Losing weight can seem like an uphill slog at times. Cutting back on calories can result in weight loss, says Katy MacQueen, a senior bariatric dietitian who specializes in weight management. But that doesn’t mean all calories are the same.
It doesn’t help that food companies use targeted marketing and packaging to make less than healthy foods enticing to us from the minute we start eating solids.
As an adult trying to lead a healthy(-ish) lifestyle, you may be able to resist the flashy cereal boxes and giant bags of chips. But what other foods should take a back seat?
Read on to learn what you should keep off your plate if you want to lose weight.
1. Processed Foods
This category includes: Processed meats, packaged snacks, canned foods packed in syrup
“Some foods undergo a low level of processing that doesn’t affect their nutrition, like freezing fruits and vegetables. Other foods are more highly processed and have sugar, salt and/or fat added,” Alissa Rumsey, RD, says.
Ultra-processed foods can contain added sweeteners, emulsifiers, preservatives, colors, artificial flavors, etc. In an effort to make this type of industrialized food taste better, many products also contain excessive amounts of salt, sugar, and fat, which make foods more enticing; this can lead to overeating and ultimately weight gain. “These highly processed foods appeal to our taste buds and make it hard to eat just one serving,” adds Rumsey.
2. Refined Grains
This category includes: White bread, white rice, many baked goods
For many people, white rice, pasta, cereal, and bagels make the world go ’round. But, the refined grains in these foods have been processed in a way that removes fiber and important nutrients. And don’t be confused by enriched grains — these are typically just refined grains with some nutrients added back (usually B vitamins). The key is fiber is not added back (with refined or even enriched) and less fiber in food means you’ll feel less full, making it easier to overeat.
Since there’s little to no fiber, refined grains are digested much more quickly than whole grains like oats and whole-wheat bread. This can cause a spike in blood sugar which can have a negative impact on our bodies over time.
3. Foods and Drinks with Added Sugar
This category includes: Fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, regular soda, sugar-sweetened yogurt, some condiments, some jarred pasta sauce, some salad dressings
Sugar can sneak into your diet in some of the most unlikely foods. Manufacturers often add sugar (in the form of cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, and more) to everyday foods like yogurt, fruit drinks, pasta sauce, and condiments like salad dressing and ketchup. Even the reduced-fat foods aimed at dieters usually compensate with added sugar to make them tastier.
Research suggests that a diet high in excess sugar can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Don’t overlook drinks, either: Sugary drinks can also play a role in obesity and obesity-related health issues.
Depending on how you consume it, even the natural sugars in fruit juice may lead to weight gain if you go overboard. Fruit juice no longer contains the filling fiber and pulp of the whole fruit which helps slow your body’s absorption of the sugar.
4. Greasy and Fried Food
This category includes: Fried chicken, fast food versions of burgers and pizza
Besides being easy to recognize as some of the most highly caloric foods, research suggests that eating fatty fried foods on a regular basis could raise your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
While we do suggest ditching greasy food, don’t forget that healthier fats—from unsaturated sources, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish like salmon—is an essential part of a balanced diet.
This category includes: Beer, wine, liquor
“People often overlook the role that caloric beverages—especially alcohol—have on weight, as many dieters solely focus on food choices,” says MacQueen. While moderate alcohol intake doesn’t appear to be linked to obesity, “heavy drinking and binge drinking” are associated with increased body weight.
We’re not saying you can’t ever have a glass of wine or a celebratory mojito, but one drink— or more — each night can make it harder to lose weight, both because of the extra calories and because getting boozy can lower your inhibitions, leading you to eat more, than you intended.
The Bottom Line
You don’t necessarily need to ban specific foods from your diet. A smart, healthy way to cut calories, according to MacQueen, is to cool it on foods, like the ones in this article, that have little nutritional value.
Opt instead for whole, nutrient-dense foods—meaning they have plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other healthy nutrients for their calories.