Stop drinking calories

Last reviewed: February 2011

In the late 1970s the average American consumed about 70 calories a day in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages. By 2000 we were guzzling an average of 190 calories. Numerous studies have left little doubt about the connection between increased consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and the soaring rates of weight gain and obesity that occurred during that same time period.

"When we consume energy in beverage form, we don't get the same fullness as when we consume solids," said Richard D. Mattes, Ph.D., professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University. "Those calories tend to add to the diet rather than displacing another energy source."

Fruit juice is not a replacement for soda. It might have a few vitamins and minerals, but it's just as damaging to your waistline. "If you drink 300 calories of apple cider, you'll feel less full than if you ate 300 calories of apples," Mattes said. And you'd have a lot to eat: You'd get to chew about three 3-inch apples for 300 calories.

What about replacing your favorite full-sugar drink with an artificially sweetened version? The evidence is mixed. Some studies suggest that though diet sodas don't add calories, they still activate your sweet tooth. But other studies show no such effect. "It's very difficult for my patients to stop drinking soda," said Caroline Apovian, M.D., director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center. "I always tell them to switch to diet soda."

As for milk, Mattes thinks it fools our internal calorie-counting mechanism the same way soft drinks do. Other experts doubt that, but they all agree that milk provides some useful nutrients in exchange for its calories. Similarly, the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption might justify the calorie penalty, but that form of liquid calories is unlikely to make you feel full.