Sorry to burst your sugar-coated bubble, but not all calories are created equal. Liquid calories in just about any form — alcohol, juice or soda — pass through the body virtually undetected, which means they’re capable of fattening you up much more quickly than calories from solid foods. Here’s how…
Liquid Calories Are Less Filling
The mechanisms controlling hunger and thirst are completely different, and liquids — even those packed with calories — don’t seem to satisfy hunger. When you’re eating, nerves in the stomach wall detect that it’s stretching and send satiation signals to the brain in response. Subsequently, the intestines release nerve regulators and hormones, all of which help you feel full.
According to nutritionist Dr. David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction, fiber also has a lot to do with how full we feel, and liquids typically contain less than solid foods: “Unlike a solid apple, apple juice contains little to no fiber, which is needed to help fill us up.”
The fact that liquids don’t trigger our satiation switches explains the results of a recent study by researchers from Harvard University and Children’s Hospital in Boston. It found that women who increased their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages from one per week to one or more per day added 358 calories daily, whereas women who reduced their intake cut 319 calories per day.
Put simply, you can drink a whole lot more calories than you can eat before feeling full, and those calories add up quickly.
Liquid Calories Digest More Quickly
Liquid calories pass through the body in less time than calories from solid foods, which allows you to knock them back much more easily. “The stomach has to produce protein-digesting enzymes, like pepsin and hydrochloric acid, to break down solid materials for absorption in the intestines — this can take up to two hours,” Friedman explains. “On the other hand, liquids begin to digest within minutes, bypassing the lengthy journey down the intestinal tract that solid food must travel. That’s why someone can chug a dozen 160-calorie beers much more easily than they could eat the same 1,920 calories in solid food.” This makes gaining weight much easier, for obvious reasons.
Liquid Calories Are Less Compensated For
“The main reason for liquid calories impacting weight gain is that most people don’t compensate for liquid calories the way they do for solid calories,” explains Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Think about it: You probably don’t cut your food intake after drinking a sugar-packed soda or a few beers — in fact, you probably consume more food. “People crave high-carb foods like potato chips and pizza when drinking beer,” Friedman adds. “And they tend to crave cheese and crackers when drinking wine, because liquid calories are a precursor to the body craving more solid calories.” (Not to mention alcohol is packed to the brim with calories anyway).
As for the main takeaway: Juice is a sham. Have a sandwich.