Meal replacement shakes come in a few different varieties and a thousand different brands. On the one hand, you have total replacement shakes, like your Soylent or your Huel, shakes meant to give you all of your essential nutrients and serve as long-term meal replacements.
On the other hand, you have a range of meal replacement shakes meant primarily to lead to weight los, like Nutrisystem, Orgain, and Medifast. These shakes are less complete, and are meant to fill you up while providing as few calories as possible. If you replace meals with them, you'll lose weight, simply because you're taking in fewer calories.
In both cases, meal replacements tend to have one major drawback: the taste. The taste of meal replacements almost always leave something to be desired. Some of them taste neutral, some of them are grass-like, and some of them are a very artificial imitation of a fruit or fruit blend.
Others might be missing certain nutrients your body needs long-term. Meal replacements are often designed for a short-term regimen, taking them for a few weeks or a month or two at a time, rather than a total meal replacement. They aren't formulated for total nutrition, and you're meant to get other nutrients from your other meals.
In either case, you can supplement your meal replacements by adding other ingredients to them. Some additional ingredients might make them less effective at helping you lose weight, but honestly? We'd rather have a shake that tastes good than a shake that forces fast weight loss. When your meal replacements taste good, it's easier to stick with them, and as long as they're still fewer calories than the meal you're replacing, it's beneficial for weight loss.
Here are a range of different additives you can blend into your meal replacement shakes, to improve their nutrition, their flavor, or both.
Many meal replacement shakes recommend simply mixing them with water, but tap water or filtered water leaves something to be desired. More often than not, what we find kicks those shakes up is a little chill. Mix in some ice to replace some of the water you're using, and you'll have a deliciously chill shake that ends up tasting more like a milkshake or smoothie than a nutritional paste you're supposed to choke down.
It's also useful to add ice to your meal replacements if you're on the go quickly and using them for breakfast. The chill can help shock you awake. Alternatively, if you're taking it on your commute, the ice helps keep it chill and palatable longer, even for a while after you get to the office. Mix it up and keep it in a temperature-resistant thermos or other insulated container and you can keep a shake nice and cold all the way to lunch.
2. Superfood Powders
A lot of different fruits and vegetables have been termed "superfoods" over the last decade or so. Some of them are just better than your average fruit, while others are potent blends of nutrients that can really help your body excel.
Just remember whenever you're taking a superfood, you probably need to make sure you're getting the right blend of nutrients to absorb it all. Otherwise, you'll waste a lot of its value.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a useful vitamin for your body, and you typically produce it naturally when you're exposed to sunlight. If you're stuck inside all day, though, it's possible you might end up low on this valuable nutrient. Adding a reasonable dose to a meal replacement shake can help you get the amount your body needs.
Just make sure not to overdo it. Double-check to make sure your meal replacement doesn't already contain enhanced vitamin D; getting too much might be detrimental to your body. Additionally, if you're choosing to add vitamin D to your shakes, we recommend finding a powdered version; the gel caps tend to leave a fishy taste that definitely does not pair well with a fruit-and-greens smoothie.
Your body is host to trillions of bacteria, which are necessary and beneficial to the function of your body. Probiotics are foods that contain bacteria themselves, much of which is similar or the same as the bacteria your body needs in your gut. Probiotic foods typically come in two varieties: dairy and vegetables.
Vegetable probiotics include foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and natto. While delicious in their own way, these aren't typically good additions to a meal replacement shake. Their flavors are too strong – and in some cases too spicy – and they override whatever the natural flavors of the shake are.
Dairy probiotics are generally a much better alternative. Look into getting yourself some greek yogurt, tempeh, or kefir to add to or use as a base for your meal replacement shakes. We particularly like a mixture of kefir and yogurt as a shake base rather than simple milk or ice.
5. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is almost a superfood in its own right. A good natural peanut butter contains healthy protein, nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and fiber that your body needs to be healthy, and it adds a great flavor to your shakes.
If you have a peanut allergy, or if you simply don't want the taste of peanut butter in your shakes, you can try other similar butters. Nut butters and seed butters have a similar range of beneficial nutrients, and they can add some unique flavors to your shakes. Experiment and see which ones work best for your tastes!
Berries, or berry-derived powders, are always a good addition to pretty much any meal replacement. They add sweetness, sometimes tartness, and some sugar your body needs. They're also packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients that help keep you healthy. Vitamin C, in particular, is a benefit.
We tend to prefer whole, fresh berries – washed and hulled of their inedible parts, of course – but we recognize that they aren't always available year-round. Dried berries are a great second choice, and berry powders are another option if you want something that won't have you picking seeds or bits of skin out of your teeth all day.
If you've tried – and don't like – oatmeal, the suggestion to add oats to your shakes is probably one you're shaking your head at. It seems like they'll add tough particles or mush to your shake, ruining the texture and overriding the flavor with a chalky addition you'd much rather avoid.
The fact is, alongside a handful of other additives, oats in your shakes aren't too bad. A simple quarter-cup of oats can go a long way towards giving you healthy nutrients, and it's not typically so much that it overrides the flavor or texture of your shake.
As an added bonus, try this: prep your shakes the night before, including the oats, and let them soak for several hours. This allows the oats to absorb both the flavors and the liquid from the shake, softening up both their texture and flavor. Then, simply mix up your shake in the morning – or lunch, or evening – and you're good to go.
While most shakes recommend using water as their primary base for mixing, we often find that milk is a much more satisfying alternative.
Sure, milk is going to be higher in calories than water. Even skim milk has some percentage of milkfat and protein. If you're taking your meal replacement shakes for weight loss purposes, you might want to stick to water. However, if your goal is simply to fill up so you don't snack all day, the added protein and nutrients in milk can help.
Milk, especially whole milk, is packed with vitamin D, so make sure you're taking that into account if you're looking to add a vitamin D supplement to your shakes as well. It does you no good to overdose on a vitamin, right?
Cinnamon is a superfood powder, and as such, could have been added to the superfood list up above. It's good enough, though, that we figured it can have its own entry on this list.
Cinnamon is packed with antioxidant properties, as well as anti-inflammatory benefits, which help you feel better and reduce generalized pain. There's some evidence to suggest cinnamon might help with heart disease, sugar regulation, and infections.
When you're getting your cinnamon, try to look for "true" cinnamon, aka Ceylon cinnamon. A lot of cinnamon you find sold in stores today is actually a cinnamon replacement, cassia, which isn't quite as beneficial as the original stuff.
Bananas are pretty much identical the world over, unless you're picking up their woody cousin, the plantain. Adding some frozen banana to your shake blend gives you a host of different nutrients, like potassium, magnesium, copper, and vitamins B6 and C, as well as a bunch of useful fiber.
The only thing to watch out for with bananas is potassium. If you're on a medical diet that requires you to reduce your potassium, they're not a good addition. This primarily means kidney issues.
Bananas also tend to add a particular flavor to shakes that comes through regardless of the other ingredients. We recommend you let the bananas ripen as much as possible, to maximize their sweetness.
Adding eggs to a smoothie or shake that is primarily fruit flavored sounds weird, but it's actually quite beneficial. Eggs don't necessarily add much flavor, but they come packed with nutrients and protein your body can use.
How should you add eggs to your shakes? You can simply crack them into a shake before you blend it, but we don't recommend it. Raw eggs have a bit of a pop culture symbolism for strength, but they aren't actually better. Eggs are more bioavailable once they're cooked, plus you minimize the risk of food-borne illness like salmonella.
Cook your eggs lightly scrambled and blend them in well, so you aren't getting egg chunks. Avoid cooking them with salt or butter – maybe a little healthy olive oil – to minimize their flavor impact. Alternatively, you can get egg powder for your shakes, though that isn't quite as healthy.
Avocado isn't just for toast, guacamole, or vegetable dishes. It's actually a great addition to sweet shakes, including the meal replacement shakes we've been talking about this whole time.
You want to make sure you're picking ripe, soft avocados for your shakes, so they can blend up smoothly. Add half of an avocado to your shake and blend it up well so it's thoroughly mixed and smooth, and you'll barely even notice the flavor is there. Your shakes will taste heartier and almost buttery with the addition of the healthy fats and nutrients in avocados.
There you have it; 12 additional bonus ingredients you can mix up with your meal replacement shakes to enhance flavor and nutrition. That's far from the only options, of course; you can add other ingredients, like coconut milk, beans, or grains like quinoa or buckwheat, but hey; if we gave you all of the options, how could you give us your recommendations?
In fact, that's what we would like you to do. In the comments below, let us know what your favorite additions are to your meal replacement shakes.
What kicks them to the next level for you? We'd love to hear it.