We all know that drinks can be as calorically dense as what we eat (or more so, in some cases). A coffee drink that’s basically a milkshake or a juice that has as much sugar as a soda won’t do you any favors if you’re trying to lose weight.
But there are also plenty of beverages that can be helpful for weight loss.
To be clear, no drink will trigger a rapid drop in pounds, so you can ignore all those sketchy Instagram ads for overpriced “skinny tea.” But some — from water and its bougie sparkling cousin to dandelion tea and protein shakes — may offer you a little extra support along the way.
Here’s a look at drinks that can help — and some you’ll likely want to avoid.
Of course water tops the list! “Water can help with weight loss because sometimes people aren’t really hungry but are thirsty instead,” explains Nicole Avena, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NYC. “Drinking water distends the stomach, and this can lessen the feelings of hunger and help to stave off cravings.”
Research shows that we often confuse thirst for hunger, since both cause our mouths to water. “That is why we sometimes confuse the two and eat when we are really thirsty,” says Avena.
How can you tell the difference? Before reaching for a snack, try drinking something and waiting a little while. “Sometimes that can help you to feel satiated and not feel strong cravings for food,” she says.
If you’re really just thirsty, the drink will do the trick. But if what you’re feeling is actually hunger, you’ll still feel hungry, and it’s time to nosh on something.
2. Dandelion tea
Dandelion leaf is a diuretic — it’s going to make you pee more often by increasing the amount of water and salt removed from your body. (Fun fact: One French name for dandelion is “pissenlit,” which translates — crudely — to “pee in bed”!)
Sipping dandelion leaf tea when you’re feeling puffy or you overdid it on the salty snacks may help you temporarily shed some water weight. But be prepared to also get more steps in by making more trips to the bathroom.
Don’t confuse dandelion leaf with dandelion root, which is used as a substitute for coffee but doesn’t have the same medicinal properties.
3. Herbal teas
When you’re tired of plain water but don’t want to add calories, herbal teas are a naturally caffeine-free godsend. These days, every supermarket and bodega carries a tasty variety — from relaxing chamomile to fruity hibiscus and cooling peppermint.
Keep a few on hand to enjoy iced or hot when you want something tastier than water.
4. Ginger tea
Zesty ginger tea offers more than just tasty hydration. It can help ease nausea and may even reduce your hunger levels.
Participants in a small study reported that drinking hot ginger tea helped them feel fuller and less hungry — and their bodies burned some additional calories too.
Pro tip: Try ginger-flavored carbonated water. It’s like ginger ale but with no calories!
5. Apple cider vinegar
Yes, there is *some* research behind the apple cider vinegar trend.
In a small 12-week study of 39 people with overweight or obesity, those who consumed about 1 tablespoon of ACV at lunch and dinner as part of a lower calorie diet lost more weight than those who simply reduced calories.
And if you don’t like the taste of vinegar, you’re in luck: The study participants got their vinegar through one serving in salad dressing!
You can also dilute ACV by mixing 1 to 2 tablespoons into at least 1 cup of water. This will help to protect your esophageal tissue over time.
6. Protein shakes
Protein takes a little longer for your body to digest than other macronutrients, so consuming enough protein can help you feel full longer.
Protein shakes are an easy way to boost your intake and help satisfy hunger — but always read the labels and look for shakes that are low in sugar.
7. Low sugar smoothies
Smoothies can help you boost your fruit and veggie intake, especially when you’re on the go (or if you don’t particularly like fruit and veggies). Only plants contain fiber, which helps keep you regular and, like protein, helps manage hunger levels.
When choosing smoothies away from home, make sure you ask for no juice or added sugar — some franchises use premixed bases that are sweetened. At home, skip the juice and choose low sugar fruits like berries, kiwi, and citrus plus plenty of green veggies.
8. Carbonated water
What a time to be alive! We now have carbonated water in just about every flavor imaginable. While one study in rats found that fizzy water increased the level of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, you don’t have to give up your Spindrift or La Croix fix.
Be sure to choose zero-calorie waters with no added sodium or sugars and no artificial sweeteners.
This should come as no surprise: A 12-ounce can of soda contains 160 calories and 43 grams of sugar — that’s 10.75 teaspoons! Drink one a day and that’s more than 1,100 calories in a week.
Cutting out soda is quick way to rid your diet of extra calories.
2. “Diet” soda and other drinks
Just don’t swap regular soda for the diet kind — that won’t help you break up with sugar, says Avena.
“Even though these non-nutritive and artificial sweeteners used in diet drinks aren’t sugar per se, they still can act in the brain and body like real sugar,” she explains. “You are just going to prolong your dependence on sugar by using them, so you best bet is to try to lessen the sweeteners in your diet all together.”
Yes, that even applies to “natural” low cal or calorie-free sweeteners like stevia and monkfruit.
Juicing strips away most of the fiber from fruits and vegetables but leaves behind all their natural sugars. That means juices — even the $10 cold-pressed organic ones — can spike your blood sugar.
Save your money or choose low sugar varieties — the ones that are mostly greens, herbs, and citrus.
To be clear: Smoothies are great when executed properly (by maximizing nutrients without turning the drink into a sugar bomb). Smoothies have the fiber advantage over juices, but they can still be loaded with sugar and calories.
If you’re making one at home, be sure to include a protein source and healthy fat to avoid feeling hungry an hour after drinking your smoothie. When ordering one on the go, don’t be afraid to ask about ingredients and request changes.
5. Energy drinks
Energy drinks are basically sodas with more caffeine and energy-boosting ingredients. Depending on the size, they can contain as much sugar as a can of soda — or more! If you need energy, reach for unsweetened green or black tea or coffee.
6. Coffee drinks
Coffee shops are always trying to create the next big thing — hello, unicorn lattes and pink drinks — but that usually involves whipped cream, sugary syrups, or both.
A medium frozen mocha with whipped cream has almost 400 calories and almost 59 grams of sugar! (That’s well over 1/4 cup of sugar, BTW.)
Stick with black coffee with a little milk or cream.
When you’re trying to lose weight, alcohol does you no favors. It not only lowers your inhibitions (sure, I’ll have nachos at midnight!) but also messes with your sleep, which can hurt your weight loss efforts. Plus, alcohol doesn’t provide any nutritional value.
Women should try not to have more than one drink a day, and for men, the max is two. But you might want to cut back even more if you’re looking to drop a few pounds.
When you drink calories, you don’t get the same feelings of fullness as you would from chewing and swallowing solid food — especially when it comes to liquid carbs (sugars) versus solid ones.
“When we drink our calories, we don’t have to chew them and they are more readily digested,” explains Avena. “As a result, we tend to feel less full from calories when they are in liquid form compared to solid. This is why people rarely feel full after they drink a soda or juice but would feel full after a similar number of calories from a piece of fruit.”
Calories are calories, but since your body doesn’t treat liquid and solid ones the same way, it’s best to stick with water and other naturally calorie-free beverages when you’re working to lose weight.
Drink enough water to avoid feeling thirsty (that can be a sign you’re already dehydrated). To make it easier on yourself, BYO water — keep a reusable bottle with you at all times. It’s convenient, and the planet will thank you.
If you get bored with water, make herbal teas your new BFF, or make DIY fancy spa water with slices of cucumber, fresh herbs like basil or parsley, wedges of citrus fruits, or pieces of other fresh fruits (try melon, berries, pineapple and more).
The bottom line
- When it comes to weight loss, not all drinks are created equal.
- Staying hydrated can help with weight loss, so drink plenty of water and herbal tea (and carbonated water in moderation).
- Drinking ginger or dandelion tea may offer additional benefits.
- Choose low sugar protein shakes, smoothies, and juices.
- Avoid sugary drinks like soda and coffee concoctions, as well as alcohol.