Are You Drinking Too Many Calories?

Are You Drinking Too Many Calories?

How sipping may be sneakily throwing off your diet

Photo: Young man and woman drinking cups of coffee

Sure, soda gets all the bad press, but sports drinks, fruit juices, bottled sweet teas, and syrupy coffee beverages are all on deck as liquid diet offenders. “We’re drinking hundreds of extra calories a day,” says Melina Jampolis, M.D., Los Angeles-based physician, nutrition specialist, and author of The Calendar Diet. A big drawback to liquid cals? “The brain does not register fullness from liquid calories like it does solid foods,” she says. When you eat whole foods, your body gets solid nutrients, while liquids work more like water—temporarily filling you without lasting effects. But that doesn’t mean fluids just flush through your system—sugars, sodium, and empty carbs from your drinks can stick around and lead to irregular blood sugar and weight gain.
But liquids keep you full and prevent overeating, you say? Studies show that consuming liquid calories before meals won’t help you feel satiated or lead to eating fewer solid calories, Dr. Melina says. This may be because liquids are often consumed more rapidly than solid food. The outcome: You may take in double or triple calories at mealtime, without even realizing it. If you are trying for liquid satiety, choose freshly brewed green tea, water, or milk, which have been linked to curbing appetite, she says. 
Sugar Shock
It’s not just a calorie intake issue—you may “only” get 40 calories from a light mocha latte, but all from high-fructose corn syrup. “[With most caloric drinks] you get a huge load of sugar, cause a blood sugar spike and crash, become hungrier or grumpier, and have unique negative metabolic effects such as sugar being dumped into the liver,” Dr. Melina says. Your liver then sends glucose into your system, which elevates the blood sugar and can lead to abnormal insulin response. Eat smaller meals every 2-3 hours to regulate blood sugar and keep liver function normal. Also, watch out for fruity drinks or bottled teas that are packaged as healthy yet are anything but. Store-bought smoothies can have 84 to 100 grams of sugar, she says. Honey-sweetened bottled teas also tend to be sweet because of additional refined sugar or corn syrup, not just honey. 
Sweet Solutions
To keep liquid calories low, try these easy and economical tricks from Dr. Melina:

  • Make your own soda at home with an at-home soda system.
  • Sweeten coffee with nut milk, cinnamon, or natural sweetener such as honey or coconut sugar.
  • Brew your own iced tea for low-calorie sips.
  • Make fruit- or veggie-infused water to add pizazz to plain water.
  • Drink water, tea, or milk with meals to curb appetite and avoid unnecessary calories.
  • Go for stevia- or cane sugar-sweetened sodas when you really need a soda fix.

The Bottom Line
Not all liquid calories are alike, especially when artificially-sweetened sports drinks or “skinny” lattes clock in fewer calories than, say, a glass of nutrient-rich almond milk. “We definitely are consuming an excess of liquid calories, especially sugar-sweetened beverages. People are not getting obese from milk or tea in this country,” Dr. Melina says. Your full-proof plan: Sip on something naturally low in calories to stay hydrated and get nutritional compensation, she suggests.