A liquid breakfast is a manufactured and packaged drink designed to replicate the nutritional credentials of cereal and milk that you can consume “on the go” as a meal replacement. Marketing nutritional claims around these products promote high protein and fibre as well as containing essential vitamins and minerals.

Smoothies, on the other hand, is also a liquid drink that involves blending whole foods, like fruit, vegetables, nuts, fluids, healthy fats and protein, into a liquid without removing the fibre. Smoothies are usually prepared using a blender.

What is the difference between a liquid breakfast and a ready-to-drink protein drink?

The main difference of the three liquid products is that liquid breakfasts are usually fortified with additional vitamins and minerals to replicate what would be found in a breakfast meal consisting of cereal and milk. Low-fat flavoured milks and ready-to-drink protein drinks do not usually contain these added nutrients.

The additional differences regarding nutrition composition between the three can be broken down below:

Total fat:

Ready-to-drink protein drinks are more likely to have the least amount of fat followed by liquid breakfasts and low-fat flavoured milks. This is because most ready-to-drink protein drinks are designed to be high protein and low carbohydrate.

Saturated fat:

Ready-to-drink protein drinks and liquid breakfasts have a similar low saturated fat content per serve, compared to a slightly higher level found in low-fat flavoured milks. The reason for this is that you are getting a much higher quantity of milk and hence a higher volume of fat.


This should be a no brainer. Ready-to-drink protein drinks will have a considerably higher (up to double) protein content compared to the other two liquid beverages. This will be followed by low-fat flavoured milks and liquid breakfasts, respectively.


liquid breakfasts will have a much higher carbohydrate content compared to ready-to-drink protein drinks and low-fat flavoured milks because they are designed to match the carbohydrate quantity you would consume eating a solid breakfast of wholegrain cereal and milk.


liquid breakfasts will most likely have the higher sugar content per serve compared to the other liquid beverages considering that cane sugar or other added sugars are high on the ingredients list. Low-fat flavoured milks and ready-to-drink protein drinks are more likely to use artificial or natural sweeteners to keep the added sugar level down.

Dietary fibre:

Usually, the liquid breakfasts will (should) have the highest fibre content, which makes sense if it’s trying to mimic a high fibre breakfast option. Ready-to-drink protein drinks will usually have the lowest, due to their high protein content.

How do liquid breakfasts compare to other breakfast options? 

Liquid breakfasts VS wholegrain cereals

Although something is better than nothing for breakfast, I would certainly not recommend liquid breakfasts as a regular choice, nor a replacement for a solid meal. The reason being is that when you consume liquid breakfasts, you are missing out on the health benefits of whole foods. Not only are you getting much more dietary fibre from a wholegrain cereal, you are also getting natural vitamins and minerals found in the wholegrains rather than drinking fortified nutrients in the liquid breakfast. Also, wholegrain cereals when combined with nuts and seeds such as raw muesli have a much higher protein content and are more satisfying and sustaining.

Not to mention, wholegrain cereals are usually much lower in added sugars, which means the GI of that meal will be much lower compared to the GI of a liquid breakfast. As a result, the satiety level is much higher and you will have better control over your blood glucose levels, which will curb any sugar cravings and help maintain a healthy weight.

If you are overweight to begin with, consuming liquid breakfasts over wholegrains may not help your cause as it may increase your risk of becoming ‘leptin resistant’. Leptin is a hormone produced in your fat tissue. Its primary role is to stimulate your appetite. Regulation of this hormone is normal when your stomach and your brain are in sync. But, the problem starts when constant surges of leptin trick your brain into feeling hungry, even when you’re not. The major cause of this is having too much body fat – carrying more fat means more leptin is produced. Another cause is eating a diet high in sugar and processed carbohydrates. The sugar triggers your fat cells to release surges of leptin.

Liquid breakfasts VS brown bread

Firstly, if you are consuming bread or toast for breakfast, it’s important to look at the ingredients to make sure you are consuming wholegrains in their most pure and natural form. Although all breads undergo a manufacturing process, a bread with whole ingredients and minimal to no additives and preservatives can be a healthy option for breakfast. However, if you go down the path of commercial brown bread, you may not be getting what you think you are. A lot of these breads have a similar nutrient profile to white breads with the exclusion of having slightly higher fibre content. They are still made from refined carbohydrates, however, so it’s always important to always look at the ingredients list as well as the nutrition information panel when comparing products. Some lower quality wholemeal breads contain vegetable oils, additives, emulsifiers and preservatives, which may not be appealing to the health conscious.

In regards to a comparison of these commercial brown breads to liquid breakfasts per serve, they both have a similar macronutrient nutrition profile. The main difference is that liquid breakfasts have a higher level of fortified micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) compared to brown bread. Having said that, it is very unlikely that you will consume the bread by itself so you need to take into consideration any toppings you add to the bread. In this case, if you were to consume a slice of bread/toast topped with avocado, egg, tomato, spinach and feta, it is likely that this, as a whole meal will be more nutritionally sound than the liquid breakfast.

What does a ‘healthy’ breakfast look like?

The basics of what forms the core of a healthy breakfast include:

  • Wholegrains/smart carbs – such as wholegrain breads, raw wholegrain cereals
  • Lean protein – such as lean meats, poultry or fish, hard-boiled eggs, legumes or protein powders
  • Dairy (optional) – such as milk, natural or Greek yogurts, and low-fat cheeses, such as ricotta, cottage and natural cheeses.
  • Fruits and vegetables – such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices or freshly made smoothies.
  • Healthy fats – such as avocado, nuts and seeds, plant-based oils, fish oils

When combined, these food groups provide:

  • Complex carbohydrates that are low GI, which keep you fuller for longer, fuel your brain, give you energy to exercise and are high in dietary fibre for good gut health.
  • Protein to help you manage your appetite and hunger, and assist you to achieve a healthy body composition and burn fat, as well as help preserve or build lean muscle.
  • Healthy fats which provide essential nutrients, are necessary for the absorption of certain antioxidants and helps you feel fuller for longer.
  • Antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals from fruit and vegetables are important for reducing inflammation and free radical damage in the body.

Find options from the above core groups that suit your tastes and preferences to give you a well-balanced, healthy breakfast.

Regarding the optimal macronutrient composition of your breakfast, that will vary depending on your health goals. For example, someone looking to build lean muscle will have a higher energy and macronutrient requirement than someone who is wanting to lose fat mass. A growing female, active teenager will also have different requirements to an elderly female who is not very active. Therefore, there is no magic number for specific macronutrients required at breakfast. However, to make sure you are receiving the right amount of energy for what is considered the most important meal of the day, aim between 1,600 – 2,000kJ (this will of course vary depending on your age, gender, weight, activity level, health goals and stage of life).

By making sure you have a variety of the above core foods groups and the right quantity for breakfast, you will be certain that you are fueling your body appropriately and providing it with the nutrients it requires for a good start to the day.

Is there any advantage or disadvantage to consuming breakfast (or any meal) in liquid form?  

The advantages or disadvantages of consuming breakfast in liquid form will very much depend on if it’s homemade or bought from a supermarket.  Most of the supermarket liquid breakfast products have their disadvantages. These include:

  • Their flavours and mouthfeel are not to everyone’s taste, being quite ‘artificial’ despite them being advertised as having ‘natural’ flavours and ‘nothing artificial’.
  • They are often overly sweet, appealing to young children’s taste buds and not necessarily a mature palate, especially first thing in the morning.
  • Nutritionally speaking, there are many additives and preservatives such as thickeners, stabilisers, acidity regulators, vegetable gums and flavours, which people with gut problems may want to avoid as it may exacerbate symptoms associated with IBS such as lower abdominal discomfort/pain, bloating, distention, nausea, excessive wind (flatulence), altered bowel habits (diarrhoea and/or constipation).
  • The fibre in these products is not from whole food, high fibre ingredients such as oats, oat bran, wheat bran, psyllium or whole grains. Usually it’s from a special extract such as inulin, which is also high in fructose, or Hi-Maize which is convenient for the manufacturer but is not a common kitchen ingredient.
  • The risk of weight gain – some studies have shown that regardless of the macronutrient content of a liquid food, people who include liquid food sources with their meals increase their total daily calorie intake by 12-20%, which ultimately leads to weight gain.
  • Some are high in added sugar – as a result this can raise the glycaemic index (GI) value of the beverage and cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. This causes a higher release of insulin and a crashing of your blood sugars soon after consumption. As a result, it will leave you hungry again leading to a higher risk of overeating at your next meal or reaching for another snack to tie you over. Many commercial liquid breakfasts have more than 23g of sugars per serve (250mL), which is roughly the same as a regular chocolate bar. To put this in perspective, naturally occurring sugars in a cup of full-cream milk (lactose) are about 12g.
  • Not enough energy – The average amount of energy per serve (250mL) for most liquid breakfasts is between 650 – 850kJ. Many marketers advertise these products as “complete meals”, which is quite concerning since a regular meal usually contains 1,700 – 2000kJ. With the energy content being more like a snack than a meal, those who consume these products are more likely to eat more or snack more at mid-morning.
  • Not teaching us good eating habits – By choosing the easy solution to a busy lifestyle by consuming a pre-made, processed breakfast liquid, our eating behaviour and habits are the things that suffer the most. People who base their food choices on convenience rather than health, they are more likely to be at risk of nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition, as well as develop poor eating habits such as fussy eating.

If you choose to make your own liquid breakfast or smoothie, however, you have control over what ingredients go into your meal and ultimately your health. There are advantages associated with consuming smoothies made from whole foods, which include:

  • Natural ingredients – by making your own, you have the ability to make a meal that is free of preservatives, additives, colours and flavours. This is especially important for anyone who as a food allergy or intolerance.
  • High in fibre – The natural soluble and insoluble fibre added to smoothies from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and wholegrains help to promote gut function and peristalsis. A diet high in fibre lowers the GI of the meal, which can help regulate blood sugars, reduce cholesterol and promote satiety. This is important for maintaining your energy levels and a healthy weight.
  • High nutrient absorption – your body can absorb the nutrients in a smoothie more easily because blending helps break down hard-to-digest plant cell walls.
  • High antioxidant intake – by adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your smoothie, you will reap the health benefits of the phytochemicals and antioxidants that help reduce free-radical damage associated with stress, ageing and disease.
  • You can experiment with ingredients and can adjust the macronutrient balance – this can be achieved by varying the combinations of healthy fats, proteins, carbs and fibre that you blend up.
  • Smoothies make a convenient snack for people who have increased energy requirements e.g. athletes, body builders, pregnant or breastfeeding mums and growing children.
  • Fussy eating – Smoothies are a great way to pack in the nutritional goodness for fussy eaters or those who may not be meeting their nutrient requirements through their usual intake of food.
  • Ability to add boosters – When you make your own liquid meal, you have the ability to add boosters or supplements in addition to nutrient dense foods to help boost your immune system and health. These boosters may include protein powder, raw cacao, cinnamon, chia seeds, turmeric, maca powder, matcha powder, herbs, kefir, flaxseeds.

The best ingredients for a homemade smoothie/liquid meal

Most nutrition experts will tell you that a healthy meal should include fibrous carbs, lean protein, and a healthy fat source. The same is true for liquid meals. When choosing ingredients for a smoothie recipe, it should not only taste good but it’s important that it has a balanced nutrient profile. A problem many people encounter is that they overload on the fruit, which will make the smoothie high in simple carbs, and lack the protein so it doesn’t fill them up.

Although it comes down to personal taste as to what ingredients to put into your smoothies, some of my favourite ingredients for good health and to make sure you have a well-balanced meal include:

Fruits– fresh or frozen (ALL are good but some of my favourites include:)

  • Berries – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries etc.
  • Banana
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cherries (preferably sour/tart cherries)
  • Pineapple
  • Citrus fruits
  • Mango
  • Tomato

Vegetables– ALL are good but some of my favourites include:

  • Green leafy vegetable e.g. kale, spinach
  • Beetroot
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Cucumber


  • Protein powder – preferable a collagen, WPI, Pea or hemp protein. If you have severe food intolerances, you might best be suited to an organic brown rice protein, which is usually quite hypoallergenic.
  • Greek or Natural unsweetened yoghurt

Liquid (as a base)

  • Dairy – skim or full cream milk (depending on your health goals and taste)
  • Milk alternatives – almond, coconut, rice or other nut milks
  • Coconut water

Healthy fats

  • Avocado
  • Nuts – e.g. almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans,
  • Nut butters – e.g. Natural peanut or cashew nut butter
  • Seeds – e.g. sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, LSA (linseed, sunflower seed and almond) mix
  • Coconut – shredded, desiccated
  • Coconut oil

Carbohydrate boosters (low GI)

  • Whole oats
  • Raw muesli
  • Bran
  • Psyllium husk

Sweetener (if needed)

  • Raw honey
  • 100% maple syrup
  • Organic coconut sugar
  • Vanilla extract

Boosters (optional)

  • Cinnamon
  • Raw cacao powder
  • Maca powder
  • Matcha powder
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Kefir
  • Bee pollen
  • Spirulina