These Seemingly Healthy Foods May Be Sabotaging Your Fitness Goals

Some nutritious snacks still pack quite the caloric punch. We talked to the experts and got the scoop on how to avoid the potential pitfalls of eating healthy.

June 21, 2018
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It’s noon, your stomach is rumbling, and you’re trying to eat healthy. Scarfing down a bunch of guac for lunch sounds like a healthier choice than, say, scarfing down a bunch of cheese fries. The latter obviously has the bad kind of fat, whereas we all know avocados are notorious for being good (the monounsaturated kind of good), thus helping us fend off high cholesterol and belly fat.

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So, this translates to eat as much as you want, right? Ah, if only.

According to Dianah T. Lake, MD, and fitness competitor and board-certified New Jersey emergency medical physician, we often hurt ourselves when indulging in these foods because we tend to overeat them, believing we’re doing something healthy for our bodies. And while many of us will generally steer clear of all those ultra-processed snacks that make up over half the foods in the average American diet, eating clean isn’t a substitute for paying attention to the amount we consume.

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It turns out even seemingly harmless (aka frenemy) foods can interfere with our weight and fitness goals. Almonds, avocados, and other high-fat snacks provide many valuable nutrients, but they are also calorically dense, says Laura Arndt, a Washington, D.C. certified personal trainer and CEO of Matriarc, a health and fitness resource for new mothers.

These tempting pitfalls could possibly derail hard-earned fitness goals, but fear not; just as we can retrain our brain to enjoy healthier foods, we can start making better choices about what we’re already snacking on. Here are four frenemy foods to look out for and ways to prevent them from sabotaging your hard work.

1. Frenemy Food: Avocado

Okay, let’s not get too carried away—you can quit hiding the avocado under your desk, we’re not confiscating it. The trouble is, most people tend to eat half an avocado when a serving is actually one-fifth of a medium-sized one, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Consuming more than that increases your calorie and fat intake, which may, in turn, sabotage your overall fitness goals.

Keep an eye on portions.

While healthy fats are good for us, the right quantity matters. “People that do not track the amount or measure [these foods] may find they are consuming more calories than they are burning, causing them to stay at a weight-loss plateau or even gain body fat,” says Arndt.

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She recommends creating serving sizes for each day and making sure to stick to the amount you pre-measured: “Make sure you understand what a serving size is for your particular food, and then put it into individual bags or containers you can take on the go.”

2. Frenemy Food: Bananas

Luckily, the sugar content in these luxurious treats is only slightly high—not so high that it will derail your healthy meal plan. However, if you’re on a low-glycemic diet—bananas are one of the higher-ranking fruits on the glycemic index—Lake recommends only eating half a banana to limit the carbs and sugar.

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If you’re trying to meet your recommended potassium intake for the day, which is about 4.7 milligrams, kiwifruit will offer you more potassium than a serving of banana. They also boast more vitamin C than an orange and can be a great alternative food, Lake says.

When you eat makes all the difference.

Experts believe consuming a lot of fruit late at night is way too much sugar late in the day, which can cause irregular sleep patterns and may plateau your weight loss. Bananas and other fruit high in carbs are good in a pre- or post-workout smoothie, so long as they are balanced with fat and protein. In other words, make sure to keep all your carb-heavy foods reserved for earlier in the day, rather than later.

3. Frenemy Food: Nuts

Raise your hand if you’ve ever reached into a bag of mixed nuts and didn’t stop reaching until it was empty? Well, with those few handfuls, you easily added an extra 500 to 700 calories to your daily intake.

“If you don’t utilize the energy you consume, your body will store it as fat.”

—Jill McKay, certified personal trainer

Nuts are rich in vitamins and high in protein. But, as Lake notes, they are also fairly caloric. One serving is typically 12 to 15 nuts (not the entire bag—got it).

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“The problem is most people easily consume two to four servings of nuts in one sitting, which leads to excess caloric intake,” Lake says.

Sweat it off.

“If you don’t utilize the energy you consume, your body will store it as fat,” says Jill McKay, a certified personal trainer. This is a big no-no for your heart. According to the American Heart Association, we should aim for “40 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity three to four times a week.” Of course, while upping our workout routine doesn’t give us a free pass from much-needed portion control, it can help balance things out.

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If you’re looking for a good routine to burn that bag of almonds you just devoured, these inspired moves can help you sweat off the added calories.

4. Frenemy Food: Honey

We saved this one for last since we know those with a sweet tooth might feel personally attacked. Honey is another healthy food that is overly consumed due to its presumed health benefits. However, it’s easy to overdo it with honey; a 64-calorie serving size of honey is only one tablespoon, and being so thick, it can add up quick.

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Balance is key.

Lake recommends using honey sparingly to enjoy the health perks while avoiding the extra calories. Despite the higher caloric value, she says she still favors honey over refined sugar for its greater nutritional benefits.

Staying on Track

In addition to the advice above, here are a few more recommendations for staying on track with your weight maintenance goals.

Stick to complex carbs.

In general, Lake advises her patients and fitness clients to stick with foods with complex carbs, which are rich in fiber and starch. Switching to these nutritious foods can further aid weight management efforts and help reduce or avoid blood sugar spikes.

To keep your carb intake complex, Lake recommends sweet potatoes, sprouted grains, low glycemic fruits like berries, apples, and kiwifruit, and dark leafy veggies such as spinach, arugula, and kale.

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Since fiber-rich food is slower to digest, you’ll feel full for longer periods of time and have steadier energy throughout the day.

Choose proper proteins.

First, the start of the show: lean proteins. They help build muscle and are packed with nutrients the body needs, and sources include white meat poultry, pork tenderloin, eggs, lean beef, soy, and beans.

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We also shouldn’t forget protein from the sea. Fish, particularly the fatty kinds, contain loads of omega-3 fatty acids. These are great for cleansing the body of free radicals, reducing inflammation, and promoting liver detoxification—all of which improves fat breakdown and metabolism. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fatty fish a week.

Just to double down on fish: Past research indicates that the more fish we consume, the more we help decrease the risk of heart problems.

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Good plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and walnuts. Remember, though, to consume these things in moderation.

If you’re looking for some ideas for incorporating more of these healthy fats into your meal plan, check out these yummy suggestions for cooking salmon (which is also a great source of vitamin B12).

Stay hydrated.

According to one study, nearly 83 percent of adult women aren’t hydrated enough, which can cause countless ills including fuzzy thinking, mood changes, constipation, and kidney stones. Aside from these health hazards, we’re also far more likely to overindulge on snacks when we’re dehydrated.

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In fact, if you find yourself feeling more fatigued than usual and having sudden hunger pangs, it could be your body’s way of interpreting thirst as hunger. It is also more likely that you’ll grab any sugary beverage in sight.

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Wondering how you can tell one from the other? Pay special attention to pain in your joints or mysterious headaches that seem to come out of nowhere; this is your body trying to tell you something.

Getting enough water isn’t only helpful in curbing needless snacking: It also helps our bodies regulate blood sugar and oxygen levels. Try drinking a glass of water first before reaching for that bag of nuts. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, take your doctor’s advice and shoot for the lofty 11.5 cups of fluid a day.

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For those who aren’t exactly motivated by plain, old-fashioned H2O, try jazzing up your hydration with these (brilliant and practical) infused water recipes.

A Healthy Balance

Simply put, the best thing we can do to keep up with our weight and fitness goals, according to experts, is the most obvious: Learn to balance out our food choices. This means eating a moderate combo of fruits, carbs, veggies, proteins, and fats. And remember, it’s not about cutting out all our favorite foods—it’s about eating smarter and making better choices. So, while we can’t go all out with the guac anymore (I’m saying this more to myself than anyone else!), a little planning and portion control can do a body good.

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