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AICR Health Talk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Will meal replacement drinks, bars and packaged food help me lose weight more successfully?

A: We’re all individual, and what helps one person lose weight may not be helpful for another. Several research reviews in recent years identify a few studies in which using meal replacement drinks, bars or packaged food as part of a larger lifestyle program may boost weight loss by a few extra pounds. It appeared to help for about six months, but the review found the evidence was not that strong. More studies are needed to understand whether that advantage continues longer term. But even if it doesn’t, successfully losing weight in the first few months can help some people stay motivated and focused to develop new long-term habits.

Adopting long-term habits, though, is your key to achieving and maintaining weight loss long-term. You may find meal replacements help as you learn new healthy behaviors, for example, it may help teach you about portion control, especially for high calorie foods. And, if you can learn to fill up on low-calorie, nutrient-rich vegetables and other health-promoting foods like fruit, whole grains, beans and nuts, you’ll learn how to make these foods the foundation of your eating.

Since excess body fat is so strongly linked to greater risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, using meal replacement products may be one way to help you to start on the path to weight loss. On the other hand, these products are expensive, and they certainly are not necessary for many people to reshape eating habits. If you choose to use them, make sure they are just one part of an overall plan to create a healthy lifestyle and that you plan to make the transition to a sustainable approach to eating balanced meals with healthful whole foods.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 01/04/2016

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