5 Healthy Foods that Can Sabotage Weight Loss Efforts

5 Healthy Foods that Can Sabotage Weight Loss Efforts

When it comes to losing weight, we all have at least a general idea of what we should do: eat healthy foods and only eat until we’re full or have reached our daily calorie allowance. But what happens when we are seemingly doing everything right but are still not seeing any change on the scale or—worse—in the mirror?

Well, it may be what you’re eating – there are 5 seemingly healthy foods that can quickly slow your weight loss efforts. What are they? Read on to find out!

#1: Low-Calorie or “Healthy” Pre-Packaged Foods

We’re all short on time, so you’re not alone if you frequently find yourself at the grocery store looking for something quick to grab for dinner. The problem? Instead of heading toward the fruit and vegetables to get the ingredients for a salad or stir fry, we go to the fridge or freezers. This is where all the processed foods live – the ones that were made days ago (or much longer) and have preservatives and sugars hiding within them.

While many of these foods are often marketed as being low calorie, healthy, keto, or full of protein, they don’t advertise the negative effects. All those preservatives (often sugar and/or salt) can spike your insulin levels or raise your blood pressure. This, at best, causes your body to hold on to excess water weight, and at worst, causes your body to hold to store excess sugar and energy as fat.

#2 Fully Loaded Salads

Have you ever taken a close look at the nutrition label for a store-bought salad? If so, you may have decided to put it back and go and grab that sub sandwich you really wanted. Why? Because the sauces and toppings often added to the low-calorie base of lettuce leaves are often full of saturated fats and sugars. The addition of pasta, cheese, bacon, nuts, beans, and a full cup of dressing pushes many of these salads into burger-and-fries territory, in terms of calories.

While buying salads out is a big problem, that doesn’t mean our homemade salads can’t get a little over-generous. We can accidentally self-sabotage at home by making the same mistake store-bought salads do, by failing to weigh or track what foods we’re adding that can inflate the calorie, sugar, and saturated fat count. You can always add more vegetables, but beware of what nuts, dressings, and other toppings you add.

#3 Naturally Sweetened Smoothies  

With the popularity of juice cleanses, smoothies must be healthy, right? Well, besides some store-bought smoothies with added sugars, they are usually. The problem comes from getting a little over-enthusiastic with added natural sugars or a high concentration of high-sugar fruits.

Whenever you’re making smoothies at home or buying one from a café or smoothie bar, double-check how much of any of the following is added:

  • Agave syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Honey
  • Dried fruits
  • Dates
  • Nut butters
  • Oat milk

While these sources are natural sweeteners, they’re calorie-dense and are still sugar. Natural is better, but it doesn’t discount the fact that it’s still sugar.

#4 High-Sugar Fruits

Fruit is always healthy – it is full of essential vitamins, nutrients, and fiber, all things that can help you live a long, healthy life. However, while the content is good, we’ve got to remember that fruit is largely sugar.

The sugars in fruit are from a natural source and if eaten as part of the whole fruit (i.e. with all that good fiber), won’t actively harm your weight loss efforts… unless you eat too much. Eating too much high-sugar fruit can prevent you from losing weight. You may add your favorite fruits to your smoothies or turn to them to silence your sweet tooth, but however you’re eating them, remember to eat them in moderation. Here are a few fruits to be wary of:

  • Mangoes (45 grams of sugar per fruit)
  • Grapes (23 grams of sugar per cup)
  • Cherries (18 grams of sugar per cup)
  • Pears (17 grams of sugar per medium fruit)
  • Watermelon (17 grams of sugar per inch-thick wedge)
  • Bananas (14 grams of sugar per medium fruit)

You don’t need to avoid these fruits, but do think twice before adding all of the above to your smoothies or taking them all with you to work to snack on to work. A  banana a day likely won’t derail your weight loss efforts, but smoothies packed with mango or watermelon might.

#5 Trail Mix, Nuts, Dried Fruit

What are we told to snack on when we’re trying to lose weight? Nuts and dried fruits. While there’s little nutritionally bad about these (though anything with added flavor, such as honey roasted peanuts, is another story), we rarely stick to the portion sizes that make these options a suitable snack.

In reality, when we reach for nuts we should only be eating a portion that fits in the bottom of a cupped palm – about an inch in diameter. This varies a little from nut to nut, but it’s a much more realistic view of what we should be eating. Nuts are calorie-dense and are another food that can inflate our daily intake. And, because you eat them as a snack, you may grab a pinch or two every so often and not even register how much you ate.

Dried fruits are difficult because they are essentially the whole fruit without the moisture, which means all that sugar is now condensed into a bite-size piece. They taste sweet like candy, and that’s because they almost are candy! Keep your portion size small, just to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Again, you don’t have to cut nuts and dried fruits out of your diet but eat them sparingly and consciously. The danger comes when we decide they’re fine because they’re “healthy”.

If you’ve hit a plateau or aren’t seeing the results you hoped on your weight loss journey, take another look at your diet. Are there any sabotaging foods disguising themselves as something you don’t need to think twice about? If you eat intuitively, try tracking your calories and macronutrients for a few days and weighing your portions – you’ll quickly discover if you’re relying on a problem food!


Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.  

Curb & Burn