Eating healthy is commonly associated with successful weight control. While many healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, are indeed less fattening than their processed counterparts, it is still important to understand that being nutritious does not automatically equate to being low in calories or even fat content.
Many Nutritious Foods Have Lots of Calories
Overindulging in healthful foods, regardless of the nutritional benefits they provide, can sabotage your weight loss goals just as much as having bad eating habits. Therefore, calorie density should always be a consideration when you try to eat right and also hope to shed a few (or more) extra pounds. Here are a few examples.
Most nuts contain several important nutrients, including protein and fiber. They are also high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. The bad news is that nuts pack lots of calories. Almonds, peanuts, cashews and walnuts have about 160 calories per ounce; pecans have twice that amount. Trail mixes are notoriously caloric because they are meant to provide you with energy while you are hiking the trails – not to serve as a snack to get you through the afternoon slump at the office.
Because nuts are mostly eaten by the handful, it is especially hard to keep track of your intake. To avoid overeating, you may want to divide the original bag into smaller portions and enjoy only an ounce or so at a time. This way you receive a healthy boost that is also kind to your waistline.
Depending on the variety or assortment, dried fruit can have up to 500 calories and 100 grams of sugar per cup. Although the nutritional benefits are considerable, including plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they don’t change the fact that each serving has the equivalent of more than 20 sugar packets. With loads of sugary carbohydrates, munching on handfuls of dried fruit can quickly leave you getting hungry again and you’ll reach for more.
Even 100% fruit juices, freshly made from scratch, are loaded with calories from sugar. Yes, it is naturally occurring fructose and you get lots of health benefits from vitamin C and other nutrients, but the calories from juices don’t fill you up like those from whole fruits, which also provide important fiber.
The same goes for the popular fruit ‘smoothies.’ Most of those are loaded with sugar but offer little or no protein or fiber to keep you feeling full and satisfied for a while. Some brands are extremely high in calories thanks to added sugars and artificial ingredients.
While a glass of real fruit juice (not from concentrate) can be part of a healthy breakfast, having several drinks throughout the day is not recommended. One glass (8-ounces) of orange juice has 112, grapefruit juice has 96 and apple juice (unsweetened) has 114 calories.
Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is an important part of any health-conscious lifestyle. If you normally skip breakfast, try to change your habit. Cereals are popular because they’re considered nutritious and they don’t require much preparation. There are many brands and varieties to choose from. Some are better than others, some are not healthy at all. Check the sugar content per serving on the Nutrition Facts panel and go with a low amount. Also, if you eat only a bit more than the recommended portion sizes each day, the extra calories can quickly add up. For example, one 30g serving of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes has 111 calories. A 50g serving has 185 calories – a difference of 74 calories if your pour is just a little heavy-handed.
Wraps are widely thought of as a healthier alternative to traditional deli sandwiches, tacos, burritos and the likes. Still, most restaurant-style wraps carry up to 300 calories for the wrap alone before any filling is added. Depending on your choice of ingredients, the complete wrap can contain 800 calories or more. By comparison, you are better off with some lean lunchmeat, a slice of tomato and some lettuce on whole wheat bread.
Even the most diet-friendly looking salad can turn into a treacherous minefield if you don’t watch your add-ons and dressings. So, be careful with cheese, bacon, nuts, avocado, oils and creamy toppings. Depending on the brand, Caesar dressings can have between 60 and 80 calories per tablespoon (restaurants typically pour on more – so better ask for your dressing on the side). Ranch-, French- and Italian dressings have on average 70 to over 80 calories per tablespoon. Olive oil contains nutritious unsaturated fat, which is considered heart-healthy. But each tablespoon carries about 135 calories. Olive oil should therefore be used sparingly for both cooking and as dressing.
Yogurt and cheese
Both yogurt and cheese are widely recommended as good providers of calcium. Still, you should be discriminating in your choices. There are countless brands and styles of yogurts on the market today – regular, natural, low-fat, fat-free, Greek style plain, vanilla, with honey, with real fruit, etc. Be careful, though. Whatever version you pick, they all have calories. An 8-ounce (1 cup) serving can easily top 250 calories.
Cheese contains more saturated fat than nuts or olive oil, but it gives you a good amount of protein and calcium as well. An ounce of cheddar or mozzarella has about 100 calories. Preferably choose the low-fat or part skim versions because they have less saturated fat.
The bottom line is that even healthy foods should be enjoyed in moderation. While it is undoubtedly better to fill up on nutrient-dense foods than on empty calories, you need to keep track of your portions to avoid weight gain, even when you think you’re doing everything right.