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The Skinny on Low- Calorie Liquid Diets


Dear Eating Right: Tommy Lasorda and Cristina Ferrare have lost weight on a liquid diet, so I've been considering trying it to drop the extra pounds I put on during the holidays. But because the number of choices in the drugstore is growing, I'm not sure which one to buy. What can you tell me about them?


Dear Mike: The celebrities you mention did lose weight on commercial liquid meal replacement diets. And on the surface, the drinks seem like extremely attractive, quick and relatively painless methods for weight loss.

Unfortunately, most people drink these very low-calorie diets but do not make other lifestyle changes. They may lose weight, but they often regain it as fast as they lost it. Some end up weighing even more than they did before they started the plan.

Chemically, there is little difference between the various drinks. They are made of a combination of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. When mixed with 1% low-fat milk, each drink supplies 220 calories and about 4 grams of fat. The most common flavors are chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.

To achieve 1,200 to 1,300 calories per day, you are advised to drink two to three shakes each day and eat one low-fat meal, including vegetables and lean meat, fish or poultry while on the plan. But you could attain the same goal each day by choosing a diet of low-fat foods. For example, a cup of whole-grain cereal and nonfat milk at breakfast offers the same number of calories as one serving of a diet beverage.

And, although the liquid meal replacements you purchase over the counter are safer than the liquid protein fasts that were popular in the early '80s, most health experts still recommend that these programs be undertaken with medical supervision.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. points out that these diets can be especially harmful to people who are not severely overweight. Surprisingly, the package labels advise use by consumers who are less than 20% overweight; AMA recommends that only people 30% overweight and above consider following them. That's because AMA says these very low-calorie diets are most effective in "severely obese individuals, typically 50% or more overweight."

To reduce some of the obvious criticism of their products, more and more manufacturers are marketing their drinks as part of a "complete weight-loss program." In addition to the exercise and behavior modification advice included in the package, Slim-Fast offers free brochures featuring shopping and exercise tips, information on label reading and menu planning, and even some recipes. The manufacturer also provides a toll-free hot line to answer consumer questions. In addition to the meal replacement beverage, Slim-Fast comes in snack bars designed to replace junk food between meals. But each bar has 110 calories and four grams of fat each--twice the calories and four times the fat in one apple.

A newcomer to the meal replacement category, DynaTrim, hopes to cope with the boredom that can accompany such programs by offering meals that can be served three different ways: as a shake, a mousse or frozen snack. The DynaTrim package also includes nutrition information, exercise tips, behavior modification advice and a toll-free hot line.

California Slim, another new product, boasts "no added sugar." And, unlike Slim-Fast and DynaTrim, California Slim is available in a fruit-juice shake flavor for making beverages with juice and fresh fruit.

(Many stores including Vons Grocery Co., Thrifty Drugs and Sav-On sell a generic version of Ultra Slim-Fast. At half the price, Times taste testers thought the generic chocolate variety tasted better and had a more creamy texture than any of the others. Chocolate Ultra Slim Fast seemed too thick. And, Mocha-Chocolate Shake flavored California Slim, at twice the price, was voted the worst tasting. Tasters found it thin with a strange aftertaste. DynaTrim tasted fine as a shake but, as a mousse it was too gelatinous.)

To avoid any complications, the AMA suggests you have a medical examination and electrocardiogram with satisfactory results before beginning any very low-calorie diet program. Avoid the diets if you have a health condition that might be complicated by quick weight loss, such as a heart disorder of any kind; a history of cerebovascular, renal or hepatic disease; cancer; type I diabetes, or significant psychiatric disturbance.

Mexican Rice and Bean Casserole, reduced-calorie soup, garden salad with reduced-calorie dressing and one medium baked apple topped with cinnamon is a menu suggestion from Slim-Fast.



1 teaspoon oil

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

1 green pepper, diced

1/2 cup long-grain rice

1 1/2 cups canned red kidney beans, drained

1 (12-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese

Healthy Tortilla Chips

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