Liquid Calories

Be Leery of Liquid Calories

Heather Mackie MS, RD, LD & Nadea Minet MS, RDN, LD

Are you physically active, making healthy food choices, and choosing proper portion sizes, and still not seeing the expected results on the scale?  Or are you looking for other ways to make healthier choices and slash calories at the same time?  If you fall into one of these categories, it may be beneficial to consider what you are pouring into your mug, glass, or cup.  If you do not pay attention to your liquid calories, you may be sabotaging your weight loss efforts.  Beverages are one of the biggest sources of hidden and often empty calories (i.e., provide calories without any nutritional benefits).  Even beverages that are positioned as healthy, like grapefruit or orange juice can pack in 100 calories in just 8 ounces and most people do not drink just 8 ounces!

Unfortunately our body does not do a good job registering calories from beverages when it comes to satiety (i.e., the feeling of fullness).  However, these beverages still count when it comes to overall caloric intake.  This helps to explain why the extra calories in beverages are just that – extra!  Also, beverages do not require any chewing compared to food items.  Therefore beverages travel faster through the stomach and intestines, which helps to explain why beverages are often not as satiating (or filling) as food.  Below are some tips to help reduce your liquid calorie intake and stay on the path to success in regards to weight loss and weight maintenance.

Drink Plenty of High-Quality H20

Whether you prefer plain water or flavored water made from natural fruit essence, water is hydrating, refreshing, and calorie-free.  Most bariatric surgery patients aim for a goal of 64 ounces per day.  However, your bariatric surgery healthcare team can provide you with a specific, individualized fluid goal.


Juice is high in calories and can easily sabotage your weight loss efforts.  Experts recommend eating the fruit rather than drinking the juice.  Consuming fruit instead of drinking juice will help to satisfy your appetite since you will be chewing rather than drinking.  Consuming the fruit also provides other nutritional benefits, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are often not found in juice.  Also, some bariatric surgery patients may experience dumping syndrome after drinking juice due to the high sugar content that is quickly absorbed since there is no fiber in juice.

Soda and Sports Drinks

These types of beverages often come in super-sized portions and generally contain high amounts of sugar and empty calories.  There are lower sugar options available in each of these categories.  Some bariatric surgeons may recommend avoiding carbonated beverages altogether so speak to them before having a bubbly beverage.  In general, most individuals are not working out hard enough and often enough to require the use of sports drinks.  Speak to your bariatric surgery healthcare team to find out if you need to consume sports drinks during and/or after your workout sessions.


Black coffee is calorie-free, but adding cream, sugar, flavored syrups, and/or whip cream can make coffee more caloric than an entire bariatric surgery-friendly meal or regular meal for that matter!  For a healthy and tasty coffee beverage, use nonfat milk, light soymilk and sweeten with calorie-free sweeteners or syrups.  Some bariatric surgeons recommend switching to decaf coffee immediately following bariatric surgery, so ask your bariatric healthcare team before consuming your cup of joe.  Keep in mind that caffeinated beverages can also be dehydrating and many bariatric surgery patients struggle with maintaining a good hydration status.


Soups provide more satiety than most caloric beverages, however some soups can be high in calories.  Creamed soups are often made with whole milk or heavy whipping cream, which increases the calorie count tremendously.  Choose low-fat soups or a broth-based soup, which tend to be lower in calories.  Broth-based soups full of veggies are a great way to increase your fluid intake and help you to feel full, while keeping the calorie count down.

Protein Shakes/Drinks

Some protein drinks do not satisfy the appetite the same way that protein foods do, similarly to how fruit is more satisfying than juice.  However, when choosing protein drinks as a meal replacement, look for protein drinks made of whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate, or a combination of the two.  Also, be sure the meal replacement beverage contains fiber, which can help you to feel full.  If you are consuming a protein drink just for protein (not a meal replacement), then it may not contain fiber, but it should be a similar make-up in regards to the type of protein (i.e., whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate, or a combination of the two).  Many bariatric surgery patients consume protein beverages immediately before or after their bariatric surgery and you should continue to follow the instructions of your bariatric surgeon.  However, as you get further out from your bariatric surgery, most bariatric surgeons prefer that you start to wean off of the protein drinks and get your protein from real food.


Alcoholic beverages are high in calories and also dehydrate the body.  If you choose to have an alcoholic beverage, make sure you drink in moderation.  For women, that means no more than one alcoholic drink per day and for men, it is no more than two alcoholic drinks per day.  However, many bariatric surgeons recommend avoiding alcohol altogether following bariatric surgery so please follow their instructions.  Many bariatric surgery patients feel the effects of alcohol quicker after their bariatric surgery (i.e., you may feel “buzzed” sooner than you would have prior to your bariatric surgery with the same level of alcohol intake).  Drinking alcohol will affect blood sugar levels as well.  Alcohol is a stomach irritant, meaning it can increase the risk of ulcers post-operatively.  Lastly, alcohol provides no nutritive value to the body and is just empty calories.  

While liquids play a significant role as part of a healthy eating plan, it is important to be leery of liquid calories and choose wisely in order to ensure your lifelong success in regards to weight loss and weight maintenance.