Can you trust the shakes and snacks that claim they can replace meals?

Protein bombs! Energy bars! Breakfast drinks! Can you trust the new shakes and snacks that claim they can replace ALL meals… What do YOU think?

Recent studies show we’re far more likely to make healthy food choices when we sit down at the dinner table, than we are when eating alone or on-the-go

Sitting down to a good meal is one of life’s pleasures. It’s not just how we fuel our bodies: the cooking and sharing of a meal is about socialising, interacting and savouring flavours.

Recent studies show we’re far more likely to make healthy food choices when we sit down at the dinner table, than we are when eating alone or on-the-go.

Yet, according to surveys, almost half of Britons struggle to find time for all three meals in a day, fuelling themselves intermittently on snacks instead. And as for ‘the most important meal of the day’ – 25 million of us simply don’t have the time most days to squeeze breakfast in.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that recent years have seen the emergence of a new kind of food that claims to revolutionise on-the-go eating.

Meal replacement shakes and bars were once mainly aimed at slimmers looking for a convenient way to cut calories, or at body builders looking for a workout supplement. But a new wave of ready-made snacks or drinks, many of which are now available on the High Street, is aimed at anyone looking for a nutritional boost and provide all our daily calorie, vitamins and minerals – or so it’s claimed by the manufacturers.

Take Huel, a powder that when mixed with water delivers what the UK-based makers say is a nutritionally complete meal. Demand for it is huge: more than 30 million of these ‘meals’ have been sold since 2015, and the company is set to turn over more than £45 million this year.

Another phenomenon is Soylent, which has a cult following among California’s Silicon Valley tech workers and any others who feel that stopping work for lunch is simply an old-fashioned annoyance. Soylent is a filtered water and soya drink containing protein, carbohydrates vitamins and minerals – but lacking in fibre.

Another phenomenon is Soylent, which has a cult following among California’s Silicon Valley tech workers and any others who feel that stopping work for lunch is simply an old-fashioned annoyance. Soylent is a filtered water and soya drink containing protein, carbohydrates vitamins and minerals – but lacking in fibre

Then there is the vast array of breakfast replacement bars, marketed at the time-pressed commuter as the ideal, healthy convenience food for grabbing on-the-go. And protein snacks, which provide a boost after exercise – or just a nutritious alternative to an afternoon chocolate bar.

Some fans exist on nothing but these products for weeks, or even months, at a time. But can they really be as adequate a fuel as real food? And are they a better choice than the fast food junk in the canteen vending machine? We analysed some of the leading brands on the market…

All nutrition given is per serving


Quaker Oat So Simple Morning Cereal Bars Golden Syrup


Cals 142 Fat 3.5g Sugars 5.5g, Fibre 2.4g Protein 2.9g Salt 0.18g

What’s in it? Crispy cereal pieces, 51 per cent oats, added sugar, oil and oligofructose, a type of fibre.

Verdict: The king of healthy breakfasts is a bowl of porridge and a banana. A 50g bowl of slow-releasing oats made up with 250ml semi-skimmed milk contains about 300 calories and 4g of fibre, which is needed for healthy digestion. A banana provides another 100 calories and 1.4g fibre, and this will keep you full until lunch.

This cereal bar is an insubstantial substitute at only 142 calories and just over 2g of fibre. There’s no bone-boosting calcium that you’d get from milk, and nearly a heaped teaspoon of free (added) sugar in each tiny bar. We should limit this type of sugar to seven teaspoons daily. Try one of those ready-made porridge pots instead.

SCORE ★★★★★

Quaker Oat So Simple Morning Cereal Bars Golden Syrup

Weetabix on the go Protein Strawberry & Raspberry Breakfast Drink, 275ml


Cals 211 Fat 3.2g Sugars 12g

Fibre 6.3g Protein 21g Salt 0.6g

What’s in it? Milk, added protein and wheat fibre, vitamins, thickeners, flavourings and one per cent fruit.

Verdict: One bottle provides as much protein as three eggs and more fibre than two slices of wholemeal bread – but only 211 calories, roughly half the amount you’d get if you actually ate the whole foods. This is because the nutritional content of this drink is provided by powders mixed with water. Health chiefs recommend we aim for 1,800 calories a day in total – roughly 400 for breakfast and 600 each for lunch and dinner, with the rest in snacks and drinks.

This drink also contains the same amount of tooth-decaying free sugar as three chocolate chip cookies. The tiny amount of fruit doesn’t count as one of your five a day. A couple of scrambled eggs on toast, and an apple would be a far more filling choice.

SCORE ★★★★★

Kellogg’s Nutrigrain Breakfast Bakes Raisin bar

£2.30 for six,

Cals 170 Fat 4g Sugars 17g Fibre 1.1g Protein 1.9g Salt 1.9g

What’s in it Flour, oats, sugar, sunflower oil, additives including raising agents and vitamins.

Verdict: Eating porridge or toast for breakfast is an easy way of packing in fibre, which is important for protecting against bowel cancer.

Replacing those nutritious breakfasts with one of these bars would leave you lacking in both fibre and protein, which should be eaten at breakfast to induce fullness.

To make matters worse, the bars contain a whopping four-and-a-quarter teaspoons of free sugars – over half the recommended daily limit. In terms of sugar, one of these bakes is like eating three fingers of a KitKat.

SCORE ★★★★★

Huel Powder v2.3 vanilla flavour


Huel Powder v2.3 vanilla flavour

£40.50 for a four-week supply,

Cals 400 Fat 13.1g Sugar 1.2g Fibre 7.7g Protein 29.5g Salt 0.7g

What’s in it? Oats, pea and brown rice protein, flax seed, sunflower and coconut oils, sea salt, 26 vitamins and minerals, vanilla flavouring and sucralose sweetener.

Verdict: Add three scoops of the grainy powder to 400ml of cold water, five times a day, to consume all the nutrients your body needs, according to the company. One shake contains similar amounts of carbohydrates, protein and phytonutrients (plant chemicals that may have disease-protective effects) to a lunchtime chicken salad – but drinking three of these daily is not as nutritionally sound as eating real food.

According to a 2015 report, chewing suppresses hunger by stimulating the production of gut hormones that give us a feeling of fullness.

Drinking almost a third of your daily fibre intake without other solid foods to digest would result in excess gas, bloating, and possibly diarrhoea. As an occasional ‘meal’ for the time-pressed, this shake could be useful. But it’s no ‘better’ than a sandwich.

SCORE ★★★★★

Twenny Bars

£8.37 for five bars,

Cals 384 Fat 15g Sugars 5.4g Fibre 9.4g Protein 20g Salt 1.2g

What’s in it? Oats, glycerol and maltitol (sweeteners that occur naturally, but are usually man-made), rapeseed oil, soya protein and all the major vitamin and minerals.

Verdict: One bar provides almost half of your daily protein and a third of your recommended fibre, as well as vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A to E, calcium, magnesium and zinc, with only a tiny amount of added sugar.

A potential snag with this bar is that maltitol has laxative effects, so you probably shouldn’t eat more than one a day. One of these could make a filling lunch, especially with a piece of fruit that would up the already fairly decent fibre content. But an easy meal of baked beans and grated cheddar cheese on seeded toast would be quite similar in calories, fat, protein, fibre and carbs.

SCORE ★★★★★

Purition Wholefood Nutrition Strawberry

£11.25 for 7 x 40g servings,

Cals 186 Fat 12g Sugars 2g Fibre 6.7g Protein 15.8g Salt 0.1g

What’s in it? Whey protein, mixed seeds, freeze-dried strawberries, almonds, nutritional yeast, psyllium and pectin (types of fibre), stevia sweetener.

Verdict: Purition claim their powder, which is added to milk, contains ‘simple whole food ingredients your grandmother would recognise’.

But given a full meal is supposed to contain about 600 calories, this (at 306 calories with semi-skimmed milk) is more in snack territory.

The manufacturer’s advice to substitute breakfast and lunch with the shakes and eat a normal evening meal could mean consuming as few as 1,000 calories.

The drink does have good amounts of protein and fibre, but a bowl of lentil soup has as much protein and more fibre.

SCORE ★★★★★

Clif Bar, Chocolate Chip


Clif Bar, Chocolate Chip

£1.59, evans

Cals 271 Fat 5.1g Sugars 21g

Fibre 4.1g Protein 9.2g Salt 0.3g

What’s in it? Rice syrup, oats, soya protein, oat fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Verdict: One bar provides more than two-thirds of your 30g-a-day free sugar limit – and almost the same amount as both fingers of a Twix. The bar does supply lots of vitamins and minerals but if you’re hungry between meals, a tuna salad sandwich on brown bread is a real food alternative with similar nutrition, and far less sugar.

SCORE ★★★★★

Bounce Mint Protein Bomb Energy Ball


Cals 182 Fat 8.7g Sugars 11g Fibre 2.7g Protein 9.2g Salt 0.3g

What’s in it? Sunflower seeds, rice syrup, concentrated grape juice, whey and pea proteins, cocoa, oats, flavourings.

Verdict: One ball contains roughly a quarter of our daily recommended protein intake, so eating one would limit between-meal hunger pangs and raise energy levels for a couple of hours. But the three teaspoons of free sugars from concentrated grape juice don’t come with the Vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants you’d find in actual whole fruit.

Sunflower seeds are a good source of iron, and cell-protective Vitamin E, but a 170g pot of Greek yogurt with a handful of berries will give as much energy, without the added sugar, and for only 118 calories.

SCORE ★★★★★

Deliciously Ella Cacao & Almond Energy Ball


Cals 180 Fat 6.1g Sugars 21.9g Fibre 2.4g Protein 5g Salt 0.1g

What’s in it? Dates, almonds, cacao, almond butter, coconut oil and salt.

Verdict: Each tiny bite-sized ball contains around four teaspoons, or 22g, of sugar. You’d find the same amount in two large bananas, but Ella’s snack provides half the fibre the real fruit would.

One ball should provide a relatively slow burn energy boost, but the stickiness of dates means the sugars stick to teeth and can contribute to tooth decay.

Two digestives and a big handful of strawberries will deliver a similar amount of fibre and calories, and less sugar.

SCORE ★★★★★

Health notes 

A ground-breaking photography book is aiming to challenge the public’s perception of Down’s syndrome.

For the project, 40 of the world’s most celebrated photographers were asked to shoot models who have the genetic condition.

The arresting images, such as the one above, are online and will be collated to form a book titled Redefining Beauty, which will be available to buy later this year.

A ground-breaking photography book is aiming to challenge the public’s perception of Down’s syndrome

Roughly one in every 1,000 babies will be born with Down’s syndrome, which is caused by the presence of all or part of an extra chromosome.

It is typically associated with physical growth delays, mild to moderate intellectual disability, and characteristic facial features.

According to Israeli choreographer Daniel Vais, who came up with the idea, styling these models as if they were in a major fashion campaign will ‘challenge opinions and understanding of beauty in culture’.


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