If you’ve been keeping up with this challenge since the beginning, by now you should be finding hydration a breeze, fruits and veggies are plentiful, and your sugar intake is in check. So, what’s up this week? Liquid calories. Unless you’re a newborn, your daily nutrition needs should really be coming from foods, not liquids (soups are an exception). Why? Well, first, our ability to self-regulate liquid calories is not as good as with solid foods. Food fill up our stomach faster, alert the body that we’re being satiated, and typically, if you’re choosing whole, real foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, fish, seeds, nuts), food has a substantial increase in nutrients over liquids. Sure, orange juice has some vitamin C and other nutrients, but it has also been compromised by exposure to air and light, leading to a breakdown of nutrients and leaving you with essentially glorified sugar-water. It also has little to no fiber, no protein, no fat – just a huge surge of simple carbs. Likewise, coffee drinks offer little nutrition, and are often a huge calorie intake thanks to all the sugars, syrups, whips, etc. most coffee shops utilize.

So, this week, continue the focus on real, whole foods, limiting liquid calories to one serving a day. What counts as a liquid calorie? Juice, soda, smoothies (unless homemade), chocolate/flavored milk, flavored lattes, flavored mochas,  regular mochas, any coffee drink with whipped cream on top, milkshakes, malts, hot chocolate, coffee if it’s more cream and sugar than coffee, Gatorade, PowerAde, etc., alcohol of ANY KIND,  eggnog, chai lattes…if you think it would count, it probably does.  What DOESN’T count? Water, herbal tea, unsweetened tea, plain coffee, plain lattes (in moderation), homemade smoothies (if they’re just fruit and yogurt, no added sugars), protein shakes if the grams of protein are more than the grams of sugar per serving, milk, flavored waters with less than 5g of sugar per serving.

As you may have noted, some of the “no’s” for this week’s challenge happen to ALSO be on the “no” list for last week’s “sugar” challenge. Yep, that’s right, if you’re into sugared lattes or chocolately whipped mochas, you’re getting a double whammy. On the bright side, if that was your big indulgence, then you’ve probably already mastered limiting yourself from last week’s challenge and this week’s should be a breeze! On the not so bright side, if you’ve been guzzling down a chai AND a lovely mocha, you’re gonna have to pick on. Strategies to sail through this week’s challenge:

1) Keep water or other acceptable liquids on hand.

2) Think outside of the “box”; if you like something warm to drink, try different herbal teas, maybe even some seasonal ones, instead of going for that sugar and cream coffee or latte.

3) Use cinnamon, nutmeg, or a bit of almond or vanilla extract to flavor your drink. A little will go a long way, and both cinnamon and nutmeg tend to have a natural “sweetening” effect.

4) Reach for a healthy snack first, instead of a liquid. Many times, people ignore true hunger cues and drink something instead. If it’s water, that’s fine, but if it’s a calorie-full beverage, you’re likely to still be hungry and then end up eating something on top of the calories you just guzzled down.

5) Choose wisely. If you know you’re going to want a festive cocktail at the party Wednesday night, skip your morning pumpkin spice latte (yep, those count too) and opt for a plain coffee or green tea instead. Just like last week, planning ahead so you can truly indulge is key.

One more week to go! Are you feeling ready to face the New Year?

Aubrey Phelps, MS RDN