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All About Low FODMAP Meal Replacements & Protein Shakes

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Low FODMAP Meal Replacements and Protein Shakes

As a dietitian specializing in the low FODMAP diet and weight management protein shakes and meal replacement shakes are a frequent topic. You may be wondering, what is the difference between a protein shake and a meal replacement shake?

  • Meal replacement shakes often contain protein, carbohydrates, fats, and are fortified with micronutrients
  • Protein shakes are often more protein based.

Three glasses lined up - vanilla, strawberry and chocolate Vega Shakes.
Meal replacements are encouraged if they are providing the majority of one’s calorie needs. Either is acceptable if used as an occasional meal substitute, snack, or supplement. Ultimately, I want my patients to cook and eat real whole foods, however this is not always a realistic approach.

Life can be hectic and reaching for a protein shake can be a better option than skipping a meal or grabbing a less nutritious snack such as a candy bar.

It is highly recommended to seek advice from a dietitian before starting the low FODMAP diet and when devising a nutrition plan for weight loss or gain, especially when using meal replacements since these vary greatly and may be contraindicated with some medical conditions.

Pros of Meal Replacements & Protein Shakes

    • A quick and easy portable meal or snack that one can reach for when away from home or when time is short.
    • A treatment option for weight reduction, meal replacements can help fill in the gaps instead of skipping meals and can provide a calorie and portion controlled meal. Meal replacement shakes are often lower in calories than a typical meal contributing to an energy deficit.
    • Provide supplemental protein to help meet increased protein needs for wound healing, cancer therapies, and hemodialysis.
    • Promote weight gain in those struggling with involuntary weight loss. Weight gain can occur if shakes are consumed in addition to one’s normal eating habits such as in-between meals or before bed. Meal replacement shakes add extra calories without negatively affecting one’s appetite since they pass through the stomach faster than solid foods.
    • Pre and post exercise fuel. Liquid calories such as meal replacements and sports drinks are often encouraged prior to intense workouts since they leave the stomach quickly and are less likely to cause gastric distress during a workout. A protein-carbohydrate rich snack is often advised after an intense workout or endurance exercises to replete glycogen stores and achieve muscle mass gains.
    • Boost vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber in dietary patterns that lack adequate nutrient dense foods.
    • Easy to swallow for those with swallowing difficulties.

Cons of Meal Replacements & Protein Shakes

    • They empty out of the stomach which can result in hunger sooner than consuming a solid, fiber rich meal.
    • Promote boredom if consumed in place of meals for a long duration of time.
    • Challenges when transitioning to regular foods if consumed as main nutrition source with a weight loss program since one often does not always learn how to make healthful choices with real foods. Often times when the program ceases, we return to our old eating habits and weight regain can occur.
    • Cost – on average prices meal replacement shakes range from $2 to $5 each. When used as a sole source of nutrition in a weight loss program this can cost upwards of $300 per month.
    • May contain artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, sugar and less than desirable food additives.
    • Lack intact dietary fibers found in whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Good for On-The-Go

Low FODMAP meal replacements and protein shakes can be helpful for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) since they are easily digestible, convenient and provide a “safe” meal or snack option. These can be easily consumed when hunger strikes, which can help keep food anxiety under control and portions in check by helping one not get overly hungry.

Read Labels for FODMAPs

Unfortunately, many meal replacements and protein shakes contain high FODMAP ingredients making them unsafe for the Elimination phase. They might also contain superfoods, herbal supplements, sweeteners, isolated fibers, digestive enzymes, and probiotics which have unknown FODMAP content and/or might trigger IBs symptoms.

As a RDN I often help my patients decipher food labels to determine if a product is FODMAP appropriate using my best clinical judgment since few protein shakes and meal replacements are low FODMAP certified.

High FODMAP Foods With Low FODMAP Serving Sizes

For example, you might come across beet powder. Beets are considered moderate to high in fructans and galactans with serving sizes of 30 grams or more. Beet powder used for coloring is likely safe, however a large dose of beet powder which may be added to provide a therapeutic dose to enhance athletic performance, may be too much and probably best to avoid in the Elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet.

Broccoli crowns are safe up to ¾ cup (75 g), however this is hard to translate what this equates to in broccoli powder.

Portion & Serving Size Counts

The low FODMAP diet is not black and white. A 1 teaspoon (5 g) amount of agave has been lab tested as Low FODMAP. But more than that veers into Moderate and High FODMAP territory.

What this means is that if an ingredient is far down on an ingredient list and present in small quantities, your product choice might be fine.

There are lab tested and certified products that contain small amounts of what one typically thinks of as high FODMAP ingredients.

Always pay attention to where an item is on an ingredient list, the recommended serving sizes and, to take the guesswork out of the equation, whether the product has been lab tested and certified as low FODMAP.

We have an article called High FODMAP Foods With Low FODMAP Serving Sizes that will be helpful for you to review.

Lab Tested Low FODMAP Certified Protein Sources

The following proteins have been lab tested and certified low FODMAP by Monash University or FODMAP Friendly either as standalone ingredients or are used in commercially prepared products.

Please refer to Monash University & FODMAP Friendly smartphone apps for serving size amounts and/or the products that these items appear within:

  • Casein
  • Egg Protein
  • Fenuflakes (high protein-high fiber, low fat-ultra low carb derived from fenugreek seeds)
  • Hemp Protein
  • Milk Protein Isolate
  • Pea Protein
  • Pea Protein Isolate
  • Pumpkin Seed Protein
  • Rice Protein
  • Sacha Inchi Protein
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Sprouted Brown Rice Protein
  • Sunflower Protein
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate

Additional Information On Pea Protein & Soy Protein

For a full discussion of pea protein and pea protein isolate, please refer to our article, Is Pea Protein Low FODMAP? The short answer is that both Monash University and FODMAP Friendly have lab tested pea protein isolate on its own and also products that contain both pea protein and pea protein isolate and they each do have low FODMAP serving sizes.

How Pea Protein Is Made

Pea protein is made from dried yellow peas by removing the outer shell (which contains the insoluble fibers) of the pea through a milling process and then removing the fiber and starch (oligosaccharides) in a wet filtration process.

Pea proteins are not all the same as the protein and carbohydrate content many vary from brand to brand based on processing. Pea protein or pea protein concentrate may contain small amounts of the pea fiber versus a pea protein isolate. Opting for a pea protein isolate based protein powder or one containing 0-1 gram of carbohydrates  is likely to have a lower FODMAP content.

My recommendations are to approach pea protein with caution and test tolerance with a small portion and increase as tolerated to full serving. If you have been a regular pea protein consumer and IBS symptoms are under good control, please continue to enjoy this plant-based protein powder.

Soy Protein

Soy protein isolate is a protein made from defatted soy flakes where the fiber and sugars (which contain the oligosaccharides) are separated and removed. Soy protein isolate is 90% protein and appears in products lab tested and certified by FODMAP Friendly, so we know that some amount is low FODMAP on its own. Soy protein concentrate contains more of the fiber and sugars (aka oligosachharides) resulting in a higher FODMAP content.

High FODMAP Ingredients To Avoid

The following chart shows you some ingredients that are often found in protein shakes and meal replacements and are considered high FODMAP. We suggest avoiding these during Elimination. Note that while natural flavors can be an issue, if they are in amounts of 2% or less they are unlikely to trigger symptoms.

High FODMAP Ingredients often found in protein drinks

 

Ingredients With Unknown FODMAP Content

The following chart shows you some ingredients that are commonly found in protein shakes and meal replacements that have unknown FODMAP content or create an unknown variable. We suggest avoiding all of these during Elimination. Please consider reading our article on enzyme supplementation.

 

Unknown FODMAP content of meal replacement ingredients

 

Low FODMAP Protein & Meal Replacement Additional Ingredients

Most shakes and meal replacement drinks contain additional ingredients beyond protein, often in smaller amounts. All of these ingredients listed below have appeared in lab tested and certified low FODMAP products.

Items that can be found on the Monash and FODMAP Friendly apps (such as acai, agave, cocoa and honey) are not included below, as they can be looked up individually.

The purpose of this list is to demonstrate that some ingredients that have not been lab tested on their own have been used in certified low FODMAP products and therefore deserve a second look. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather to show some examples.

Since these ingredients have not been lab tested on their own, we do not know their exact low FODMAP serving sizes.

  • Beet Juice Powder
  • Camu Camu Powder
  • Cold Brew Coffee Extract
  • Cordyceps
  • Dried Raspberries
  • Ginseng
  • Greens Blend (OWYN products: Broccoli, Spinach, Kale),
  • Hibiscus Flower Powder
  • Kelp Powder
  • Lemon Oil
  • Maitake
  • Maple Sugar
  • Monk Fruit
  • Monk Fruit Extract
  • Peppermint Oil
  • Vegetable Fiber

What About Bone Broth?

We are calling out bone broth on its own as it is a very trendy option.

Bone broth contains several amino acids including L-glutamine, proline and glycine found in the collagen. These amino acids have been touted as anti-inflammatory agents that help heal “leaky gut” by improving intestinal integrity, however, there is inadequate evidence to support bone broth or collagen for IBS symptom improvement.

Recent research suggests increased risk of lead contamination with diets rich in bone broth. As a RDN I would advise caution with bone broth powder and only consume on an infrequent basis.

You can also read more about bone broth in our article on IBS Diet Fads.


WHAT TO BUY?

Everything individually listed below is easily available in our Amazon Shop – just follow this link.

Certified Low FODMAP Products

Please note that the OWYN products were lab tested and certified by Monash University and while they no longer participate in the certified licensing program, the ingredients and formulas have remained the same. This was confirmed via private correspondence with OWYN.

The Three Arrows Collagen Peptides were lab tested and certified by FODMAP Friendly and while they no longer participate in the certified licensing program, the ingredients and formulas have remained the same. This was confirmed via private correspondence with Three Arrows.

Additional Products To Try

When trialing a most-likely low FODMAP product start with half of the serving size when symptoms are under good control to test your tolerance. If you do fine after 24 hours of observation increase to full serving and monitor symptoms.

Our Smoothie Tip

Once you buy your protein powder you are going to want to use it to make a smoothie or beverage. Here are my low FODMAP high protein smoothie Tips. Use your Monash app to keep track of the serving sizes for additional ingredients and be mindful to avoid stacking.

Overhead of a purple smoothie with mint leaves and a raspberry with text describing a smoothie tip about protein powders

The Takeaway

Meal replacement shakes and protein shakes can be part of your low FODMAP lifestyle.

If a product has been lab tested and certified by Monash University or FODMAP Friendly, then you can rest assured that it is low FODMAP, if used as directed. I have personally vetted the products listed under “Additional Products To Try”. There are many products to incorporate into your low FODMAP diet, whether you want unflavored, chocolate or fruit flavored, animal-based proteins, such as egg or whey, or whether you are looking for plant-based proteins.

It is sometimes easy to overdue portions when it comes to drinks and smoothies. As always, begin with recommended serving sizes and eat to your tolerance.

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