Yes, even the good stuff can pack on pounds.
In a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers found that when foods were labeled as being healthier, people were more likely to eat larger portions of it, even if the calories of both were similar. When a food is perceived as being "healthy," it often seems like an invitation to overindulge. I see this with clients who stock up on – and fill out with – foods labeled "fat-free" and "sugar-free," because they associate these tricky terms with "calorie-free." And usually, they're not.
Consumers have a wealth of nutrition-related info at their fingertips online and on newsstands, and they're well-aware that hot fudge sundaes and Fettuccini Alfredo don't pave the way to weight loss. However, they're not always aware that even foods that are good for your body aren't so beneficial when they're consumed in surplus.
I've put together a list of the foods I find most people ignore as significant calorie-contributors. Don't be surprised by items listed and, most importantly, don't misinterpret the message here. My list contains foods that are an important – and in some cases, essential – part of your daily diet. Many are rich in nutrients and low in calories when taken in appropriate quantities. This is not an "avoid" list; but if you need to lose weight, it may help shine a light on foods that you're overdoing, because you don't realize how they affect the bathroom scale.
• Oil. It weighs in at nearly 2,000 calories per cup, and is the No. 1 food I see being used without attention to portions. Oil can be healthy for your heart and can help a dish become more tasty and satiating, but pouring half a cup over a veggie dish still tacks on 1,000 calories.
[See Salt in the Sweet Spot.]
Tip: Cook with broths and add one or two spoons of oil. Try scented types, like garlic oil, to get the biggest bang for your buck.
• Salad dressing. Ordering "dressing on the side" is a noble effort to trim calories, but if the dressing arrives in a little pitcher and you pour the whole pitcher on your salad, you might be in for a heftier appetizer than you planned for.
Tip: Ask for dressing on the side as well as plain vinegar. Add only a spoon of your favorite dressing and as much vinegar as you'd like. This will cut dressing calories in half.
• Protein. When the government's MyPlate symbol was introduced depicting protein (such as meat, fish and poultry) taking up only one-quarter of our plates, people were shocked at how small that quantity appeared. Steak house and diner portions of meat, the size of a dinner plate, were considered to be a greater value.
Tip: Treat protein foods as a side dish, and combine them with an array of colorful veggies. Or, throw some cubed protein onto a bountiful salad.
• Wine. Frozen margaritas, piña coladas and banana daiquiris come with a hefty calorie tag. So even though they could be summer soothers, many people opt for the lower calorie buzz that wine brings. Just because you're not chewing your food, however, doesn't mean those liquid calories won't stick. A 5-ounce glass of wine contains an average of 125 calories. (Four ounces would be a lousy-sized pour when dining out, and at home, it's rare that we'd fill our glass with that amount.)
Tip: Make every other glass sparkling water with a twist of lime or splash of fruit juice. Better yet, make yourself the designated driver more often and hydrate with zero-calorie beverages.
The bottom line: Every food you swallow will appear somewhere on your body, and when your body has gotten all it needs, those "extra" calories – wherever they're from – will appear in places you may not enjoy.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.