Meal Replacement Strategies are Effective For Weight Loss, Science Confirms

Mea replacements are widely used for weight loss, and this approached is proven to work. A recent paper by Osama Hamdy of Joslin Diabetes Center, a clinical care organization affiliated with Harvard Medical School, evaluated the use of meal replacements for weight reduction in obese patients [1].

Obesity has dramatically risen in the US during the past 2 decades, reaching epidemic proportions. Type 2 diabetes, a major co-morbidity of obesity, has shown a parallel steep increase.  Obesity related diseases kill 300,000 adults in the US alone, while they impair the quality of life for thousand others. Interestingly, even modest weight loss has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve quality of life in obese people.

Meal replacements, accompanied with a structured dietary plan, have emerged as a practical and affordable solution to the management of overweight and obesity. This holds true especially for diabetic people, who experience weight gain as a side effect of their medication.

Do Meal Replacements Provide Adequate Nutrients?

In his paper, Dr Hamdy mentions a number of recent clinical trials that demonstrate the efficacy of meal replacements on weight loss. One of these trials addressed the common concern that meal replacements may not contain a balanced macronutrient profile and therefore their consumption may lead to nutrient deficiency.

In this trial, a nutritional analysis was performed of 4 popular commercial diet programs. Remarkably, only the program that contained meal replacements (Slim Fast) exhibited nutrient completeness. This is not surprising as today’s commercial meal replacements, such as the ones offered by clinically studied weight management programs, Medifast and Nutrisystem, not only are palatable but also provide a highly balanced source of macronutrients, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.

The nutrient adequacy of commercial meal replacements is backed by another recent clinical trial [2]. Ninety six overweight women were divided into two groups; a Meal Replacement group (MRG) and a Traditional  Food group (TFG). The study analyzed and compared the nutrient profile of the foods that the women chose in these two weight reduction interventions. While both groups achieved similar weight loss, the TFG consumed significantly lower amounts of several micronutrients—vitamins and minerals—than the MRG and also exhibited greater risk of poor nutrient intake.

Are Meal Replacements Appropriate for Initial As Well As Long Term Weight Loss?

The results of the previously mentioned study can be explained on the basis that dieters who consume traditional food often make bad choices that result in an imbalanced nutrient intake. The role of meal replacements is to offer a structured, well-designed, portion-controlled nutrient composition, and thus prevent caloric over-consumption and as well as limit bad food selections.

For this reason, meal replacements are used to initiate weight loss, but are also used successfully for long-term weight maintenance in conjunction with exercise.

A recent meta-analysis pooled the data of 6 clinical trials that compared long-term use of meal replacements versus natural food of the same caloric value [3]. Meal replacements brought about 6 lbs more weight loss than the convention diet within one year—a 100% greater body weight reduction. In addition, the drop out rate was significantly higher in the regular food diet.


In today’s American obesogenic society, weight management has become an imperative necessity. Given the need for fortified foods and dietary supplements during the course of an energy-restricted diet for weight loss, meal replacements are a viable solution.

As Dr Handy explains, “The macronutrient adequacy of many of the currently available meal replacements can help prevent long-term essential micronutrient deficiencies that are commonly seen with a low-caloric diet plan”.

Used by millions of overweight and obese consumers, meal replacements can provide safe and effective weight control, according to latest compelling clinical research data.

Commercially, the meal replacement industry is booming, given the obesity epidemic. Weight loss programs like Medifast, Nutrisystem, and Weight Watchers are based partly or mainly on meal replacements. Meal replacements can take various forms i.e shakes, bars, cereals, etc. Nutrisystem is a weight management program that among other things sells meal replacements that help you lose weight.

About the Author

This article is contributed by Kelly. She reviews weight loss programs that have a long record of success, and are based on science, like Nutrisystem. Nutrisystem is a meal replacement program which Kelly reviews here.


  1. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy in type 2 diabetes. Hamdy O, Zwiefelhofer D. Curr Diab Rep. 2010 Apr;10(2):159-64.
  2. Nutrient adequacy during weight loss interventions: a randomized study in women comparing the dietary intake in a meal replacement group with a traditional food group. Ashley JM, Herzog H, Clodfelter S, Bovee V, Schrage J, Pritsos C. Nutr J. 2007 Jun 25;6:12.
  3. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies.  Heymsfield SB, van Mierlo CA, van der Knaap HC, Heo M, Frier HI. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 May;27(5):537-49.
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