Buying Guide For The Best Meal Replacement Shakes For Seniors

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Fact-checked by: Kathryn Bubeck, Registered Dietician

While a nutritious whole food diet is always the best option, meal replacement shakes have their place in the diet of seniors and the elderly. Common uses are for seniors who have trouble maintaining weight or who cannot consume regular food due to various medical issues.

Income Disclosure: I recommend products based on my personal experience working with seniors. I may earn a commission on items purchased from links in this guide. Learn More.

Many seniors struggle with unwanted weight loss as they grow older. This can come from a lack of nutrition, medication side effects, or medical conditions that prevent them from eating the foods they normally would. It’s important to find a reliable method for offsetting this weight loss. The first option should always be working on a balanced diet plan that contains the calories and nutrients needed to maintain a healthy weight.

Adding meal replacement shakes to the diet plan can help improve the results. These are a specific type of nutritional drink that are designed to replace entire meals. They contain a very specific balance of nutrients, proteins, vitamins, and calories.

Companies sell them in many different formulas and flavors. Identifying which shake is best can be difficult if it’s your first time. That’s why we’ve created this in-depth buying guide for meal replacement shakes for the elderly, including some of the best shakes currently on the market.

Should Seniors Use Meal Replacement Shakes?

Meal replacement shakes are an excellent dietary tool because of their flexibility. They can help a senior lose weight, gain weight, maintain their current weight, and improve their overall health.

Of course, if used improperly, then a replacement shake could lead to excessive weight gain. Seniors who are perfectly capable of eating a healthy, well-balanced diet without restrictions should consider limiting their reliance on shakes. Seniors who struggle to eat whole foods or lack certain nutrients in their diet should consider using these shakes to round out their meal plans.

There are several factors that a senior should consider before they begin using meal replacement shakes. The first is whether or not it will help them meet their daily calorie needs. Healthy seniors shouldn’t take in calories beyond their recommended daily limit if they are not getting regular exercise.

Second, if they have diabetes, then they need to ensure that the shake will not interfere with their condition. Some shakes are designed more for flavor than their health benefits. They may include excessive amounts of sugar that cause more harm than good.

If either of these factors is not a problem and the senior is lacking adequate nutrition in their regular meals, then meal replacement shakes are a great idea.

RELATED: Debunking Nutrition Myths for Older Adults

Benefits of Meal Replacement Shakes for Seniors and Older Adults

The main benefit of meal replacement drinks is that they can fill large nutrition gaps that many of the elderly are experiencing. There is such a large variety of shakes on the market that you’re guaranteed to find a drink that contains the key nutrients missing from your daily routine.

Increased Protein Intake

Are you lacking sufficient high-quality sources of protein? There are meal replacement shakes that contain extra protein (see my favorites here). What about specific vitamins like vitamin D, E, or B12? There are shakes fortified with those vitamins as well.

Easy to Digest Nutrition

Another benefit is how they make large quantities of nutrients readily available and easy to ingest. Seniors may battle with health conditions like dysphagia that make it difficult to swallow solid foods. It’s estimated that dysphagia affects anywhere from 10 to 33 percent of senior citizens. There are additional conditions, ranging from a loss of teeth to having a stroke, which can negatively affect a senior’s ability to swallow solid foods.

Multi-Use

The third benefit of meal replacement drinks is their ability to fill several potential roles in a senior’s diet. These shakes can be relied on as full replacements for certain meals. This can help assist with weight loss since the shakes generally have fewer calories than a traditional meal.

However, they can also be consumed in addition to normal or small-sized meals to increase their caloric intake and gain weight. Another option is to carefully combine them with meals and snacks to maintain the recommended daily intake of calories but with a broader variety of nutrients.

Potential Disadvantages of Meal Replacement Shakes for Seniors and Older Adults

As with any food product, there are going to be potential disadvantages depending on how often you consume the product, where you purchase the product, and what ingredients are used in the product.

You can overcome most of these advantages on your own with research, careful shopping, and self-control. Let’s take a moment to look at the potential disadvantages of meal replacement shakes for older adults.

Varied Ingredient Quality

The first potential problem is the ingredients. Some manufacturers are more interested in producing extremely cheap shakes or shakes that focus entirely on the taste. There’s nothing wrong with finding an affordable shake that tastes good, but you should always check the ingredients list before committing. The brand may rely heavily on artificial ingredients to lower the price, boost flavor, and increase longevity. You should aim to purchase shakes that use primarily natural, wholesome ingredients.

Can Lead to Increased Caloric Intake

Meal replacement shakes also lend to the likelihood of overindulgence if not managed properly. This can be really problematic in shakes that taste so good they seem more like a delicious treat than a full meal replacement.

It’s easy to open up a replacement shake and quickly drink it without giving much thought to the many calories you’ve now added to your daily routine. You should always keep track of the calories you consume from meal replacement shakes and try to offset any overindulgence with physical activity or smaller meals during the day.

RELATED: Top Nutrition Tips for Seniors and the Elderly

What Should Seniors Look for When Buying Meal Replacement Shakes?

There are three key factors to look for when shopping for meal replacement shakes for yourself or a senior. They are:

Total Number of Calories

Which values you should look for will depend on your health goals and current lifestyle. Finding a nutritional drink for seniors and elderly folks with the right amount of calories requires considering how many calories you already consume daily, how physically active you are, and what your weight goals are.

Variety of Nutrients

Finding a formula with the right balance of nutrients requires looking at your normal food sources and determining what nutrients are lacking. While your diet may seem balanced, it’s entirely possible you are lacking adequate amounts of beneficial vitamins like vitamin D or B6. The CDC estimates that more than 10 percent of the adult population in the US have a vitamin B6 deficiency. A lack of B6 can lead to dermatitis, glossitis, and decreased immune function.

Quality Ingredients

Finally, you need to investigate the list of ingredients to ensure your shake contains safe and healthy nutrient sources. You may also need to find shakes that cater to specific dietary restrictions. For example, if you want dairy-free, organic or plant-based nutritional ingredients, then you’ll want to consult the ingredients list.

What Are the Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Seniors?

So, considering all this information, here are the meal replacement shakes that I recommend for older adults.

1. Kate Farms Vanilla Nutrition Shake

$48.00 ($4.00/bottle)

These delicious and convenient plant-based shakes come in flavors (vanilla, chocolate, and coffee) with USDA Organic protein and powerful phytonutrients for optimal health.

  • High percentage of phytonutrients sourced from various nutrient-rich foods like green tea, acai, turmeric, and broccoli. 
  • Reputation for using the best ingredients like USDA organic pea protein for high-quality nourishment that keep your aging body fed, energized, and healthy.
  • It comes in three flavors: vanilla, coffee, and chocolate.
See It At KateFarms.com

Kate Farms is known for manufacturing some of the best all-natural, organic meal replacement shakes and formulas for seniors. This shake checks all of the boxes in terms of nutrients, calories, and ingredient quality especially for seniors who prefer plant-based nutrition sources.

Their shakes are made without the allergens that affect millions of adults, including gluten, dairy, and soy. They also don’t include any artificial sweeteners. All of their drinks rely on plant-derived nutrients to supplement existing meal plans. They are also designed for easy use with tube feeding systems as small as 6.5 FR.

The folks at Kate Farms sent me a case of shake to try for myself. I was immediately surprised how much better they tasted than other shakes I have had in the past. There was only smooth goodness and none of that gritty feel or chemical after taste. I tried the chocolate variety and it was almost like drinking a glass of chocolate milk!


2. Ensure Complete Nutrition Shake

$59.94 ($2.50 / Count)
  • 30 grams of protein to promote healing and maintain muscle mass
  • Contains 25 different vitamins and mineral
  • The brand is highly recommended by many doctors and dieticians!
  • Gluten-free formula
  • The Ensure Complete line doesn't use organic ingredients
See It At Amazon
09/18/2021 04:33 pm GMT

Ensure has been a popular health drink since the 1970s. The brand has grown considerably since then and now produces many different protein drinks and meal replacement shakes.

The Ensure Complete line of shakes and formulas is designed to provide a well-balanced supply of nutrition, including 30 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and plenty of vitamins. They contain 40 percent of the daily recommended intake of calcium and 50 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin D. 


3. Garden of Life Vanilla Meal Replacement Powder

$45.49 ($1.33 / Ounce)
  • Made with raw ingredients that are unharmed by heat
  • All ingredients are verified GMO-free and farmed without fertilizers
  • Contains 13 nutrient-dense seeds and grains
  • Each serving only contains 115 calories
  • Needs to be mixed at home
See It At Amazon
09/18/2021 05:04 pm GMT

Similar to Kate Farms, this meal replacement formula uses all-natural ingredients and avoids allergens like soy, dairy, and tree nuts. They also avoid artificial preservatives and useless fillers. All ingredients are USDA certified organic and certified vegan.

This single container of formula can make up to 28 servings of meal replacement shakes. Each shake has 20 grams of organic plant-based protein, 6 grams of fiber, and no more than 1 gram of sugar. It’s made from 44 different high-quality food sources. 13 of those are raw, sprouted ingredients like seeds, beans, and oats.


4. Ka'Chava Superfood Meal Replacement Powder

  • A diverse list of superfoods and nutrients
  • No preservatives or artificial flavors
  • Large serving sizes with ingredients that help limit cravings
  • More expensive than most other brands
  • Not all ingredients are sourced organically
Learn More at Kachava.com

Ka’Chava boasts one of the most impressive lineups of all-natural ingredients. Each pack contains more than 70 different superfoods and nutrients. Like most meal replacements, they are a great source of protein, fats, and carbs. However, they have managed to include 26 additional vitamins and nutrients as well as 9 grams of dietary fiber, probiotics, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The formula increases satiety, which keeps you feeling full for longer and less inclined to snack throughout the day. They are an excellent choice for seniors who are struggling with obesity as they age. They avoid the staple allergens like soy, dairy, gluten, and artificial sweeteners.

All of their nutrients come from natural, plant-based sources like yellow pea protein, organic quinoa, and organic shiitake mushrooms.


5. Orgain Vegan Protein Meal Replacement Powder

$35.04 ($1.09 / Ounce)
  • Each serving has 20 grams of organic, plant-based protein
  • Ingredients are USDA certified organic, vegan, and non-GMO
  • Versatile enough to replace a complete meal or to combine with a small meal
  • Doesn't have some of the important micronutrients seniors need
See It At Amazon
09/18/2021 05:18 pm GMT

Orgain is another brand that focuses on sourcing its nutrients from non-GMO, certified organic foods. Each serving contains 230 calories. That’s enough calories to replace a small meal like breakfast if you are interested in losing weight. It’s also enough to add to a meal if you are a senior who is more interested in gaining weight.

Each serving has 20 grams of organic, plant-based protein sourced from chia seeds, brown rice, and peas. There are 40 superfoods on the ingredient list, including quinoa, kale, ginger root, and turmeric. It’s high in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and thiamine. Unfortunately, it lacks the diverse portfolio of micronutrients that many other shakes contain.


6. Boost Glucose Control

$54.75 ($4.56 / Count)
  • Designed to help manage blood glucose levels while providing a nutritional boost
  • Suitable for lactose-intolerant seniors and those with a gluten sensitivity
  • Makes a great mid-day snack for seniors who want to lose weight
  • Only 190 calories means it is only suitable for replacing small meals or snacks
See It At Amazon
09/18/2021 05:15 pm GMT

Many meal replacement shakes add a lot of sugar to boost the flavor of their product. That makes them inaccessible to seniors who are dealing with type 2 diabetes.

Boost Glucose Control is one of the few shakes on the market designed specifically for patients on a diabetes management plan. Each serving is ready-to-go with 190 calories, 16 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and only 4 grams of sugar.

The specific balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber helps manage blood glucose levels in addition to the reduced sugar content.

Summary and Final Recommendations

Meal replacement shakes can make a great addition to your daily routine if you’re a senior who struggles with weight control or nutrient intake. You can use these shakes to replace entire meals and reduce your calorie intake enough to lose a few pounds.

Some of them work well as snack replacements during the day to manage hunger until the next meal. However you choose to use them, you get the added benefits of dozens of different nutrients that you may not be getting enough of on a daily basis.

About the Expert

Because I strive to provide you with accurate information, I had this article fact-checked by Kathryn Bubeck, RD, LDN a registered dietician in North Carolina. She has dual bachelor degrees in Nutrition and Health Behavior Management and is currently pursuing a medical degree with a focus on oncology.
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