Meal Replacement Products for Weight Loss

August 31, 2011

5 Min Read
Meal Replacement Products for Weight Loss

by Charlotte Dieroff

Two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and teens are currently obese or overweight, putting them at increased risk for more than 20 major diseases including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Most of this population acknowledges they need to lose weight in order to regain or gain a healthy lifestyle, but they have no idea where to begin. We live in a frantic culture where family dinners have all but disappeared, and even fresh food preparation is infrequent.

Many overweight individuals are motivated to lose weight, but seek convenient, simple solutions that take the thinking out of weight loss. Meal replacement products seem to fit the bill. Slim-Fast, an iconic brand of meal replacement products, captures this desire for effortless weight loss in their tag line, Clinically Proven. Ridiculously Simple. Meal replacement products are intended to be an occasional substitute for real food, and most weight loss plans recommend replacing two normal meals a day, while continuing to eat one low-calorie, well-balanced meal. Meal replacers should have a similar profile to a small nutritious or normal meal in terms of carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, and often come in the form of shakes, bars and powders. Regardless of the form, nutritional profiles are usually consistent throughout a brand so consumers can easily swap one product form for another, not having to worry about any nutritional or caloric consequences. According to Euromonitor, the U.S. meal replacement market, defined as shakes, bars and powders, is valued at $2.2 billion and comprises more than 60 percent of its parent weight management category ($3.6 billion) which includes meal replacement, slimming teas, over the counter (OTC) obesity drugs, weight loss supplements, and other weight management products (creams and patches). Currently, Herbalife is the number one brand in the meal replacer category. Other major brands are Celebrity Slim, Medifast and Slim-Fast.

More Than Shakes

Typically, meal replacement products are often equated with powder or ready- to-drink (RTD) shakes; but, product lines often offer a variety of other convenient options such as soups, bars and pasta meals. Regardless of the form, on a per-serving basis, typical meal replacement products contain roughly 200 calories, 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber and upward of 25-percent of FDAs Daily Value (DV) for a number of vitamins and minerals. Brenda Rudan, group leader at International Food Network (IFN), has been developing meal replacement products since the early 1990s, when this category of foods and beverages was becoming popular in the United States and Europe as a way to "take off the weight." She indicated bars, soups and pasta meals seem to provide the best delivery forms for meal-replacement products. Bar composition (generally a combination of syrups and dry ingredients formed into a nutrient-dense delivery form), either chewy or crunchy, lends itself to the incorporation of textured high-protein and high-fiber ingredients. For products such as soups, stews or pasta meals, savory flavors help to mask the flavor of the added vitamins and minerals. All of these products satisfy the craving for something to bite into, which was a shortcoming of the early meal replacement plans that were based strictly on shakes.


As for formulating challenges, Rudan explained, Controlling degradation was the biggest challenge we faced in developing meal-replacement products, particularly with the relatively long shelf lives that were targeted under ambient conditions. When so many active components are combined into one product (protein, minerals, reducing sugars, etc.), even at a low-water activity, you are challenged to control reactions like Maillard browning and oxidation. Formulating something tasty and satisfying, while still delivering balanced nutrition in less than 250 calories, was also challenging. However, over the years, as new ingredients were introduced, such as new forms of protein concentrates and isolates (vegetable and dairy protein crisps and powders), soluble fibers, non-nutritive sweeteners and encapsulated forms of vitamins and minerals, we were better able to formulate to meet the nutritional criteria while still delivering products that met consumers desire for taste and satiety.


The term meal replacement is not defined by FDA; however, this category of foods is regulated in other countries. The EU regulates meal replacement products as part of the EC Commission Directive 96/8/EU on foods intended for energy-restricted diets for weight reduction, and in Canada, these products are regulated by the Food and Drug Regulations in B.24.200.

Rudan explained, Even though there is no specific legislation regulating meal replacement products in the United States, these products are generally considered in the category of low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods or beverages for weight loss or weight maintenance. In the United States, meal replacement products are not to be marketed as dietary supplements or confused with medical foods.


There have been trends with meal-replacement preparation where early shakes were developed as milk-mixable products (mixing powder with skim milk), but water mixable versions were later formulated to address increased convenience and on-the-go preparation. Juice mixable versions also followed suit, but grocery shelves indicate that milk mixable versions are the mainstream.

With respect to protein delivery, early powder and RTD shakes were mostly formulated with dairy proteins such as whey protein isolate, milk protein concentrate and casein. However, due to the increasing price of dairy ingredients and a desire for lactose-free products, a wave of soy shakes was created, taking advantage of high-tech, clean-tasting soy protein concentrates.

Recently, mix1 debuted as an all-natural meal replacer, defining a new niche for the industry. Greg Stroh, co-founder of IZZE Beverage Co., has now turned his talents to an all-natural protein shake targeting athletes. Who knows what the next trend is? Perhaps organic is on the horizon.

Charlotte Dieroff is a product developer at the International Food Network (IFN), and holds a bachelors of science in food science from Cornell University, and a masters of business administration from Xavier University. Her background includes developing frozen desserts, and weight-loss and dry-mix beverages. Since 1987, IFN has provided complete new product development services to the supplement, nutritional products and food and beverage industries. (866) 778-5129.

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like