Do you feel like you’re eating all the right foods but those stubborn pounds still won’t come off? You might be getting blindsided by foods with hidden calories. “People frequently assume that if a food is healthy, then it’s also low in calories,” says Krista Maguire, R.D., C.S.S.D. and nutrition manager at Openfit. “However, certain trendy foods have a health halo that overshadows their true energy content.”
Even if you have the best of intentions of eating healthy, you could be eating lots of high-calorie foods without even knowing it. Here are a few common calorie offenders, and tips on how you can still enjoy them without going overboard.
10 Foods That Are Surprisingly High In Calories (and How to Slim Them Down)
“Smoothies sound like a great way to add some fruit into your diet, but they can be real calorie bombs if you’re not careful,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, M.A., R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table. That’s because many of them are spiked with gratuitous syrups, sorbet, and even straight up table sugar.
Plus, many store-bought smoothies are way too big (Jamba Juice gets up to 32 oz for a large!), packing the equivalent of four to six servings of fruit. That’s more than anybody should ever eat in a sitting.
Slim it down: Make your own smoothie from one cup each of fresh fruit, leafy green veggies, and unsweetened chocolate or vanilla almond milk.
2. Nut butters
Munching on some peanuts or almonds requires serious chewing. Not so much for smooth, creamy nut butters. “It takes far less time to stick a spoonful of nut butter into your mouth than to chew a small handful of nuts or peanuts,” Maguire says.
Think about it: how many times have you actually portioned out how much PB goes on your toast? Many people just slather it on until it looks good. “It’s easy to overdo it,” she adds.
Slim it down: You don’t have to lose your favorite nut butter, but it does help to measure it. Think one level tablespoon for smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal, and two for sandwiches.
3. Frozen yogurt
It is possible to find some brands of froyo that are lower in calories — a four-ounce scoop of Baskin-Robbins Fat-Free Vanilla Frozen Yogurt clocks in at a 130 calories.
But other froyo varieties deliver nearly as many calories as ice cream. Take Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food FroYo for example: a half-cup clocks in at 250 calories, which is only 40 calories less than you’d get from a half-cup of the original Phish Food ice cream.
Slim it down: Whip up your own frozen dessert like this Homemade Vanilla Frozen Yogurt. You’ll control the ingredients and the calories. And if you do go to a froyo bar to make your own combinations, be mindful of the toppings you use. Even though the base may be lighter in calories, that won’t negate all the chocolate chips and gummy bears you put on top.
4. Coffee drinks
When you’re on guard against calorie-rich foods, it’s easy to forget that drinks can contribute to your daily calorie intake, too. Fancy lattes and coffee with creamer are prime examples.
“If your latte is made with whole milk or coconut milk and syrupy sweeteners, it could contain hundreds of extra hidden calories,” Taub-Dix says. “And that’s before the whipped cream topping!”
Slim it down: Order a skim milk latte and sweeten it with a sprinkle of cocoa powder or cinnamon. If plain coffee is your thing, try a splash of 2% milk instead of creamer and save 42 calories. Or, if you’re trying to nix the dairy, opt for unsweetened almond milk, which will only cost you 10 calories for a quarter cup.
“Sometimes we forget that even though honey provides natural sugar, it’s still sugar,” Maguire says. In fact, this liquid sugar sports a third more calories than table sugar. So you might think that you’re opting for the healthier option, but in reality, it’s still racking up the numbers.
Slim it down: “The more sugar you use, the more you tend to crave it,” Maguire says. “Slowly cut back on the amount of honey you use and over time your taste buds will wake up to the natural sweetness in foods.”
Remember when we thought fatty foods like avocados, made us gain weight? Now, we know better. Truth is, a little slowly-digested fat can keep you full and satisfied, helping you eat less overall.
But the operative word here is “little.” Spread an entire avocado on your toast and you’ll rack up almost 30 grams of fat, which is about half a day’s worth.
Slim it down: Try a quarter of an avocado for salads and a half for toast. You can keep the leftovers from browning by rubbing the flesh with lemon juice, then wrapping it tightly with plastic wrap before putting it in the refrigerator.
Whether you’re tossing it into your omelet or layering in on your sandwich, cheese seems like a smart way to squeeze in extra protein. But it’s also an easy way to quickly rack up a surplus of calories.
“Many people are protein-crazed, but most of us are getting way more than we need already,” Taub-Dix says. So there’s no need to overdo it on the cheese…no matter how good it tastes.
Slim it down: Trade a slice or wedge of cheese for two tablespoons of shredded cheese and cut calories in half. Measuring it out will help you make sure you’re not getting too cheesy.
Whether they’re hemp or flax or sunflower, seeds are having a moment. However, if you’re sprinkling them on your already caloric smoothie bowl, you could mindlessly be adding extra calories. Especially if you do it with a heavy hand, which is easy to do when the seeds are so small! They might look harmless, but they can pack a big calorie-packed punch.
Slim it down: “Seeds are just an accessory,” Maguire says. “Instead of sprinkling them on top of your food, portion them out so you’ll know exactly how much you’re using.”
9. Dark chocolate
What could be better than finding out that your favorite treat is good for you? Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants and it often contains a lower amount of sugar. However, ounce-for-ounce it delivers about the same amount of calories as milk chocolate. So even though it’s a healthier option for a sweet treat, it doesn’t mean you can have a second (or third) helping without caloric consequences.
Slim it down: You can still get your dark chocolate fix, just do it in moderation. Avoid eating multiple chocolate squares by melting one square in the microwave and drizzling it over fresh berries. Sweet tooth satisfied!
10. Coconut oil
“Everyone’s going coconut crazy without realizing that it adds a lot of fat and calories to your diet,” Taub-Dix says. Like other cooking oils, coconut oil sports about 13 grams of fat per tablespoon, making it one of the most fat and calorie-dense foods around.
But unlike other oils, nearly all of the fat in coconut oil is saturated. “While there’s currently a big debate whether or not saturated fat is bad for you, there’s certainly not much science that says it’s good for you,” Taub-Dix says.
Slim it down: If you really enjoy coconut oil’s flavor, add just a dash of it at the end of the cooking process. Use a little avocado or olive oil for sautéing, then swirl in a teaspoon of coconut oil for taste before serving.
Just because a food is “healthy,” doesn’t mean it’s automatically low in calories. If you’re trying to whittle your waistline, be mindful of what foods you’re actually eating, and how much of them your eating. To avoid going overboard on calories, pay attention to calorie-dense add-ins in foods like smoothies and froyo, and be mindful of serving sizes for smaller foods that are easy to eat too much of, like seeds and cheese.