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Meal Replacements


Ten years ago a typical meal replacement (MRP) sold in a health food store was loaded with simple sugars and contained only a small percentage of low-quality protein. Today, the exact opposite is true. Engineered with quality, health and performance in mind, new high-tech formulas compete for shelf space and outsell many vitamins. The best ones are sold in single serving envelopes by the box, and supply 20-40 grams of specially filtered high-quality protein derived exclusively from whey protein isolate. Let's look at a typical formula and compare its composition and cost to a common Canadian lunch.

 
MRP
Burger
Cola (12oz)
Total (B & C)
Cost
$3-5.00 (envelope)
$2-4.00
$1-2.00
$3-6.00
Calories
280
570
159
729
Protein
42 g
25 g
25 g
Carbs
24 g
39 g
40 g
79 g
Fat
2 g
35 g
35 g
Sodium
330 mg
979 mg
14 mg
993 mg
Potassium
550 mg
240 mg
4 mg
244 mg
Enzymes
trace
trace
trace
Cholesterol
15 mg
83 mg
83 mg
Micronutrients
listed
unknown
?????
Toxic components
minor
major
major
major

This particular meal replacement contains 41% more protein, 94% less fat and 62% fewer calories than the burger and cola drink and more importantly, its protein matrix is much higher in functional quality compared to denatured hamburger (oxidized commercial animal flesh has an extremely low biological value and decreases life span in animals). Even fresh ground, extra-lean hamburger is denatured when overcooked and ranks high in saturated fat.

Although the MRP contains a small quantity of partially hydrogenated oil, the overall fat is very low and most of it is derived from whey protein concentrate, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and borage oil. By design, I would like to see all hydrogenated, modified and rancid oils removed and eventually I will formulate one. The fried burger with processed cheese is loaded with trans-fatty acids, peroxidized lipids and a sauce rich in free-radicals. These substances damage the thyroid, heart, liver and brain.

The MRP is low in carbs (maltodextrin and corn syrup solids) and sweetened with aspartame. As a complex glucose polymer derived from grain, maltodextrin consumed in small quantities is relatively benign. Corn syrup is high in fructose, which can decrease insulin sensitivity over time. Aspartame doesn’t stimulate insulin release, but many health experts are opposed to its use. The burger/cola option contains 79 grams of carbs derived from white flour, sucrose (white death) and a smattering of wilted lettuce and pickles. To learn more about high-carb diets and their effect on insulin, weight management and disease, read "The Zone" by Barry Sears, PhD or "Protein Power" by Michael & Mary Eades, MD.

Neither choice provides much in the way of intrinsic vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), but at least the MRP is nutrient fortified to compensate. The potassium/sodium ratio in the MRP is acceptable (1.6:1). The other is not (1:4). In its natural state, food contains more potassium than sodium, even salt water fish and celery. Health problems arise when sodium intake is greater than potassium, which is one of the reasons why I don’t recommend bread or canned food as a staple. Check your food labels to see what I mean.

Neither alternative provides much in the way of "vital force" or enzyme value. This is why fresh fruits and especially green vegetables are so important. Both are fast and taste good, but the MRP is faster. I can whip up a shake faster than any drive through. The burger package contains some phytonutrients, but how much of what is unknown. The MRP is fortified with micronutrients and antioxidants which are standardized and listed.

Finally, the undesirable components of the MRP are minimal, whereas the "billions and billions sold" fix contains chemical preservatives, caustic bleaching agents, synthetic colours, artificial dyes, estrogen-mimicking pesticides and even worse, it may be contaminated with E. coli, prions and a host of parasites ready to party in your gut. People die every year from consuming contaminated ground meat.

An extensive range of these meal replacement type products are currently available in the health food and fitness related marketplace. They vary in taste and texture, choice of flavours, solubility and percentage of protein, carbohydrates and fat. The good ones taste excellent and mix up instantly, and provide a thickness and consistency similar to a milkshake. Basically, you tear open the packet and add the entire contents into a blender with about 500ml of filtered water and ice. Blend for 20 seconds and Voila! You’ve got a instant meal which from beginning to end, takes less than five minutes to prepare, consume and clean-up.

Besides convenience and good taste (which are enormously important to most people) this approach or system of eating can help you lose weight and alter your body composition in a very favorable way. Thousands of athletes and consumers can attest to this fact. By eating the right amount and type of food more frequently, you will prevent the typical low-blood sugar or "reactive hypoglycemic" response from occurring. This reduces the urge for stimulants such as caffeine and sweets, which are frequently used to compensate for the fatigue, light-headedness and low motivation commonly experienced at school or in the workplace.

One of the best times to make a shake is between lunch time and dinner. A good shot of protein will stimulate the release of the pancreatic hormone glucagon and turn your body into a fat-burning machine. It will also supply hard working muscles with the nitrogen they need to maximize repair and cellular turnover. Combined with a small dose of carbs and a precise amount of non-hydrogenated essential fat, you will feel satisfied and delighted with the outcome.

When you make the shake, take those extra antioxidants and vitamin supplements you’re supposed to take two or three times a day. Having a liquid meal is a very practical way to improve your diet, ease digestion, minimize fat storage, reduce the risk of gorging and help prevent the viscous cycle of overeating late in the evening before bed. Much of what you eat at night has to do with what you did or didn’t eat during the day. Another great time for a shake is between breakfast and lunch or first thing in the morning during the rush.

For decades I have encouraged men and women to exercise routinely and eat six times a day. It's what I do myself. Smaller meals consumed about every 3 hours will accelerate your metabolic rate and help decrease abnormal hunger. It just feels better compared to stuffing yourself once or twice. In clinical research, small rodents in cages get obese and lose their incentive to run on the exercise wheel when they eat very large meals. Grazing, or eating several small meals throughout the day reverses this trend almost immediately.

The concept of food raising metabolism isn’t new. It’s called dietary-induced thermogenesis (DIT) and here’s how it works. First, the simple ingestion of food stimulates energy metabolism as a result of the energy required to digest, absorb, assimilate and transport food nutrients throughout the body. This is known as obligatory thermogenesis.

A meal of pure protein elicits the highest thermic effect of the three primary macronutrients, burning up to 25-35% of the meal’s total calories. Carbohydrates rank second (10-15%) and fats third (1-3%). Excess dietary fat can and does indeed make some people fatter for this reason.

When compared to diets which feature the same exact number of calories, a diet higher in fat calories can make it more difficult to lose body fat when compared to diets lower in fat and higher in protein and carbs. Fat not only contains more than double the amount of calories compared to protein and carbohydrate, but it is metabolized with less energy cost. Fatty acid biochemistry and the influence of fatty acids on hormones, prostaglandins and eicosanoids also plays an important role in weight management, appetite and gastric emptying time. Commercial meat and eggs, high in linoleic and arachidonic acid (omega-6 fatty acids) have a completely different effect and outcome compared to fresh, deep water fish and flax seed oil (alpha-linolenic acid, EPA & DHA).

A second way food can increase metabolism relates to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and its stimulating effect. This component is referred to as facultative thermogenesis. Overall, the thermic effect of each meal reaches a maximum ceiling within 1 hour after eating, increases if you walk afterwards and varies in individuals depending on the quantity and type of food eaten. A liquid meal dominated by high-quality whey protein isolate and low in fat works the best.

The new meal replacements are yet to be perfected, but they offer the convenience and culinary enjoyment of fast-food garbage without most of the trash. They are much safer and more nutritious than what most kids eat for breakfast. If you want to turn your body into a fat-burning machine, combine weight-training with cardio 4-6 times a week, increase your protein intake to ideal optimum levels, decrease carbs and eat something nutritious every three hours. That’s the new paradigm in a nutshell.