14 Foods to Avoid if Trying to Lose Weight

14 Foods to Avoid if 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.

Sugary beverages

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.

The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans limiting calories from added sugars to no more than 10% of their total daily intake, which is around 12 teaspoons for a 2,000-calorie diet.

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.

Alternatives

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

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.

Many baked foods also contain trans fats. The results of a 2016 study in mice suggest that a diet high in trans fats may increase the risk of obesity.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are the primary source of trans fats in processed foods. The FDA also states that “removing PHOs from processed foods could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths each year.”

Alternatives

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

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.

Alternatives

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. Studies show that regular fast food consumption is also associated with an overall reduction in diet quality.

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.

Alternatives

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.

Alternatives

More healthful snacking options include raw carrots or celery with hummus or a small portion of toasted nuts with no added salt or 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.

Alternatives

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.

White rice

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.

Alternatives

Brown rice, quinoa, and cauliflower rice are healthful alternatives to white rice. These options are richer in dietary fiber, which can help a person feel fuller for longer.

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.

Alternatives

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.

For example, 100 g of fresh banana contains 89 calories, while 100 g of dried banana chips contains 519 calories.

However, dried fruits still contain fiber and nutrients, making them a better sweet snack option than cookies or candies.

Alternatives

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.

Sweetened yogurt

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.

Alternatives

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

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.

Alternatives

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

Processed meat includes meat that manufacturers have either:

  • dried
  • smoked
  • fermented
  • canned
  • 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.

Alternatives

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.

Discover 38 high-protein foods for weight loss here.

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are calorie-dense and generally high in sugar, but they contain little or no protein and fiber. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

  • 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

Alternatives

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 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than one alcoholic drink per day for females and a maximum of two per day for males.

Candy

Candy is generally unhealthful due to its high calorie, sugar, and fat content.

Alternatives

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.