Almased is a Soy-protein based meal replacement shake that has been around for almost 30 years, it was created by Hubertus Trouillé. The product is a mix of soy protein, probiotic yoghurt, and enzyme rich honey.
Each serving contains 180 calories (1.5g fat/16g carbohydrates/25g protein) and you are recommended to consume 3 shakes per day with only vegetable broth and water to accompany them all day.
After 2 weeks you start the “Reduction phase” in which you replace two regular meals with the Almased meal replacement shake and consume one high-protein meal. This phase can last for up to six weeks.
During the stabilisation phase, you only replace one meal with Almased and consume two high-protein, medium-carb meals. This phase can last as long as you want it to, afterwards you enter the life phase which is where you only use Almased when it suits you (as a snack or pre/post-workout meal).
The use of Soy protein is not uncommon in meal replacement shakes, companies such as Herbalife also use this. The question is whether Soy protein is as good as animal protein sources such as whey or casein (which are milk proteins). A 2004 study by Deibert et al found that a high soy protein diet can “improve the body composition in overweight and obese people, losing fat bur preserving muscle mass” .
So there are clearly benefits of using soy protein, but as Mikkelsen, Toubro & Astrup stated in their study on fat reduced diets (2000) vegetable protein is not as effective as animal protein at increasing energy expenditure . The difference was small (2%) but clearly animal protein was the better choice.
Almased probably went for soy as it was cheap to produce and was universally accepted, whereas whey or casein protein would be avoided by vegans and possibly vegetarians.
Almased specific studies
There have been many studies that have looked specifically at Almased and its effect on body composition. This is partly due to the fact that Almased pre-dates most of the competition when it comes to meal replacement shakes, so was available for study. Another, shadier reason is that Almased almost certainly funded a lot of studies.
This is fairly common in the supplement industry and does not necessarily negate any of the results, but there is clearly going to be a slight bias to any study on Almased that is funded by the company. But if we ignored all supplement studies that were funded by the supplement industry, we would have nothing left to us. So let's dive in.
A study by Kempf et al (2013) found that taking Almased as a meal replacement shake led to a reduction in the amount of insulin needed by Type II Diabetics. Their weight decreased, and there was a reduction in cardiometabolic risk factors . This could possibly be due to reduced blood glucose levels that would be effected by consuming less food.
Another study, this time by Deibert et al (2007) found that following the Almased diet (Reduction phase for 6 weeks followed by the Stabilisation phase for 18 weeks) led to considerable weight loss in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women .
This is not that surprising however, as the Reduction phase involved participants only consuming 1000/kcal per day for the first 6 weeks, and then 1500/kcal for the following 18. Place anyone in a diet where they are consuming half the calories that they usually would and see if they manage to lose weight.
A study by Koohkan et al found that putting middle-aged, obese women on the Almased diet for 12 months led to improved “Health-related quality of life” . Again, this study was completely funded by Almased, so make of that what you will.
Benefits of Meal Replacement Shakes
The thing is, meal replacement shakes are a very controversial subject in the fitness and health industry. Mention Herbalife among a crowd of personal trainers and you will either hear derision or a long-practiced sales pitch and an invitation to join their ‘wellness program'. Meal replacement shakes are definitely not as terrible as many trainers believe, but nor are they a universal solution to all your fat-loss needs.
There does seem to be a lot of evidence backing up the belief that meal replacement shakes can contribute to healthy weight loss, and we will have a brief look at some of them here. Then we can look at why this might be the case, and what other factors could be creating these results.
In recent times, a lot of studies have not only looked at the initial results of a dieting technique, they have also looked at the longer term aspects. Which is a great way to go about things, it's all very well losing 30kg in 12 weeks, but it means nothing if you regain 31kg over the next two years!
A study by Cheskin et al (2008) found that meal replacement shakes led to significantly more fat loss initially, and less regained weight after 1 year than traditional food based dieting (self selected by the dieters) .
Similar results were found in a study by Davis et al in 2010. They found that meal replacement shakes “produced significant weight loss for 93% of obese participants” which is almost twice as successful as other methods recommended by doctors . The study found that the shakes were excellent for both initial weight loss, and for weight maintenance.
Other studies have also found this to be the case . There are many reasons why a meal replacement shake-based diet may be more effective than traditional dieting, and the answer may not have much to do with the shakes themselves.
Basically, traditional dieting methods undertaken by the general public suck! They are unsustainable, they don't plan for the future, and they overly-rely on word of mouth advice that has no basis in science.
Losing weight is simple (that does not mean it is easy), restrict calories so that you are in a deficit. Meaning that you expend more calories during the day than you consume. Make sure that your diet is high in protein as this will prevent your muscles from breaking down due to catabolism. The tricky bit is getting people to do this. It usually involves a lot of calorie-counting, patience, and some knowledge.
Meal replacement shakes take a lot of this away, which allows people to exert some control over their diet. If you are taking a high protein product for 2 meals a day (with a guaranteed calorie and macro amount that will not change) then all you have to do is get 1 meal right per day. This makes the diet easier to maintain long term. Which leads to successful weight loss, and more importantly successful weight maintenance after.
This could be achieved in a better way by eating a healthy and food-based diet, but the problem is that it is not easy to do this. Food is complicated, it involves a lot of preparation, a lot of number-crunching (working out weights, calories, and macros), and a lot of creativity. Meal replacement shakes do not.
Another reason why products like Almased are successful is the ridiculously low calorie initiation phases they have. For the first two weeks you are expected to consume less than 700 calories! This is insane, but will lead to weight loss. The downside is that your metabolism may never recover, but you will be thinner.
To properly review Almased it needs to be compared to its competition, the most famous meal-replacement shake company is Herbalife so we'll compare it to that. On the one hand Almased is hands down more ethically sound than Herbalife as it doesn't use Multi-Level-Marketing to sell its products. Anyone who has ever had a family or friend selling Herbalife will understand what an awful business model it is – and the courts agree!
In terms of results it would almost certainly produce similar changes in overweight people, they are both very similar in ingredients and calories. They also have similar views on phases. Where Almased falters is in taste, whilst Herbalife makes some of the nicest tasting shakes out there, Almased is notorious for its awful taste and the reviews all reflect this.
Remember at the beginning you are going to be eating one meal per day, your other two meals are going to be Almased. Finding out that the shakes taste awful must be heartbreaking. Another issue with Almased is the cost. You can get 30 servings for around $100 which sounds decent at $3.33 per meal, but remember that's only 15 days worth of Almased and you also need to buy food for your 1 meal per day.
Will Almased get you lean? Yes, undoubtedly if you follow their program you will lose fat and retain most muscle. But following a proper diet, whilst admittedly more difficult at first will lead to better results and a much more enjoyable 12 months. If you are obese and you've tried everything else, then Almased is a perfectly good choice, but improving your nutrition education should also be a part of your plan.
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Matt Smith is a fitness and nutrition writer with more than 10 years experience as a personal trainer, and a degree in Sports Science from London Metropolitan University. He has written for many fitness websites, and runs his own blog and podcast at beernbiceps.com