Encumbered by the stressors of daily life, finding time for reliable, healthy meals and consistent exercise is nearly impossible, so many are turning to a diet trend that promises low calorie alternatives on the go: meal replacement bars.
A home cooked meal rich in nutrients — preferably something veggie heavy — is, and always will be, the gold standard. However, in today’s day and age, sitting down for three meals a day is simply not reasonable. In fact, the CDC found that over a third of Americans eat fast food at least once a day, including 45 percent of those aged 20-39. This is a concerning trend which signals how the working demographic vastly undervalues nutrition.
In response to the marginalization of traditional meals, many turn to meal replacement products like Herbalife or Soylent. Shakes, powders, bars, and even supposed nutrient IV drips — there is no shortage of get-full-quick options on the market. The question on everyone’s mind: are these meal replacement options the holy grail of weight loss, or just another diet fad? Well, as is the case with any health trend, it depends.
The weight loss benefits of meal replacement bars
Meal replacement bars are designed to do exactly that: replace meals. Whether due to time constraints, incessant travel, or you simply can’t stand the thought of cooking after a long day at work, meal replacement products are the path of least resistance when it comes to taking in calories.
The popularity of these bars have grown over the years, and today many use meal replacement bars as a staple of their everyday diet. No longer are these bars just a last resort on a long drive home from work — nutrition professionals have embraced meal replacement bars as a viable element of a healthy diet and even suggest them to be of a component of an effective weight loss regimen.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), those actively looking to lose weight have seen promising results from meal replacement bars. Meal replacement bars offer a pre-measured amount of calories, reduced exposure to tempting food at restaurants, and, above all else, convenience. The study also points out that these meal options reduce “sensory-specific satiety” which means it takes away the pleasure of tasting, smelling, and eating foods which may help reduce calorie intake for those struggling with addictive personalities. The greatest advantage of meal replacement bars for weight loss is they take decision making out of the equation and making meals is as convenient as unwrapping a bar.
The weight loss drawbacks of meal replacement bars
This is — of course — only one piece of the puzzle. The same study found that the greatest weight loss success associated with meal replacement bars also involved regular exercise and other calorie moderation techniques. The ADA suggests keeping a food diary to help develop accountability and healthy eating habits. Whether meal replacement bars are involved or not, weight loss will always, inevitably, come down to burning more calories than are consumed. Whether this goal is achieved through meal replacement bars depends entirely on preference and lifestyle choices.
Meal replacement bars can also do more harm than good if you aren’t careful. WebMD warns consumers that if a meal replacement bar tastes too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of unhealthy candy bars masquerading as meal replacement bars, because many manufacturers have co-opted health trends in an effort to leverage people’s insecurities for profit.
Overcome dubious meal replacement bars by doing research. All the information you need to know about the nutrition of a bar is on the back of the label — never on the front. Ignore the fancy messaging, empty promises, and misleading imagery of a bar’s branding and solely pay attention to the FDA-regulated nutrition label on the back.
The most effective meal replacement bars for weight loss will contain low sugar, high protein, fortified vitamins and minerals, and, most importantly, recognizable and natural ingredients. To maximize weight loss potential, look for bars that contain around 200 calories, less than five grams of fat, and over 10 grams of protein.
If there is any “trick” to losing weight, you certainly won’t find it in a wrapper. Moderation, mindful eating, and exercise — these staples make up the foundation of any effective weight loss strategy. If you can satisfy these three criteria with the aid of meal replacement bars, then they will work for you. However, integrating the wrong bar into your diet, or relying too heavily on meal replacement as your sole weight loss strategy, will not yield the results you’re hoping for.