There is nothing worse than thinking you're making better food choices, when it turns out you’re really not.
Ugh. All that hard work wasted!
When you set out to eat better, you may be tempted to start by cutting out all the foods you love, dropping your calories crazy low, and veering toward the cleverly marketed "health foods." And it can feel all consuming.
As a coach I see it all the time. Clients come to me after making a few healthy changes wondering why they're not seeing results. They've cut out sugar, increased fruits and veggies, and stocked their pantry, fridge and freezer with all sorts of "healthy" foods. Many of them have even added in daily exercise. And while they feel like they've made great improvements, their energy is zapped, they struggle with brain fog and generally feel like crap.
Maybe you can relate. Look there are A LOT of diet myths out there with their good and bad food lists that make it all too easy to fall for foods that have a reputation for being "healthy," when they're anything but.
That's why I put together this quick cheat sheet of the ten foods you want to avoid if one of your goals includes eating better for improved health and weight loss. But hear me when I say this: ALL foods fit. If some of the foods on this list happen to be your favorites, then this is a lesson in awareness. Perhaps a portion size adjustment, learning to pair that fun food with a more nutrient dense one for increased satiety and satisfaction, or looking for a small level up of that food that may be a better option for you is a next best step for example. Nutrition is not all or nothing. Neither is eating better.
The goal of this post is to boost awareness so that you can make the best food choices for you, your body and your goals.
Here are Ten Foods to Avoid and Why:
Fish, rice, and seaweed sounds healthy, light, and low calorie. And in fact, sushi from exceptional Japanese restaurants is just that. It’s also brutally expensive. What most of us consume is grocery store or “to-go” quality sushi that ends up being super high in simple carbs, low in protein, and scarce on vegetables. All that non-nutrition will leave you hungry and craving more sugar.
Think about it. Sushi rice is short-grain white rice dressed with sugar and rice vinegar, high in simple carbs and in sugar. Most “rolls” are 60-75% rice which is equivalent to two slices of bread, which alone might be fine, but the amount of protein it's typically paired with is minimal.
To up the quality of your sushi supper, consider requesting brown rice for a complex carb that contains dietary fiber and protein to keep you feeling fuller longer, look for rolls that provide additional sources of protein and healthy fats such as salmon and avocado, and avoid using too much soy sauce to reduce the amount of sodium and sugar.
2) Trail Mix
I love trail mix! And a handful of trail mix seems like the ultimate power snack but in some cases there are nearly 700 calories lurking in just one cup, so tread softly. It’s lightweight, tasty, and portable, which makes it an easy grab-and-go, but if weight loss is your goal, simply snacking on nuts and dried fruit is likely to backfire.
These days packaged varieties are oiled up to keep them from sticking to their packaging and they're often paired with delicious sugar and fat laden foods like chocolate and fried banana chips.
Instead of bailing on trail mix all together, simply watch your portion sizes and pair it with other nutrient dense foods. You can also make it yourself using a mix of raw, low, or no salt nuts and seeds along with your favorite naturally dried fruits.
Remember, while nuts can be a great source of healthy fats and protein, they're also calorically dense, which means a little goes a long way!
3) Spinach Wraps and Veggie Pastas
We've been conditioned to think green equals healthy, when in reality, that's not always the case. The allure of green pasta and spinach wraps is undeniable. I mean it's made from spinach and other veggies, right? The truth is not all wraps and pastas are created equal and many use a bunch of other fillers to make their "healthy" food taste good. Which often translates to little or no nutrition.
Many veggie wraps are made from white flour and simply add food coloring to make it look the part. Which is why when you scroll the nutrition label, spinach is often found way down on the ingredient list. These foods prey on our belief that green = better, when the fact is, green is a color just like any other and it's what's in your green that counts!
4) Veggie Burgers
Have you ever been proud of yourself for subbing a veggie burger for the traditional beef? In some cases, it may not be much better. Most veggie burgers are actually highly processed food products made mostly of soy. And they’re typically loaded up with salt to add flavor and extend their shelf life too. That said, not all veggie patties are created equal. There are some great black bean and turkey burger options out there, you simply have to get good and scrolling those nutrition labels.
In most cases a big fat portobello mushroom or a homemade black bean or turkey burger is a much better substitute. Pass up the store bought versions and check out my tasty recipe for a simple and delicious homemade Spicy Black Bean Burger instead. You'll save on empty calories and relish all the great flavor!
This quick cooking carb from exotic lands may trick you into thinking it’s "hearty," but the truth is that couscous is really a tiny white pasta with nearly zero nutritional value. Made popular in vegetarian and foodie communities, it’s a highly processed grain product made from little balls of durum wheat or semolina flour.
And while it is possible to find whole wheat couscous, often your better option is to choose quinoa, bulgur, or cracked wheat for a hearty complex grain that delivers dietary fiber, protein and other essential vitamins and minerals too.
6) Commercial Granola
The word “granola” conjures images of healthy outdoorsy folks eating breakfast cereal on a mountain top. But watch out. Most granolas tend to be low in fiber and protein yet high in fat, sugar and salt, which is pretty much the opposite of a healthy breakfast.
One cup of granola can come in at more than 600 calories which is about a third of the average woman’s daily total. Think of it like eating a bowl of oatmeal cookies with milk. If you love granola like I do in your Greek yogurt, just look for a variety lower in added sugar, salt and fat and watch portion sizes. One Tablespoon in a cup of Greek yogurt will go a long way and offers the crunchy flavor that satisfies. And for those who love to bake, try making your granola at home using whole oats, naturally dried fruit, mixed nuts and some zesty spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, bake with a bit of olive oil and you're all set.
7) Commercial Salad Dressing
We often think of salad as the go-to meal for "health," and those greens paired with veggies and protein likely are. It's the dressing you throw on top that can deliver a boat load of empty calories. Many commercial salad dressings are loaded with fat, sugar, salt, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Processed-food companies create a cocktail of flavors meant to entice you into pouring on more and before you know it, you've doused your greens in a sugar bomb.
The simplest way around the dressing dilemma is to read those labels and look for options lower in added sugar, salt and fat. The good news there are more and more natural ingredient dressings showing up on the shelf, you just have to keep an eye out for them. Or cut out the middle man and just make your own. At the end of the day if your favorite ranch dressing is going to help you eat a big bowl of greens, then I say go for it! After all two Tablespoons of ranch is averages 140 calories, it's all about being mindful of portion sizes.
8) Sports Drinks
Most people think of sports drinks as a healthy source of electrolytes and hydration, especially when you're active. The fact is that most sports drinks contain nearly as much sugar as the traditional soda, along with artificial colors flavors, even salt, and caffeine. None of which will help you feel and function your best. Even some of those "sugar-free" varieties are just using fancy artificial sweeteners and other chemicals that trick your brain into thinking it's getting sugar... which often leaves it craving more.
Try going natural instead. Plain old water with fresh cut lemon, orange and cucumber is not only a tasty way to stay hydrated but offers additional health benefits too! And for post workout, coconut water makes a much better natural source of electrolytes and water and better for hydration than those highly processed sports drinks. And if you just can't give it up yet, start by cutting it with water to naturally reduce the craving for the sweet stuff over time.
Yogurt is often marketed as the ultimate "health food," but if you're eating fruit-flavored yogurt cups, you’re likely just eating boat loads of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and a host of other sweeteners and not much actual fruit.
Much of the fruit in that yogurt comes from high-calorie, high-sugar fruit extracts or purees. In fact, in an 8 oz cup of fruit flavored yogurt, you can be looking at upwards of 47 grams of sugar - that’s twelve teaspoons of sugar and nearly double the recommended daily limit just in one little cup. You might as well be eating a decadent dessert.
But you don't have to give up your yogurt. Try plain Greek yogurt, add a touch of honey or maple syrup and stir in your own fresh fruit to reap the nutritional rewards. And if you're not a fan of plain Greek yogurt, look for low sugar varieties, such as the Two Good brand, which is light on sugar and big on flavor.
10) Fat Free Anything
When you’re trying to lose weight, the words ‘fat-free’ are like a siren song. Just remember that when a food manufacturer cuts fat, they have to replace it with something. And that something is almost never good for you.
Fat gives food flavor. When you take it out you have to make up for that with something, and it's usually more sugar, more salt, and more chemicals. Your body needs healthy fats. It recognizes them and knows just what to do with them. But those food additives used to replace fats are completely foreign and do your body more harm than good, confusing your hormones and making it harder to lose weight. My advice for sustained weight loss always begins with, “Eat real food.” Not the franken-foods your body won't recognize.
The best way to make sure that the food you’re eating is really healthy and not just being called healthy on the label, is to keep it as fresh, simple, and clean as possible. Don’t rely heavily on packaged foods. Look for hidden sugars. Watch for added salts and bad fats. And manage your portions. And remember that you have more control when you make it yourself.
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women like you who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.