Nutrition researchers have recommended the same thing for centuries: eat a variety of whole foods. We made MealSquares because we couldn't find a meal replacement that helped us follow this simple rule. Most energy bar makers start with something close to a candy bar and do the least possible to make it "healthy" by adding vitamins and protein. We start with nutrient dense foods from every food group and do the least possible to make them into a single convenient meal.
In choosing which whole foods to include, we consulted a variety of sources:
- Recommendations from the FDA, the Institute of Medicine, the American Heart Association, the Harvard Global Health Institute, and the European Commission Nutrition Advisory
- Our advisors, drawn from Registered Dietitians, Medical Doctors, and experienced food scientists, to check the validity of our work and methods with an external source
- Meta analyses, research reviews, and systematic reviews of large-scale nutrition studies
- Individual intervention studies
By combining the best available current evidence on nutrition, we were able to develop a picture of the U-shaped dose-response curve for various micro and macronutrients in relation to human health and ensure that MealSquares falls within them.
MealSquares are 99% gluten free, 99% lactose free, and are lacto-ovo vegetarian compatible. They are free of wheat, soy, corn, peanuts, high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, and flavoring agents.
However, they are produced in a facility that also processes many of these. Therefore, we can not currently guarantee that MealSquares are safe for those with severe peanut or gluten sensitivities. (We're working on this.) They may also contain the occasional date seed or shell fragment as they are made from minimally processed whole foods.
Please contact us with thoughts or feedback on our nutrition design decisions.
Whole grain oats, eggs, milk, dark chocolate chips (chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, milkfat), whey, orange juice, rice bran, sunflower seeds, dates, pumpkin, apples, vegetable glycerin, chickpeas, carrots, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, xanthan gum, sunflower lecithin, xylitol, iodized sea salt, potassium citrate, cinnamon, aluminum free baking powder, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2, niacinamide (B3), calcium folinate, lactase, spices
Vitamin A: The sources of vitamin A in the diet are complex. Humans derive vitamin A from both plant and animal sources, with plant sources needing to be converted into the form we actually use. MealSquares include several forms of vitamin A from both plants and animals.
Vitamin B: MealSquares include your DRI (daily recommended intake) of all B vitamins, including choline, an extremely common deficiency. Special attention is given to B12, which some people absorb poorly, and folate, which can be reduced slightly by the cooking process.
Vitamin C: The DRI for vitamin C is one of several we feel is too low. We have included enough that you'll get a solid amount of Vitamin C with MealSquares even after cooking losses have been accounted for.
Vitamin D3: Vitamin D deficiency is widespread, particularly in areas with low sun exposure and for individuals with darker skin. Deficiency is associated with elevated risks for a variety of health problems. MealSquares include over 1000 IU of Vitamin D3, significantly higher than the DRI, at the level needed to maintain optimal concentrations of 25-OHD to fight cardiovascular risk, loss of bone density, and elevated cancer risk. Recommendations to raise the DRI to this level by the Institute of Medicine and other researchers are currently being reviewed by the FDA.
Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status of the US population
Vitamin D Deficiency and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Vitamin E: A potent antioxidant; our vitamin E is mostly alpha-tocopherols from sunflower seeds, the most biologically active form.
Vitamin K: Vitamin K acts to prevent calcification of arteries and joints; this is in addition to its vital role as blood coagulant in case of injury. It has also been indicated in the regulation and proper absorption of vitamin D and calcium. MealSquares include vitamin K2, the form used by your body. K1 from plants must be converted to K2 to be useable, but this process is not very efficient.
Potassium: Average population intake of potassium is below the DRI. An intake in line with the DRI (4.7 grams) is associated with decreased risks of stroke, hypertension, osteoporosis, and kidney stones. MealSquares include several potassium-rich ingredients, adding up to over 100% of the DRI. In addition to the standalone health benefits, it has been found that the ratio of potassium to sodium in the diet is a strong predictor of health, especially stroke incidence.
Sodium: The FDA-created DRI (daily recommended intake) of sodium is 1500mg despite the fact that multiple meta analyses and intervention studies have shown greater mortality and generally worse health outcomes in low sodium intake groups (<3g/day). This surprising result is backed up by a Cochrane Collaboration Review, one of the most rigorous and respected organizations in the medical field. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews is a top 10 medical journal as ranked by impact in the field. We therefore don't drop any lower than the 2645mg/day lower limit suggested by the health outcomes in these studies. We plan to offer a true low sodium version for people placed on restricted diets by their doctor in the future.
Compared With Usual Sodium Intake, Low- and Excessive-Sodium Diets Are Associated With Increased Mortality: A Meta-Analysis
Sodium and Potassium Excretion and Risk of Cardiovascular Events
Calcium: The DRI for calcium (1000mg) is reasonable as far as our research has revealed.
Magnesium: Chronic magnesium deficiency is widespread, second only to Vitamin D deficiency in severity. The proportion of the population lacking adequate magnesium status has been estimated as high as 77% based on studies that include blood panel testing. For years, a 2:1 ratio between calcium and magnesium was suggested, but evidence indicates that a 1:1 ratio is closer to optimal given different absorption rates in the gut of these two minerals. MealSquares include more than double the DRI of 400mg to bring us closer to this 1:1 ratio. This is safe because all of this magnesium comes from whole foods. No level of magnesium consumption from whole foods has been found to be toxic, in contrast with supplements, which show signs of toxicity at relatively low levels.
The multifaceted and widespread pathology of magnesium deficiency
Dietary magnesium intake and the future risk of coronary heart disease
Role of dietary magnesium in cardiovascular disease prevention, insulin sensitivity and diabetes.
Zinc: average zinc intake falls below the DRI. This is possibly due to a lack of zinc-rich foods in the diet such as milk, almonds, yogurt, chickpeas, and shellfish. Even mild zinc deficiency has been indicated in immune system malfunction due to the use of zinc across so many biological functions in the body. MealSquares include 15mg of zinc.
Iron: iron is a necessary component of the diet. Heme iron from animal sources is the most bioavailable. The DRI for iron seems to be supported by the evidence.
Copper: MealSquares fall in line with the established copper DRI.
Selenium and Iodine: These nutrients are listed together because of their complementary role in regulating the thyroid gland and hormonal system. Excessive intake of one without the other leads to negative health outcomes, but when taken together, they lead to drastically improved health outcomes. MealSquares include over 100% of the DRI of each, in proportion.
What about chloride, manganese, sulfur, trace minerals, etc.? These compounds have very high or no established DRI or upper intake levels. MealSquares exceed the DRIs of these essential compounds while staying well within safe limits. With some rare exceptions, such as selenium from Brazil nuts, it's hard to overdose on natural foods!
MealSquares are a balanced calorie source, with 36% of calories from carbs (26% net carbs), 44% from fats, and 20% from protein. This ratio provides an excellent base from which individual modifications are easily made. For example, a person desiring a low carb or low fat diet can get half of their calories from MealSquares, confident that the limited fats/carbs they are getting are high quality and nutrient-dense. With carbs and fiber from fruits and grains, fats from a variety of vitamin-rich plant and animal sources, and protein with a complete amino acid profile, MealSquares are incredibly complete. To top it off, calorie tracking has never been easier. Cut a MealSquare into fourths for 100 calorie portions. With MealSquares, you always know exactly what you're getting with each serving.
Carbs: Oats provide us with a nutrient-dense, complex carb base to build off of. We're dissatisfied that almost every other meal replacement product on the market is 65+% carbs. Low-carb offerings often included excessive amounts of alcohol sugars and other low-carb sweeteners. MealSquares don’t try to be a low-carb solution but also don’t pump you full of sugar syrup. With the exception of a small amount in the dark chocolate chips, MealSquares contain no processed sugar at all. A full day's supply of MealSquares contains less sugar than 4 average servings of fruit and just 20 grams of added sugars, well below the World Health Organization's recommendation to limit added sugars to 25g per day.
Fiber: Oats, sunflower seeds, rice bran, and cinnamon. These are the whole food sources we derive our fiber from. Oats, chickpea flour, and sunflower seeds also contain resistant starch, an important part of a balanced diet. We go to extra lengths to develop the resistant starch content of MealSquares by pre-soaking our oat & chickpea flour. This also serves to deactivate the phytic acid content of the oats. Each step in the process of soaking, cooking, and refrigerating the final product serves to maximize resistant starch content.
Fats: Those worried about saturated fat content should be assured that our saturated fat (and cholesterol) content derives from healthy sources, not industrially produced fats. Milk, eggs, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and sunflower seeds; these are nutrient-dense and healthy sources of energy. All our sources of fat have shown numerous benefits in long term studies. Lacto-ovo vegetarians have significantly extended life spans compared to people eating normal diets, vegans, and even regular vegetarians. Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure as well as being an antioxidant and nutrient source. Coconut oil has been shown to raise HDL, improving the blood lipid ratio that predicts cardiovascular disease. Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamin E and demonstrate anti-inflammatory properties. Most of our polyunsaturated fat derives from raw sunflower seeds. Given the very high vitamin E content of sunflower seeds, we are confident that our polyunsaturated fat is stable, not oxidized. We will be sourcing our sunflower seeds from the high oleic acid varieties to reduce polyunsaturated fat content further.
Of course, our whole foods include 0 grams of trans fats.
Protein: The level of protein in 2000 calories of MealSquares is optimized for a lean, active 160lb person. According to studies the benefits of protein top out around .64g/lb of body weight. Those needing or desiring more protein can easily supplement. The vast majority of our protein content is from 90-100% bioavailable and complete sources (milk, eggs, whey). In contrast, many “high protein” products use rice and soy protein due to their low cost. Unfortunately, these protein sources only have 60-75% bioavailability, meaning you are getting much less protein than you think. This review has an excellent breakdown of the numerous studies that support protein consumption of .64g/lb of bodyweight.
There are several ingredients in MealSquares that are not whole foods; here we provide a breakdown of these and why we have chosen to include them.
Salt with iodine: unless we included a massive dose of seaweed, it would be extremely difficult to get to ideal levels of sodium and iodine. In the wild, animals seek out pure sodium deposits to lick, maybe the only known case of animals “supplementing.”
Potassium: a small amount (1/6th of a teaspoon) of potassium salt is added to our recipe to bring us in line with the DRI for potassium. In the future, we might be able to use dried bananas or another whole foods source, but for now we have no ready access to such a product that we can trust. Most such processed foods are treated chemically and have reduced nutrient profiles. We investigated the bioavailability of potassium salt and found it to be well absorbed, much like sodium salt.
Vitamin C powder: MealSquares include over 100% of the vitamin C DRI without any added supplementation. However, vitamin C is the most chemically fragile vitamin, being degraded by exposure to heat, light, or basic mediums. To be on the safe side, we've added a little extra.
Vitamin D3+K2: No whole food source is rich enough in vitamin D and K to reach ideal levels in the diet. Of course, the best source of vitamin D is the sun, but not everyone has the luxury of optimizing their sun exposure. Most animal products are vitamin K depleted due to the fact that livestock do not eat enough vitamin K1 rich foods. While our base recipe includes adequate amounts of these vitamins, we feel the evidence is strong that this addition is necessary. We get our D3+K2 liquid from brands that perform independent laboratory analysis of their products.
Whey powder: has the highest bioavailability of any protein source. It also has a complete profile of all essential amino acids. In addition, whey has shown numerous health benefits. It is the next best protein source after the whole food sources eggs, milk, and fish.
Vegetable Glycerin: Extracted from coconuts, this is used to retain moisture. Unbound water in the system decreases shelf life and hurts texture. It is the safest and most natural substance to perform this role we could find.
Xylitol: Extracted from corncobs, xylitol is highly beneficial to dental health. Regular use has been found to reduce dental caries to a third their normal rate. We include xylitol because so many parents expressed interest in MealSquares as a component of school lunches. Children often have poor dental hygiene habits, so every little bit helps. The amount of Xylitol needed to show benefits is small. A MealSquare contains around 2g of Xylitol. Xylitol is extremely safe, with hundreds of times the beneficial dose having been consumed for long periods with no ill effects.
Lactase: The lactase enzyme is produced by the human gut to digest milk, but for most of the earth’s population ability to process large amounts of milk decreases with age. A whole day's supply of MealSquares contains less than a cup of milk, but to be on the safe side, added lactase ensures that the milk will be well absorbed and not cause indigestion for most lactose intolerant individuals.
Calcium folinate: The vast majority of folate in MealSquares comes from whole food sources. However, as much as 50% of the population has poor absorption rates for folate. Many foods supplement with folic acid, but this has been found to potentially increase the incidence of certain cancers and neurological disorders. A small amount of calcium folinate, in addition to the folate from whole foods, ensures meeting 100% of the requirements for all populations.
A note on superdosing: Dietary supplements often include many times the DRI of various nutrients on the theory that even if absorption is poor, at least you're getting 16,000%! With MealSquares, you are getting your nutrients from whole foods, meaning nutrient bioavailability is high. We have been careful to keep all nutrients well below tolerable upper intakes. Even if you ate 4000 calories' worth of MealSquares, you wouldn't exceed the safe upper limit for any nutrient.