The saying “don’t drink your calories” has become a popular mantra in the health and wellness space. But what exactly does it mean, and why do people say it? In short, “don’t drink your calories” means avoiding beverages with high calorie counts, like soda, juice, and specialty coffee drinks, and instead drinking more water.
Some key questions around this saying include:
Why is drinking calories seen as bad?
Drinking calories is often seen as negative because liquid calories don’t provide the same fullness as solid food. When you drink something high in calories, you’re getting a lot of calories very quickly without feeling as satisfied. This can lead to consuming more calories overall.
What types of drinks have a lot of calories?
Some examples of high calorie beverages include:
- Soda – 150 calories per 12 oz can on average
- Sweetened iced teas – up to 130 calories per 12 oz bottle
- Juice – 150 calories per 8 oz glass typically
- Sweetened coffee drinks – can contain 300+ calories for a large blended coffee
- Alcoholic drinks like beer, wine, and cocktails
- Smoothies and milkshakes made with added sugars and ingredients like ice cream
What should you drink instead?
The main alternatives to high calorie beverages are:
- Water – 0 calories
- Unsweetened coffee and tea
- Sparkling water
- Diluted or lightly sweetened juice
- Nonfat or lowfat milk
Sticking to these lower calorie options allows you to stay hydrated without overconsuming calories.
The Drawbacks of Drinking Calories
There are a few key reasons why health experts caution against getting too many calories from drinks:
Liquid calories don’t satisfy hunger
Beverages high in sugar and calories go down quick and easy, but they don’t provide lasting fullness. Solid foods take more time to chew and digest, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Drinks don’t have this impact, so it’s easier to consume more calories than you need.
For example, drinking a glass of orange juice on an empty stomach may curb your appetite slightly, but not as much as eating an orange or bowl of oatmeal, which takes longer to digest and absorb.
Drinking calories can lead to consuming excess calories overall. Even healthy drinks like juice and milk can contribute to overconsumption if portion sizes aren’t controlled.
Blood sugar spikes
When you drink sugars rather than eating them, your blood sugar rises rapidly because there is no fiber to slow digestion. This leads to a quick burst of energy followed by a crash. Excessive blood sugar spikes from high calorie drinks can take a toll on your energy levels and possibly increase diabetes risk.
The fiber in whole fruits and other solid foods helps blunt blood sugar spikes. Chewing solid foods also naturally slows down calorie intake compared to drinking.
Sugary drinks like soda and sweetened coffee can harm your dental health. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and produce acids that damage tooth enamel. Sipping sugary drinks throughout the day exposes teeth to this acid attack.
Water and other unsweetened beverages are tooth-friendly alternatives. If you do drink sugary drinks, use a straw and rinse your mouth with water afterward.
High calorie beverages like soda, juices, and specialty coffee drinks tend to contain lots of added sugar and calories with little nutritional value. They provide empty calories without beneficial vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein and healthy fats.
To get nutrition along with hydration, drink water with meals and choose beverages like milk and 100% fruit juice in moderation. Add lemon, cucumber or fruit slices to water for natural flavor.
Contribute to weight gain
Due to the lack of filling fiber and the rapid blood sugar spikes, it’s easy to consume a high number of liquid calories without getting a lasting satisfied feeling. This can result in excess calorie intake and weight gain over time, especially if you drink high calorie beverages on a regular basis.
Studies consistently show an association between higher intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and obesity risk in both children and adults.
To help maintain a healthy weight, limit sugary drinks and stick to water or unsweetened options most of the time. Balance out any high calorie beverages with nutritious low calorie foods.
Instead of drinks packed with added sugars and empty calories, opt for these nutritious thirst-quenchers:
Plain water is naturally calorie-free and contains essential minerals. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day as a baseline hydration goal. Add sliced lemon, lime, cucumber or fresh mint to add some natural flavor.
If the taste of plain water gets boring, try sparkling water for some fizz. Look for unsweetened varieties to avoid extra calories and sweeteners.
Unsweetened tea and coffee
Sipping on unsweetened black coffee or green tea during the day can provide an energizing caffeine boost without calories or added sugars. Go for hot or iced tea/coffee and skip the sweetened creamers and syrups. A small amount of milk or cream is fine if desired.
Herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint and hibiscus provide flavorful options without caffeine as well.
Lowfat or nonfat dairy milk
Dairy milk like skim, 1% or 2% milk contains protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients with minimal fat and calories. An 8-ounce glass of lowfat milk clocks in around 100 calories on average. Limit to 1-2 servings per day.
Nondairy milk alternatives like unsweetened almond, soy or oat milk work too. Just check the label since calorie counts can vary between brands.
100% fruit juice (in moderation)
While whole fruits and veggies are ideal, you can incorporate a small glass of 100% fruit juice (like orange juice) for some additional nutrients. Stick to a modest 4-6 oz serving size and aim to drink juice along with a protein source like yogurt or eggs to help avoid blood sugar spikes.
Smoothies with fiber-rich additions
To make a more filling smoothie, include nutritious ingredients like Greek yogurt, oats, chia seeds, peanut butter, avocado and leafy greens. Add just a small amount of fruit juice or honey for a touch of natural sweetness. Protein powder is another option for an extra nutrition boost.
Low-calorie broth-based soups can help meet fluid needs while also providing steady satiation from protein and fiber-rich ingredients like beans, lentils, carrots, peas and barley. Go for homemade soups whenever possible to control sodium and ingredients.
Tips for Reducing Beverage Calories
If you regularly consume high calorie drinks, try implementing these simple tips to cut back:
1. Swap out one sugary drink per day
Gradually reduce your intake of sweetened beverages by substituting in something lower calorie, like infused water or unsweetened iced tea. Have a big insulated water bottle on hand at all times so water is always accessible.
2. Dilute juices and sweetened drinks
If going completely unsweetened is too drastic, try cutting sugary drinks with seltzer or plain water to dilute and reduce calories and sugar. Add a splash of 100% juice to plain sparkling water instead of drinking full-strength juice.
3. Opt for small sizes
When treating yourself to a smoothie, fancy latte or other high cal drink, ask for the smallest size available to help control portions. Many coffee shops offer 8 oz options for sweetened drinks.
4. Limit alcohol intake
Alcoholic drinks like beer, wine, cocktails and mixed drinks pack plenty of empty calories. Men should cap alcohol at 2 drinks per day, and women at 1 drink daily as a general rule. Spacing out drinks with water can help prevent overconsumption.
5. No drinks during meals
Only drink water with meals and for at least 30 minutes after eating. Sugary drinks can hinder digestion, and sipping any beverages during meals makes it harder for your brain to recognize fullness from solid foods alone.
6. Add more (unsweetened) flavor
Boost water’s flavor naturally with fruits, vegetables and herbs. Try combinations like lemon-lime, strawberry-cucumber, orange-mint, lime-jalapeno and mixed berry. An infuser water bottle makes it easy to steep fruit combinations on the go.
7. Monitor caffeine intake
Caffeine from coffee, tea and energy drinks can act as an appetite suppressant, so be mindful about overdoing it. Monitor signs of excess caffeine like anxiety, restlessness and sleep issues.
8. Read labels for hidden calories
Beverages aren’t always transparent – unsweet tea, lemonade and even bottled waters can harbor hidden sugars. Read nutrition labels carefully and choose no-calorie options when possible.
9. Don’t drink and drive
Avoid driving after consuming any alcoholic or caffeinated beverages that may impair alertness and reaction time. Dehydrate after drinking alcohol to mitigate adverse effects. Prioritize safety.
10. Consider goals and lifestyle
Assess your individual calorie needs based on factors like age, activity level and health status. Active individuals may be able to intake more liquid calories within reason, while sedantery adults likely need fewer.
The Bottom Line
The main takeaway when it comes to “don’t drink your calories” is to be mindful about high calorie beverages and opt for lower calorie options like water whenever possible. Limit sugary drinks like soda, juice and sweetened coffee, and stick to moderate intake of alcohol and nutritious drinks like milk.
Focus on getting nutrition primarily from wholesome solid foods, use calorie-free seasonings like herbs and citrus to jazz up water, and sip high calorie beverages only on occasion or in small portions. This balanced approach allows room for enjoyment of flavorful drinks while still supporting health and wellness goals.
It doesn’t mean you can never have sweetened tea or a milkshake again. With mindful decisions most of the time and sensible portions when you do indulge, you can still satisfy cravings and hydration needs without overdoing empty liquid calories. Drink consciously and find a healthy balance that works for your lifestyle.