The best way to lose weight is to eat a balanced, healthful diet rather than excluding specific foods. However, knowing which foods are particularly calorie-dense can aid dietary planning.
In general, when trying to lose weight, it is best to reduce or avoid calorie-dense foods. However, the number of calories in a food is not the only factor to consider.
For example, low calorie foods that lack nutrients such as fiber and protein can still leave a person feeling hungry and unsatisfied, making it harder to resist snacking.
This article discusses 14 different types of foods to limit or avoid eating when trying to lose weight.
The most important thing when losing weight is establishing a healthy, sustainable calorie deficit while maintaining adequate nutritional intake.
Limiting the intake of high calorie, low-nutrient foods can help people reduce calorie intake while maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. Below are examples of common foods that people may wish to limit.
Many beverages, such as sodas, sports drinks, and fruit juices, are very high in added sugars but often low in other nutrients. Consuming these beverages adds calories to the diet but does not help a person feel full.
These Dietary Guidelines also state that the average person in the United States consumes around 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily. Almost half of this sugar comes from drinks, including sweetened teas and coffees.
Minimally-processed fruit juices, or whole fruits, are typically rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, fruits and juices still contain sugar, so moderation is necessary.
Baked foods, such as cookies, pastries, and many premade desserts, are often very high in added sugars, including fructose.
A 2021 study found that fructose can reduce feelings of fullness and increase the desire to eat more.
According to the
Moderating, but not eliminating, intake of dessert products can help people reduce overall calorie intake without feeling overly restrictive.
When choosing items such as cookies and other desserts, it is important to read available labels and choose items with the least amount of sugars, additives, and fats.
Fried foods, including French fries, are generally high in calories, salt, and unhealthy fats.
Many restaurants cook their fries in a deep fryer to give them a crispy texture, but this cooking method adds a significant amount of fat and calories. Despite this, because they lack fiber and protein, French fries do not help a person feel full for very long.
Baking or grilling potatoes and other vegetables creates a satisfying crispness with minimal added fats.
Processed fast food
Fast food is often high in calories, fat, and sodium.
Typically, these foods are heavily processed and often have a poor calorie-to-nutrient ratio. This means that a person eating them may take in large amounts of calories without much by way of nutritional benefit for satiety.
It is possible to make healthier versions of popular fast food items at home. For example, making hamburgers at home with lean ground beef can be part of a healthful diet if a person cooks it at home without added fats or oils. An occasional homemade burger can be a good source of protein, iron, and some B vitamins.
Similarly, baking potato wedges in small amounts of oil can be a lower-calorie option to French fries.
The key is to use as close to whole ingredients as possible and limit the amount of fats used in the cooking process.
Crackers and chips
Crackers and chips are often high in calories and may also contain added fats, salts, and sugar.
Refined breads and pastas
White pasta or bread that people make using refined wheat flour is typically high in calories and carbohydrates but low in fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
Whole-grain varieties of pasta and bread are readily available. These generally contain more fiber and nutrients than white varieties, making them more filling and healthful.
The ingredients label should list whole-grain flour as the main type of flour. Some examples include whole-wheat flour, brown rice flour, and whole-rye flour.
Similarly to bread and pasta, white rice is very low in fat but also contains minimal fiber and protein. A 2016 study in Iran identified a link between white rice consumption and obesity in female adolescents. White rice also has a high glycemic index, which means that it can cause a spike in a person’s blood sugar levels after they eat it.
Processed energy and granola bars
Although energy and granola bars are often rich in fiber and protein, they can sometimes contain as much sugar as a candy bar.
More healthful snack options include:
- sliced apple with peanut butter
- mixed nuts
- Greek yogurt with berries
- a hard-boiled egg
Candied dried fruits
Fresh fruits contain fiber and beneficial nutrients and are generally low in calories. Dried fruits, however, can be more calorie-dense when compared to their fresh counterparts.
As they contain much less water, dried fruits are a concentrated source of fructose. As a result, gram for gram, dried fruit contains more calories and sugar than fresh fruit.
However, dried fruits still contain fiber and nutrients, making them a better sweet snack option than cookies or candies.
People who are trying to lose weight can still enjoy dried fruits in moderation, but it is important to check that they do not contain added sugar. Some “candied” or “sweetened” dried fruits may contain as much sugar as a candy bar.
Many people consider yogurt to be a healthful food for weight loss. Greek yogurt, in particular, contains protein, and the bacterial cultures in yogurt may aid digestion. However, with so many different types of yogurt available, it is important to read the nutrition labels.
It is best to avoid sugar- or honey-sweetened yogurts. Fat-free yogurts are especially likely to contain added sugars.
Look for Greek yogurt without added sugar, and sprinkle fresh berries on the top for flavor.
Ice cream is a high-sugar, high calorie dessert that offers very little protein and no fiber. It is also easy to exceed the recommended portion size of ice cream, which is usually half a cup.
Consider frozen fruit for an alternative cold and sweet treat. Or, blend Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and freeze the mixture in popsicle molds for a homemade frozen treat.
Processed meat includes meat that manufacturers have either:
- otherwise processed and preserved
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) class processed meat as a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer.
Examples of processed meats include bacon, jerky, hot dogs, salami, and ham. These types of meat are often high in salt and low in nutrients.
Lean protein sources, such as poultry, fish, and beans, can be a healthy replacement for processed meats in meals while offering a better nutrient-to-calorie ratio.
Alcoholic beverages are calorie-dense and generally high in sugar, but they contain little or no protein and fiber. According to the
- a regular 12-ounce (oz) beer contains about 153 calories
- a light 12-oz beer contains approximately 103 calories
- a 5-oz glass of red wine contains close to 125 calories
- a 1.5-oz glass of an 80-proof distilled spirit contains an average of 97 calories
People who are trying to lose weight can still enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage if they wish. However, it is best to drink alcohol in moderation. The
Candy is generally unhealthful due to its high calorie, sugar, and fat content.
However, a person trying to lose weight can still enjoy chocolate in moderation. It is usually best to choose one or two small pieces of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate typically contains less sugar than milk or white chocolate varieties.
A person’s weight balances total consumed calories and expended energy. Due to this, a person’s weight, body composition, and health status can vary depending on lifestyle, diet, sociocultural, economic, and geographic factors.
- Activity levels: This encompasses everything from working out in a gym to the amount of sedentary time per day.
- Diet: The overall nutritional balance of a person’s diet is more important regarding weight and health than the prioritization or limitation of specific foods.
- Sleep: Sleep duration and quality can affect the metabolism and in turn, a person’s weight.
- Health conditions: Some conditions such as hypothyroidism and other endocrine disorders, can affect hormone production and weight management.
- Medications: Certain medications can affect how the body processes energy. This can increase hunger or energy storage, potentially causing weight gain.
- Sociocultural factors: A person’s family, community, and social bonds can influence eating habits and diet composition.
- Eating disorders: Eating disorders are medical conditions relating to a person’s relationship with food. They can affect
anyone at any ageand may not always be visible.
When trying to lose weight or maintain a healthful weight, it is important to choose the right foods and to avoid those that are calorie-dense but low in fiber, protein, and other healthful nutrients.
People who cannot achieve a healthy weight through diet and exercise may wish to consider speaking to a doctor or dietician.