Liquid meal replacements have been around for over 50 years, but most recently, there has been a growing popularity and interest spread by celebrities and fitness gurus. The bottles are convenient to take around, don’t require preparation or cleanup, and some products don’t need refrigeration either. For students, a liquid alternative to a full meal can seem like an appealing concept, especially if they have feelings related to lost appetite.
As Kim Green, UTM’s dietitian, says in her “UTM EatWell” document, a loss of appetite can be a cause of either “stress, sadness, anxiety, depression or a lingering flu.” No matter what the cause is, it is important to provide your body with the energy it requires throughout the day. Green suggests that if “you feel like you can’t eat breakfast or lunch, try sipping on a meal replacement beverage like ‘Boost’ or ‘Ensure’, or ‘Carnation Breakfast Essentials’ (available in a powder you mix with milk, or ready-to-drink).” Liquids are often easier to digest than solids, and so it could be an ideal option for a student with little or no appetite.
Dr. Densie Webb from Today’s Dietician says that liquid meal replacements “offer clients and patients a premeasured amount of food with specific calorie, protein, and nutrient levels, eliminating the need to weigh, measure, or estimate portion sizes.” She continues by stating that they are often “short on fiber and don’t provide all of the phytochemicals found in plant-based foods.” Some types of meal replacements have sugar alcohols that can cause bloating and diarrhea, and other types contain artificial sweeteners which could be a “deal-breaker” for certain people.
These products do supply a defined amount of energy and nutrients with a decent number of calories too—anywhere from 150-400 kcal each. This could work well for some people but leave others unsatisfied and can lead to overeating unhealthy food later.
On top of that, they take away the worries of deciding on what to eat, but if an individual relies on liquid meal replacements alone, it may be extremely difficult to transition back to regular food after a while. Liquid meal replacements are not intended to be a long-term solution and could potentially cause problems in the future. Webb recommends that “each client must decide whether it’s better to counsel him or her on healthful eating and lifestyle habits from the start or whether a liquid meal replacement will work well in the beginning.”
Green emphasizes that it is important to try to eat at least one “solid” meal each day. Liquid meal replacements once or twice a day can provide a temporary solution to lost appetite or lack of time in a busy schedule, but they are not a long-term solution.