Which Foods Actually Make You Gain Weight? RDs say to pay particular attention to this one

By | March 18, 2024

Woman steps on scale

You’ve probably heard that a diet that consistently includes fattening foods like French fries and fried chicken won’t do the body much good. That’s not to say you can never eat these foods; they certainly taste good and are fine in moderation.

However, you may minimize your fried food consumption and still notice the number on the scale creeping up. You may be consuming foods marketed as “healthy” that are actually contributing to weight gain. “Many of those foods marketed as organic, keto, plant-based, gluten-free and other trendy labels may seem like great choices, but they’re just not,” says Kimberly Gomer MS, RD/LDNwho runs his own practice.

Weight isn’t everything. However, by spotting sneaky marketing practices that make certain foods appear healthy, you can make more informed decisions about the foods you consume. And that gives strength.

“Recognizing sneaky foods can help you plan around them and incorporate them into the diet less consistently when you’re trying to lose or maintain weight,” says Yelena Wheeler, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Endomondo. “It will also prevent frustration for yourself if you consumed supposedly healthy foods that actually turned out to be foods that can lead to weight gain.”

Related: The One Snack You Should Eat Every Day If You Want to Fight Metabolic Syndrome

The No. 1 Food to Avoid When Trying to Lose Weight

What makes you gain weight the fastest? Fruit juice. Yes, it contains fruit. But Wheeler is concerned.

“Drinking fruit juice is mostly like drinking sugar water with some vitamins in it,” says Wheeler. “Drinking juice does not give us the same fullness and satisfaction as eating a piece of fruit, because we are missing a very important component: fiber,” says Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for Body Building Reviews. “The calories in juice can add up if we don’t pay attention to the serving size and added sugar content.”

Instead, opt for the stiff version of whatever you’re drinking. “Consuming the fruit version of the juice would be a good trade-off,” says Wheeler.

Related: These are the 3 go-to dinners of people who never gain weight

9 other foods to watch out for

1. Plant-based milk alternatives

People have different reasons for switching away from non-dairy milk, such as sustainability goals and lactose intolerance. However, the fact that the milk comes from a nut does not make it healthier. “Even though they don’t contain lactose, they still contain calories, and excessive consumption will lead to weight gain,” says Wheeler.

Additionally, some may be sweetened to taste, so check the ingredients and choose one without added sugar.

2. Dried fruit

Like juice, dried fruit is simply not as good as fruit in its natural, whole form. “Dried fruit is another great weight gainer that looks healthy because it is fat-free and contains one ingredient: fruit,” says Gomer. “The problem is that it removes the water and concentrates the sugars. It’s also very easy to overeat.”

3. Gluten-free pastries

Dietitians say that “gluten-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “healthier.” “They may not contain gluten, but they still contain sugar, fat and ingredients that replace gluten,” says Wheeler. And gluten-free baked goods are often high-calorie foods, too.

In other words, gluten-free cookies packed with added sugar are still just that.

4. Reduced fat or low sugar ice cream

Again, people are doing their best when they opt for these treats in the new aisle — and they can be helpful, especially if you’ve been told to lower the sugar and fat in your diet for health reasons. The problem? You might think it’s okay to go back for more because the ice cream has less fat or sugar (or you’re looking for the full-fat, added-sugar version you were really craving).

“Ice creams with less fat or sugar are seen as a healthier choice, but the calories are still there, and this can throw off your vigilance about portion control,” says Berger. “If a food we all know and love has less fat or sugar, we identify the taste we are used to as not being present, and we may eat more, thinking that we will eventually get that taste.”

5. Yogurt

Yogurt is an excellent source of protein. Greek yogurt contains proteins that can keep you full. However, yogurt can also get sneaky.

“Some flavored yogurts may contain the added sugar equivalent of a piece of cake, which can lead to increased sugar cravings throughout the day,” says Berger.

Fat-free yogurt can also be full of sweet things. “Even though it may not contain much fat, it can still contain a lot of added sugar, which will contribute to weight gain if consumed in large quantities,” says Wheeler. “Yogurt with fruit syrups and artificial flavors/sweeteners can be high in calories.”

6. Breakfast cereal

Again, look at the label. “Many are low in fiber and high in sugar,” says Wheeler. Therefore, it is important to look at the sugar content and portion size when consuming.

7. Energy bars

Collapse? Hangry? You might want to think twice before reaching for an energy bar.

“The bars that are low in nutrients like fiber and protein and high in added sugars can lead to a spike in blood sugar, then a crash and a craving for more food,” says Berger.

That said, some energy bars are the opposite – and can give you the boost you need to tackle the rest of your tasks. “Energy bars that are packed with protein and fiber, but low in added sugar, can be a great afternoon pick-me-up,” says Berger.

8. Nuts

Moderation is key when sniffing nuts. “Nuts are another healthy food that is marketed as a weight loss food, but is actually extremely high in calories,” Gomer says of the high-calorie food. “There are 826 calories in one cup of almonds, and it’s very easy to eat one cup.”

Opt for a quarter cup with approximately 206 calories or a pre-portioned bag with 100 calories.

9. Nut butters

Again, portions are important here because nut butter can be a good source of protein and fat. “There are 188 calories in two tablespoons of peanut butter, and you’ll probably eat double or triple that amount just by dipping an apple in it,” says Gomer.

Nut butters are also high in fat.

“While they are a healthier alternative to butter and contain some protein, they are also high in fat and should therefore be limited in the number of servings consumed,” says Wheeler.

Related: People who never gain weight swear by this simple morning habit

Tips for avoiding weight gain from food choices

One of the best things you can do is look at the ingredients list on the back of the label instead of being tempted by the marketing text on the front. “Choose foods with less added sugar,” says Berger. “Large amounts of added sugar can cause a blood sugar spike, then a crash and a desire to eat again.”

That nutrition label also lists serving sizes — keep that in mind when you get home, Berger suggests.

Finally, tune in to yourself. “Listen to hunger signals and consume based on what the body tells you,” says Wheeler. “Focus on deciphering between actual hunger for a meal or a snack, while also remembering that mood and boredom can also play a role in your choices about what to eat and the type of food you consume. Get in tune with your mood and emotions and how they affect your consumption.”

Next: Registered dietitians share their top tips for losing weight after 60

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