Liquid or “Stealth” Calories

Liquid or “Stealth” Calories

I think most of us who consider ourselves health-conscious are aware that liquid calories can sneak up on us. However, we may not know why.

As someone who is a fan of artisan cocktails, I thought maybe reducing mixers is all I should do to reduce calorie intake when it comes to liquid calories. I found the liquid calorie problem- and it can be a problem- to be more complex.

According to Katherine Tallmadge M.A., R.D., “liquid calories in almost any form- alcohol, juice or soda- are stealth calories. Scientific evidence confirms that although these fluids count as calories, the body does not detect them in the same way that it would detect solid foods. “Therefore when we ingest liquid calories of any kind, we often end up eating more calories in general because our food is not recognizing that we are becoming full (Richard Mattes, M.P.H., R.D., professor of food and nutrition at Purdue University).”

Hunger and thirst are two completely different physical controls. Liquids, even liquids that have calories, do not make us feel as full as solids do. Our bodies process solid foods in the digestive tract while liquids are processed in the context of hydration through our blood and cell volume. We are wired to receive signs of hunger and satiety based on what is happening in our stomachs. Once the right levels are reached, thirst is appeased. But, Katherine Tallmadge writes, “research has quite well established that alcoholic beverages and sugary liquids, especially soft drinks and fruit drinks, are not fully registered or compensated for by the body and simply add additional calories.” So, we just keep drinking.

So, what can we do to combat these “stealth” calories?

◆ Becoming more aware of the effects of “stealth” calories in liquids

◆ Swap sugary coffees for black coffee or add a low-calorie sweetener

◆ Replace soda with flavored seltzer (this can save upwards of 200 calories per can!)

◆ Toss out the sweet tea and use low-calorie tea with a “splash” of something you love like low-calorie sweeteners or low-calorie concentrate

◆ Avoid sugary alcoholic beverages- ask for the “skinny” version of drinks or a simple club soda with your favorite liquor and a lemon and lime!


A good thing about reducing liquid calories in our diets is those calories don’t make us feel full, so we may not miss them that much. Cutting them out most likely will not make us more hungry or feel deprived.

Needless to say (but I will say it), water is best. But, whether at a bar or laying by the pool get your fix with a side of piece-of-mind and try out an easy and delicious substitute!

This post was based on an article by Katherine Tallmadge in Live Science;