Drinking Your Calories: It All Adds Up

Many colorful drinks
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Back in the '70s, liquid diets were hot — liquid meal replacements and diet shakes had just entered our lexicon. And today, with the popularity of juicing and a litany of beverage choices such as coffees, teas, sports and energy drinks, enriched waters and smoothies, liquids are hotter than ever. Some liquid supplements, juices and smoothies may be an effective way to increase your daily nutrient intake, but studies indicate that consuming an increased volume of liquid calories could be counterproductive for health.

It’s been documented that sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas and artificially flavored “fruit” drinks— rich in calories through readily absorbable sugars — may contribute to chronic diseases. A 2010 study published in Diabetes Care found that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and weight gain.

Sodas and “fruit” drinks are well known culprits for added calories, but many other beverages such as sports drinks and even juices also add calories to your daily intake without contributing much to satiety. In fact, a 2008 review published in Obesity Reviews suggests that fluid calories are not recognized by the body in the same way as solid foods. Consuming liquid calories does little to suppress ghrelin — the body’s hunger-stimulating hormone — as effectively as consuming solid foods. This means you may feel hungry even after you’ve finished a high-calorie juice or milkshake. Typically, people don’t compensate for those extra beverage calories by reducing their food intake, resulting in more calories consumed. This was the case in the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 50,000 women for eight years. The study found that women who reduced their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages cut their daily caloric intake by an average of 319 calories. Other female participants who increased their intake of such beverages from one per week to one or more per day ended up consuming an extra 358 calories each day. See the chart below to understand how quickly liquid calories can add up.

Popular Caloric Beverages

Beverage Serving size Calories
Chocolate milkshake, small 12 oz. 588
Starbucks Strawberry Smoothie Grande 16 oz. 300
Jamba Juice Classic Smoothie, Banana Berry 16 oz. 290
Gatorade, Original Thirst Quencher 30 oz.  200
Jamba Juice Orange Carrot Karma Smoothie, small 16 oz. 196
Starbucks, Café Latte, grande 16 oz. 190
Slim Fast, Vanilla Shake 9 oz. 180
Muscle Milk, Chocolate 11 oz. 180
Vitamin Water 20 oz. 150
Soda, regular 1 can, 12 oz. 140
Hawaiian Fruit Punch 8 oz. 140
Orange juice 8 oz.  112
V8 100% Vegetable Juice 8 oz. 50


Your best bet may be to steer clear of liquid calories and stick to water and other zero-calorie beverages, such as plain coffee or tea. It may be a better idea to focus on solid foods, such as whole fruit, over their liquid, juice form. You’ll end up more satisfied and less likely to overeat throughout the day.


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McKenzie Hall
McKenzie Hall and Lisa Samuel, registered dietitians and nutritionists, are co-founders of Nourish RDs. You can find more of their non-diet advice on their blog and connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!