Choosing a meal replacement
February 17, 2019 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in trying out one of the various solid or liquid meal replacements out there (Soylent, Meal Squares, Ensure, etc etc etc) — not for weight loss or weight gain, and not to replace my whole diet with, but because I have Sensory Issues that come out when I'm overtired or overhungry and make real food difficult. How do I decide which is right for me? Is there some trustworthy comparison of the pros and cons of each that I can use to narrow down the field? Barring that, what should I know? What should I consider?
posted by nebulawindphone to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t have any personal experience with these (I personally default to “just eat a Greek yogurt” when I need a meal replacement) but this Lifehacker article comparing meal replacements seems good (although it’s over a year old).
posted by mskyle at 12:21 PM on February 17, 2019

Questions I would ask:
- do you have any food sensitivities (eg. dairy)
- do you want something that gives you good calorie density because otherwise you aren't going to eat enough or do you want lower calorie density that will fill you up without too many calories? So, Ensure is used for people who aren't eating well - it has high calorie density. Some of the protein powders are designed for people who want to bulk up. Otherwise are designed for weight loss - I use a shake from HMR that fills me up for less than 200 caloried.
- How do you feel about sugar vs. sugar substitutes vs. less sweetners/lower simple carb load. People seem to have strong opinions about this.
- What do you need in terms of protein, carbs and fat in your diet? Some products are more balanced, some make an effort to offer more protein.
- Would you rather drink or chew?
- Does it need to be highly portable? How do you feel about mixing up a shake in the blender vs just unwrapping a bar?
- How does it taste? How does it feel in your mouth? Do you enjoy/tolerate the experience of eating it?
- Is cost per serving an issue?

If you are only going to use it for a part of your nutrition and you have an otherwise more-or-less healthy diet, it doesn't really matter too much, so taste, cost and convenience can play a big role in your choice.
posted by metahawk at 12:24 PM on February 17, 2019

I’ve only tried a couple (and didn’t care for them, so sadly no recommendations) but I highly suggest you get the smallest amount you can buy for anything you’re considering and taste them all against each other. Some of them have weird textures or odd artificial flavors and we have no way of knowing what you’ll find tasty enough to eat/drink.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:31 PM on February 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Where are your current snacks/food alternatives failing you? For instance, if you're trying to recover from nausea and low blood sugar, you might want cans of ginger ale, but if you're trying to compensate for only eating simple carbs on tougher days, you might want dried fruits and protein shakes.

If you have very little idea what your present nutrient intake is missing and you're not super worried about disordered eating, you might try food journaling for a little while.

I use CVS brand protein powder, but my partner finds it too artificial-sweet-tasting. I sometimes also eat Mealsquares, which my partner avoids for glycemic index reasons. She really likes Huel, which is pretty decent glycemic-index-wise, but I find it texturally undesirable.
posted by bagel at 1:01 PM on February 17, 2019

My current go-tos are failing me, not in terms of nutrition, but in terms of practicality or sensory shit. Some are natural foods that vary in flavor or texture in ways that set me off. Some straight-up have flavors or textures I don't like. Some require refrigeration or require a stove. Etcetera etcetera etcetera.

That said, the "real food" stuff that works best for me nutritionally is pretty calorie-dense, has a good amount of fat and protein, and has at least a little bit of fiber. So substitutes that match that profile would be ideal.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:19 PM on February 17, 2019

I've been drinking Soylent & similar, for some meals (not all) going on about four years now.

If you want a nutritional comparison of them, you can check out BlendRunner.

Soylent is available at some Targets and 7-Elevens at nearly the same price as getting a huge box shipped to your house. You can order individual samples from Super Body Fuel. Other products may have that option, and I would highly recommend doing that first.

The things I would consider are:

Convenience - Soylent is way ahead of the curve with its ready-to-drink (RTD) bottles, which they have been selling for years. You just open it and drink, compared to the powders which require you to have a separate container (like a blender bottle), then you have to wash immediately after (because they tend to start growing mold right now), and then require a lot of shaking (because a lot of the powders are not optimized for mixability). I think Jimmy Joy has bars, but I've had a bad experience with them. There's even nutritionally complete ramen (Vite Ramen) which is in another dimension in terms of convenience. There are options such as MealSquares and Ample which are in between.

Allergens - All of these have a mix of ingredients, mixed in a very-unfoodlike dense slurry, which your body may not be able to handle. (hint: don't drink them fast!) For example, Jimmy Joy bars have (had?) both sugar alcohols and dairy, which gave me weird mouth issues and digestive problems. Soylent Bars infamously caused vomiting in small number of their users. More reason to buy a small amount initially.

Macros - Surprisingly if you look at Blendrunner, Soylent is actually ahead of the curve in that it has a lot more calories from fat, whereas cheaper options tend to have a lot more calories from carbohydrates. For me this increases satiety. Some people may need more fiber or more protein, and some of the lesser-known products may be more suitable. Alternatively, you can add your own supplements.

Taste - You have to be able to eat it when you need to. Some of the products may be so unpalatable that you'd rather starve than eat it, which negates the purpose. Alternatively, if they taste too good, you may find yourself eating more if it than you should. It is really easy to get tired of the same artificial flavors, which is why many of these products offer a unflavored / plain option.

Cost - These were originally claimed to be low-cost alternatives. But I don't think any are trying to capture this market anymore. Soylent has gotten more and more expensive, and products like Ample have shown that there is a market for even more expensive options. If you're going to be eating a lot of it, cost may be a big factor.
posted by meowzilla at 1:38 PM on February 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would check out Trader Joe's for their extensive collection of bars. Based on your preferences, I'm wondering gif the Clif Bulder Bars would work for you. It would be easy to buy one each of a couple of different kinds and brands of bars and see what you like.
posted by metahawk at 2:40 PM on February 17, 2019

I just started replacing breakfast and lunch with Huel. I'm trying the vanilla flavor and while it's not terrible tasting it's also not something you'd want to savor. I basically chug the whole bottle. The good news is that i've been feeling satiated so I do feel like the experiment has been worthwhile. The texture is slightly thicker than whole milk and I would describe the flavor as "vanilla paste."
posted by zeusianfog at 1:31 PM on February 18, 2019

I find Mealsquares to be handy, convenient, filling and tasty. There is some variation in that they are often a little overcooked, and if you get a bite with no chocolate it may seem too dry, but you can simply drink a little more water with your Mealsquare, or butter it if you prefer. Plus, if you want to be bad, you can put chocolate icing on top.
posted by serena15221 at 8:05 PM on February 18, 2019

I like mealsquares, especially if you microwave them for 30 seconds first.

Soylent (chocolate, vanilla, or coffee) are also super palatable to me, but I don't like the feel of getting most of my calories from liquids.

Either way I usually eat them for only one meal a day.
posted by vegetableagony at 9:53 PM on March 4, 2019

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