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:
- Beachbody's Shakeology
- Isagenix Isalean
- Herbalife Nutritional Shake
- GNC Lean Shake
- IdealShape IdealShake
- DoTerra Trim Shake
- Advocare Meal Replacement Shake
- Thrive Lifestyle Mix
- Vega One Nutritional Shake
- Arbonne Essentials
- Sanford Profile Meal Replacement Shake
- Garden of Life
Calorie and Macronutrient Information
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
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.
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
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.
Adaptogens and Herbs
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
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.
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'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!