While it’s commonly understood that foods such as French fries, doughnuts, and pasta can derail your weight loss efforts, there are seemingly healthier options, such as morning smoothies and low-calorie frozen dinners, that may not be as beneficial to include on your slim-down menu.
A half-cup of granola has anywhere between 200 and 300 calories, 12 to 16 grams of sugar, 3 to 15 grams of fat (depending on low-fat options), and nearly 40 grams of carbs, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Plus, granola is usually mixed with something, like yogurt or fruit, which only increases its caloric value. “Although you may think starting your day with a bowl of granola is the healthy thing to do, the calories can easily add up to over 600 calories, just at breakfast,” says Toby Amidor, RD, nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen.
Without alcohol, they’re less fattening, right? Yes and no. It’s true that alcohol adds calories, but so do the ingredients you’re swapping in. Virgin margaritas, pina coladas, and daiquiris are made with fruit juices and sometimes syrups, which have loads of calories and sugars. Instead, Amidor recommends sticking with alcohol—in 5 ounces of wine or a 12-ounce light beer.
3. Pre-Made Smoothies
Making a smoothie and ordering a smoothie at a shop are two very different things. When you make a smoothie yourself, you can measure the exact amount of fruit, swap water or almond milk for juice, and avoid any additional sweeteners. But many pre-made smoothies contain between 600 to 1,000 calories, on average, and are loaded with sugar. “An average height woman who is trying to lose weight is probably on a 1,200 to 1,400 calorie diet,” Amidor says. “So consuming one smoothie with 1,000 calories can easily sabotage any weight loss efforts.”
4. Store-Bought Bran Muffins
Bran muffins sound like a healthy breakfast option—with all that cholesterol-lowering oat bran, right? But the prepackaged ones found at the supermarket aren’t nearly as fresh or healthy as they claim, warns Amidor, and they’re almost always oversized, packing in some 300 calories—about the same as a cream-filled doughnut! Many are also loaded with saturated fats butter and oil and contain upwards of 600 grams of sodium. Homemade is key when you’re trying to lose weight, so why not try making your own? While baking definitely does take more time than going to the store, you’ll reap the benefits of all your hard work spent in the kitchen.
5. Veggie Chips
If food contains the word “veggie,” it’s not automatically healthy. Don’t let marketing gimmicks fool you: The majority of foods are mislabeled and not as healthy as they claim to be, veggie chips included, says Amidor. You’re a lot better off eating fresh vegetables than synthetic and processed versions. You can always try making your own veggie chips by slicing veggies like kale, carrots, zucchini, and squash, really thin, misting them with olive oil, and then baking them in the oven.
6. Blue Corn Chips
Similarly, just because snacks like blue chips don’t look like the greasy potato chips you know to avoid, don’t assume they’re a healthier option. “Yes, blue corn contains the antioxidant anthocyanin,” explains certified culinary nutritionist Trudy Stone. “However, much of the good stuff gets baked away during the process of creating the chips that very little nutritional value is left—leaving them not much healthier than your typical tortilla chip.”
7. Protein Bars
“Most protein bars on the market are sugar bombs not much healthier than a Snickers bar,” says Stone. “They can also contain a lot of carbohydrates as well which can send your blood sugar soaring. Some also contain artificial additives such as trans fat and high-fructose corn syrup, both that have been linked with inflammation and obesity.”
Acai had a major health food moment, thanks to the incredibly delicious acai bowl, which is basically a super thick acai berry smoothie mixed with nuts, oatmeal, and fresh fruit. But not only does acai cost a lot more than other berries, it doesn’t quite live up to all of its hype. “Acai has been touted for many benefits, including aiding in weight loss, but there is no evidence that this berry will have you shedding pounds,” says Amidor. Find out exactly what food to buy at the supermarket to lose weight.
9. Fruit Juices
You can get a lot of valuable vitamins and nutrients from fruit. However, when you just drink the fruit juice, you lose out on the fiber from the actual fruit that fills you up. So while it’s easy to gulp down a delicious juice, you’re not going to fully reap its benefits. If you’re serious about losing weight
10. Microwave Popcorn
Popcorn is a whole grain, so it’s not unreasonable to include it on your green-light food list. However, even “natural” and “light” microwave popcorn is loaded with artificial ingredients, plus sodium and butter—and a ton of calories. This doesn’t mean you have to give up all popcorn though, as air-popped popcorn is a much better alternative. It only contains 30 calories per cup and you can customize it to your liking.
11. Salad Toppings
Salads are the go-to diet food, you’re probably thinking. How could they possibly keep me fom losing weight? The problem is with what you put on the salad. “Salad items like nuts, fruits, some dressings and extras like croutons and cran-raisins, can actually add an extra 300-400 calories to the meal,” says Angela Godwin, FNP-BC MSN, clinical instructor at the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. “Instead, greens and proteins can make a salad more filling with less fat.” Also, steer clear of “lite” salad dressings that secretly have high sugar content.
12. Alternative Pastas
Nontraditional pasta, like those made from beans, rice, and soy products, have become increasingly popular as a healthier option for pasta fans. However, that doesn’t mean you can load up on veggie noodles with no consequences. “We would be wise to remember that these pastas, while more nutrient-dense than traditional white pasta, still have calories and carbohydrates,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, RD, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. “Portions are still set at a measly 1/2 cup cooked; most of us do 2-3 cups of cooked pasta at a time. Try going ‘half and half’ with pasta alternatives and a vegetable pasta substitute.”
13. Gluten-Free Foods
If you have Celiac disease, of course you can and should eat gluten-free foods. But for those who choose gluten-free options because they think it’s healthier, think again. “As alternative grains are more bitter than their wheat-, barley-, and rye- gluten-containing counterparts, the most common means to mask bitterness is…wait for it…by adding high levels of sugar,” says Alvin Berger, MS, PhD, nutritionist, lipid biochemist and co-founder of Life Sense Products. “The sugar is added in its plethora of alternative forms and names, to provide cover. The bottom line is that many gluten-free foods are higher in total sugars and high glycemic-carbs than their gluten-containing counterparts.”
“While kombucha is wonderful due to its containment of various probiotic strains, many commercial kombuchas are loaded with sugar,” says Auslander Moreno. “Moreover, consumers don’t read serving sizes close enough and what’s depicted on the label can be 2-3 servings within the whole bottle, and sugar content all of a sudden is tripled.”
15. Dried Fruit
When you have the option to choose between dried fruit and fresh fruit, always opt for the fresh variety. “Dried fruits have a lot of calories and added sugar for very little volume,” says Summer Yule, MS, RDN. “For instance, one cup of raisins (not packed) contains 434 calories and 86 grams of added sugar. By comparison, a cup of grapes contains only 62 calories and 15 grams of sugar. This means that you could eat 7 cups of grapes for the same amount of calories as 1 cup of unpacked raisins.”