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People often don’t even realize what their favourite drink contains, neither they remember what they drink in a day. And then they blame a slow metabolism or poor genetics for the necessity to reach down and loosen their belt after eating, or the inability to lose weight. But it’s not that complicated, you just need to look honestly and clearly at your overall lifestyle, find shortcomings and slowly work to improve them. That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Let’s take a look at what those liquid calories are, why they are often referred to as empty calories and how they affect weight loss, weight gain and overall health.
What are liquid calories? It’s all sugar, alcohol and fat
Liquid calories represent calories hidden in drinks, which people often unknowingly drink to meet daily fluid needs. Behind this you can imagine the entire beverage aisle in supermarkets with an inexhaustible number of different soft drinks trying to attract your attention. However, they all have one thing in common – sugar. Somewhere further in the corner, you can find unsweetened drinks and mineral water, and more conscious consumers often reach for those.
When walking around a supermarket you can also notice a large variety of juices, energy drinks, coffee and tea drinks or a bunch of milk-based drinks. If you ignore unsweetened drinks and the ones with artificial sweeteners or calorie-free polyalcohols mentioned on the packaging, you are left to choose from the rest of the offer. And what does the rest have in common? Sugar.
And the last representative of liquid calories is alcohol, which can get you nicely drunk if you consume too much of it. Unfortunately, getting drunk will only get you a headache and stomach ache the next day. Even though most people are aware of the sugar content in the most popular soft drinks, shopping baskets are still full of them.
How do liquid calories sabotage weight loss and lead to weight gain?
To illustrate, meet Eve. Eve tries to eat healthy and wants to lose weight, she even has a diet plan set to lose weight, but she’s getting frustrated because she’s not succeeding and wondering where she could be making a mistake?
Eve starts her day with a complex breakfast in the form of porridge with protein, and she also has coffee with cream and a little bit of sweet coconut syrup. Eve drinks a 0.3l glass of orange juice with her morning snack because she heard that it is healthy and contains vitamin C. Eve only had a glass of water with her lunch, but because she only had a light salad with a minimum of protein, she also had a healthy smoothie, which she hopes will fill her with as few calories as possible. On the way home from work, she buys Light Iced Coffee in a store because she is used to it and most of all she likes it. In the evening, she and her boyfriend have a glass of wine as a reward for fulfilling her daily workout plan.
So where is Eve making a mistake and why isn’t she losing weight?
Eve has a workout and a diet plan set for a daily caloric deficit of 500 kcal. But Eve didn’t count 100 ml of 12% cream (136 kcal) and 10 ml of coconut syrup (32 kcal) which she had in her morning coffee. She also didn’t realize that 0.3 l of orange juice (135 kcal) also has some energy value. She also added 1 banana, half an apple and half a pear, 10 grams of chia seeds, 30 grams of spinach and 100 ml of semi-skimmed milk (roughly 250 kcal) to her healthy smoothie, which she thought would have a minimum of calories. A package of Light Iced Coffee (175 kcal), which she enjoyed on the way home, and a glass of semi-dry wine (180 kcal) in the evening to celebrate her success with following her diet plan, added an extra 900 kcal to her energy intake.
Although Eve has a caloric deficit set at 500 kcal, she is in a caloric excess of 400 kcal due to unnecessary energy intake from beverages. Not only will she not lose weight, but she will probably gain weight. Eve’s case may seem slightly exaggerated, but when you analyse what the average person can drink during the day, it may not be that far from the truth in terms of the calorie intake.
Do people drink more alcohol due to rapidly changing measures?
There are reports from almost all over the world that people drink more alcohol at times of stay-at-home orders. For example, in the United States, according to the study, 1 in 3 Americans drink alcohol during working hours while working from home. “We are going through a stressful time now. Many people are struggling to work from home, they are facing a lot of distractions and alcohol may seem like a good way to deal with the situation,“ says Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief physician of the American Addiction Centres. “Drinking alcohol is directly linked to the anxiety and fear of the current COVID-19 pandemic,” Weinstein said, trying to explain why Americans reach for an alcohol drink more often during this time. In Poland, research has found a disturbing increase in alcohol consumption among quarantined doctors. More than 50% of physicians surveyed found that their alcohol consumption had increased significantly during this time, and about 40% of physicians admitted to consuming alcohol more than four times a week. [1–2]
A similar increase in alcohol consumption at home can be observed, for example, in Australia and the United Kingdom. This may be due to the fact that alcohol is unfortunately a fairly common response to coping with stress and social isolation. The same trend can be observed in almost all countries, according to media reports. But the question is whether the total alcohol consumption has increased or just moved to households. Either way, alcohol won’t solve stress, anxiety or life worries. On the contrary, it might make those feelings deeper and deeper over time. A much better strategy is to spend time in nature, do sports, meditate, visit sauna, try a cold water therapy or stay in touch with your loved ones, at least by phone. [3–7]
If you want to learn why these strategies are more successful than fighting stress with alcohol, read our article Why Is Stress Dangerous and How to Reduce It?
How many calories and sugar do these popular drinks contain and why are smoothies not that healthy?
It was already mentioned that the most common source of calories in beverages is mainly sugar and in alcoholic beverages it’s alcohol. It should be taken into account that some drinks also contain milk, cream or chocolate, which increases their fat value. Below you will find out how many calories and sugar some drinks contain and how long the average 65-kilogram woman and the 80-kilogram man have to go running at a speed of 10 kph (6.21 mph) to burn those calories. 
1. Sweet carbonated drinks and mineral water
Do you like Coca-Cola? It is a great example of a sweetened drink as well as a whole bunch of others, such as Mountain Dew, Fanta, Pepsi and countless other popular soft drinks. Even companies that were supplying the market with pure mineral water now try to tip the customer to their side by creating sweetened mineral water in an unlimited number of flavours.
And let’s not lie to each other, because of the fairly high energy value in sugary drinks, sweet soda are often associated with weight gain and obesity and are often stated to be directly linked to the increase in body circumference. [9 –12]
Liquid calories from sweetened soda (as well as from other drinks) add up fast and quite logically don’t have the same effect on satiety compared to solid food with the same caloric value. Because of this, people often don’t know when to stop, and it is easier to consume a large amount of calories beyond their needs. [13 –14]
How many calories and sugar does a litre of popular sweet soda contain?
SMALL 5-GRAM SUGAR CUBES EQUIVALENT
|Coca-Cola||450 kcal||112 g||22,5|
|Mountain Dew||480 kcal||120 g||24|
|Orange Fanta||280 kcal||69 g||13,8|
|Pepsi Cola||440 kcal||110 g||22|
The stated values come from beverages available on the European market. It is possible that the manufacturer uses a different recipe for different regions, and as the result, the energy value may vary slightly across countries.
How many litres of soda would you have to drink to theoretically gain a kilogram of fat?
Energy equivalent of 1 kg of fat per litre of drink
|Mountain Dew||16 l|
|Orange Fanta||27,5 l|
|Pepsi Cola||17,5 l|
At first glance, this may seem like a fairly large amount, but if someone drinks a litre of such a portion of calories every day, it is not so unrealistic. Isn’t it better to drink still water then?
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn one litre of soda?
65-kilogram (143 lbs) woman
80-kilogram (176 lbs) man
|Coca-Cola||41,5 minutes||almost 34 minutes|
|Mountain Dew||44,5 minutes||36 minutes|
|Orange Fanta||almost 26 minutes||21 minutes|
|Pepsi Cola||almost 41 minutes||33 minutes|
How to make it right? Ideally, of course, drink clean tap water. You can also try replacing those drinks with their zero or diet version, which contains artificial sweeteners. But you shouldn’t really drink too many of those either. You can also try to make a carbonated drink at home using an equipment for soft drinks production, add some of your favourite herbs, lemon juice, orange or any other fruit you like, and you can sweeten the drink with calorie-free erythritol or stevia. You can also use xylitol for even less-caloric version. A popular option are also drinks prepared with the help of BCAA amino acids, which add a good taste to your drink and make it more special. And if you don’t want to spend too much time with the preparation, you can also reach for mineral waters with natural flavourings, as those don’t contain any sweeteners. That makes them a nice choice to diversify your fluid intake routine.
If you are interested in which sugar substitutes are the best, read our article Sugar Substitutes – Which Sweetener Is Right for You?
2. Sweetened tea and coffee
In stores, it is now possible to buy a wide range of coffee or tea drinks, which, in addition to coffee, contain quite a decent amount of sugar, and if it contains also cream or some form of milk, then it also contains fat. For example, 500ml of very popular chilled Emmi Caffé Latte contains approximately 255 kcal, almost 37 grams of sugar, 5.5 grams of fat and 13 grams of protein. Do you remember Eve’s example? She was lucky enough to reach for the Light version of Emmi Caffé Latte. Similar is true for a number of iced tea drinks, which also contain a considerable amount of sugar.
And how many calories and sugar cubes does the 0.5l package of Emmi Caffé Latte contain? 295.7 calories and 43.9 grams of sugar, which is almost 9 sugar cubes.
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn a 0.5 litre of iced coffee?
- Woman: almost 30 minutes
- Man: almost 20 minutes
How to make it right? If you like coffee or tea, make your favourite iced coffee yourself at home by mixing espresso or instant coffee with milk and a serving of your favourite flavoured protein. Then all you have to do is leave it in the fridge overnight and a protein-packed snack is ready. Again, you can use erythritol, xylitol or stevia to sweeten it. And if you decide to go for the store-bought version anyway, reach for the one with artificial sweeteners or polyalcohols in an effort to reduce the energy value of the drink. The same goes when choosing an iced tea.
If you are interested in how safe or unsafe artificial sweeteners are, read our article Artificial Sweeteners – Myths and Facts about Their Safety and Effects.
3. Juice, syrups and ciders
Fruit juice is said to be healthy and contain a decent amount of vitamin C. But juice is also a source of a considerable amount of sugar, which eliminates its health benefits to a certain level. Did you know that to cover the recommended daily dose of vitamin C, you only need to eat about 100-150 grams of pepper? Orange juice contains on average about 20-60 mg of vitamin C in 100 ml. And the situation is similar in the case of various fresh juices, which can be purchased in almost any shopping centre, and also ciders, which are quite popular especially in autumn.
How many calories and sugar cubes does a litre of 100% orange juice contain? A litre of average orange juice contains about 450 calories, 100 grams of sugar, which is 20 sugar cubes.
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn a litre of an average 100% orange juice?
- Woman: almost 41 minutes
- Man: almost 33 minutes
How to make it right? When you reach for juice, freshly squeezed juice or cider, dilute it with unsweetened mineral or tap water at least in a ratio of 1:1 and ideally even in a larger ratio favouring the unsweetened liquid. You will consume less calories and sugar. And isn’t the best solution in general to eat your fruit instead of drinking it? Try squeezing the juice from one half of the orange into a glass with water and eating the other half, you will see that this way is much more satisfying. And the ideal solution? Eat the whole orange and ten have some water. That way you get the necessary amount of fiber, which promotes the feeling of satiety and can slow down the rise of blood sugar levels after consuming high-carb foods.
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Smoothies are considered to be super healthy, but we can also hear opposite opinions that say it’s just empty calories in the form of sugar. Where’s the truth? Smoothies are made by mixing several different types of fruit, or vegetables, nuts and seeds, milk or yogurt. It is true that a smoothie can be literally loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but also with a lot of calories and sugar.
Imagine putting a banana, half an apple, half a pear, a tablespoon of chia seeds, a handful of spinach and about a third of a cup of semi-skimmed milk on the table next to a glass of smoothie which contains exactly the same amount of food, just mixed together. What is going to fill you up more, if you eat or drink all of it? I bet you’ll be much more full after eating it. Why is that so? Among other things, fruit naturally contains fiber, which is disrupted by mixing and does not fulfil its function in the body, which is to promote satiety and slowly release sugar. Because of this, you may be hungry quite soon after drinking a smoothie. [13 –14]
How many calories and sugar cubes does a smoothie prepared from the above mentioned ingredients contain? 265 calories and about 36.5 grams of sugar, which is about 7 sugar cubes.
How long would an average woman and man have to go runniing to burn such a smoothie?
- Woman: almost 25 minutes
- Man: almost 20 minutes
How to make it right? A smoothie can be a great snack, but you have to realize how many calories and sugar it can contain and that by mixing it you lose most of the benefits of fiber. Its benefits can also be appreciated by people who have trouble eating breakfast in the morning and need to consume enough calories to last until noon. Likewise, a smoothie is a suitable snack for busy people, as long as it contains enough of all nutrients, and is thus a complex liquid meal. Even after training, a smoothie is a good source of nutrients to regenerate the body. Therefore, don’t forget to enrich your smoothie with high-quality protein, whether in the form of a yogurt, milk, or high-quality whey or vegetable protein. Always add as many pieces of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds in your smoothie, as you normally eat for a snack or during the whole day. Remember that it is recommended to eat about 2 large pieces of fruit per day.
5. Coffee and tea
Of course, coffee and tea are drinks which are beneficial for our health. They contain a number of biologically active substances and are therefore associated with a reduced risk of developing various types of cancer, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, protection of the brain against ageing and a lower probability of developing neurodegenerative diseases. [15 –16]
In pure form without sugar, milk or cream and various sweet syrups, these drinks are almost calorie-free. But sometimes a large cappuccino from popular cafés such as Starbucks or Costa Coffee can have a few hundred of totally unnecessary calories.
How many calories and sugar cubes does a typical Grande-sized Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte contain? 380 calories, 50 grams of sugar, which is 10 sugar cubes.
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn a Grande-sized Pumpkin Spice Latte?
- Woman: approximately 35 minutes
- Man: approximately 29 minutes
How to make it right? If you prefer such coffee drinks, ask for as little syrup as possible, low-fat milk and give up whipped cream, which will take away most of the energy value of the drink. Ideally order an espresso or a cup of green tea from high-quality ingredients. Maybe you will grow fond of it and discover the true magic of the coffee or tea world. At home, substitute cream with milk, whole milk with semi-skimmed or low-fat milk, and sweeten your drink with calorie-free Erythritol, which also has a pleasant sweetness profile similar to sugar or Stevia.
Beer is a favourite drink of many people almost all year around. To have “a cold one” after a hearty dinner or after a busy summer day is not a big problem. But when the cold one turns into five cold ones, it can be more problematic. An average a 4% beer contains about 210 kcal and a 5% beer about 250 kcal. So five 5% beers can add up to about 1,250 kcal, which for many people is more than half of their optimal daily energy intake. Needless to say, alcohol awakens appetite especially for savoury and fat foods. In one evening you can then quite easily receive the amount of calories you should have received in a whole day. 
How many calories, alcohol and sugar cubes does an average 5% beer contain? About 250 calories, 25 grams of alcohol and almost 19 grams of sugar, which is almost 4 cubes.
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn an average of 0.5 litres of 5% beer?
- Woman: approximately 23 minutes
- Man: almost 19 minutes
How to make it right? Having a beer here and there can be perfectly fine, but remember that calories from beer can add up quickly. If you want to lighten the caloric intensity a bit, have just one, choose beers with lower alcohol content or go for non-alcoholic beer. One unflavoured non-alcoholic beer contains about 100 kcal and 12 grams of sugar.
To learn more about the effects of alcohol on weight loss and athletic performance, read our article How Does Alcohol Affect Weight Loss, Regeneration and Muscle Growth?
It was mentioned that calories from beer add up quickly. This is even more true with cider. While cider may seem like a better alternative to beer, it doesn’t necessarily have to be true. Cider on tap or one can is typically 0.4 litres and on average contains 240 kcal and about 28 grams of sugar. If compared, 0.5 l of 5% beer and the same amount of cider, then cider is considered to be slightly higher in calories.
How many calories, alcohol and sugar cubes does an average cider contain? About 240 calories, 18 grams of alcohol and 28 grams of sugar, which is almost 6 cubes.
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn an average 0.4 litre cider?
- Woman: approximately 23 minutes
- Man: almost 19 minutes
How to make it right? Probably just by being aware of the calorie content in the cider or instead of cider reaching for apple cider diluted with sparkling water.
Wine is also a popular alcoholic beverage and a bottle of wine can probably make your evening a little more special. An old Latin proverb says that “In wine, there is truth” (In vino veritas), but the answer to your questions is not hidden at the bottom of a glass or bottle of wine. To have a glass from time to time may not be a problem, but same doesn’t apply for drinking a whole bottle. The basic types of wine include dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet. What are the differences? In particular, it’s the sugar content. Dry wine usually contains up to 4 g of sugar per litre, semi-dry up to 12 g/l, semi-sweet up to 45 g/l and sweet 45 g/l or more. 
Popular mulled wine and punch has even higher energy value and sugar content, since every retailer or household adds sugar and spices to their liking, meaning that a 0.2 l glass of mulled wine can contain more than 200 kcal.
How many calories and sugar does a bottle of average dry wine contain? On average, 510 kcal, 3 grams of sugar, which is less than one sugar cube.
How many calories and sugar does a bottle of average sweet wine contain? On average, 700 kcal, 60 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of 12 sugar cubes.
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn a bottle of average dry and sweet wine?
- Woman: approximately 47 minutes
- Man: almost 38 minutes
- Woman: almost 65 minutes
- Man: almost 53 minutes
How to make it right? When it comes to wine, reach for a dry one. If you don’t mind spritzer, maybe try mixing the wine with sparkling water in 1:1 ratio. In the case of home-made mulled wine, try using a minimum amount of sugar or replacing the sugar with, for example, Erythritol.
9. Mixed alcoholic drinks
In the case of mixed alcoholic beverages, the situation is somewhat more complicated, as each beverage contains a different amount of alcohol, sugar, vegetable milk or cream. Take, for example, a basic drink like Cuba Libre, which consists of a double shot of white rum, about 120 ml of Coca-Cola and 10 ml of lime juice.
How many calories and sugar does the average Cuba Libre contain? About 170 kcal, about 15 grams of sugar, which is 3 cubes of sugar.
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn the average Cuba Libre?
- Woman: almost 16 minutes
- Man: almost 13 minutes
How to make it right? If possible, reach for diet version of soda, when preparing a mixed drink. Likewise, in the case of drinks containing cream or fat vegetable milk, choose, for example, semi-skimmed milk or a light version of vegetable milk. Replace the sugar in the recipe with erythritol, xylitol or stevia.
10. Sports drinks
Sports drinks are like fire. A good servant, but a bad master. Why? They contain a lot of calories that athletes need to supply the body during long-lasting workout or competitions for the best possible performance. Typically, we can name various ionic drinks, which usually contain about 400 kcal per 100 g of powder, of which 90 grams is sugar.
How many calories and sugar does the average ionic drink contain? About 400 kcal, 90 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of 18 sugar cubes.
How long would an average woman and man have to go running to burn 100 g of powder used to prepare 3 doses of an average ionic drink?
- Woman: almost 37 minutes
- Man: around 30 minutes
How to make it right? Think about whether you need to drink ionic drinks at all. If you are a professional or amateur athlete with ambitions to win in various races, then it will be useful for you. But if you are trying to lose weight and drink ionic drinks during or after exercise, then you will be better off without them because you don’t really need them for this reason. It is better to focus on getting enough protein, which will help you to feel satisfied and full after a meal. Whey or vegetable protein is a suitable choice especially after your exercise, to achieve rapid regeneration or at any time during the day to meet the optimal daily protein intake. 
What is the lesson?
As you can see, liquid calories can often unnecessarily increase your energy intake, sabotaging your weight loss efforts without you even knowing about it. After reading the article, you should know where the empty calories in the form of liquid calories is hidden and how to avoid it. It might be enough to drink clean tap or bottled water and high-quality unsweetened coffee or tea. If you use a lot of sugar, and it bothers you, you can try the calorie-free sweetener – erythritol, which is also found naturally in various fruits.
And if you can’t imagine your life without Coca-Cola? Try to slowly reduce its amount, gradually replace it with a diet version and try to eventually switch to a home-made drink made of carbonated mineral water, fruit juice, and possibly sweeten it with one of the sugar alternatives. And what if you can’t imagine life without energy drinks? Reach for the version with artificial sweeteners and do not exceed a daily use of caffeine, which is 400 mg.
And how do you handle liquid calories? Share your advice and tips on how to beat liquid calories in the comments. If you liked the article, support it by sharing so that your friends can find out where are liquid calories hiding and how much sugar their favourite drinks contain.
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