Shakes and sugar: Why they don’t go together

It’s no surprise that children love sugar. This innocent looking substance does a great job playing hide and seek, and is always waiting to jump out and scare you when you least expect it. But for something so sweet, sugar can be quite the devil, writes Ellie McInerney.

So what makes it so bad? Well, it depends on where the sugar is coming from (apples = good, bag of lollies = not so good) and what your goals are. In this report, we’re talking about sugar in shakes – both weight loss and protein shakes – and why the sugar you can’t see could be the reason you’re not seeing results.

Are shakes good for you?

Weight loss shakes and protein shakes can be fantastic supplements to a healthy diet. Typically, weight loss shakes are good for those on the run who are doing light to moderate exercise. This is because weight loss shakes are usually low in calories, which means they can curb those hunger pangs when you feel like reaching for a treat.

Alternatively, if you’re incorporating moderate to high levels of exercise into your diet, then protein shakes can offer additional benefits that will help with recovery and fitness focused goals like strength or hypertrophy (muscle growth). Both weight loss and protein shakes can support fat loss and boost nutrient intake. Unfortunately though, they often have high levels of sugar that you wouldn’t expect to find lurking behind such fancy packaging.

To illustrate the point, the following table shows a range of popular weight loss shake brands and their nutritional content, including sugar. These results are for their chocolate shakes.

Brand Sugar Fat Carbs Protein Calories Serve
ALDI Slim & Trim 23.4g 2.3g 25.2g 18.2g 205 55g
IsoWhey 1.5g 2.6g 6.5g 15.2g 108 32g
Optifast 17.8g 4.5g 22.5g 17.5g 207 54g
The Man Shake 1.8g 3.1g 16.7g 28.1g 211 60g
Tony Ferguson 4.6g 0.7g 6.9g 3.4g 54 17g

Information correct as of 15.08.2016, sourced from respective websites of brands.

Many weight loss and protein shakes are marketed as low in fat, which usually means they are high in sugar. Why? Because fat has flavour, so when you take out the flavour it needs to be replaced so the product doesn’t taste like sand! The easiest way to add flavour is to crank up the sugar, so even though the product enters your body low in fat, once the sugar is digested, it becomes fat.

This is why it’s important to choose a shake that’s low in sugar – you can find this information by checking the nutritional label on the product. Some brands can have up to 30g of sugar in one serve! Your best bet is to opt for a shake that has less than 7g of sugar per serve and is packed full of vitamins and minerals – preferably without a crazy ingredients list of words you can’t pronounce.

Compare weight loss shakes

What’s so bad about sugar?

In her book I Quit Sugar, author Sarah Wilson comments on the harsh reality that sugar is often hidden in foods (such as shakes) where you wouldn’t expect it: “A muesli bar can contain more sugar than a block of chocolate” and “everyday barbeque sauce more than chocolate topping.”

It seems many people are a little frustrated when trying to lose weight, only to discover they are putting it on: “You try to do the right thing only to find low-fat yogurt contains more sugar than ice cream”.

In moderation, consuming a little sugar when you are aware you’re doing so is no biggie. It’s just the hidden sugar we need to watch out for as this is what contributes to weight gain. So how do you avoid consuming sugar unintentionally?

  • Read the nutrition label and try to avoid products with more than 7g sugar per serve
  • Be aware of your fruit intake – although fruit is full of vitamins, minerals and fibre, it also contains sugar. Switch to fruits with lower levels of sugar, such as blueberries
  • Avoid packaged, processed and confectionary foods – all of which are typically loaded with sugar

Which shakes are best for avoiding sugar?

In terms of sugar content, The Man Shake and IsoWhey come out on top, our comparison shows, as both have less than 2g per serve. The Man Shake comes out on top as a clear winner in regards to protein, with just one serve containing a huge 28.1g. This makes The Man Shake a great option for a very low sugar but high protein shake. Consume it between meals as a snack or load it up with milk of your choice and half a banana for a long-lasting and delicious meal replacement.

What should I eat if I’m avoiding sugar?

Good fat, lean protein and complex carbohydrates are the foundation for a nutritionally balanced diet. I’m talking real, wholesome, whole foods that are unprocessed and full of fuel to keep you going. Include some of these healthy, lean options for maximised health benefits and great tasting meals:

  • Eggs
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Coconuts
  • Legumes
  • Root vegetables (carrots, parsnips and pumpkin)
  • Heaps of greens (broccoli, spinach, beans, sprouts and salads)
  • Fish
  • Meat and poultry

In addition, you can include your shake of choice between meals. This will help keep you feeling full and squash the temptation to reach for those muffins or sugary snack bars!

How can I curb my sugar cravings?

There are lots of yummy, healthy alternatives to sugar so you don’t have to give up your sweet tooth. Shakes like The Man Shake, IsoWhey and Tony Ferguson all have very low sugar content, so you can include one or two of these a day into your diet plan. If you’re having some serious sugar cravings, try the following tips to help keep you on track:

  • Drink 1-2 big glasses of water
  • Have some pre-prepared snacks on hand, like protein balls
  • Enjoy a handful of low sugar fruit, like mixed berries
  • Have a cup of tea sweetened with stevia or a teaspoon of honey

There are so many super delicious ways to get healthy, choosing sugar-free or low sugar options doesn’t mean sacrificing taste. At the end of the day, there’s no place for sugar in shakes anyway, as these products are designed to help you lose weight – not put it on!

If you’re finding that shakes don’t keep you feeling full for long, a great idea is to take a sachet of your favourite shake or scoop of protein and mix it up in the blender with 200ml of milk (alternatives to cow’s milk for the dairy intolerant include coconut, almond or hazelnut milk) and throw in a handful of ice – berries optional. Just doing this can add a little sparkle and shine to a shake, while avoiding unnecessary sugar and keeping your sweet tooth happy at the same time.

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