What are the best lactose-free meal replacement shakes?
What is lactose-free?
It is important to clarify that lactose-free is not the same as dairy-free. These two terms are often used synonymously, but there are important differences. Lactose is the sugar in dairy, and although lactose-free products do not contain lactose, they are not necessarily dairy-free. This is important to understand if you have a dairy allergy. Dairy-free products, on the other hand, are necessarily lactose-free.
Lactose is notorious for causing digestive issues, especially for people with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over one in three Americans are lactose intolerant, and the prevalence of IBS is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent in the United States. It follows that you may be lactose intolerant or have IBS and not even know it.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition, and it is unclear why dairy triggers symptoms. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is clearly understood. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy. As a result, it sits in their gut for longer than it should. This gives your gut bacteria more time to eat (the partially digested food). As they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating, cramps, and nausea. Gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon). This can lead to constipation.
Are meal replacements lactose-free?
Some meal replacements are lactose-free, but most are not. This is usually because they contain whey and casein, which are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production. If you want to be certain that your meal replacement is lactose-free, pick one that is dairy-free.
Unfortunately, lactose is not the only thing in meal replacements that can upset your stomach. One look at the ingredient list should should explain why – your average meal replacement is full of ingredients that look nothing like real food. If you have sensitive stomach, or have had trouble digesting meal replacements in the past, avoid ingredients like these.
Before we get into the details, you should know that there are two types of meal replacements, ready-to-drink meal replacement shakes and meal replacement powders. Although store-bought shakes are convenient, we recommend that you make your own shakes with meal replacement powder. This is because ready-to-drink meal replacements contain lots of food additives.
Avoid food additives.
Most meal replacements are full of food additives. Although they are not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, food additives can add up quickly, especially if you drink a meal replacement shake every day. At higher quantities, food additives can cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects.
Many food additives are hard to digest and sit in your gut for longer than they should. This gives your gut bacteria more time to ferment (eat), and as they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating, cramps, and nausea.
In the short term, gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon), which can lead to constipation. In the long term, food additives disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestine and trigger the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic inflammatory disorders.
Keep an eye out for artificial sweeteners too. Artificial sweeteners are poorly absorbed by the gut, which means that they feed your hungry gut bacteria. They also alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious GI problems and widespread inflammation.
Finally, artificial sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, can cause diarrhea because they draw water into your gut. Now you might finally have something to blame for those post-protein shake trips to the bathroom.
Here is a list of the most common food additives in meal replacements:
acacia gum, acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, aspartame, carrageenan, cellulose gum, dextrin, dextrose, erythritol, gellan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, inulin, locust bean gum, “natural” flavors*, maltodextrin, rice syrup solids, soy lecithin, silica, sucralose, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum, xylitol
When it comes to identifying food additives, go with your gut. 😉 As a rule of thumb, they are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Food additives are not the only thing to look out for when buying meal replacements, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.
egg whites, almonds, oats, coconut, cocoa, monk fruit
Avoid protein concentrates and isolates.
Finding an additive-free, dairy-free meal replacement is hard. Finding an additive-free, dairy-free meal replacement made with real foods is next to impossible. Why? Most meal replacements are made with protein concentrates and isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein,” for example, as opposed to “peas.”
We will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming meal replacements. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to separate the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food.
The potential problem here is that your gut might not know what to do with ingredients like these. Your gut prefers the real thing, not some heavily-processed imitation, so protein concentrates and isolates might be hard to digest for people with sensitive stomachs.
Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we use ingredients like egg whites, almonds, and oats. Most of the protein in our meal replacements comes from egg whites, which are simply broken, pasteurized, and dried. Minimally-processed ingredients like this are easy to digest, and a gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates.
Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein source for people with sensitive stomachs. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, and have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food. Our customers have experienced fewer digestive issues with egg white protein than with any other type of protein.
“I just finished my first bag and ordered 2 more! I Iove this stuff! I have a sensitive stomach and every meal replacement powder makes me bloated…except drink wholesome!”
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.