If you are maintaining a gluten-free diet and are looking for the best gluten free meal replacement shakes to fit into your diet, we’ve got you covered.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, an estimated 18 million Americans struggle with a gluten sensitivity issue. Of those 18 million, around 3 million have celiac disease. Gluten sensitivity is just one of many reasons why people turn to a gluten-free diet.
Maybe you’ve read about the health benefits of a gluten-free lifestyle, and you’re interested in tips to help you get started. The good news is that whatever your goal, companies are offering more and more product options for those who’ve made the decision to go gluten-free.
What Is Gluten, and What’s Wrong with It?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For many people, it’s harmless, so they don’t even give it a second thought. For others, carefully monitoring what’s in their food is a daily necessity in order to avoid a reaction to gluten. It’s likely that you know someone who has celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Another fairly common condition is a gluten allergy or intolerance, which is not an autoimmune disorder, but simply an immune response which registers gluten as a foreign substance. The symptoms are similar in both cases.
Of course, there are gluten-free people who have neither celiac disease nor a gluten allergy. Some have seen and experienced the health benefits of a diet free of gluten, so they’ve chosen to eliminate it from their diet. Author and keynote speaker Jeff Sanders outlines the benefits of going gluten-free as follows:
- Improves cholesterol levels
- Improves health problems associated with irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis
- Reduces risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers
- Increases energy levels
- Promotes weight loss and digestive health
- Eliminates some of the most unhealthy foods in your diet, like oils, fats, and processed sugars
- Increases consumption of fruits and vegetables as the primary source of carbohydrates
- Increases strength of immune system as a result of consuming foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
- Promotes stronger awareness of food content and what you’re putting into your body
What Science Says: The Link Between Gluten and Behavior Issues
Surprisingly, science seems to be torn on the benefits of going gluten-free if you don’t have celiac disease. People have been eating gluten for centuries, science says. Is it really necessary to suddenly cut it out of our diets just because a few people have a reaction to it? Alessio Fasano, M.D., medical director of the Center for Celiac Research at MassGeneral Hospital in Boston, explains that the grain we eat today is drastically different from the grain our ancestors ate. For one thing, the level of gluten in grain today is much more concentrated due to selective breeding for higher crop yields. Additionally, Dr. Fasano points out that our overuse of antibiotics could be contributing to weakened digestive systems that are no longer able to process gluten in the same way. To understand the real results of a gluten-free diet, however, the key is to look at real families who have walked that road.
Texas native Jennifer DeRouen’s son Mitchell showed signs of celiac disease at age 3. When tests for celiac came back negative, a doctor suspected a gluten intolerance, prompting Jennifer to cut gluten out of Mitchell’s diet. In a matter of days, the change in his diet had already made a huge difference: the symptoms he’d been having (including irritability, waking frequently at night, and issues with language development) completely disappeared.
A study conducted in 2013 attempted to establish a gluten-free and casein-free diet as a treatment for autism after families reported improved behavior in children on the autism spectrum. Although the results of the study were inconclusive, families all over the country are continuing to share stories about how simple diet changes have improved symptoms of autism. Going gluten-free isn’t by any means a cure for autism, but, as one mother put it, “it is a non-invasive way to try and improve the life of your child.”
The Benefits of Gluten-Free Meal Replacement Shakes
A busy schedule often means little time for meal prepping, which is crucial if you’re gluten-free. Many restaurants offer gluten-free options, but your best bet is to have something prepared. Meal replacement shakes make that easy, because they’re more than just protein shakes: They’re designed specifically to act as a substitute for a full meal, and provide you with all the nutrients that come with a meal. They’re also low in calories and high in protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals.
Most meal replacement shakes come ready-to-drink, so you don’t have to mix anything else into it. For a more inexpensive option, meal replacement shake powder is available to buy in bulk — and the powders generally have a longer shelf life than the ready-to-drink shakes, so you don’t have to worry about them going bad.
Let’s take a look at gluten-free meal replacement shakes in particular. If you’re on a gluten-free diet, it’s easy to develop deficiencies in certain nutrients, like B-vitamins (since fortified breads and cereals are a major source of these vitamins). A meal replacement shake is literally designed to add those vitamins back into your diet, so it’s a great way to get the nutrients your body needs without sacrificing ingredients.
Meal replacement shakes are generally marketed for adults. Some question whether or not these shakes are acceptable for children; the answer depends on the child. Some children only eat small quantities of food at a time, and others are extremely picky eaters. Meal replacement shakes can offer the nutrients of a full meal in a small package, and they come in a variety of flavors to appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. Some meal replacement shakes, like Pediasure, are specifically made for children.
What are the drawbacks of meal replacement shakes?
For all the benefits of gluten-free meal replacement shakes, there are a few things to keep in mind while you’re doing research. Not everything that’s labeled “gluten-free” is truly healthy; gluten-free foods are likely to contain added sugars, corn syrups, chemical preservatives, and artificial flavors to improve the taste or texture. Cutting out gluten in favor of artificial ingredients is counterproductive, so you’ll want to check the ingredients of the shake or powder carefully before you buy.
Another thing to consider is whether meal replacement shakes should be used long-term. While meal replacement shakes are, by definition, designed to serve as a meal replacement, they can’t serve as a long-term substitute for a full diet consisting of whole foods. If you’re constantly on-the-go, meal replacement shakes can be a great way to stay away from the drive-thru (or the tendency to skip meals), but they fall short as a permanent replacement for the nutrients provided by a diet rich in whole foods.
What qualifies as a meal replacement shake?
A meal replacement is a drink, bar, etc. intended as a substitute for a solid food meal, usually with controlled quantities of calories and nutrients.
In the European Union (EU), weight-reduction meal replacements intended either to supplement or to replace totally normal meals are regulated as to their energy content, the nutrients they must provide, and information and advice on packaging by COMMISSION DIRECTIVE 96/8/EC of 26 February 1996 on foods intended for use in energy-restricted diets for weight reduction.
For example, a meal replacement must provide between 200 and 400 food calories of energy, of which not more than 30% from fat, and not less than specified amounts for various vitamins and minerals. Learn more about it here.
Labeling information is prescribed, and packaging must provide information such as a statement that the product should not be used for more than three weeks without medical advice. This protects users of meal replacements without other food from inadvertent malnutrition.
In the United States, the term “meal replacement” is currently not defined in federal Food and Drug Administration regulations.
For the sake of our recommendations, we will limit our recommendations to those that meet the caloric requirements as provided by the EU.
Here are 3 gluten-free meal replacement shakes that we recommended trying. (If you are looking to make your own shake, click here for some the best gluten-free whey protein powders.)
Our Picks: The Best Gluten-Free Meal Replacement Shakes
This is not and will not be the only “best protein” list that includes CytoSport Muscle Milk.
Muscle Milk is one of the top protein brands on the market today and the ready-to-drink gluten-free meal replacement shake is no exception.
Each gluten-free shake contains 25 grams of protein with 20 essential vitamins and minerals with an amazing taste for which I can personally vouch.
The best part about this shake is its affordability. At less than 13 cents per gram of protein, Muscle Milk ready to drink shakes is a value gluten-free protein shake that anyone can try!
Speaking of CytoSport, a new series is out, the Knockout Protein series!
This gluten-free meal replacement shake has is all! It contains a whopping 40 grams of protein per shake with 20 essential vitamins and minerals. The shake does not contain any gluten AND it only has 220 calories per shake.
If you are trying to increase your protein, maintain a gluten-free diet, or keep those calories down, this gluten-free meal replacement shake can meet your needs!
Last but not least, we recommend trying the Orgain Vegan Nutritional Shake.
This is the only plant-based protein blend on this list, but this gluten-free protein shake has it all!
Each serving contains 21 vitamins and minerals with 16 high-quality grams of protein per shake, but most importantly this shake is clean. This gluten-free meal replacement shake is made completely of organic fruits and veggies, is non-GMO, and does not contain any dairy, soy, or gluten!
Orgain’s Vegan Nutritional shake is a must try for any diet, but for some other plant based protein powder reviews, click here.
Those were our favorite meal replacement shake, but we had a few honorable mentions we wanted to shout out.
- Komplete Gluten-Free Meal Replacement Shake. Komplete’s shake comes with a secret weapon to give you an energy boost: organic coffee. In addition to being gluten-free, the shake is dairy-free and soy-free, and contains 18 grams of plant-based protein. (If you’re not a coffee drinker, Komplete offers vanilla and chocolate options as well).
- Vega One Organic All-In-One Nutritional Gluten-Free Meal Replacement Shake. Vega One’s plant-based gluten-free meal replacement shakes comes in easy-to-store powder form and contains 50% of your recommended daily value in 8 different vitamins and minerals. In addition to being gluten-free, this particular shake contains probiotics, which contribute to digestive health by balancing the healthy bacteria in your digestive system. The powder is offered in five quantity options and six flavor choices, including Coconut Almond and Chocolate Mint.
Which are the best gluten-free meal replacement shakes for weight loss?
You may have noticed that we talked about the weight loss benefits of meal replacement shakes in general earlier in the article, but the list wasn’t specifically tailored towards gluten-free shakes specifically used for weight loss.
The reason is simple, any of the meal replacement shakes above could technically be considered gluten-free shakes for weight loss if they’re being appropriately used in the mix of your entire diet. Meal replacement shakes inherently are lighter than a full meal and typically mean less calories, so as long as you plan accordingly any of our picks can be considered gluten-free meal replacement shakes for weight loss.
Your Next Steps
Living a gluten-free lifestyle is considered trendy by those who live it by choice, and a curse by those with celiac disease. Whether you fall at either end of this spectrum or somewhere in between, you don’t have to be a slave to your eating choices. If you’re new to living gluten-free, your first step should be finding a group — whether that be a Facebook group, a local meeting, or something else entirely — of like-minded people who share your goals. Maybe you’re looking for a place to share tips for avoiding gluten on a busy schedule, or a group of fellow parents who want non-invasive options for improving behavior issues in their children. Research is the key.
The gluten-free community is truly transforming the world of nutrition, because there are now options for everyone, no matter your goals. Meal replacement shakes can be quick, easy, and affordable — even without gluten.