One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to lose fat is adding in foods that are glorified in the media as being healthy, but that are actually detrimental to their goals. Nutrition is extremely important when trying to achieve any significant changes in body composition e.g. adding muscle, losing weight, etc. So I provide nutritional guidance for my clients, and as such I've seen hundreds of food journals and heard the details of a variety of diets recanted to me at sessions. More often than not, there are foods that they are purposefully including because they've heard they are "healthy"or beneficial in some way, that are actually detrimental to their fat loss goals and keeping them from getting the results they want. Fortunately, it is easy to fix by just reducing or removing these foods.
Before we continue I want to make something very clear. There are no foods that will make you fat. No food is inherently bad. It doesn’t automatically turn to fat the moment it touches your lips. Despite what so-called experts might say, any food is fine and can be healthily included within the context of an overall healthful diet. It’s simple, if you are in a caloric surplus, consuming more calories than you burn off, you will gain weight and possibly fat. If you are in a caloric deficit, consuming fewer calories than you burn off, you will lose fat. Regardless of the type of food, if you have too much of it, it can cause you to take in too many calories, causing you to gain weight.
That said, some foods make it very easy to consume more calories than you burn off (not what you want if fat loss is a goal). Foods like milkshakes, ice cream, and candy are notoriously high calorie and make achieving a caloric deficit difficult. This is because they pack a lot of calories into a small amount of food. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat them! In fact, including moderate amounts of your favorite treat foods is actually beneficial for fat loss, but that is a topic for a different blog. Ice cream and candy are not the only foods packing a lot of calories into a small amount. Some purported health foods do this too. These types of foods often get media attention for being healthy. Some of them are very nutrient-dense and may provide health benefits. However, they can still pack quite a caloric punch and should be eaten in moderation if fat loss is the goal. Listed below are some of the most common ones I see.
1. Fruit juice
This one is a classic. Every breakfast cereal advertisement pans to their cereal with a tall glass of juice next to it while the narrator reads “part of this complete breakfast.” Yes, 100% fruit juices are made from fruit. No wonder it’s received a rep of being a healthy addition to a diet. Unfortunately, most fruit juices contain 100+ calories in a single serving of eight ounces, which is not a lot. When pouring a drink, I tend to go with 10 or more ounces, and I’m willing to bet it’s the same for most people. This means you’re likely consuming 150–200+ calories per serving. Calories from liquid add up quickly and won’t fill you up the same way solid foods will. Too many glasses could easily cancel out a caloric deficit and slow fat loss progress. Easy alternative: diet fruit juices, coffee, or unsweetened tea are all calorie-free and just as tasty.
2. Dark chocolate
The calories in dark chocolate and milk chocolate are comparable. Dark chocolate continues to receive tons of media attention for being healthy and better for weight loss. And it’s true, dark chocolate does have some health benefits and is rich in some nutrients. However, there are 550 calories in a 100-gram bar, which is not particularly conducive to fat loss. Consume in moderation.
I’ve seen this one a lot. Nuts are a healthy source of fat, and they get a lot of attention for it by the fitness media. Numerous publications recommend them as healthy alternatives to typical snacks like potato chips or popcorn, touting their health benefits. However, they do pack quite a few calories in a small amount of food. Easily totaling 150+ cals in a small handful. In fact, I frequently recommend them to clients who wish to gain weight. They are healthful, and you should certainly include them in your diet but again, just be mindful of the amount you’re eating.
4. Coconut oil
Coconut oil received a lot of attention for purportedly increasing metabolic rate, among other various health benefits. And there is a little evidence that consuming enough coconut oil may slightly increase your metabolism. However, this doesn’t mean you should start using it with everything you eat—it’s still oil, containing over 100 calories per tablespoon. Even if your metabolic rate does end up increasing by 5%, this would mean an extra 100 calories burned (assuming you burn about 2,000 calories per day on average). It takes about two to three tablespoons to achieve such effect (if there even is one). Therefore, you’d be consuming around 300–400 calories to burn an extra 100. Seems a little counterproductive, doesn’t it? If you use cooking oils, try coconut oil. It’s tasty and healthful, but don’t start adding it to everything in hopes of boosting your metabolism. If you’d like to save some calories when cooking, try opting for a zero calorie cooking spray instead.
Hummus is around 50–80 calories in a typical serving of about two tablespoons. This doesn’t sound too bad. However, it is rare to consume the actual serving size. And as a dip, it’s usually an addition to even more calories. When you factor that in, it’s pretty easy to rack up more calories than originally intended with this “healthy” snack food. Feel free to include it, just be mindful of the amount you consume.
As a whole grain source, granola gained popularity as a healthy alternative to ordinary breakfast cereals. Granola-based energy bars are marketed as healthy. However, these bars are higher in calories than most breakfast cereals, weighing in at around 212 calories in less than a single cup. Again, it needs to be consumed in moderation for most. As an alternative, opt for a lower calorie cereal high in fiber, or scrap the cereal and go with some eggs or greek yogurt and fruit.
7. Dried fruit
Dried fruit like raisins and dates received attention for being rich in nutrients and providing various health benefits. However, dried fruit typically packs a ton of calories in a small amount. A single date can be as high as 80 calories. An excellent alternative would be lower calorie fruit sources like apples, blackberries, or strawberries.
Remember, these foods are not “bad,” “unclean,” or “unhealthy,” they are just less conducive to fat loss than most people realize due to their rep as being healthy. Calories are not the enemy, and they are not lurking in every corner of your food trying to ruin your progress. The point of this article is not to scare you or create anxiety around food—it’s to make you aware of calorically-dense health foods. Always look into what you read. Just because a popular media outlet touts the benefits of including a particular food, doesn’t always mean it is the best thing for your diet and your goals.
If you need more help with your diet feel free to send us a message or come in for a session.