While they’re packed with antioxidants, protein, and healthy fat, these nutrition powerhouses can pile on serious calories if you’re not careful.
Mike Simone and Hollis Templeton 1 / 12
Avocado is everywhere, and rightfully so. It’s a superfood. Each fruit is packed with 10 grams of fiber and more than twice the potassium of a banana. Avocado has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, reduce cancer and diabetes risk, and improve skin health. The drawback: Due to its high-fat content (heart-healthy monounsaturated fat is still fat) and the heavy praise avocado receives for its health benefits, it’s all too easy to go overboard. “While they’re packed with more than 20 vitamins and minerals, avocados are still calorically dense,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The Miracle Carb Diet. “Use moderation when adding them to your salads, sandwiches, and anything else.”
Hit up a sporting event or hang out at a local bar and you’re sure to come across a variety of nuts—and guys chowing down on them like they’re pieces of popcorn. It’s the perfect example of good gone bad. Like avocado, nuts are loaded with heart-healthy fats. But healthy doesn’t always mean lean. A couple of beers and a few handfuls of nuts and you’ve tallied up some serious calories. “A 1-ounce serving of nuts contains 135 calories, and how many nuts you get in a serving will depend on your nut of choice,” Zuckerbrot says. “Think about it: Would you rather have 12 cashews or 22 almonds?”
3. Protein Bars
Protein is good, right? Damn right it is. But not if it’s double-decked with ab-killers fat and sugar. Your protein-bar approach: Save them for when you’re in a jam, like when you’re traveling or out on a long hike, and in those instances eat half the serving size at a time. Rule No. 2: shop smart. Pick a bar with reduced sugar, or opt for a ready-to-drink (RTD) alternative. These products typically contain half the fat and sugar, and 100 fewer calories, compared with bars.
4. Granola and Trail Mix
In theory, whole-grain, fiber-rich mixes make great on-the-go snacks. Problem is, they’re often dressed up with ingredients like honey, dried fruit, seeds, and chocolate—plus it’s hard to stick to the proper portion size. “A serving of granola is only one-quarter cup—about 4 tablespoons—which is hardly enough to keep you feeling full until lunch,” Zuckerbrot says. Your plan of attack: Again, save these convenient eats for when you’re in jam and opt for a stripped-down mix sold in a bag that contains a single serving.
5. Dried Fruit
Take all the nutrients and antioxidants from several servings of fruit and shrink them down into something that’s super easy to eat. Sounds great, right? Well, these miniature fruit snacks are often loaded with added sugar, plus it’s not out of the norm to plow through an entire bagful. Go for fresh instead. “Two tablespoons of dried cranberries or raisins have the same amount of calories as 1 cup of fresh raspberries or 1¼ cups of strawberries,” notes Zuckerbrot.
High-cocoa chocolate contains compounds called polyphenols, which research shows may keep blood vessels dilated and help lower blood pressure. But before making a daily habit of the dark sweets, be mindful that along with cocoa comes saturated fat and sugar. “You may think it’s good for your heart, which it can be if eaten in moderation. But go overboard and you’ll get lots of calories that can pile on weight, which isn’t heart healthy at all,” Zuckerbrot says. Look for brands with the highest percentage of cocoa and opt for smaller packages versus the temptation of larger bars.
7. Gluten-Free Foods
Even if you don’t have a wheat allergy, you may be drawn to gluten-free versions of pizza, pasta and pancake mix because they just sound healthier. But get this: “Many gluten-free products actually have more calories than similar versions that contain gluten,” warns Zuckerbrot. “Ingredients such as cornstarch and brown rice flour, which are used by manufacturers to mimic the texture and taste of gluten, are more calorically dense than the ingredients they replace.” Your best bet: stick to whole foods that are naturally gluten-free, like quinoa.7 Ways to Cook with Quinoa >>>
8. Nutrition Waters
These tricked-out thirst quenchers might promise magical powers, like reviving you from the worst hangover of your life or helping you stay focused at work on a Friday afternoon, but the boost you feel after downing a vitamin-enhanced beverage comes more from sugar than it does from a slew of B vitamins and electrolytes. Some 20-ounce bottles contain more than 30 grams of the sweet stuff. And just like your body absorbs nutrients more effectively from real food than it does supplements, the same thing applies to the vitamins and minerals that have been used to fortify these rainbow elixirs. “Get your nutrients from food, and stay hydrated calorie-free with pure water,” suggests Zuckerbrot.
Order a blended drink at a juice bar and it’s all too easy to end up with a gut-busting beverage in your hands. Thanks to colossal cup sizes—we’ve spotted smoothies as big as 32 and 40 ounces—and dessert-like ingredients such as peanut butter, chocolate, real coconut milk, and sherbet, slurping down 600 to 1,000 calories (or more) is a cinch. A better bet: make your drink at home. “Add ice, a serving and a half of produce, and yogurt for a protein boost and rich, creamy texture,” advises Zuckerbrot.5-Minute Kitchen: Blend a Green Smoothie >>>
In its plain form, tuna is a smart pick, not to mention one of the most wallet-friendly ways to eat healthy. One can contains fewer than 200 calories, has only about 1 gram of fat, and packs 42 grams of muscle-building protein. But turn your tuna into tuna salad, and that’s where things go downhill. A tablespoon of mayo adds 10 grams of fat, plus 90 extra calories. “Go for low-fat or fat-free mayo instead,” Zuckerbrot says. “And to cut back on calories even more, serve your sandwich open-faced on just one slice of bread. Even better, put that scoop of tuna salad over a green salad.”6 Easy Ways to Eat Tuna >>>
11. Coffee Drinks
A cup of black coffee sets you back a measly 5 calories, but it’s hard to stomach the stuff straight up. We know you’re smart enough to stay away from fat-laden frappuccinos topped with whipped cream, but innocuous-sounding blends of espresso and milk can still carry a load of calories if you aren’t careful. For example, a 20-ounce latte made with whole milk weighs in at almost 300 calories and 15 grams of fat—and that’s before adding sugar. “If you want to add lightness to a robust brew, add just a splash of cream instead of the full cup of milk that goes into a latte,” Zuckerbrot says. “If it’s sweet you need, choose non-nutritive sweeteners and sugar-free syrups.”
12. Flavored Greek Yogurt
We get it: Greek yogurt’s got a tart taste, and it’s tempting to reach for a sweetened-up variety (there are dozens of flavor combos to pick from, after all). But a 6-ounce container of blueberry Greek yogurt packs approximately 16 grams of sugar, half the recommended grams of sugar per day. “Your best bet is to stick to plain fat-free Greek yogurt and add your own berries,” Zuckerbrot says.