What are the best meal replacement drinks for cancer patients?

Written by Jack Schrupp and reviewed by Ella McGonagle, M.S. Nutrition

drink wholesome makes the best meal replacement drinks for cancer patients. They are additive-free, dairy-free, and made with real foods, not chalky protein isolates – 99% of meal replacements fail to meet at least one of these criteria. This makes them perfect for cancer patients, as well as for people just looking for nutrition without the processing and added junk. Order samples to see if our meal replacements are right for you. 


easy to digest

“I have a sensitive stomach, so most meal replacement powders leave me with gas, bloating, constipation, and stomach pain, but not this one.” – Shon

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vanilla meal replacement powder

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drink wholesome makes the best meal replacement drinks for cancer patients.

Are meal replacements good for cancer patients? 

What are the best meal replacements for cancer patients?

Why drink wholesome?

Are meal replacements good for cancer patients? 

Studies have reported that the prevalence of malnutrition in cancer patients may be as high as 70%. When cancer-related malnutrition goes untreated, the consequences can be serious. Malnutrition is associated with treatment toxicity, complications, reduced physical functioning, and decreased survival. Moreover, it is protein deficiency that is the strongest contributor to side effects and increased mortality, which makes sense because you simply cannot heal or fight off infections without protein. It is therefore unsurprising that research shows protein has beneficial effects for cancer treatment tolerance and efficacy, and that patients with higher protein intakes have better outcomes.

Cancer patients have higher than normal calorie and protein needs. Healthy adults need, on average, 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Cancer patients, on the other hand, may need twice that much. The recommended daily protein intake for cancer patients is 1.2–1.5 gram per kilogram of body weight. This means that a 68 kilogram (150 pound) person needs to eat 81-102 grams of protein per day, which is a lot of protein.

Cancer patients should aim to get as many calories and as much protein as they can from normal food. Getting enough calories and protein this way can be challenging (if not impossible) for some patients, however, especially for those experiencing nausea and loss of appetite. This is where high protein meal replacements can help. In addition to providing a concentrated source of nutrition, meal replacements are a convenient option for patients who may not have the time or energy to prepare meals, as they can be quickly prepared. They are also easy to transport, making them a practical choice for patients who need to consume several small meals throughout the day. That said, not all meal replacements are created equal, and some may actually do more harm than good. Keep reading to learn more.

not all protein powders are created equal

What are the best meal replacements for cancer patients?

There are two types of meal replacements: ready-to-drink (store-bought) meal replacement shakes, and meal replacement shakes made with meal replacement powder. In order to make a meal replacement shake with meal replacement powder, you have to mix the powder with milk or water. This requires a blender or a shaker bottle, and a little extra time and effort. Some people, prioritizing convenience, prefer to buy ready-to-drink shakes, but if they knew what they were drinking, they would probably feel sick to their stomach. 

Ready-to-drink meal replacements shake are full of emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, sweeteners, and flavors. Ingredients like these improve characteristics like taste, texture, and shelf stability, but can cause uncomfortable side effects and long-term gut damage. Disruptions to your gut microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food) can, in turn, block cancer therapy drugs and impact the course of your treatment (more about this later). A damaged gut microbiome has also been linked to the development of a number of predominantly gastrointestinal malignancies including colon cancer. This is why I recommend that you make your own meal replacement shakes with meal replacement powder. That said, not all meal replacement powders are created equal, and many contain the same additives found in ready-to-drink shakes! 

Why drink wholesome

drink wholesome is additive-free.

One of the reasons why we make the best meal replacement drinks for cancer patients is that we do not use food additives. Most meal replacements, on the other hand, are full of food additives. Although not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, additives can add up quickly (especially if you drink a meal replacement shake every day) and cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. This is because food additives are hard to digest, and sit in your gut for longer than food should, which gives your gut bacteria more time to eat. As they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating and stomach pain. Gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon), and can lead to constipation. In the long term, food additives can disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestine, which can result in the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic inflammatory disorders.

vanilla meal replacement powder lifestyle image 1
chocolate meal replacement powder lifestyle image 2

When buying meal replacement powder, one ingredient to avoid in particular is artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are among the most harmful food additives in the long term as they alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious, chronic GI problems, widespread inflammation, and permanent damage to the gut microbiome. Some sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, are also poorly absorbed by the gut (meaning they feed those hungry gut bacteria), and cause diarrhea because they draw water into your intestine. Now you finally have something to blame for those post-meal replacement shake trips to the bathroom!

Here is a list of the most common food additives in meal replacement powder:

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 replacement powder, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.

the alternative:


*This is the actual ingredient list of one of the best-selling meal replacements in the United States.

drink wholesome is dairy-free.

Another reason why we make the best meal replacement shakes for cancer patients is that we do not use dairy-based proteins. Many meal replacements are made with whey and casein, which are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production, and known to cause 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 you just learned, partially digested food feeds the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas. 

drink wholesome is made with real foods.

A final reason why we make the best meal replacement drinks for cancer patients is that we do not use protein isolates. Most meal replacements, on the contrary, are made with protein concentrates and/or isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein” and “whey protein” as opposed to “peas” and “whey.” I will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming meal replacement. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to isolate (separate) the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food.

If you think about it, your gut was designed to digest naturally occurring foods, not laboratory formulated imitations, so if you feed it anything but real food, it might get upset. In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis on the impact of microbial populations living in your gastrointestinal tract on human health and disease. Given the role of the gut microbiome in modulating physiological processes (such as immune system development, vitamins synthesis, pathogen displacement, and nutrient uptake), any alteration in its composition and diversity (dysbiosis) has been linked to a variety of pathologies, including cancerIt is worth mentioning that disruptions to your gut microbiome are also associated with resistance to cancer drugs. Although a more thorough understanding of the interactions of the microbiota with cancer therapy drugs are needed, it is certainly in your best interest to avoid meal replacements made with additives, dairy, and protein concentrates and isolates if you are undergoing cancer treatments. 

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vanilla meal replacement powder serving suggestion 2

Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we make the best meal replacement shakes for cancer patients with whole foods like egg whites and almonds. Egg whites are simply pasteurized and dried before becoming meal replacement. Almonds are just roasted, pressed, and ground. Whole foods like these are an easy to digest, gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates. This is in part because whole foods contain a variety of enzymes and other digestive aids that help to break down the food, making it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients. Protein isolates and concentrates, on the other hand, have been stripped of these digestive aids, making them harder for the body to digest and absorb. Moreover, minimally-processed plant-based foods like almonds are rich in fiber, which helps promote healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.

Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein for your gut. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, naturally alkaline, 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. We like almonds too because research suggests that they possess prebiotic properties and can improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome.


no stomach issues

“I’ve tried out so many protein powders and meal replacements, and they always gave me stomach issues…That’s why I got drink wholesome.” – Tommy

Read more reviews or take the quiz.

drink wholesome makes the best meal replacement shakes for cancer patients.


chocolate meal replacement powder

(39) $59.99 - or subscribe and save up to 15%


2 meal replacement powder samples


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. drink wholesome is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.