Is it Safe to Have Meal Replacement Shakes While Pregnant?

You probably already know about alcohol, cigarettes, and oily fish, but is it safe to have meal replacement shakes while pregnant? This article will help you to uncover the truth.

It is safe to consume most meal replacement shakes during pregnancy, and it can in fact be beneficial. However, as meal replacement shakes often contain added vitamins and minerals, you should double-check with your doctor to ensure that you are not overconsuming certain nutrients.

Now that we have the answer, let’s take a closer look at what the science says.

Is it Safe to Have Meal Replacement Shakes While Pregnant?

As wonderful as pregnancy can be, it does bring with it a lot of questions about what foods are safe or unsafe to eat. Something that many pregnant women notice is that a lot of foods that are considered perfectly safe are suddenly considered potential dangers.

Nutritionists, dieticians, and doctors prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to giving advice to pregnant women, which is completely understandable.

However, sometimes this caution is based on a lack of evidence rather than on data or studies. As you can imagine, there aren’t many studies that are performed on pregnant women.

For example, while we know that a supplement such as creatine monohydrate is perfectly safe, and it is likely that it could actually be beneficial for pregnant women [1][2], most experts would advise against taking it. Just in case.

Protein Powder and Pregnancy

If you go online, you will find numerous articles arguing against the use of protein powders or meal replacement shakes for pregnant women. But these are based on outdated fears about protein powder quality, and a lot of the arguments make little sense.

For example, one article argues that pregnant women should avoid protein powders because people in Western countries already consume enough protein. But people in Western countries are not a monolith, there are many people who are vegan or vegetarian, who may not be getting enough protein in their diet.

Overweight or obese people may be getting a lot of protein, but they will also be getting way too many carbohydrates and fats. Increasing their protein intake could help them to reduce their carb and fat intake, lose weight, and improve their health.

Also, there are no dangers associated with a high-protein diet. A recent study in Ireland found that half of adults over 40 are only consuming 50% of their recommended intake.

Another argument against protein shakes is that they may contain caffeine or be high in sugar. Firstly, contrary to the reports from several articles, the vast majority of protein powders are caffeine-free. Avoid coffee-flavoured protein powders, and you are unlikely to ever see a protein powder with caffeine.

Secondly, even if half of all protein powders did contain caffeine, you could just choose the protein powders that didn’t. That’s like avoiding sandwiches in case they have peanuts because you’re allergic. Just choose the ones that don’t have peanuts and you’ll be fine.

What is so frustrating, is that a look at the relevant literature leads you to studies that have found protein powder to be beneficial to pregnant women in certain cases. A 2013 review found that women who were under consuming protein could benefit from protein supplementation [3].

That being said, overconsumption of protein may affect foetal growth, in the same way, that under consumption can.

Bottom Line: Protein powders are perfectly safe to consume when pregnant, provided your overall protein intake is not excessive. As many people tend to under-consume protein, these protein powders may even be beneficial.

Meal Replacement Shakes and Pregnancy

A lot of the arguments against meal replacement shakes also focus on their protein content. But in truth, meal replacement shakes are better than protein powders, as they offer a more balanced formula. But let’s put aside the protein content for a minute, as that is not the only issue that is raised.

One of the arguments against meal replacements during pregnancy is that it is better to eat “real” foods. But this kind of misses the point in our opinion:

  • People often take meal replacements because they struggle to find the time to cook nutritious meals, being pregnant can only exacerbate this issue.

The idea that meal replacement shakes are not real food should also be discussed. While some meal replacement shakes have poor quality, artificial ingredients, this is not the case for all meal replacements.

What qualifies as real food? Foods made from powder? That would disqualify any food that uses flour (bread). Foods should be eaten? What about stews, soups, casseroles, and smoothies?

Meal Replacement Shakes and Weight Gain

One argument against meal replacement shakes is that women need to gain weight during their pregnancy, and meal replacement shakes will lead to weight loss. This is only true if taking a meal replacement shake leads to a calorie deficit.

You could eat three meals per day and add in a meal replacement shake and you would be gaining weight in a healthy manner. Or you could replace one meal with a meal replacement shake and increase the number of calories you eat from your other meals, or from snacks.

Advice from the Mayo Clinic is that you should aim to gain 5-9 kg during a single pregnancy, and 11-19 kg if you are carrying twins. Meal replacement shakes can help with this. Adding in fruit and vegetables, or using milk instead of water could also help with healthy weight gain. We have an entire article on tips and tricks to customising your Rootana shake.

Pregnant Woman/Meal Replacement Study

A 2018 study by Suzanne Phelan PhD looked at whether meal replacement shakes could help to prevent excessive weight gain during pregnancy [4]. While gaining weight is important for giving birth to a healthy baby, and is encouraged, excessive weight gain can negatively affect the health of the mother.

The study split pregnant women into two groups. One group received dietary advice and check-ups throughout their pregnancy, while the other group received meal replacement shakes. Researchers found that the meal replacement group gained less weight during pregnancy and found it easier to return to their previous weight after giving birth.

 

“Given the role of persistent obesity after pregnancy on long-term maternal health and the importance of beginning subsequent pregnancies at the healthiest possible weight, comprehensive prenatal interventions may need to continue during the postpartum period to sustain favorable weight changes attained during pregnancy,” the researchers wrote. “In the long term, a model of care that integrates preconception, pregnancy and postpartum care may be needed to reduce obesity and related comorbidities in childbearing women.” [5]

 

This is not to say that meal replacements are the best option for pregnant women, they are one option, and some women who are overweight or obese may find them more effective than continuing with their normal diet.

What the study did demonstrate is that taking meal replacement shakes does not endanger the mother or baby and may even improve their health.

What About Vitamins & Minerals?

One legitimate concern for pregnant women when it comes to meal replacement shakes is that the shakes often contain vitamins and minerals. This is ordinarily a very good thing; however, many pregnant women often take vitamin and mineral supplements. Having both could cause you to overconsume certain nutrients.

To avoid this, talk to your doctor about your options. A meal replacement shake may combine well with certain multivitamins, or it may supplant them.

Is it Safe to Have Meal Replacement Shakes While Pregnant? Final Thoughts

Meal replacement shakes can be beneficial to pregnant women, and work best as part of a healthy and varied diet. They are not dangerous and have been used safely in medical studies for a while now with no ill effects.

It is still advisable to talk to your doctor first, this is standard advice for any dietary changes when you are pregnant. But do not mistake caution for evidence of danger.

 

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4007139/

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24766646/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3827488/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8142600/

[5] https://www.healio.com/news/endocrinology/20181212/meal-replacement-during-pregnancy-fails-to-reduce-postpartum-weight-retention

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.