Does your body count liquid calories?

When it comes to weight loss and weight management, there is a lot of debate over whether liquid calories like juice, soda, alcohol, and other beverages get treated differently by the body compared to solid foods with the same number of calories. Some argue that liquid calories don’t register with the body in the same way and can easily lead to excess calorie intake and weight gain. Others believe liquid calories are no different than calories from solid foods. So what’s the answer – does your body count liquid calories? Let’s take a deeper look.

Do Liquid Calories Satiate Hunger?

One of the main arguments around liquid calories is that they aren’t as filling as solid foods. Beverages don’t require chewing and go down quickly, so the body may not register that calories have been consumed. This could lead to inadequate satiety and overconsumption of calories. Some research has supported this theory:

Study 1

In one study, two groups were given a snack of either a 360 calorie drink or a 360 calorie solid food. The group that had the solid snack reported feeling fuller and ate less at their next meal compared to the liquid snack group.1

Study 2

Another study compared the effects of a liquid meal replacement shake vs. a solid meal replacement bar with the same number of calories. Again, the solid food led to decreased hunger and lower subsequent calorie intake compared to the liquid version.2

Study 3

A review of multiple studies concluded that liquid foods and beverages tend to be less satiating compared to solid versions of the same foods. Participants consumed more calories later in the day after liquid snacks vs. solid snacks.3

So there does seem to be evidence that liquid calories aren’t treated the same by the body when it comes to hunger and satiety cues. The quicker transit time and lack of chewing with liquids may lead to differences in gut hormone responses and signals to the brain.

Are Liquid Calories Less Filling?

Beyond hunger and satiety hormones, researchers have looked at perceptions of fullness after consuming liquid vs. solid calories. Some studies have shown that liquids aren’t perceived as filling:

Study 1

One study compared a snack of jellybeans vs. a beverage with the same calories. The jellybean snack led to higher self-reported food and calorie consumption compared to the beverage, even though calories were matched.4

Study 2

In another study, participants reported feeling more satiated and less desire to eat after consuming a solid meal vs. a liquid meal replacement with an equal number of calories.5

Therefore, not only do liquid calories appear to affect satiety hormone responses, but individuals also report perceiving liquid calories as less filling than the same number of calories from solid foods.

Do Liquids Fail to Curb Appetite?

The lack of satiety, fullness, and appetite suppression seen with liquid calories could lead to excess calorie intake. Some research has demonstrated this failure to curb appetite:

Study 1

One study found that when participants drank a caloric beverage before a meal, they still consumed the same amount of calories vs. when they drank a non-caloric beverage. Essentially, the liquid calories didn’t end up reducing solid food calorie consumption.6

Study 2

Another study found that drinking a caloric beverage with a meal increased total calorie intake vs. just drinking water with the meal. The additional liquid calories didn’t displace solid food calories.7

Study 3

Research has also shown that simply drinking water with meals can help reduce calorie intake and increase weight loss.8 This provides further evidence that caloric beverages do not have the same appetite-suppressing effects as solid foods.

Overall, science indicates that liquid calories are poorly recognized by the body and don’t trigger satiety and fullness or curb appetite and calorie consumption to the same extent as solid calorie sources.

Are Fructose-Sweetened Beverages Problematic?

There is specific concern around beverages sweetened with fructose, such as sugary sodas. Studies have shown that fructose does not stimulate satiety hormones or fullness ratings in the same manner as glucose.9 This suggests calorie-containing beverages high in fructose are especially troublesome for appetite control and excess calorie intake.

Study 1

One study compared the effects of consuming a fructose-sweetened beverage vs. a glucose-sweetened beverage containing the same calories. The fructose drink led to greater brain activity in regions involved in appetite and reward compared to the glucose drink.10

Study 2

Another study found that drinking a fructose-sweetened beverage with a meal did not decrease subsequent food intake compared to drinking a glucose-sweetened beverage, which did suppress food intake.11

Therefore, fructose specifically seems to interrupt normal appetite signals. Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda don’t properly regulate intake the way solid carb sources containing glucose do.

Do Liquid Calories Increase Weight Gain Risk?

Due to their lack of satiety and fullness, as well as their inability to curb appetite and calorie intake, liquid calories have been associated with increased weight gain and obesity risk in some research:

Study 1

One large study with over 70,000 women found that increased sugar-sweetened beverage consumption over one year was linked to increased weight gain.12

Study 2

A study in children found that each additional serving of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed per day was associated with a 0.18 kg greater weight gain over one year.13

Study 3

A randomized controlled trial instructed participants to consume 1-2 servings per day of sugar-sweetened beverages or noncaloric beverages for 6 months. The group consuming sugary beverages had significant increases in body fat percentage and body weight.14

Study 4

A meta-analysis of multiple cohort studies found that higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to a 0.22 kg higher weight gain per serving per year compared to low intake.15

Therefore, the unique effects of liquid calories on satiety, appetite, and calorie intake seem to translate to increased obesity risk in many studies.

Do All Beverages Have Same Effects?

It’s worth noting that not all beverages seem to have the same detrimental effects as sugary sodas and drinks high in fructose. For example:

Protein Shakes

Protein shakes and other high-protein drinks have been associated with increased satiety.16 The protein stimulates appetite-regulating hormones. One study found that liquid high-protein meals suppressed appetite and food intake comparable to solid high-protein meals.17


Although technically a liquid, soup has been associated with increased satiety and decreased calorie intake. Chewing and eating the solid ingredients may trigger fullness signals to help soup act more like a solid vs. typical liquid beverage.18


Dairy milk provides protein and nutrients that may trigger appetite signals in the gut. One study found whole milk to be more satiating than juice.19

So while many beverages seem to undermine normal satiety and food intake regulation, some options like milk, soup, and protein shakes may be better for appetite control.

Tips For Managing Liquid Calories

Here are some tips to help manage liquid calorie intake:

Avoid empty liquid calories

Limit intake of beverages that provide a lot of easily-consumed calories with little nutrition, like sugary sodas, juices, and alcoholic drinks.

Add protein

Choose higher protein versions like milk and protein shakes to help stimulate satiety.

Eat food first

Have your meal or snack first, then drink calories afterward to avoid overriding fullness signals.

Use smaller containers

Drinking from tall, narrow glasses has been shown to unconsciously reduce intake vs. short, wide glasses.

Add texture

You can add seltzer, muddled fruit, cucumber slices or herbs to water for flavor and texture.

Hydrate with water

Drink water frequently with and between meals to help fill your stomach.

The Bottom Line

In general, liquid calories appear to be less satiating, less filling, and less effective at suppressing appetite than solid food calories. Sugary drinks and beverages high in fructose are especially troublesome. The unique effects of liquid calories can promote excess calorie intake and increased weight gain over time.

However, higher protein beverages, soup, and milk may be exceptions. Focusing on whole foods, avoiding empty liquid calories, and drinking plenty of water are smart strategies for appetite and weight control.


1. Cassady BA, Hollis JH, Fulford AD, Considine RV, Mattes RD. Mastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite, and hormone response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(3):794-800. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26669. Epub 2009 Jan 28. PMID: 19176744; PMCID: PMC2656292.

2. Bertenshaw EJ, Lluch A, Yeomans MR. Satiating effects of protein but not carbohydrate consumed in a between-meal beverage context. Physiol Behav. 2008 Nov 28;95(3):427-36. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.07.014. Epub 2008 Jul 23. PMID: 18675295.

3. Almiron-Roig E, Chen Y, Drewnowski A. Liquid calories and the failure of satiety: how good is the evidence? Obes Rev. 2003 Nov;4(4):201-12. doi: 10.1046/j.1467-789X.2003.00107.x. PMID: 14649372.

4. Flood JE, Rolls BJ. Soup preloads in a variety of forms reduce meal energy intake. Appetite. 2007 Nov;49(3):626-34. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2007.04.002. Epub 2007 Apr 20. PMID: 17507116; PMCID: PMC2245945.

5. Mattes RD. Soup and satiety. Physiol Behav. 2005 Feb 28;83(5):739-47. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2004.09.021. PMID: 15705020.

6. Tieken SM, Leidy HJ, Stull AJ, Mattes RD, Schuster RA, Campbell WW. Effects of solid versus liquid meal-replacement products of similar energy content on hunger, satiety, and appetite-regulating hormones in older adults. Horm Metab Res. 2007 May;39(5):389-94. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-976531. Epub 2007 May 23. PMID: 17521840; PMCID: PMC2677557.

7. Soenen S, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. No differences in satiety or energy intake after high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or milk preloads. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;86(6):1586-94. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/86.6.1586. PMID: 18065591.

8. Akhavan T, Anderson GH. Effects of glucose-to-fructose ratios in solutions on subjective satiety, food intake, and satiety hormones in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Nov;86(5):1354-63. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/86.5.1354. PMID: 17991638.

9. Poppitt SD, Strik CM, MacGibbon AK, McArdle BH, Budgett SC, McGill AT. Fat-free yogurt drink supplemented with long-chain inulin, L-carnitine and green tea extract affects appetite control in women. Br J Nutr. 2011 Jun;106(8):1208-14. doi: 10.1017/S000711451100170X. Epub 2011 May 5. PMID: 21546442.

10. Rolls BJ, Kim S, Fedoroff IC. Effects of drinks sweetened with sucrose or aspartame on hunger, thirst and food intake in men. Physiol Behav. 1990 Mar;48(1):19-26. doi: 10.1016/0031-9384(90)90254-2. PMID: 2388279.

11. Melanson KJ, Zukley L, Lowndes J, Nguyen V, Angelopoulos TJ, Rippe JM. Effects of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose consumption on circulating glucose, insulin, leptin, and ghrelin and on appetite in normal-weight women. Nutrition. 2007 Feb;23(2):103-12. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2006.11.001. Epub 2007 Jan 16. PMID: 17224373.

12. Schulze MB, Manson JE, Ludwig DS, Colditz GA, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. JAMA. 2004 Aug 25;292(8):927-34. doi: 10.1001/jama.292.8.927. PMID: 15328324.

13. Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet. 2001 Feb 17;357(9255):505-8. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)04041-1. PMID: 11229668.

14. de Ruyter JC, Olthof MR, Seidell JC, Katan MB. A trial of sugar-free or sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight in children. N Engl J Med. 2012 Oct 11;367(15):1397-406. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1203034. Epub 2012 Sep 21. PMID: 22998340.

15. Malik VS, Schulze MB, Hu FB. Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Aug;84(2):274-88. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/84.1.274. PMID: 16895873; PMCID: PMC3210834.

16. Poppitt SD, Proctor J, McGill AT, Wiessing KR, Falk S, Xin L, Budgett SC, Darragh A, Hall RS. Low-dose whey protein-enriched water beverages alter satiety in a study of overweight women. Appetite. 2011 Aug;57(1):456-64. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.06.008. Epub 2011 Jun 18. PMID: 21703616.

17. Akhavan T, Luhovyy BL, Brown PH, Cho CE, Anderson GH. Effect of premeal consumption of whey protein and its hydrolysate on food intake and postmeal glycemia and insulin responses in young adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr;91(4):966-75. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28406. Epub 2010 Feb 24. PMID: 20181815.

18. Mattes RD. Soup and satiety. Physiol Behav. 2005 Feb 28;83(5):739-47. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2004.09.021. PMID: 15705020.

19. Poppitt SD, Proctor J, McGill AT, Wiessing KR, Falk S, Xin L, Budgett SC, Darragh A, Hall RS. Low-dose whey protein-enriched water beverages alter satiety in a study of overweight women. Appetite. 2011 Aug;57(1):456-64. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.06.008. Epub 2011 Jun 18. PMID: 21703616.

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