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The Unsweet Truth About Empty Calorie Beverages

by Lindsay Allen April 25, 2023 0 Comments

Senior woman drinking juice

Are you drinking unnecessary calories? When it comes to calories, they are not all created equal. A calorie is a measure of the energy value of a food or drink. Liquid calories tend to be easier and quicker to consume – they may satisfy thirst, but not hunger. We refer to those as ‘empty’ or ‘hidden’ calories. Our body does not feel the same fullness or satiety from a drink as it does from solid foods, so it is best to replace soda or juice with water and a healthy snack. Keep reading to learn more about why you should avoid drinking these empty calories.

The Facts About Empty Calories

Empty calories can provide some immediate energy, but they cannot be used to build muscle, supply vitamins, fill us up, or provide other nutritional benefits. And any empty calories not used for energy will be stored as fat. So far it doesn’t sound good, right?

Most Commonly Consumed Empty Calories

Rule of Thumb: If a food does not contain nutrients or if the calories from sugar and fats outweigh the nutrients found in the food, it's considered to be a source of empty calories.

  • Soft drinks, sports drinks, sweet tea, lemonade, and energy drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Junk food and fast food
  • Candy
  • Cakes and donuts

Why Avoid Drinking Empty Calories for Weight Loss

If you are finding it hard to lose weight you may want to shift your focus from the food on your plate to what is in your cup. 

According to the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, regular consumption of calories in liquid form is said to be responsible for body weight gain. Research points to a direct correlation between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages – such as sodas, juices, and specialty coffee drinks – and the rise of obesity in America.

When considering calories consumed, it’s easy to overlook those that come from beverages we drink. As a result, we don’t think twice about consuming a drink that may be filled with hundreds of calories. If you are struggling with weight loss it is important to focus on what you are drinking. Be sure to log all drinks along with the foods you consume to ensure you are getting an accurate account of your total daily calories. Take a look at the example below to see how many extra calories could be coming from beverages you consume.

Example of a Potential Daily Liquid Intake (estimated):
Morning Café mocha, 16 oz (nonfat milk) 230 calories
Lunch 12 oz soda 140 calories
Snack 12 oz juice 150 calories
Evening 8 oz wine 150 calories

In this example, it adds approximately 670 daily calories. Adding up to an additional 4,690 calories per week.

That is a lot of calories without any good meals to back it up.  But the good news is that if you make healthier liquid choices, you can save a ton of calories. And cutting back calories equals pounds lost (over 4 pounds if you use the weekly calorie count above).

Common High-Calorie Drinks to Avoid

As mentioned above, liquid calories may seem hidden until their impact shows up on a scale. If it’s an occasional drink, there is no reason to pause. But the reality is that Americans are drinking a combination of several high-calorie drinks each day filling up their calorie budgets before they even take a bite. 

Here’s a look at estimated calories in typical drinks (8 ounces): 

Soft drinks 105
Energy drinks 130
Sweetened iced tea 70
Orange juice 115
Fruit smoothie 135
Coffee drinks 200 to 600
White wine 250
Red Wine 210
Alcoholic mixed drinks 240
Don't forget to log daily drinks along with the food intake when tracking total calories.

Healthier Substitutes

To satisfy your thirst, water or unsweetened tea are recommended. Both have zero calories and will rehydrate your body. Getting enough water every day is important for your overall health and prevents dehydration, which can cause unclear thinking, mood changes, overheating, constipation, and kidney stones.

Instead of sugary drinks, try some of these low-calorie beverages can be hydrating and enjoyable.

Naturally Flavored Water

“Infused water” is the new trend. Add fresh berries, ginger, lemon or cucumber slices and fresh herbs to your water and soak overnight. Tip: The longer the fruit or vegetables sit in the water, the more intense the flavor will be.

Sparkling Water

The closest alternative for sodas is sparkling water. Plenty of options and flavors to satisfy most taste buds. Tip: Research has shown that seltzer water can help promote the feeling of fullness, or satiety. Satiety can help reduce overeating and other unhealthy eating habits.

Coconut Water

Coconut water is high in potassium and low in calories. It is a healthier alternative compared to soft drinks and other juices. Tip: It tastes best when served cold.


A fermented health drink from Asia. Its flavor may not be for everyone, but it contains little to no sugar and has probiotics. Tip: It is said to help with digestion, rid the body of toxins and boost energy.

Homemade Vegetable or Fruit Smoothies

Store-bought smoothies typically contain a lot of added sugar. Make your own with a vegetable base (cucumber, spinach, kale or celery). Add some fruit, spices (ginger, turmeric or cinnamon), and a liquid (water, coconut water or almond milk) to complete your smoothie. Tip: A great option for a healthy breakfast or snack on the go.

5 Tips for Cutting Down on Liquid Calories

1. Think twice about sports drinks

While these beverages can help you replenish electrolytes after a workout, your body may not need the whole bottle. Reduce portions, cut with water, or try swapping sugary drinks for unsweetened sparkling water or the diet version of your favorite soda.

2. Avoid overindulging on alcohol

Limiting alcohol is an important component of an overall healthy lifestyle, as well as cutting out empty calories. There are no beneficial calories in alcohol, and each gram includes 7 calories which add up quickly. Monitor overall intake, use no calorie mixers or remove all together. 

3. Evaluate your intake

If you are not already keeping a record start. Record both the foods and drinks you consume daily to track overall trends. Seeing where you might be able to make some improvements can help with both reducing calories and improving overall health. 

4. Revive your water consumption

Water is the best choice because it has zero calories and hydrates your body. The average recommendation is 12 cups for men and 8 cups for women but that can vary depending on overall health, conditions, activity level, and environment. Check with your doctor for questions.

5. Don’t go cold turkey

When you are cutting out liquid calories, do it gradually. Going cold turkey can cause a blow to your system and cause minor symptoms like headaches, changes in mood, and irritability. Make a slow change by substituting one drink with a glass of water or unsweetened tea each day until you have arrived at your desired goal.

Start Cutting Those Unnecessary Calories

For anyone trying to lose weight, the term empty or liquid calorie can be worrisome. And because of their potential impacts, it's warranted. The calories we drink are consumed quickly, sometimes without even thinking or providing any nutritional benefit. Don’t get us wrong, the occasional coffee drink or soda is fine. It is all about the calories we drink daily that add up in a big way.


Rethink your Drink: CDC 

Make Better Drink Choices: USDA

Get the Facts: Sugar Sweetened Beverages: CDC

Drinking Less Alcohol: CDC

Lindsay Allen
Lindsay Allen

For over 20 years, Lindsay has worked as a passionate and dedicated professional seeking to advocate health & well-being in the community and beyond. She has worked with various hospitals & health departments to plan, implement & evaluate educational programs on healthy lifestyle topics including nutrition, physical activity, and cancer prevention. She completed her degree & internship in Dietetics from Virginia Tech and holds certifications in CDC Diabetes Prevention Program along with effective writing and cultural competency to assist clients in the best personal goal setting & habits. In her spare time, Lindsay loves working out, watching sports, and spending time with her husband, 3 children & dogs.

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