What's in your meal?

What's in your meal?


What's in your meal?
You wake up at 7 am. You promptly jump out of bed and step out for a quick run or pump some weights while vainly looking at your reflection in the mirror at a gym where you are possibly a “premium member”. This is followed by a hurried breakfast of fruits and muesli, before you leap onto the roads to combat the traffic ahead of reaching your workplace.

Or, you wake up at 7.30 am, amble around the house while playing with your phone for sometime, before treating yourself to doughnuts and coffee (with cream and sugar, of course) for breakfast. Then, you head out to work.

Either that, or you wake up at 8 am, exploit the snooze button a few times before realising that you are going to be supremely late to work and take a quick shower and run to work.

Clearly, there are three kinds of people (broadly speaking) these days — the ones that are extremely health-conscious, the ones that are not, and the ones that don’t care enough about food to consume it. Allow me to explain a bit more. Longer working hours are becoming the norm of the day. And many a time, this leads to rushed mornings, which in turn leads to ‘busy’ folks not budgeting time for what is generally considered the most important meal of the day — breakfast. Paucity of time, it seems, is the biggest factor for people either skipping meals, or resorting to overly unhealthy food for satisfying their hunger pangs.

Sridhar Varadaraj wanted to change exactly this when he started Zago foods. Zago’s focus thus far has been on providing meal replacement shakes for those who are hard-pressed for time. A formulation in a bottle, this is claimed to be manufactured through a standardised process, and supposedly provides all the nutritional requirements necessary in a meal.

For those of you asking how this is different from Soylent, Sridhar says that the distinction lies in the taste. While Soylent is merely a nutritional fulfilment with no emphasis on how it feels on the palate, Zago also believes that food has to be tasty, in whatever form it is consumed. “Well, Soylent is just nutrition. There is no taste. We emphasise on taste,” he says.

Aimed typically at the urban population, a two-income household with inmates who have demanding jobs and are health-conscious (they probably run marathons regularly), this is said to serve as a replacement for an actual meal. However, how reliable, credible and efficient is this concept of meal replacement ‘foods’? To play the devil’s advocate, we spoke to an expert.

This is what Pavithra N Raj, dietician  executive at Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Bengaluru, has to say about them:

Meal replacement can be anything from a drink, nutrition bar or soup that is intended to act as a substitute for a solid food meal. These are consumed usually with controlled quantities of calories and nutrients. Some meal replacements are medically prescribed like weight-loss supplements, or health shakes (especially for undernourished and hospitalised patients). Bodybuilding shakes can also be used by people involved in intense physical activity.

Some advantages of meal replacement are as follows:

They can help in weight management. Consuming proteins can be more satiating than consuming carbohydrates or fats. Also, since you know your calorie intake, you can keep a track on your progress.

It can help in maintaining a perfect balance between energy and calorie intake. The ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals is taken care of.

It helps you avoid overeating or starving as everything is portion-controlled.

These foods are convenient for consumers as they can easily take them along while travelling. They are quick to drink and take lesser time in preparation.

A healthy and balanced diet full of nutrients also helps improve your psychological state.

Some disadvantages of meal replacement:

It is not sustainable, as once you return to your old eating habits, you end up regaining all the lost weight.

Only meal replacement drinks do not lead to toning or strengthening of your muscles. You also need to exercise regularly. Also, it’s important to remember that weight loss due to meal replacement do not happen from burned fat but because of water loss.

Some meal replacement drinks might contain artificial sweeteners, which can be harmful to your body in the long run. Also, there are some products that might be contaminated with heavy metals. These products, when consumed in excess, can be toxic for your body.

It’s convenient to make meal replacement as your main source of food intake. This is not the correct way of consumption of food.

If you have meal replacement products in conjunction with a high-protein diet, it can exceed your daily protein requirements, further leading to kidney complications. Also, several meal replacement shakes are rich in fibre. This in some cases may cause stomach distention, bloating and loose stools.

Also, consuming calories through meal replacement shakes can make you feel hungry and unsatisfied.

It looks like the ultimate challenge lies in finding the right balance between taste, nutrition, sustainability and long-term efficiency. But, whether or not all these factors can actually intersect and create something ideal for the human body will require findings from more intensive research on our parts in addition to expert opinions that will have to be weighed in and considered. Well, it looks like an informed decision at our end is still a tad far away.