Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • June 2018
Written by 

What’s in that shake?

Spring and summer are often catalysts for us to examine our nutrition, and maybe try to shed a few pounds so that bathing suit fits perfectly. Weight loss and “healthy” shakes are all the rage — but do you really know what’s in that drink you’re buying from your local shake shop? Don’t be swayed by good marketing — just saying something is “healthy” doesn’t make it so! Ask to see the labels of the shake powders being used to determine if they are really what you want to be incorporating into your healthy lifestyle. Chances are, if you cannot pronounce the ingredient, or need a dictionary to understand what it is, you really don’t want to be drinking it!

One major company advertising a “health meal” shake lists the following ingredients: soy protein isolate, fructose, soy lecithin, soy oil, flavors, thickeners (guar gum powder, cellulose powder, carrageenan, xanthan gum), calcium citrate, fructooligosaccharides, oat fiber, corn bran, anti-caking agent (silicon dioxide), milk protein, dextrose, cupric glyconate, and gluten — just to name a few! For weight control, the company recommends that you replace two meals per day with two shakes, and eat only one nutritionally balanced meal.

Some of the downsides of these shake drinks are:

  • Processed/artificial ingredients and sweeteners. The amount of sugars (bolded in the ingredient list above) are equal to the protein in this formula, so you are likely to experience a “sugar high” rather than a natural “energy boost.”
  • Soy protein isolate (the first ingredient): frequent intake of soy products can negatively impact the thyroid and reproductive functions; indications are it may cause or tend to produce some cancers.
  • Carrageenan causes inflammation; regular consumption of processed foods with carrageenan is enough to cause inflammation in our bodies. Chronic inflammation is a root cause of many serious diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and cancer.
  • Soy lecithin and soy oil can, in addition to the previously noted issue, lead to side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, mild skin rashes, nausea and stomach pain.
  • Encouraging a daily low caloric intake — yes, that’s a negative! Regularly eating fewer calories than your body needs can cause your metabolism to slow down; studies show that low-calorie diets can decrease the number of calories the body burns by as much as 23 percent.

So, let’s contrast the ingredient list from this advertised “healthy meal alternative” with an all fresh, healthy, easy to make shake:

Berry Kale Smoothie

  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries/strawberries/raspberries (use one berry or a combination you like!)
  • 1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 1 scoop plant-based protein powder*
  • 1 tablespoon flax seed meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water (optional)
  • 2 handfuls ice or more to taste

The following table provides a comparison between these two shake options:


Leading “Health Shake” with

1 cup Skim Milk

Berry Kale





Total Fat



Protein (g)



Carbohydrates (g)



Fiber (g)



Sodium (g)



Note that, although the caloric intake is higher in the smoothie you can make at home, the protein is nearly double, and the fiber is almost triple that of the other shake, which means this shake will sustain you longer. The ingredients are all recognizable, healthy foods loaded with phytonutrients to support your health and vitality. You can, of course, adjust this recipe to change up the greens, fruits and even the spices. Add turmeric to help decrease inflammation, or try savory spices if you prefer savory versus sweet flavors, etc.

So, rather than buying a shake with a processed powder base, make your smoothie fresh, healthy, local, and organic — without unnecessary chemicals and fillers. It’s farmer’s market season! Visit your local organic farmers and experiment with a variety of greens to “shake up” your smoothie experience. You’ll be amazed how delicious real food can be!

Choose wisely — it is your life! 

(*Look for a protein powder that is organic, and that uses a combination of protein sources, such as a pea, brown rice, hemp combination, rather than a purely soy-based or whey-based protein source. Calculations for this recipe were made using Vega Protein & Greens Vanilla Plant Protein Shake and Fage Whole Milk Plain Greek Yogurt).


“Health effects of soy protein and isoflavones in humans.” The Journal of Nutrition. C. W. Xiao. 2008.

“Carrageenan Under Fire.” Today’s Dietitian. D. Yeager. 2013.

“Soya lecithin.”

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

“Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after ‘The biggest loser competition.’” Obesity. E. Fothergill et al. 2016.

“Adaptive thermogenesis with weight loss in humans.” Obesity. M.J. Muller et al. 2013.

“Adaptive thermogenesis in humans.” Int J Obes. M. Rosenbaum et al. 2010.

“Health Meal Fact Sheet.” Herbalife Europe Limited. 2011.

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD is co-owner of Sweet Willow Naturals in Green Bay, where we have over 140 organic herbs and 70 organic spices available for you to craft your own products, or to simply enjoy as tea. Our store focuses on education and we have many classes to help you learn about herbs, aromatherapy, nutrition, and self-care – focusing on safe information backed up by research and experience. We also offer wellness coaching and massage – stop in today! For more information, visit or email [email protected]

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