These foods are anything but healthy. Leave these 11 diet-sabotoging culprits behind and satisfying with these diet-worthy alternatives instead.
March 03, 2016
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“Diet” Foods You Need to Ditch
Leave these 11 diet-sabotoging culprits behind and satisfying with these diet-worthy alternatives instead.
2 of 12Photo: Jennifer Causey
1. Low-Fat and Fat-Free Mayo
Sure, the calories and fat got slashed, but what replaced them was modified food starch, high fructose corn syrup, a touch of soybean oil, and lots of chemical preservatives. Saving some fat and calories isn’t worth the sugar and chemicals it adds to your diet—never mind that these spreads don’t taste much like real mayonnaise either.
So what to spread on your sandwich? Choose a light mayo (around 50% less fat and calories) made with real eggs and olive oil and without corn syrup. Or, use just a touch of real mayo. Another alternative: try slices of avocado or another spread such as guacamole, hummus, or pesto instead. You’ll get healthy fat but fewer calories since you don’t need as much thanks to their strong flavors.
3 of 12Photo: Randy Mayor
2. Canned Soups
They’re convenient in a pinch, but here are three reasons why even low-calorie canned soups shouldn’t be a regular part of your diet: sodium, BPA, and taste. All soups are high in sodium, but canned ones have more (often around 600 to 1000mg per cup). In addition, many cans are lined with BPA, a chemical that research potentially links to some cancers and other diseases. Finally, it always tastes like it came from a can. We’d all choose homemade over that preservative-tinged flavor if we could, right?
Here’s a better alternative: make large batches of your favorite soup loaded with veggies, protein, whole grains and/or beans, and limit the amount of salt you toss in. Look for lower-sodium chicken broth and lower-sodium canned beans. Do it at the start of winter and freeze in small containers. If you don’t have time to cook, look for organic, lower-sodium soups packaged in BPA-free cans. Then, stir in extra nutrients such as baby spinach, brown rice, or black beans.
4 of 12Photo: Randy Mayor
Granola, Granola Bars, and Cereal Bars
Baked oats with dried fruit, nuts, and a touch of dark chocolate, granola bars seem like the picture of health, until you look at the Nutrition Facts. Sure, they may have whole grains and healthy fats, but nutritionally, most look more like candy bars thanks to lots of added sugar and little protein. Their biggest threat to weight loss? The lack of satiety they provide as a snack, and the blood sugar spike-then-crash from the added sugar.
Spend snack calories wisely by choosing one of these granola-like substitutes, which are all between 150 to 200 calories: a small handful of nuts and piece of fresh fruit, a small handful of nuts and a small dark chocolate square, or a small bowl of hot oatmeal.
5 of 12Photo: Randy Mayor
4. Egg Substitute
Egg substitutes became the fat-free, cholesterol-free answer when high cholesterol foods like the egg were thought to be a primary cause of heart disease. Research now shows it’s saturated fat, not cholesterol, that’s the culprit. In fact, the American Heart Association says it’s okay to eat one egg a day. But many still choose egg subs to save calories and fat. While egg substitutes aren’t necessarily unhealthy, they’re definitely not nutritionally equal.
Here’s why you should ditch the carton and choose an egg instead: One egg is 80 calories of high quality, nutrient-rich protein, and it’s one of the few breakfast foods that can satisfy you until lunch. One study even found that people trying to lose weight who ate eggs for breakfast consumed fewer calories later in the day than those who ate other breakfast foods. If one won’t fill you, scramble 1 whole egg with 1 to 2 egg whites or pair with fresh fruit or whole grains.
6 of 12Photo: Charles Masters
5. Turkey Bacon
Real bacon is hard to pass up, but in pursuit of weight loss, many opt for turkey bacon. However, turkey bacon doesn’t always provide the calorie and fat savings you might expect. While one brand we found was a nutrition steal at 20 calories, 0g sat fat, and 120mg sodium, other brands contained the same calories and fat as center-cut pork bacon and even more sodium.
So can you lose weight, and eat bacon? Yes, it is possible. The key is choosing a leaner, high-flavor cut (such as center-cut bacon) and staying on top of portion size. Two cooked slices of center-cut bacon have 60 calories, 2g sat fat, and 260mg sodium—not a diet-buster. We say choose real bacon, especially if a little bit of the real thing keeps you content, which is key to sticking with your diet.
7 of 12Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner
6. Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
If the thought of eating full-fat peanut butter while dieting makes you nervous, you’re not alone. There’s no way you could possibly lose weight eating something with 15g to 17g of fat, right? Many grab the lower fat option thinking it’s the smarter choice. Compare the labels though. Two tablespoons of reduced-fat peanut butter will only save you around 10 to 20 calories when compared to two tablespoons of the regular version. This small calorie difference is due to the added sugar and fillers to replace the fat.
Ditch the fillers, and buy full-fat peanut and nut butters instead. Consuming these higher-fat foods won’t halt weight loss if you’re watching portion size. In fact, they may even give you an edge. Research suggests that eating peanut butter in moderation gives you more satiety compared to eating lower-fat snacks, and the fat and protein in peanut butter curbs your appetite and prevents overeating later on.
8 of 12Photo: Randy Mayor
Pretzels & Rice Cakes
Pretzels and rice cakes were the snack to eat when dieting during the fat-free craze of the 80s and 90s. In fact, they were considered a near-perfect diet food. And while there’s really nothing blatantly wrong with pretzels and rice cakes, there’s not much great to say about them either. Usually made from refined grains, pretzels and rice cakes are low in protein, fiber, fat, vitamins, and minerals, which is why they leave you hungry and wanting more.
Thankfully, nutrition knowledge has advanced, and we know that smarter snack options are going to have a combination of whole grains or fiber, protein, and some fat. When you’re craving a salty crunch, opt instead for a handful of nuts, hummus with baby carrots, or apple slices with cheese cubes. If you can’t imagine giving up pretzels or rice cakes, then pair them with protein and fiber-rich foods. Top a rice cake or apple slices with peanut or nut butter, toss mini pretzel twists in a bag with almonds, or grab some dried fruit for a snack mix.
9 of 12Photo: Oxmoor House
8. Fat-Free Salad Dressings
Salads are near-perfect diet food—low in calories, full of nutrients, and filling. But choosing the right dressing is tricky. Many dieters assume fat-free dressings are the best choice. But something has to take the place of the fat, and in the case of fat-free dressings it’s typically sweeteners. You may save 100 calories at the time, but the lack of fat combined with the added sugar in the dressing makes you hungry again in an hour or two. Plus, the taste of fat-free dressings leaves a lot to be desired.
Your best choice when dieting is to skip the fat-free versions, opt for a light (50% less fat) or regular dressing, and measure the serving. A little healthy fat over fiber-rich salad veggies provides satiety; top it with a little protein, and you’re good for hours. But there’s another reason to ditch the fat-free dressing. Research shows that you can’t absorb many nutrients from the salad veggies in the digestive tract without fat. Whip up your own with one of our quick recipes, or if you prefer store-bought, check out our Dressing Taste Test.
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9. Instant Oatmeal
Oatmeal can be a great whole-grain energy source. But, if you’re relying on flavored oatmeal packets it can also be a sweet bowl of refined carbs that leave you starving midmorning. Instant oatmeal is typically more refined so it’s lower in fiber and protein and usually has added sugar. None of these qualities set your morning up for weight loss success.
Instead, cook and refrigerate a batch of steel cut or old-fashioned oats that you can simply reheat and flavor with fruit and toasted nuts. If the convenience of individual packets is a must, then check out our Grab-and-Go Oatmeal Breakfast Jars or choose an instant oatmeal where the first ingredient listed is steel cut oats, whole oats, or whole groats and that has at least 4g of fiber and 5g protein per serving. Also, look for one that has no added sugar or that has sugar at the end of the ingredient list.
11 of 12Photo: Charles Nesbit/GETTY IMAGES
Low-Calorie Frozen Meals
Quick, portion-controlled, and portable, lower calorie frozen meals seem like an ideal solution when dieting. And while they won’t derail your diet efforts, many leave a lot to be desired nutritionally. Most frozen meals are skimpy in protein and vegetables, use refined grains instead of whole, and contain high levels of sodium. If they are lower in sodium, then you likely feel the need to add salt to amp up the flavor. The end result is a high sodium nuked meal that’s low in fiber, protein, and vitamins and a far cry from the satisfying picture on the package.
We know convenience is a must at times, so here’s our favorite microwavable diet meal: leftovers from dinner. When you’ve got extra dinner servings, portion out lunch for the next day or two in portable storage containers. Or, make an extra batch of a favorite casserole or soup on the weekend, and freeze single-servings for days when you need them. If you’re in a pinch and need to buy a frozen meal, then look for one within your calorie range that feature whole grains and have at least 4g of fiber and 12g of protein. Pair with a side salad, fresh fruit, or steamed veggies for an extra boost of nutrients and to keep you full.
12 of 12Photo: Simon Murrell/Getty Images
The one thing that you thought was safe when dieting has come under recent attack, and the research is confusing. Some findings suggest that diet soda drinkers are at higher risk for developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome than those who drink sugared beverages. Other research suggests diet soda consumption promotes abdominal fat and possibly prevents weight loss. Here’s what you need to know: a zero-calorie beverage does not cause you to gain weight or prevent loss. But, many may opt for a diet soda to make up for other less healthy eating habits. Second, it appears that artificial sweeteners confuse your body chemically. Similar to how a regular soda often makes one feel hungry an hour or two after drinking it, this likely occurs with diet sodas too, which causes you to eat more later. There’s a lot we still don’t know though.
Your best bet is to skip diet sodas altogether. Have a cup of coffee, tea, seltzer water with a splash of fruit juice, or homemade infused water when you want low-calorie options other than plain water. If you can’t imagine your day without diet soda, then work your way down to one can per day. Get plenty of water as well, and be aware of the effects that the diet soda might have on your appetite and eating habits.