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What is a meal replacement?
Meal replacements are products designed to provide the same nutrient supply that a solid meal would. These products are available in powder format that are prepared by mixing them in water or other liquids, such as milk or juice. They have a very pleasant taste and they can be used at any time.
Why use a meal replacement?
The main reason could be keeping up with our hectic lifestyles. Usually, most people who work do not have time to eat their meals regularly. In the end, they just manage to eat 1 or 2 main meals completely. This is a risk for our health in the long term, since we will be lacking necessary micronutrients for our body and its proper functioning.
What should be the properties of a meal replacement?
In order to follow a balanced diet, a meal replacement should be able to replace a proper supply of both macronutrients and micronutrients. The amount should be close to what we would get from a solid meal. Their calorie supply should meet the nutrient requirements of the person and produce a calorie surplus, taking into account the rest of the meals we eat throughout the day.
Macronutrients are chemical substances that produce energy and which are obtained from food. The three macronutrients are: carbohydrates, lipids and proteins.
The diet should be made up of these three components according to the requirements of each individual, as well as their objectives regarding body weight (increase, maintain or reduce) and, finally, the type of physical activity they plan to do.
Protein is an essential macronutrient for human life. It is so important that without it or without the amino acids that make it up, we could not continue living. Thus, protein consists of amino acid chains which will perform essential functions in our bodies. Some of these processes include: regenerating tissues, producing cell energy, synthesizing neurotransmitters, metabolizing macronutrients, preserving organs like the heart, liver and kidneys.
There is a group of amino acids called "essential amino acids" that cannot be synthesized by our bodies. This means that we have to take them from the external supply of proteins. This type of proteins are known as "complete proteins" because they provide the whole amino acid spectrum, both essential and non-essential. This sources usually come from animal products. Those that come from vegetables tend to lack or have a very low proportion of one or more of these essential amino acids.
Those who do any kind of physical activity more than 3 times per week will need a higher supply than the rest of the population.
Carbohydrates are substances in charge of providing energy. This energy can be taken in different ways. Our bodies will store it as muscle glycogen, filling the deposits located in the muscles, or as hepatic glycogen. These are limited energy reserves and it will be necessary to increase their intake when performing demanding activities.
The body uses glucose, which are what amino acids are to protein. When the body does not have enough, it will let other macronutrients do the job, which is also the case with protein. This is due to the fact that our bodies have resources that can produce glucose from amino acids in the absence of carbohydrates. But when this process takes place we are limiting their functionality, which ends up being very inefficient.
The brain, kidneys and muscle tissue all need glucose in order to function. Although they could use other substrate, but with different conditions, such as the ketosis (the production of ketone bodies).
Carbohydrates are mainly divided into two groups according to their molecular structure: simple and complex. The simple type is made up of glucose units that will be metabolized almost instantly, quickly discharging glucose to the bloodstream. On the other hand, complex carbs have a structure that is made up of glucose chains which supply energy progressively. The pancreas will have to release insulin in order to keep the blood sugar levels balanced. Simple carbohydrates produce a fast glucose increase in the blood stream, which is measured with the glycemic index.
Fiber is another type of carbohydrate. It plays an important role in preserving the health of the intestinal tract. It is an undigestible substance that goes through the digestive system, getting rid of waste products. Fiber lowers the risk of suffering certain pathologies such as obesity, cholesterol or heart problems.
Fats or lipids are the group that provide fatty acids. In this group, there are other elements called "essential fatty acids". Like essential amino acids, the body cannot synthesize them, which is why we need to get them from the diet. There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. The essential Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids belong to the ensaturated fats group.
Fats perform important functions in our bodies:
Supporting the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system
Preserving the health of the skin and other tissues
Vital support to preserve the cell membrane integrity
Transporting fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
What are micronutrients?
It is a group made up of vitamins and minerals which are obtained from macronutrients. But unlike them, we just need small quantities of them. They are essential for the proper functioning of the body, since they are involved in practically every chemical reaction such as: regulating the metabolism, heart rate, preserving the cell and bone... Lacking one of these micronutrients can trigger many problems that can result in high-risk pathologies.
Vitamins are divided in two subgroups: fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins: B, C, D, E, K.
In the mineral group we can find: magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, iron, copper, iodine, zinc and fluoride.
Benefits of meal replacements
Their main benefit is the extra nutrient supply that will help us stay healthy by a macronutrient and micronutrient balance. Thanks to their format, they are very easy to take and transport so that you can take them at any time anywhere. There is no way to skip a meal now.
Choosing your meal replacement
According to what we have previously explained, we may need a product of this kind due to our circumstances and specially if we want to achieve a specific goal. Then, said product will need to have:
Complete proteins, that is, proteins from animal products, such as whey.
Carbohydrates, mostly complex ones such as oat flour and maltodextrins.
Enriched with vitamins and minerals
Meal replacement brands
There are plenty of brands that sell meal replacements, such as:
Evomeal by HSNsports: A perfect protein and carb balance. Ideal to replace a breakfast or as a snack.
Those who follow a weight-control diet usually look for meal-replacement shakes that are rich in proteins but low in carbs and fats. These shakes help to calm the appetite between meals, preserving our muscle mass and losing weight healthily.
Some examples of meal replacement products are:
Evodiet: Perfect for weight control diets. Less than 5g of carbs per shake.
Ultra Loss by BiotechUSA: One of the best meal replacement shakes due to its low carb and sugar content. Specially for women.
To make our shakes even more nutritious we can add some fruit (banana, apple, strawberries...), nuts (walnuts, almonds, peanuts...), vegetable fiber (psyllium husk, flax seeds), etc.
Meal replacement sachets
There are meal replacement products available that imitate our day to day meal but which are meant to be a "lighter" version. They have been specially designed for those want to lose weight in a healthy way.
For example, there are meal replacement sachets to make puddings, soups, omelettes, custards, etc.
These alternative food sachets have less calories than the original meal and usually a higher protein content.
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