Watch those liquid calories

MARQUETTE – Liquid calories and fast food were topics of Monday night’s Healthy Weight Journal education session.

Meeting in a small conference room off the cardiac rehabilitation gym at Marquette General Hospital, Mary Charlebois, registered dietitian at the MGH Department of Nutrition and Wellness/Diabetes Education, spoke with participants about the fluids they drink and the amount of calories those fluids have.

Charlebois said that several years ago she was prompted to write a short article titled, “Look out for liquid calories!” after regularly encountering people who would tell her that they weren’t eating much but were still gaining weight.

On several occasions, Charlebois said she asked what they were drinking. One man told her that all he ate each day was cheese – which he washed down with about a 12-pack of regular Mountain Dew. She said she’d never forget it.

“OK, you don’t need to eat, because you’re drinking all your calories,” she said.

Charlebois said liquid calories are one of those things that can quickly get away from you. For example, her article says that a woman who’s 5 feet 6 inches tall needs about 1,600 calories a day, only 320 of which – or 20 percent – should come from liquids. For a 5-foot-10-inch man, who needs about 2,120 calories a day, only 420 of those should come from liquids.

In general, Charlebois said, “I think people go way over that.”

Charlebois said it’s also important to know what size container you’re drinking from, as some people will drink 12- or 16-ounces of milk, for example, and count it as one cup. As a rule, she wrote in the article, “we can allow for 6 ounces juice (90 calories) and 3 to 4 cups of skim milk (270-360 calories) per day. Any fluids above and beyond this should be ‘non-calorie’ liquids,” such as water.

Charlebois recommended that people have a small glass of water with dinner.

Several of the participants also wanted to learn about diet sodas and how they might fit into their diets. Registered dietitian Deborah Sergey said that, much like other foods and drinks, diet pop in moderation is fine. However, she said, “for some people it stimulates the whole digestive system.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” asked participant Tim Derwin.

Sergey said that if people drink it to curb their appetites, they might find that they end up hungrier than they were before.

Another thing to consider, she said, was that the sweet taste of diet sodas makes people accustomed to that sort of sweetness. “You’re still getting that sweet desire fulfilled,” she said, whether it’s a can of pop or a piece of chocolate cake.

“It depends how it fits into your lifestyle and how you use it,” Charlebois said.

For the most part, the participants were very knowledgable about diet sodas. They mentioned that many contain phosphates – which can cause reduced bone density and consequently an increased risk of developing osteoporosis – and also discussed the potential health effects of aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in most diet drinks.

The group also discussed how to make healthy choices when eating fast food. Charlebois said that especially because some of the participants travel a lot, it’s important that they be able to look up the nutrition information of fast food restaurants and be able to parse that information to make the best choices to fit their own nutrition needs.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.