Nutrition Q&A: Liquid supplements don't really help with weight loss

Q: As a very busy person, I find it hard to make a plan to help myself lose weight. When I am on the run, I've considered using the liquid nutrition supplements that can be purchased in the grocery store. What do you think about these liquid supplements for weight loss?

A: You are not alone in the battle of the bulge. Many people use these liquid nutrition supplements in an attempt to lose weight. While they may occasionally have a place in your healthy eating plan, there is nothing magical in these supplements that will help you shed those extra pounds. The typical 8-ounce liquid supplement contains approximately 200 to 250 calories, 10 to 15 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 0 to 5 grams of fiber.

Frequently, you are in a hurry and have not taken the time to pack a breakfast and/or lunch. Rather than driving through the closest fast-food restaurant, a nutritional supplement can be a healthier choice. A 4-ounce hamburger, a small order of french fries and a diet soda can set you back 630 calories and 33 grams of fat. For someone who may need to consume 1,500 calories to maintain or lose weight, this is 42 percent of your total calorie allotment for the day. Using these supplements as a meal replacement rather than a weight loss supplement is OK on an occasional basis.

Many of the supplements, if you follow their plan -- supplements throughout the day and one regular meal per day -- can help you to lose weight. The reason for this is you are eating fewer calories than what your body needs. It is not a component of the supplement that is helping you burn fat. In addition, when a person starts a "diet," he or she usually implements an exercise regimen, which also helps to shed body fat.

Unfortunately, the use of nutritional supplements does not teach you how to make good food choices. That is why once you stop using the supplements for weight loss, you go back to the drive-through and once again order the high calorie/fat meal rather than the lower calorie/fat meal of a baked chicken sandwich (with mustard or ketchup), a side salad with light dressing and 8 ounces of skim milk.

Nutritional supplements used for weight loss are frequently looked at as a crutch. Rather than planning and thinking ahead, many people use the supplements as a quick fix. The key to long-term success in weight loss is changing habits and then maintaining them. Taking five to 10 minutes in the evening to plan a healthy breakfast and lunch on the run is necessary for your future success. Take a look at the table below, "Quick-fix breakfast and lunch ideas," and use these suggestions in place of the supplements.

While there is no "miracle solution" to losing weight, you can start with some basic steps. They include fewer calories -- which means selecting "nutrient dense" foods (lots of nutrition for the calories) -- and smaller portion sizes. These steps may sound simple but actually practicing them is not. It takes time and perseverance to make the changes, and everyone is going to have several setbacks. However, these should not make you feel guilty and cause you to give up. Rather, start the next day with the intention to get back on track.

To be successful, some people feel the need to be accountable to another person. Most area hospitals employ registered dietitians who can help you with your weight loss efforts. For a listing of out-patient registered dietitians who are members of the Pittsburgh Dietetic Association, check out the Web site and click on the "Find an RD" button or call Meg Mayer-Costa, MS, RD at 412-350-4637 for a copy of Pittsburgh Area Guide to Nutrition Services.

Quick-fix breakfast and lunch ideas

 CaloriesFat (grams)Fiber (grams)
• 1/2 cup raisin and bran cereal
• 1 medium banana
4 ounces skim milk25017• One small bran muffin
• 1/2 cup fruit juice
• 4 ounces chocolate milk31525• 1 English muffin
• 1 tablespoon jam or jelly
• 1 medium apple
• 8 ounces skim milk34025• 2 ounces turkey
• 2 slices whole wheat bread
• 1/2 cup low fat pudding
• 1 medium peach28045• 8 ounces nonfat yogurt
• 6 pretzels
• 1 medium pear31005• 1 1/2 cups chili (leftovers)
• 6 crackers
• 1 medium orange
• 8 ounces skim milk
Note: In the event that one or more of these meals is too much to eat at one time, one of the items can be used for a snack mid- morning or afternoon.

Mary Alice Gettings and Cindy Javor are registered dietitians who work for Penn State Cooperative Extension. If you have a question about nutrition, you can reach Ms. Gettings in Beaver County at 724-774-3003 and Ms. Javor in Allegheny County at 412-473-2540.


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