Best Weight Loss Shakes

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Eating moderate portions of whole, unprocessed foods and following a solid exercise plan are the optimal way to lose weight. Weight-loss shakes support such a plan when you don't have time to prepare or eat a full meal. The best weight-loss shakes fill you up and include a solid balance of the nutrients you should get in any meal. The shakes ideally contain minimal sugar and supplements and are derived from whole foods.

Following a Weight-Loss Diet

To lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit, which simply means you eat fewer calories than you burn. A 250- to 500-calorie deficit daily is achievable by most people and yields a safe 1/2- to 1-pound weight loss per week. Create such a deficit by trimming portion sizes, choosing lower calorie foods and moving more. Consuming fewer than 1,200 calories per day is not recommended as it's nearly impossible to fulfill your nutrient needs.

The best weight-loss shakes fit into this plan when they contain 250 to 400 calories -- enough to fill you up and give you energy, but not so much to push you over your daily calorie goal. Replacing an entire meal with a shake with too few of calories is usually not satisfying or nutritionally complete.

Meal Replacement Shakes

Drinking a shake in addition to your regular eating routine is unlikely to help you lose weight. The best weight-loss shakes replace higher-calorie meals or snacks. A properly crafted shake helps you trim calories and still get the nutrients you need. Replacing too many meals daily with a weight-loss shake, though, limits your nutrient intake and may lead to weight loss that's too quick so you lose valuable muscle in addition to some fat. Quick weight loss is hard to sustain too, and any lost pounds are usually regained. Relying on shakes exclusively for weight loss doesn't teach you healthful, long-term eating habits either. At some point, you'll reach your goal weight and have to grapple with what to eat to maintain your new physique.

Weight-Loss Shakes to Avoid

Pre-purchased weight-loss shakes often contain more sugar than you need or are loaded with artificial sweeteners, which have questionable effects on weight loss. Prepackaged shakes also may contain excess caffeine, preservatives, chemical colors, artificial flavors and other ingredients.

Some weight-loss shakes are medically prescribed in cases of morbid obesity. These, such as Medifast, are extremely low calorie and should only be consumed when you're under the supervision of a physician. Shakes are usually only part of these extreme weight-loss programs; you're usually encouraged to eat other specific packaged meal-replacement foods, such as soups, stew, chili, oatmeal and scrambled eggs. Reliance on shakes alone is not often encouraged nor is it sustainable.

The Best Shakes Contain Whole Foods

Instead of reaching for a canned or boxed weight-loss shake, consider making your own from whole foods. The best homemade shakes include fresh fruits, such as strawberries or blueberries, as well as a source of protein, like whey protein powder. The protein and amino acid leucine in the whey help you maintain lean muscle mass as you lose fat and makes you feel full. Add cow's, soy, almond or coconut milk to get calcium and vitamin D. A tablespoon of nut butter, chia seeds or ground flaxseed provide healthy fat, which improves feelings of satiety.

To boost the nutritional value further without adding tons of calories, add a handful of spinach to your smoothie. Avoid adding fruit juice or sweeteners, both of which increase the calorie count without filling you up.