Nutrition-wise blog

Cutting liquid calories more effective for weight loss?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. April 29, 2009

Maybe you've heard the adage "a calorie is a calorie." It's been ingrained in many of us. So, the thinking goes, it doesn't matter whether you cut calories in the form of liquids or solid foods. Either way you should lose weight.

A new study, however, seems to challenge these assumptions. The study, which appears in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," looked at beverage and food intake and weight changes in more than 800 men and women, aged 25 to 79.

The "liquid calories" researchers looked at were sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, fruit drinks and punch; whole, 2%, 1% and skim milk; 100% fruit and vegetable juices; coffee and tea with sugar; coffee and tea with artificial sweetener; diet drinks, and alcoholic beverages.

Here's what the study found:

  • Cutting 100 calories a day from liquids resulted in weight loss of about 0.5 pound (0.3 kilogram) at 6 and 18 months.
  • Cutting 100 calories a day from solid foods resulted in a loss of about 0.1 pound (0.06 kilogram) at 6 and 18 months.
  • Eliminating 1 serving, or 12 ounces (335 mL), of sugar-sweetened beverages a day resulted in the greatest weight loss — 1 pound (0.5 kilogram) at 6 months and 1.5 pound (0.7 kilogram) at 18 months.

The results are surprising and more research is needed to understand why cutting liquid calories, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, results in greater weight loss.

The authors suggest that one explanation may be the high fructose content in sugar-sweetened beverages. Consuming large amounts of fructose over time may promote fat storage and other changes. Although milk, juice, sugar-sweetened coffee/tea and alcohol contain calories — and some contain some natural fructose — their effects on fullness may mediate the effect on weight loss.

My take: It's difficult to ignore the finding that cutting liquid calories in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages results in more weight loss than cutting solid calories. Sugary drinks are not high on my "most nutritious" list, so cutting them to lose weight makes sense to me.

What's your take? Your thoughts are welcome!

- Jennifer

Apr. 29, 2009