Long before I became a licensed nutrition professional, I was exposed to various weight loss products.
Both my mother and grandmother used them from time to time. These include appetite suppressants and nutritional shakes.
One product was a chewable candy that came in a variety of flavours but we had chocolate and butterscotch.
Had the product survived, it would’ve had no choice but to change its name. Going by the name “Ayds” (pronounced “aids”), it had strong sales in the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, by the mid-1980s, public awareness of the immune-related disease AIDS caused obvious branding issues.
Ayds was nothing more than benzocaine, an anesthetic that helped to curb appetite but numbing a person’s stomach. And yes, I did try them 🙂
My grandmother also used a meal replacement shake called Metrecal; a diet brand that was introduced in the early 1960s by Mead Johnson & Company. Metrecal was later replaced by Slimfast and the rest is history.
Fast forward to today and protein shakes and meal replacement shakes are one of the most popular weight loss supplements around.
They’re primarily used to cut calories but many use niche products to achieve some kind of personal “health, wellness, and fitness” goals.
A popular product is Shakeology which is dually advertised as a meal replacement shake and a protein shake (1). This post will break it all down for you and deconstruct many of Shakeology’s marketing claims.
What is Shakeology
Shakeology is a nutrition shake that’s part of a larger company called Beachbody which was founded in 1998 with the mission to help people achieve their goals and to have healthy, fulfilling lives.
Beachbody is the company that put out P90x and 21 Day Fix, as well as, the Shakeology brand. They sell workout videos, supplements and nutrition programs such as “The Ultimate Portion FIX“.
Beachbody uses multi-level marketing (MLM) to sell their products. Not always, but typically Beachbody customers register online as a “coach” and become salespeople for Beachbody products, including Shakeology, where they can earn a commission.
With a focus on weight loss, Shakeology is part of the foundation of the Beachbody weight loss program and customers are encouraged to drink it daily but more on this in a bit.
Shakeology is boldly promoted as “your daily dose of dense nutrition” and that its “a world of superfood nutrition in every glass”. These shakes will help people lose weight, boost energy, curb cravings and more, which “helps you give each day your all”.
This is where it gets interesting but before that, folks are really bogged down on what to call Shakeology. Is it a meal replacement shake, a snack or a protein shake?
Perhaps I’m thick but I couldn’t care less where the whole “protein shake” label fits into all of this since the term “protein shake” is not legally defined. On the other hand, it may confuse consumers given Shakeology’s claim to be “simply the most delicious superfood supplement on the planet”.
What’s more important is whether or not it’s being called, and used, as a meal replacement or a snack because there is a difference but the devil is in the details; more on that in a bit.
Flavours for days
Shakeology comes in a variety of flavours such as the requisite vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate, as well as, cafe latte, tropical strawberry, pumpkin spice and greenberry (although availability will differ between the US and Canada).
The website boasts a variety of “cutting-edge” ingredients to give the most powerful and delicious shake available and judging from the list below, there are a lot of “ingredients du jour” in them.
- Digestive enzymes
- Prebiotics and probiotics
- Superfruits & antioxidants
- Vitamins & minerals
They use a variety of protein sources including whey, arguably one of, if not THE best non-vegan protein choice with mountains of research supporting its use; both clinically and for general health.
Shakeology doesn’t use soy protein, although they don’t say why. If it’s because soy tends to be a GMO crop (which I’m not worried about), there are non-GMO soy protein powders out there.
They cite flax, quinoa, chia, and oat as sources of protein in their vegan products but because they’re present in such infinitesimally small amounts (300 mg quinoa, 700 mg chia or 200 mg of flax), the reality is the bulk of protein is coming from pea and rice, which is fine, no issues with that.
FUN FACT: 1 Tbsp of flaxseed = 13,000 mg, 1 Tbsp ground chia = 10,000 mg, 1/4 cup cooked quinoa = 46,250 mg
Supergreens and phytonutrients
Other leveraged ingredients include the all-important greens (spinach, kale, matcha green tea, moringa, and chlorella) and cinnamon. Their reason for putting “so many supergreens and phytonutrients” in Shakeology? Because “eating a bunch of kale isn’t as convenient – or as yummy – as a delicious shake”.
Here’s the rub though. Although phytonutrients ARE packed into very small serving sizes, e.g. a 1/2 tsp (~ 2 g) of chlorella powder has about 3 mg of lutein (1), it’s impossible to quantify how much of these phytonutrient-based ingredients are in a 40 g serving of Shakeology when the bulk of that serving will be the protein powders.
One of the flavours does lists the amount of chlorella: 600 mg per serving which would provide about 1 mg of lutein. Compare that to one-cup of raw spinach which has 4 mg and one-cup of cooked kale that has 24 mg of lutein respectively. Not sure if that qualifies as a suitable substitute for eating your green veggies 🙁 .
So, as you can see, the shake DOES NOT and CAN NOT make up for the apparent inconvenience or poor taste of eating real food according to Shakeology.
Ditto for the adaptogen content. While the usual suspects are here: astragalus, cordyceps, ashwagandha, chaga mushroom, maitake, reishi, schisandra, and maca, it’s impossible to quantify the amount and how that compares to studies specifically looking at the therapeutic value of those herbs.
Prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes
Shakeology also has a source of different fibers, both soluble and insoluble, along with some prebiotic fibers for gut health from chicory root and yacon root (inulin). It also has added probiotics, the genus, and species Bacillus coagulans, but the specific strain in these shakes is unknown so researching the probiotics benefits is a no go.
PRO TIP: probiotics can have a therapeutic role but benefit is determined at the “species” level. Probiotics are categorized by genus, species and strains. Without knowing the strain, health and functional claims are not possible
To help with digestion, there’s also a variety of digestive enzymes such as amylase, cellulase, lactase, alpha-galactosidase, invertase, etc but the amounts are very small.
Compared to digestive enzyme supplements which have doses in the hundreds, up to the tens of thousands of specific units, (FFCs, GALU, etc), as do over-the-counter enzymes [e.g. Lactaid used to help digest lactose (9000 FFC) or Beano (alpha-galactosidase, 800 GALU) to digest vegetables], the amount of enzymes in Shakeology is a drop-in bucket, in other words, not likely to be helpful or objectively noticeable.
At least on the Canadian website, a few add-ons are possible, aptly called “Boosts”. They presumably take your Shakeology shake to the next level:
- Focused energy [if you struggle with low energy]
- to increase your energy, resistance to stress, & reduce mental fatigue
- caffeine, green tea & guarana (more caffeine)
- to increase your energy, resistance to stress, & reduce mental fatigue
- Power greens [if you don’t like vegetables]
- a potent dose of phytonutrients & antioxidants
- chlorella, spinach, cucumber, celery, kale
- a potent dose of phytonutrients & antioxidants
- Digestive health [if you don’t get enough fiber]
- soluble & insoluble fiber to help keep you regular & provides ALA omega-3
The Shakeology nutritional facts is what gets people into a bugaboo.
Most of the shakes contain 17 g of good quality protein and between 140 to 160 calories per serving. Consumers (or “dieters” if the product has targeted its audience correctly, those who want to lose weight) are instructed to mix one scoop or single-serving package of Shakeology with 236 to 355 ml (8 to 12 ounces) of their fluid of choice to make a delicious meal replacement, snack or protein shake (will the real final produce please stand up), once or twice a day.
Each serving is considered a very high source of fiber with 4 to 6 g mainly coming from quality sources such as flaxseeds, chia,
Depending on what the shake powders are mixed with (water, soy, rice, hemp, almond or oat beverage, fruit juice or milk) the calorie content will varying greatly. A shake made with 12 oz of whole milk would have 365 to 385 calories, with 100% orange juice, 313 to 333 calories and with water, as some would, well, you guessed it, 140 to 160 calories.
Why does this matter? This is where the distinction of whether or not Shakeology is a snack or meal replacement (or supplement) comes in. To be legally defined as a meal replacement, a product must provide a minimum amount of calories, protein and vitamins, and minerals. These are regulated differently in different countries.
USA: the Food and Drug Administration has not defined ‘meal replacement’ but products on the market typically provide 200 to 250 calories per serving and are fortified with 20 vitamins and minerals in amounts that meet legal definitions of “good” or “excellent source” of. There are no predetermined amounts of protein required (2).
Canada: the Canadian Food Inspection Agency defines a meal replacement rather vaguely as “a formulated food that, by itself, can replace one or more daily meals”(3). But when it comes to marketing them, a meal replacement must meet minimum requirements (4):
- 225 calories per serving
- a specified amount of protein
- a maximum amount of energy from fat (35%)
- specified amounts of vitamins and minerals (5).
When it comes to the amount of vitamins and minerals in Shakeology, it’s difficult to determine. Their website gives you a real workout. I think sites should make it super easy to find consistent information; the Shakeology sites are almost as bad as a government website.
On the Canadian sales page, the whey-based shakes appear to be fortified with vitamins and minerals rounding out the nutritional content of the product. Not the same for the vegan variety, no information indicating any fortification. If true, there will be a difference when it comes to getting your vitamins and minerals if you plan to use Shakeolgoy as advertised: meal replacement and/or a snack.
Similar findings on the US site, the labelling on the whey products shoe they’re fortified but the vegan version, only a handful of micronutrients are listed.
All this to say that because many will be using these shakes as a meal replacement to support weight loss, the company cautions people that while replacing one meal per day with Shakeology is OK, replacing two or more should be avoided. With the potential of a meal replacement being as low as 140-160 calories to a little more if using low-fat milk or soy beverage, replacing two meals a day would result in what’s referred to as a very low-calorie diet which the company wants to avoid.
Instead, the company recommends Shakeology consumers to use it as a supplement, e.g. take with a healthy meal, or as a snack. As part of a healthy meal, say a salad with chickpeas, Shakeology will provide an excellent dose of high-quality protein with few calories. As a snack, when mix with milk or almond beverage etc, makes for a convenient calorie-appropriate snack.
Shakeology’s health and benefit claims
As mentioned above, Shakeology’s overarching claim is that it’s simply the most delicious superfood protein supplement shake on the planet even though “supplement” is used interchangeably with “meal replacement”.
Any way you slice it, Shakeology provides high-quality protein, excellent sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. In that sense, like food, Shakeology can contribute to your nutritional bottom line and therefore, like any supplement, food or dietary pattern for that matter can ‘boast’ similar claims as healthy eating does:
- Benefit your overall health so you can feel better
- Provides antioxidants that help protect the body from harmful free radicals
- Source of protein which helps build and repair muscle
- Source of antioxidants
- Digestive enzymes
- Feel better
- Part of your healthy weight loss program
- Feel satisfied
- Support healthy energy
- Benefit overall health
- Support healthy digestion
None of these general claims are untrue nor are they unreasonable. Nutritional professionals use them all the time when describing foods, dietary patterns, the role of nutrients, etc. If anyone has an issue with the claims about the product (shelving one’s bias for 2 seconds about the marketing etc of the product), they’re being hypocritical.
A good-quality shake or shake product that can be used for a smoothie can fit into a healthy diet. Just because one uses a product like this isn’t necessarily saying that it’s better than real food or replaces real food. Even if used to help reduce caloric intake for modest weight loss isn’t unreasonable either. I think many professionals, such as dietitians, might not like the product (against putting aside the marketing) because it’s not seen as real food and has an issue with it ideologically since the profession centers around food.
On a side note, it appears that Shakeology discontinued their cleansing products and cleanse philosophy which deserves major kudos.
Does Shakeology work?
And by work I mean help you lose weight since it’s marketed as a weight-loss tool. Replacing a meal with a shake (whether an ultra low-calorie version made with water or modestly lower-calorie made with milk, juice, etc.) that has fewer calories than a typical meal will lead to energy deficient and result in weight loss for most people.
Of course, this is equally true if you were to reduce your portion sizes or make some easy swaps like low-starchy vegetables in place of rice, potatoes or pasta. The crux for weight loss and management is to create a calorie deficit.
In a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled, crossover study, researchers investigated the impact of a high-protein, high-fiber (HP/HFb) beverage taken 30 minutes before meals on subjective appetite ratings and subsequent energy intake at an ad libitum meal in overweight healthy adults compared to a beverage with the same number calories but that was low in both protein (1 g) and fiber (3 g) (LP/LFb) (6).
In other words, some of the subjects drank a 160 calorie, high-protein (17 g)/fiber (6 g) beverage (Shakeology) before a meal and the others drank a low-protein/fiber beverage. Both groups were then unknowingly monitored to see how much they ate at the following meals; ad libitum “freely without restriction”. Then, after a 7 day washout period (break), subjects were retested using whatever beverage they didn’t use in the first round.
The HP/HFb beverage resulted in a reduced desire to eat by 58%, reduced hunger by 51% and helped participants eat 180 fewer calories at the next meal but only in the 25-years of age group and older.
This effect is consistent with known evidence that has shown both dietary protein and fiber to independently improve measures of subjective measures of appetite control. Protein and fiber help to reduce hunger, so it’s not surprising that the test shake demonstrated this.
But simply showing a decrease in appetite and a small decrease in energy intake at the subsequent meal isn’t the same as saying this product supports weight loss, but rather all that can be said is that it may be a tool in your toolbox.
Forgetting the legal definitions for a second, using Shakeology with water as a meal replacement is harsh. With only 160 calories, you’ll be left feeling very hungry, feeling ripped-off, hungry-angry (yes, “hangry” but I hate the word) and left wanting more. You could get a lot of great nutrition for the same 160 calories if you had 2 hard-boiled eggs instead.
It’s true that low-calorie meal replacements CAN result in weight loss (Oprah and Optifast anybody?) (7). While shakes can help, they don’t teach or reinforce healthy eating habits and calorie reduction techniques but rather just quick weight loss, so their role in long-term weight management doesn’t have the same track record (8, 9).
Other benefits of this nutritional shake
Let’s be clear. There’s nothing dangerous about these shakes. They’re not loaded with caffeine and ephedrine for energy or have any questionable herbs etc. They’re not inherently bad per se and do have some benefits.
People are busy busy busy. Shakeology shakes are convenient. I have no problem with one being taken to work, along with a shaker (or the requisite Mason Jar) so that it can be mixed with water, milk, or soy beverage ALONG WITH a salad from the food court or small wrap for lunch.
I use a lot of smoothies in my daily regimen so Shakeology, as part of a nutrient-dense, whole-foods smoothie works too. Smoothies are a complete meal, who gives a crap if it’s blended versus something that needs chewing. It’s certainly better than a coffee and muffin. Smoothies are convenient and can help people eat better when pressed for time.
A Shakeology shake would be a better snack too than 99% of the shite lying around the office or other workplaces. Try doughnuts and muffins at hospital team review and rounds – sigh.
Better ingredients than similar products
To be fair, Shakeology is much healthier than other protein shakes and meal replacements on the market; Slimfast, Boost, Ensure, MuscleMilk? I’m looking at you.
Many have lots of artificial flavours, sweeteners, colouring, added sugar, sugar alcohols, unhealthy oils, and modified fats. Although Shakeology does have a little added sugar, it’s reasonably low, e.g. a 325 ml bottle of Slimfast has 18 g sugar, Shakeology has 7 g (10).
Shakeology confidently boasts no artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours, artificial preservatives, dairy-free options available and low glycemic index
Any drawbacks of Shakeology?
How much does Shakeology cost? It ain’t cheap. A one-month supply (30 servings) is $155.95 CAD or $5.33 per day or $129.95 or $4.33 USD and that’s just for the product. If you’re going to add milk or other beverages to it or use it as part of a smoothie, that’s on top of the cost of food. For some people, this may be way too much so spend on what’s really nothing more than a protein shake.
Similar high-quality products like Vega One, Garden of Life RAW Organic meal, or Genuine Health Fermented Vegan Protein are much cheaper, around half as much.
Vague on the amount of superfoods
Shakeology goes to great lengths promoting its ingredients, such as probiotics, prebiotics, adaptogens, etc. which supposedly make it a world of superfood nutrition in every glass. There is no shortage of research to support the use of some of these ingredients like adaptogens’ ability to support and reduce stress, but what matters is the dosage.
Where the ingredients are listed, they’re present in extremely small amounts, e.g. astragulus 250 mg, cordyceps 200 mg, or ashwaghanda 150 mg per serving. Typical dosages used in studies for these kinds of herbs and mushrooms are in the hundreds of mg so to extrapolation similar benefits to Shakeology is, well, shakey (11, 12).
Not real food
Of course, Shakeology is a supplement and not real, whole food. As with other products, nutritional shakes, bars, etc can’t make up for the real stuff. While it does contain quality protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, it doesn’t have anything that you can’t get from consuming a homemade smoothie or protein shake or even a meal for that matter.
Consider a smoothie made with whey protein, blueberries, frozen or raw spinach, light coconut milk, Greek yogurt, hemp, grounded chia and flaxeeds, and unsweetened shredded coconut with a little honey or maple syrup to enhance the flavours of the other foods? This will provide ample nutrition at the fraction of the cost.
No matter how slick the advertising, when it comes to real food vs Shakeology, you know who the winner is (food if I really need to state it! 🙂 )
The Shakeology blog does provide a variety of recipes using their shakes that include many of the ingredients already talked about such as milk, egg, fruit, other beverages an more.
In my opinion, Shakeology is first and foremost a protein and fiber supplement that can be leveraged in different ways.
As part of a smoothie, it can be seen as a meal replacement. As an accompaniment to a meal, it’s a convenient protein supplement, and if taken in between meals is snack.
Don’t walk away from this convinced that Shakeology is better than real food because it’s not, BUT that doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a healthy diet, because it can.
As a dietitian, I don’t automatically hate it because it’s a ‘shake’ or part of a MLM distribution structure; as the saying goes, caveat emptor. If you can afford it and want to buy, have at it, I’m not going to take the usual paternal stance that many in my profession do and pretend that I know what’s best for you.
Just be informed about what you’re buying and ask yourself if you can get the same, or more, from spending the same amount of money on real whole foods or other high-quality meal replacement shakes and bars, cuz they do exist.