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You meant to drop a few pounds this spring, but you never got around to eating less and exercising more on a regular basis. With summertime here, you're considering how to shed that extra weight, and fast. Are diet shakes the ticket to a slimmer you? Perhaps.

Diet Shakes Pros and Cons

"I prefer people to lose weight on a balanced, low-fat diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables," says Cathy Nonas, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and director of Obesity and Diabetes Program at North General Hospital in New York City. "However, I realize that approach doesn't work best for everyone, so sometimes I recommend liquid meal replacements as part of a healthy eating plan."

Other nutritionists disagree. "Whole foods provide a much better balance of nutrients than meal replacements," says Hillary M. Wright, MEd, RD, a nutrition counselor at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston. "Plus, using real foods forces you to make choices that help you maintain weight loss in the long run."

Australian researchers writing in the Journal of Nutrition found that diet shakes, also called meal replacements, were just as effective for producing weight loss when compared with conventional, structured weight loss diets. However, study subjects using diet shakes were more positive about dieting in general, rating their eating plan more favorably for its convenience than those on the regular food diet. That may be just the motivation some people need to diet.

Nonas says diet shakes are particularly useful for jump-starting weight loss (health experts generally recommend limiting weight loss to no more than about 2 pounds a week). As with meal replacement bars or low-calorie entrees, diet shakes help you keep tight control on calories. "They are particularly useful for women who have very little leeway in calorie intake and who can't lose weight when they exceed their calorie quota even by a little," Nonas says.

Of course, diet shakes of any type won't work toward weight loss unless you eat fewer calories than you burn every day. To use diet shakes and meal replacement beverages most effectively, determine a calorie allowance for weight loss. You may be tempted to slash daily intake to 1,200 calories for fast results, but 1,500 calories may help you stick with your eating changes longer. Include exercise, which aids weight control and promotes good health.

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