"Meal Replacements"

by Frederic Patenaude

FROM A READER: “I am curious what your opinions are concerning a certain product that I use called the 'Ultimate Meal.' This product claims to have everything that is needed for optimum health. Being a full time student that also has a job, I particularly enjoy the idea of having a quick meal that supposedly fulfills all my needs.”

ANSWER FROM FREDERIC: The idea that got you to buy a meal replacement powder is based on a few false premises:

1- “It is important to have regular, 'balanced' meals.”

According to our nutritionists, a “balanced” meal is composed of carbohydrates, protein and fat in the right proportions. This meal should also contain all the necessary amino acids, vitamins and minerals. A meal of potatoes (carbohydrate), with baked fish (protein), and a salad containing a dressing of olive oil (fat), would be, in their opinion, a balanced meal. That meal might be a digestive disaster for most people, but that aside, we don't find any evidence that our bodies need to receive nutrition in such a manner. If we look all around the world, we see different cultures that have enjoyed excellent health eating far from “balanced” meals. In China, rice with vegetables is a meal. In the Great North, the Eskimos have lived on almost nothing but meat. The Hunzas regularly ate meals composed of vegetables and some chapati bread. In many parts of France, the breakfast consists of nothing more than bread with olive oil or tomato sauce. If we look at wild animals, we also see that they do not eat “balanced” meals. A meal for an orangutan might consist of nothing more than rambutan (a tropical fruit) or durian (another tropical fruit). On occasion, the orangutan will feast on ants. Would our nutritionists ever critique their diets and recommend that we feed the orangutans in the zoos “balanced” meals? There is absolutely no need to worry about eating a very simple diet where most of our meals are composed of a few foods only. As long as we eat a large variety of food from day to day, it doesn't matter if our meals are not composed of “carbohydrates, protein and fat”.

2- “It is not okay to skip a meal.”

A popular myth is that skipping meals is very bad for health. We are told that even if we are not hungry, we should eat something instead of skipping the meal. The great hygienists of the past have always said that one should not eat under stress, pain, fever, and absence of hunger. It is better to wait for a peaceful moment to eat rather than to eat in a rush and under stress. The body will be able to utilize the foods much better and no digestive problems will follow. In the meantime, a little short fast is excellent for health as it provides rest to the digestive organs. Do I need to remind you that all around the world, most people have only two meals a day without snacks, that skipping a meal is fairly common and that those people, under the right circumstances, generally live much longer that our overfed American comrades with their three “balanced” meals a day plus snacks?

3- “People don't have time to eat well.”

After debunking the myth of the “balanced” meal, I don't see how someone could be tempted to buy those “convenient” and expensive meal replacement powders. How much time does it take to blend 5 or 6 bananas in water and drink them? That's a meal. And that meal will prove to be far more nutritious (and delicious) that eating a meal replacement bar or shake. How much time does it take to eat a few apples? How much time does it take to eat some Brazil nuts with sticks of celery? How much time does it take to eat a few persimmons? You see if you really look at it that way, everybody has time to eat healthily. The healthiest foods, fruits and vegetables, require no preparation, so how could someone not have time to eat well?

That being said, the particular product mentioned isn't all that bad, but the reasons the company gives for taking it are wrong, in my opinion. Eating well isn't that complicated and a well-rounded, varied diet will provide complete nutrition, making those powders unnecessary.

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