I often get asked my thoughts on meal replacement bars and shakes. So, after attending Obesity Week last week (a conference for the two obesity related societies I am a member of) and bringing home several new protein bars to try I thought I would write about this and share my thoughts with you.
Along with many things I give advice on, there is not an easy yes or no answer. First, I want to remind you that I am neither a registered dietitian nor a nutritionist, but I am a clinical psychologist specializing in health, weight management, and obesity. I am also a runner, a health enthusiast, and am like you- busy and wearing several hats at the same time and running here and there. So, I have my recommendations that I give with the caveat “in the ideal world” and then I have the “let’s be realistic” recommendations. With that being said, of course I recommend real, whole foods whenever possible; they are packed with nutrients that are good for us. If it sits on a shelf, it can sit for a long time, which means it has preservatives and there are “other” things in it that our bodies do not need. One example of something added in most packaged foods is sodium, which we should be cautious of, but also how about those ingredients that are listed that we can’t even pronounce? Those surely can’t be good for us. But, here comes the “let’s be realistic” part– we are busy people, we are on the run, and we may not always have time to eat whole foods or may not have whole foods that are accessible to us at the time. We may have forgotten our apple that day to have in our bag just in case we were to get hungry and may not have time to go to the store to buy something. OR like me last week, I was packing my food for the day, packed my lunch, got my small container of flaxseed and granola ready to go for my yogurt, which I was very excited about, and perhaps so excited that I somehow left home without the yogurt. So, although I planned ahead, I still forgot something (life happens!). Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I got to my office and was unpacking my bag to put things in the refrigerator and soon realized there was no breakfast besides a small container of flaxseed, which of course I did not intent to eat by itself. So, I had a few options… I could have gone to the café or deli and got something that would have had extra calories, fat, and sodium in it than I would have wanted or I could have skipped breakfast all together. Luckily, I have at work a small stash of protein bars (or as I call them my emergency bars) so I didn’t have to go hungry and skip breakfast and/or go buy something that I knew I didn’t want. Instead I had a protein bar, which may not be all natural and may not have all the nutrients that my yogurt and flaxseed would have had, but it was not completely unhealthy and was still packed with protein, was filling, and did the job—it served a purpose.** So, you can see, there is a time and a place for meal replacements (i.e. protein bars or shakes). Because of that protein bar I did not have to spend unwanted money, or unwanted calories. Instead I made the healthier choice at the time and thankfully had a choice to make because I have “emergency food” easily accessible, just in case. So to sum this up, in a perfect world we would all eat whole foods all the time, but we don’t live in a perfect world and we are not perfect, so we have to come up with a plan that works for us and a meal supplement may just be the answer….on some occasions.