Meal replacement powders are useful supplements for people with a strong urge to tame their munchies without succumbing to the devilish temptations of the snack isle.
They contain all major food groups, copious amounts of protein and healthy fat to quell hunger, and fruit and vegetable powders to provide additional nutrients.
A LOT of meal replacement powders do more harm than good. That’s because their calorie count mostly comprises of sugar and low-grade starch that’s mostly filler.
However, when you walk into your local health food store there are three brands that usually stand out:
1). Vega One
This review is going to thoroughly compare all three.
But I always like to start these articles off with a disclaimer:
I don’t get paid by any of these companies and have no affiliation with them. I make health supplements of my own which constitutes my primary source of income. I write these reviews to provide insight and clarity. If I state an opinion it’s based on my own experience and yours may differ. My MO for all my reviews is to act like Ron Burgundy: stay classy. I try and follow the golden rule for anything I write about a company and like to put good products and companies on a pedastal, not tear them down.
What’s Great About These Products
The whole point of a review is to contrast the differences between products to allow consumers to make better choices. So that’s what I’m going to do here.
But I should start off this article by emphasizing that these are all really great products. They’re what’s left after all the other competitors have found themselves beheaded at the hands of the market gauntlet.
So we’re comparing the best of the best here, and all of these products are deserving of your money……my goal here is just to help you more accurately sort them according to your preferences.
What they all have in common is that if you were to make a checklist of what you’d want to see in a product like this all three pass with flying colors:
- Trusted brands with a good reputation for quality
- High quality ingredients
- Gluten-free, dairy free, vegan,
- No fillers or harmful preservatives….ie, “clean” formulations
- Reasonably priced
- Intelligently formulated to cover major nutrient classes
Let’s Meet the Contenders!
The specific flavors I used for this review were Garden of Life RAW Meal Chocolate Cocoa, Vega One Chocolate, and Amazing Meal Cafe Mocha.
I was hoping to get the chocolate version of all three, but only the Cafe Mocha version was available at my local Earth Origins.
I have individually written about all three of these companies before and had good things to say about their products. I very much enjoyed reviewing the Vega One, Amazing Grass’es Green Superfood, and Garden of Life’s Perfect Food RAW.
What’s Best About them
Since we’ve established the good qualities all these brands have in common, let’s focus on how they distinguish themselves
Garden of Life RAW Meal
- Most affordable of the three
- Widest variety of ingredients
- Largest serving sizes
- Naturally the sweetest
- The formulation has a strong emphasis on sprouted plant foods
- Most concentrated vitamin & mineral formula
- Best tasting (IMO)
- Formulation has the greatest emphasis on fibrous roots and seeds
- Highest fat content per 100g
- 4 different types of plant protein
- Greatest variety of vitamins and minerals
Amazing Grass Amazing Meal
- Designed to replace a cup of coffee in the morning
- Highest protein content per 100g
- Contains caffeinated ingredients
- Smallest serving size
- Lowest amount of sugar
Breaking Open the Bags
One of the biggest contrasts between the three products is that, for meal replacement powders, they make very different assumptions about what constitutes a meal.
The garden of life packets I bought had a serving size of 87g, the Vega One packets 42g, and the Amazing Meal packets 22g.
Here’s a visual comparison of what a serving of each looks like side-by-side:
Garden of Life is in the upper left hand corner, Vega One in the upper right, and the Cafe Mocha is on the bottom.
Serving size is at the manufacturers discretion, so it can be difficult to discern how the nutrient content of products stacks up on a pound for pound basis.
Here’s a comparison chart that examines how the macronutrients compare on a per-serving and per-100 g basis:
I think the take home points from this graph is that they all have fairly similar protein/fat content, but differ more in the amount of sugar they contain.
The Amazing Meal is definitely the “leanest” of the three since it has the highest protein content/100g and virtually no sugar. Each serving has less than one gram. Looking over the ingredient list, each serving contains 2.8 g of its “Antioxidant Fruit and Vegetable Blend” which mostly contains low-glycemic fruits like acai, blueberry, and goji, and other than that there’s virtually nothing that would have any natural sugar content.
For most people the difference between 3 grams of sugar and 8 grams of sugar is not meaningful, especially since the sugar in all the formulas is derived from nutritious foods. However, the exceptionally low sugar content of the Cafe Mocha might make it a better choice for diabetics.
Vitamin Content and Ingredient Breakdown
It looks like the Garden of Life RAW Meal and Vega One use vitamin add-ins while the Amazing Meal does not.
Here’s the vitamin content of a serving of each:
Some important points to take from this chart:
- Vega One and RAW Meal are good choices for people who are looking for their meal replacement powder to also take the place of their multi-vitamin
- The disparity in vitamin and mineral content between Vega/Raw Meal and Amazing Meal is not due to inferior ingredients in Amazing Meal, but because Vega One and RAW Meal use vitamin add ins.
For some people vitamin add-ins are a feature, and for others they are a bug.
An issue some natural products customers have with vitamin supplements is they’re not very well absorbed by the body. To remedy this suspicion Garden of Life uses a proprietary line of vitamins called RAW Code which are sourced from real food and recognized as such by the body.
Ingredients and Certifications
Let’s start our discussion of the different ingredients in these three products with a chart:
Here are the take home points:
- Garden of Life has the widest breadth of ingredients, both when you include enzymes and probiotics and when you exclude them. Excluding the number of enzymes and probiotics can be useful because it gives you an idea of what types of plant foods were used to make the product, which are usually the core of the formula.
- Garden of Life and Amazing Grass score aces across the board for certifications. They check off every single qualification possible a picky customer would want with regards to being “Free” (gluten, soy, dairy, etc) and certifications (organic)
- I tried to find an organic seal on the Vega One packet, but couldn’t and also didn’t see anything mentioned about it on their product page, so I’m assuming it’s not certified organic at this point in time. (Feel free to correct me in the comments If I’m mistaken).
- The RAW Meal was the only one that didn’t use flow agents. Vega One uses xantham gum and Amazing Meal uses xantham gum and guar gum. Vegetable gums are naturally occurring carbohydrates that are used to add stability, texture, and viscosity to supplements. They’re not harmful and have no adverse side effects and people should not discriminate against a product if it uses them in moderate amounts. You can read more about them here. But nevertheless some people don’t recognize them as “natural” ingredients (even though they are) and might prefer a product that avoids them entirely. (Keep in mind I am not endorsing this viewpoint, just stating its existence).
Another useful way to analyze a mixture is to see how it weighs different types of ingredients. For meal replacement powders you can broadly classify ingredients into three different groups:
- Protein. Self-explanatory. Amino acids bound together. The types of protein used in the three mixtures are sacha inchi, pea protein, hemp protein, and brown rice protein.
- Fibrous meal. Starches, roots, and seeds which contribute carbohydrate content. These can include flax seeds, inulin, maca root, lecithin (not in any of these products), etc.
- Fruits and vegetables. These broadly include leafy greens, fruits, herbs, tea leaves, algaes, etc.
There are a number of ways you could disagree with this taxonomy, but I think 90% of the time you can lump ingredients together this way without an issue.
What do the RAW Meal, Vega One, and Amazing Meal look like when viewed through this lense?
Here’s the breakdown for Amazing Meal:
Here it is for Vega One:
Unfortunately the label for the RAW Meal doesn’t allow you to see what the relative proportions are of each ingredient so I can’t make a similar chart for this product.
What’s notable is that Vega One places a much heavier emphasis of fibers, roots, and seeds in its mixture while Amazing Grass places a greater emphasis on green foods.
It’s important to understand that the relative differences between groupings doesn’t say anything about ingredient quality, just preferences about how the formulation should be made.
For example, maltodextrin would qualify as fibrous meal and it’s little more than filler. Chia seeds or maca root also qualify and they’re terrific ingredients.
All three of the products use great ingredients, so it’s a matter of preference for what types of food groups you want.
What’s nice about meal replacement powders is that you can safely add modest amounts of sweetener and healthy fats without throwing off the whole mixture which makes it easy to come up with something that tastes savory even though all the ingredients are disgustingly healthy for you.
I thought all three tasted fine.
The Vega and Raw Meal product I tried were both chocolate flavored. Vega had a deep, mildly bitter cocoa flavor. The Raw Meal was sweeter and had a more Nesquik like mouth feel to it.
The Cafe Mocha was the most astringent and had very little sweetness. Unlike the other two, sweetness was not the goal. It tasted like it was designed to mimic a cup of coffee and in this regard it did a good job.
My personal favorite was the Vega since I enjoy the taste of dark chocolate. But all three mixed well and blended well and had pleasant mouthfeels.
Price and Value
I’m only writing this review because all three of these products are already great values.
However, here’s a price comparison that brings some granularity to how they’re priced.
Important: Prices can change. I made this table on 09/17/2014 and based if off prices on Amazon.
I tried to get the sizes as close as possible but they all use different sized containers. I wanted to use a 30 serving bottle of the Amazing Meal but had to use a 15 serving bottle instead because there’s no 30 serving size available for the Cafe Mocha flavor.
Making A Choice
Like I said…..I think all three of these products are really great. We’re comparing the Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Lexus of meal replacement powders…..you can’t go wrong with any of them.
I think for my own personal tastes my favorite was the Cafe Mocha. I think it’s ability to substitute for a cup of coffee makes it very unique in addition to its already wonderful qualities.
So it’d get my vote….but go try your own and decide for yourself!