Toast your health—and a slimmer waist—with these better-for-you beverages.
By Jeff Csatari
With additional reporting by Christian Zamora.
Drinking high-calorie beverages (take your pick: soda, beer, milkshakes…) can pack on the pounds just as easily as making frequent trips to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could drink a magic elixir that would help you lose pounds instead? Unfortunately, that’s not entirely possible.
“There’s really no magic bullet,” says Rachel Dyckman MS, RDN, CDN, the founder of Rachel Dyckman Nutrition LLC. Despite the marketing hype for weight-loss shakes and “fat burning beverages,” there’s no liquid concoction you can swallow that’s going to destroy your fat cells.
However, there are better-for-you beverages that won’t contribute to a bigger belly—on the contrary, certain beverages can help melt fat faster by quelling cravings, which may help keep you from eating extra calories that’ll end up as belly fat, as well as by boosting your metabolism so your body can burn fat more efficiently.
Dietitians don’t typically like to get their clients’ hopes up for easy weight loss by suggesting slimming liquids, but they do point to better beverage choices that can certainly help. Grab a glass, read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss Eating Habits to Lose Abdominal Fat As You Age, Say Dietitians.
1 Calorie-free beverages
Club soda sparkling water
“Sugar-sweetened beverages are very calorie-dense; they can contribute to elevated blood sugar, and belly fat [but] you can’t really say the opposite, that there’s something that you can drink that will help you reduce belly fat,” says registered dietitian Susan Bowerman, RDN, the senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition. “I would say calorie-free beverages, in general, are going to reduce your overall calorie intake which could help you to shed some weight. When you do lose weight, you’re going to lose both that belly fat known as visceral fat as well as other fatty deposits in the body.”
To burn belly fat, you’ll want to replace those sugar-sweetened beverages with low- or zero-calorie beverages like water; studies suggest that increasing your water intake can help boost your metabolism so your body can burn fat more efficiently.
Besides water, some of the best calorie-free beverages are seltzer, fruit-flavored waters, unsweetened iced tea, and unsweetened hot tea and coffee. And, yes, diet sodas, can be effective in reducing calorie intake, too. For example, in a study in the journal Obesity involving 303 overweight or obese people, researchers found that subjects who were assigned to drinking 24 ounces of water per day for a year maintained an average weight loss of 5.5 pounds while those who drank that amount in diet beverages lost an average of 13.7 pounds. While artificially sweetened diet beverages may have their place in a weight-loss program, Bowerman suggests you “think about what they’re co-consumed with. If you’re eating French fries, which tends to have a lot of saturated fat, that could have an impact on weight gain, but not the [diet soda] itself.”
2. Green tea
For a one-two punch to belly fat, start sipping green tea, which contains caffeine and catechins, bioactive plant compounds. “These two main components have the chance to help enhance fat oxidation or the ability to burn fat,” says Dyckman with this caveat: “Just because you drink a lot of green tea, doesn’t mean you are going to magically melt away all your belly fat, but it will help a little bit.”
A study in the Journal of Functional Foods demonstrated that people who drank catechins- and caffeine-containing green tea lost a significant amount of visceral fat over a 12-week period compared to a control group that did not drink the tea. To get the most concentrated dose of catechins, Dyckman recommends matcha green tea powder.
If you don’t like the bitter taste of green tea, you have another healthy option: black tea. Rich in natural flavonoids, black tea has been touted as a heart-healthy beverage that may even help reduce blood pressure. And those same flavonoids may play a helpful role in reducing belly fat, research suggests. A 2014 study in Food & Function compared drinking black tea to another caffeinated beverage and found that study participants who drank three cups of unsweetened black tea every day for three months shed more inches from their waistlines than people who drank the other beverage.
Drinking caffeinated beverages like coffee has been shown to be effective in suppressing appetite in some people, which can lead to reduced calorie intake and may decrease belly fat. And some research demonstrates that “caffeine stimulates thermogenesis, which essentially causes our body to produce more heat and burn extra calories and energy,” Dyckman says
Besides its caffeine content, coffee may also support a healthy gut, which plays a key role in metabolism. “The composition and health of our gut microbiome can really affect our metabolism,” says Dyckman. That’s why dietitians recommend a plant-based diet incorporating a lot of fiber and fermented foods, which support healthy gut bacteria. Coffee appears to be linked to a healthy gut, too, as studies have shown that high caffeine consumers tend to have high levels of certain healthy bacteria and low levels of potentially harmful microbes.
5 Whey protein shakes
Whey protein powders made into shakes and other meal replacement drinks can be useful for losing fat and weight if they are used instead of a high-calorie meal. How? “Whey protein helps suppress appetite because protein is a satiating macronutrient,” says Bowerman. “By drinking a whey protein shake, it may reduce belly fat by making someone less likely to snack later in the day or crave carbohydrate-rich foods.”
In addition, diets high in protein have been shown to be helpful for weight loss, not only due to keeping hunger at bay, but also by preventing muscle loss and the slowdown in metabolism that results, studies suggest. Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. To help your body burn more calories, choose the most effective protein powders; let our review of the best and worst be your guide.