Tired of trying to slim down that stubborn belly fat? Let’s say you’re carefully watching your diet, eating lots of whole foods, while limiting bacon double cheeseburgers, chocolate milkshakes, and their cousins those sugar-laden coffee drinks. How could you still be putting on abdominal fat when you’re eliminating all the obvious heavy foods that add up to weight gain? Your drinking habits could be to blame.
While drinks may seem harmless, they can be a sneaky source of added abdominal fat on your body. You’re taking in many, many more calories than you simply realize because beverage calories tend to sneak in. They don’t fill you up as food does, and there’s no chewing involved. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore them.
We polled nutrition experts about the common drinking habits that may be secretly boosting your abdominal fat right under your nose. Then, for more drinking tips, here are 5 Best Drinks for Belly Fat After 50, Say Dietitians.
It seems so natural and healthy—a juice made not only from apples, kiwis, mango puree, and pineapple, but vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale, wheatgrass, and garlic. And no added sugars! Sound like a good habit, a great way to start your day fresh?
One problem with fruit juice, even 100% juice, is that it won’t satisfy your belly growls because they contain no fiber, says Silvia Carli, RD, CSCS, with 1AND1 LIFE. One commercial juice beverage that contains all of those natural ingredients named above without added sugars is Green Machine, the “boosted smoothie” from Naked.
“Naked juices are loaded with fruit, but in liquid form, leaving you no fiber to feed the good bacteria in your gut and a whole bunch of sugar,” says Carli. “Yes, it’s natural sugar, but it’s still sugar!”
How much? Per a 270-calorie bottle, you consume 53 grams of total sugar; that’s one gram more than you get from a 16-ounce bottle of Coke. Instead, drink water, eat whole fruit, Carli advises.
Ordering a sugary beverage with lunch has become so habitual for people that people may not realize that the drink that goes down so quickly and easily may contain more calories than the part of your meal that requires a fork.
“Sugar-sweetened beverages are very calorie-dense; they can contribute to elevated blood sugar, and belly fat,” says Susan Bowerman, RDN, senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition.
Adopt the habit of replacing those sugar-sweetened beverage with low- or zero-calorie drinks like unsweetened tea and water.
“Studies suggest that increasing your water intake can help boost your metabolism so your body can burn fat more efficiently,” Bowerman says.
Even if you choose a zero-calorie, artificially-sweetened diet beverage, Bowerman says people tend to pair low-calorie drinks with high-calorie fast foods like burgers and fried chicken.
“If you’re eating French fries, which tend to have a lot of saturated fat, that could have an impact on weight gain, but not the [diet soda] itself,” she says. In addition, some research suggests that drinking beverages made with artificial sweeteners may disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, possibly triggering glucose intolerance.
They call it a beer belly for a reason, but that doesn’t give you a pass if your poison happens to be wine spritzers or tequila shots.
“Alcohol is a source of calories that your body just doesn’t recognize as satisfying hunger and fueling your body, which is why we call them ’empty calories,'” says Zoë Schroeder, MS, RDN, CSCS, owner of ZoeSchroederNutrition.com . “So, these empty calories come in and then your body is basically, like, OK, well, I have this extra energy, so I’ll just store it at adipose tissue or fat.”
The extra energy calories can really add up when you consume mixed drinks like screwdrivers and margaritas.
“High-calorie mixers and sugary beverages that go into cocktails put people over their needed caloric intake without them even realizing it,” Schroeder says, because the calories don’t register as fuel. In fact, alcohol consumption leads to less satiety and greater hunger, she says.
To learn more about how drinking affects you and how alcohol stops your body from burning fat, read Here’s What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Alcohol Every Day.