitamins per calorie would be IdealShake, Shakeology, Vega One, and IsaLean in that order. Invigor8, Advocare, Arbonne and DoTerra shakes would rank among the worst when it comes to nutritional density.
This second graphic shows the percentages of the mineral content in each shake. The top 4 shakes from a mineral density are IdealShake, Thrive Lifestyle Mix, Shakeology, and Sanford Profile Meal Replacement.
The other thing to consider when it comes to vitamin and mineral content would be where those vitamins are coming from. Are they synthetically created and added? For example if you read IdealShake's ingredient list it would say Niacinamide and Potassium Chloride. Those things aren't bad for you. However, when you get vitamins and minerals from whole food ingredients your body is able to absorb those nutrients more effectively. So when you read your ingredient list, make sure you look for ingredients that sound like foods rather than chemicals. If you are getting these nutrients from food, you are also benefiting by getting the phytonutrients that come along with those foods. These are lost entirely when you are consuming a shake that was made using lab created vitamins and minerals.
Shakeology, Garden of Life and Vega One are the three shakes that have the most comprehensive list of foods that go into their shakes. Isalean, Thrive, Invigor8 and Arbonne include some whole foods that make the vitamins and minerals more easily absorbed. The remaining shakes from what I can tell use synthetic vitamins and minerals to get their nutrient content.
Pre and Probiotic Content
If you are new to the world of prebiotics and probiotics let me explain what they are very briefly. Probiotics are bacteria that populate your gastrointestinal tract. We have about 10 times the number of bacteria living in our GI tract than human cells. So essentially we are more bacteria than we are human. These bacteria provide a whole host of benefits to our bodies from metabolic regulation, immune function, cravings, and improved digestive issues to name a few. The science is still pretty new around how our gut health affects the health of our entire body but we know it is important to have a healthy gut.
Prebiotics are essentially food for the probiotics to eat and therefore survive. Nearly all the shakes include prebiotic fiber in them. It's important to feed the good bacteria in our gut the stuff it needs, rather than feed the bad bacteria which can lead to conditions like SIBO and candida overgrowth. Only 7 of them contain probiotics, so it makes it pretty easy to pick out the best ones in this category.
Staying on the theme of gut health, let's talk digestive enzymes next. Essentially what these can do is help break down our food into smaller pieces so our body can more easily process it.
There are a few standouts when it comes to this category. Isalean and Garden of Life have the most comprehensive mix of enzymes. After that Thrive and IdealShake have a pretty good mix. Shakeology has a heavy focus on carbohydrate enzymes but lacks protein and lipid enzymes. All the other shakes fail in this category. (Make sure to click on the image to enlarge)
Adaptogens and Herbs
This category might seem a little strange to the average health conscious person. Adaptogens are foods that "adapt" to their current environment. Things like ashwagandha and astragalus are herbs that can regulate your immune system. If your immune system needs help fighting off disease, these will ramp it up. If your body is having an auto immune response and it needs to calm down, these herbs will slow it down. They adapt!
Other items on this list help with energy production at the cellular level. Things like schisandra and maca are great for this. Many of these adaptogens also have a incredibly high antioxidant properties like reishi and cordyceps mushrooms. Antioxidant rich foods are powerful for your immune system and reducing inflamation throughout your body.
I won't go into a ton of detail about these specific ingredients, but the clear winner when it comes to adaptogens is Shakeology. A few other shakes have included a single adaptogen which is great that they recognize the value in them.
Additional Ingredients and Certifications
This is one of the most important graphics I think when comparing shakes. Like I said, I have a few things on my non-negotiable list, especially when it comes to something I would be consuming daily. First, I'm gluten sensitive and therefore this is a must. If you are also I would recommend testing any of these shakes out or running it past your doctor. There are only a couple that are "certified" gluten free but a lot that claim that they are but just don't have the certification. After that I prefer to avoid products that contain GMO's, soy, artificial anything and hydrogenated oils. I don't claim to be perfect with all of these but I certainly don't consume anything daily that contains any of these items.
With that, there are only 7 shakes that meet my criteria and would benefit a person's health; Shakeology, Isalean, DoTerra, Vega One, Arbonne, Invigor8, and Garden of Life. This is actually where I would personally start, and then work my way back up the blog post looking at these shakes as my options for a daily shake. That's why I've highlighted them in this graphic. If you aren't as strict as I am when it comes to these added ingredients then by all means use all of this information however you would like to find the right shake for you.
I should note that all of these shakes are priced out at the retail value. A lot of the companies that sell these shakes have member options that get you reduced pricing but to keep it consistent I wanted to share the retail. If you decide to drink one of these shakes regularly I would encourage you to look into some of those discounts.
Hopefully by now you've realized that comparing a lot of these shakes isn't an apples to apples comparison and the price reflects that. The price of these shakes tend to reflect the ingredient list in them. For the most part I would say as the price of the shakes go up so do the nutritional benefits and quality of ingredients. For the shakes on the higher end with a higher nutritional value, you are still coming out ahead of what it would cost you to order a healthy meal at a restaurant and would be very comparable to making a healthy meal at home. For some of the cheaper shakes I would argue that you are just buying calories. It's something to consume to hold you over until your next meal but they aren't making you any healthier.
Unfortunately a lot of people will begin their decision making process with this chart. I would encourage you to look at all the other categories above and pick the shake that will help you in the way that you need it. Then figure out a way to make that dollar amount work in your budget. It might mean giving up a night out a week at a restaurant, or forgoing the daily Starbucks trip or giving up cable TV. Your health is like an investment that you can start building up a positive or negative balance at a young age. Most people don't see the benefits or the negative side effects until they are much older and often it's too late to make big changes.
I hope I've laid out enough information that you can make an educated decision on your own and not have to sort through a bunch of crap out there on the internet to get a straight answer on what is included in these shakes. I also hope I presented the facts in a fair manner and highlighted the things that you would want to know before choosing a shake. I'm happy to answer questions about any of my views and why we have chosen to drink the shake that we do.
I'll close with this thought... A lot of people scrutinize the safety of these shakes which is great and is why I put this post together. I would also encourage you to use that same level of care and concern when it comes to the other foods you eat regularly. None of these shakes are either toxic enough to make you sick on their own or nutritious enough to keep you healthy on their own. It's a combination of everything you put into your body.
Thanks for reading!
The Cook & The Coach
Healthy is a LIFESTYLE.