Some of the most popular diet food you see on Instagram or Pinterest may actually have more calories than a burger! Even the healthy snacks you see in the supermarket may be packed with hidden sugar, fat and salt. Find out which so-called health food are ruining your diet and weight loss.
#1 Fruit smoothies
Smoothies are a good way to load up on antioxidants and vitamins. (Read some of our best smoothies for beautiful skin.)However, many of the most popular fruit ingredients are also very high in sugar and calories. For example, a cup of mango slices (about 100 grams) already has 99 calories and 25 grams of carbohydrates.
You have more control of calories and sugar if you make your smoothies at home. The real diet danger is the smoothies you buy from cafes or juice bars. “Most commercial smoothies contain 400 calories or more in a 20 ounce cup,” says nutritionist Jessie Grover.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN,a registered dietitian and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table, suggests these tips for making healthy, diet-friendly smoothies:
- Use low-fat milk or non-dairy milk alternatives (like unsweetened almond milk, which is only 30 calories per serving)
- Only use 1 to 2 servings of fruit per smoothie (1 serving = 1 cup or 100 grams)
- Instead of fruit-flavoured yoghurt, use Greek yoghurt
- Use low-sugar or moderate-sugar fruits like berries, pineapples, pears, apples, honeydew melons, and oranges. Limit high-sugar fruits like mangoes, bananas, and grapes.
- Change your glass! A smoothie should be just 8 to 10 ounces. (Most commercial smoothie servings are 16 to 20 ounces. So if you order out, freeze half for later, or share with a friend.)
Other dietitians recommend this simple rule: “Eat your fruits, drink your vegetables.” It’s easier to control fruit intake when you’re chewing on a piece, rather than slurping it through a straw. Veggies, on the other hand, have very little calories — plus, you need all you can get!
Many so-called diet recipes recommend using tahini in salad dressings, serving it as a dip, or spooning it over baked chicken. It is packed with nutrients (vitamin B, calcium, and healthy fats) but it has 89 calories and 8 grams of fat per tablespoon!
If you love tahini dressing and sauces, just use 2 tablespoons to get the nutrients and still control calories.
Most dieters think quinoa is the low-carb, low-calorie alternative to rice. So they end up eating a lot of it. Even worse, some quinoa recipes call for adding butter or cooking it in chicken broth — which adds fat and salt!
While quinoa does have more protein and fiber, it actually has the same calories of brown rice (about 218 calories per cup). So go ahead and enjoy it as a side dish or salad, as long as you control your portions.
#4 Low-Fat Yoghurt
So here’s the deal: many low-fat yoghurts are actually really high in sugar. It depends on the brand, and whether it’s plain yoghurt or has fruit flavours or fruit bits.
Plus, new diet research seems to show that you’re better off getting regular yoghurt (or even regular milk). An 11-year study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who had more high-fat dairy products actually gained less weight than those who bought low-fat varieties.
#5 Alternative sweeteners
Many health stores sell supposedly “healthy” sweeteners like agave, coconut sugar, muscovado, or date sugar. In supermarkets, you’ll also find artificial sweeteners like Stevia.
Well, a spoonful of sugar is still a spoonful of sugar, even if it is natural and organic. Even if it’s an artificial sugar alternative, you still need to control intake. “Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. A miniscule amount produces a sweet taste. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes,” explains Dr. Ludwig, a weight loss specialist at Boston Hospital.
In other words, using these sweeteners can still train your tastebuds to prefer very sweet food, so vegetables or even subtly sweet fruit seem bland in comparison. You may also have more sugar cravings, or eat bigger portions because you think “it’s healthy, so I can have a lot.”
#6 Diet sodas
Since artificial sweeteners can derail a diet, so can zero-calorie or low-sugar sodas. One study of over 2,000 people found that people who regularly drank diet beverages actually had bigger waistlines than those who didn’t.
It could be psychological: “I’m having a diet soda, so I can have a bigger slice of pizza.” However, one study may have found physiological reason too. Researchers found that artificial sweeteners increase the amount of GLUT4, a glucose transporter in our cells that binds fat.
Perhaps the only real zero-calorie drink you can really have is water!
#7 Chia Seeds
This superfood got super-trendy. People loved the benefits (they have a lot of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants) and they make smoothies and desserts really pretty and Instagram-worthy.
However, like all healthy food, too much of a good thing can be very bad. One tablespoon of chia seeds has 70 calories!
#8 Olive oil
Olive oil is good for your heart, and it makes a really good ingredient in DIY skincare too! However, you need to use this oil sparingly. Just two tablespoons is already 238 calories (and we often use a lot more than that in our marinades and salad dressings!
#9 Granola bars and Trail Mix
Granola bars is one of the worst diet food, if your goal is to cut back on calories, sugar and fat.
Most commercial granola bars have a lot of sugar and fat. Even homemade granola bars can easily reach 500 calories per serving, mainly from overloading it with sweet ingredients like dried fruits, raisins, candied nuts, chocolate, and honey. (A cup of trail mix, which has the same ingredients, can reach 700 calories per cup.)
However, we can’t deny that granola bars are a good source of energy, and much healthier than donuts or cinnamon rolls! Just control the portions (eat just half of the granola bar for a snack) and watch what you put in them.
#10 Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is often used in smoothies or added to soups, salad dressings, and many Asian dishes. On the one hand, coconut milk has triglycerides which can boost your metabolism and help you lose weight. However, a single cup is 552 calories and has 57 grams of fat!
Roasted chickpeas are more nutritious than potato chips, and give the same satisfying crunch. But don’t go mindlessly munching through an entire bowl! One cup of chickpeas is 286 calories, and that’s without the additional oil you’ll need to roast them. (Honey-roasted chickpeas will also hide sugar, so you’re better off using savoury spices.)
#12 Vegetable chips
Many health food stores will sell lentil chips or vegetable chips. Some are baked, and marked “lower in fat” simply because they don’t use as much oil.
However, they will still have fat, and they will often have salt and flavour enhancers. And according to diet expert Tracey Gensler, “Veggie chips often have the same number of calories and grams of fat as potato chips.”
Salads are a great way of getting vegetables and protein in a single meal. However, salad dressings can easily add hundreds of calories.
- Ranch dressing = 300 calories for 4 tablespoons
- Blue cheese dressing = 350 calories for 4 tablespoons
- French dressing = 320 calories for 4 tablespoons
- Caesar dressing = 330 calories for 4 tablespoons
Generally, creamy dressings will have the highest calories. Vinaigrettes are more diet-friendly (for example, Italian dressing is just 200 calories for 4 tablespoons) but it will have fat because of the oil.
So use less dressing! So you can still get a lot of flavour, toss the leaves in the dressing before you add the other salad ingredients instead of pouring it on top of the dish. Bonus: your salad won’t get soggy!
#14 Mixed nuts
Nuts are a good source of protein and B vitamins, and are actually good for your heart and your brain! However, it’s easy to overeat — how many of us have popped handful after handful of nuts, then suddenly realized we’ve gone through an entire bag?
The problem is that nuts are flavoured with a lot of salt and cooked in oil. That’s a lot of calories and cholesterol! Roasted nuts are slightly healthier, but that still doesn’t give you a reason to binge on an entire bag. Any diet food can become unhealthy when we eat more than the recommended amount. And when the bag says “300 calories” they meant 300 calories per serving, and there are usually 5 to 6 servings per pack. Yup, you just ate 1800 calories of “diet” food right there.
#15 Buddha Bowls
Buddha bowls became a super trendy diet food on Pinterest and Instagram. Why they’re named after Buddha is hotly debated. Some say that the ingredients are inspired by what Buddhist monks eat, although the recipes we found aren’t likely to be typical monastery fare.
In any case, what Buddha bowls have evolved to mean is a complete meal: vegetables, grains, nuts, proteins in one very picture-perfect dish. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when Buddha bowls deliver so many nutrients.
However, Buddha bowls can quickly break every diet rule.It’s a problem of portions: most people put way too many ingredients into on bowl. Then, they douse it with dressing or oils that have way too much fat and salt.
As you’ve probably noticed, diet is all about portions, portions, portions. Unless you want a belly like Buddha’s.