8 Foods to Avoid for Weight Loss

While no food is off-limits forever, these 8 foods can be particularly detrimental to your weight loss efforts.

image of a white plate and silver fork with white pasta, a food to avoid for weight loss
Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN
— Signos
Health & Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

May 17, 2024
November 4, 2021
— Updated:
March 31, 2023

Table of Contents

There is no one "right" way to lose weight. Each of us has unique characteristics that influence our weight, from our blood sugar response to our body type. That's why the supposed next best diet that helped your neighbor drop 20 pounds might not work for you. 

Successful weight loss means skipping the next fad, getting off the yo-yo dieting merry-go-round, and finding what works for your body. 

However, there are certain foods to avoid for weight loss for everyone. These foods tend to be high in refined carbs that spike your blood sugar, promote fat storage and even exacerbate inflammation<sup>1</sup>—all making it more challenging to lose weight.

While no food should ever be off-limits forever—because, let's face it, most of us will eventually rebel against strict diets—these eight foods can be particularly detrimental to your weight loss goals.

1. White Pasta

Known as a refined grain, white pasta is a nutrient-poor food. Grains have three main parts: the bran, endosperms, and germ. Refined carbs like white pasta have had the bran and germ removed during processing to leave the endosperm, but unfortunately, this also removes most of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

As a result, white pasta spikes your blood sugar quickly and adds very little nutrition to your diet. While small pasta portions combined with other healthy foods won't immediately lead to weight gain for everyone, most people eat far more than one serving. 

Plus, overeating refined carbs is linked to an increased risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease<sup>2</sup>.

<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: Swap out your white pasta for spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. These foods are higher in fiber, lowering the impact on your blood sugar. Bake your veggie-based noodles in the oven on low heat at 200 degrees before using them to help remove excess water.</p>

2. Sodas and Juice

While most people put them in separate categories, soda and juice have the same impact on your blood sugar. They are both high in sugar and since they are liquid, drinking them gives a quick zap of glucose to your bloodstream. 

In fact, subbing water for sweetened beverages is associated with significantly lower weight gain<sup>3</sup> over time, even without other diet changes. And while some 100 percent fruit juices may have a few extra vitamins, it's better to get your nutrients from the whole fruit.

Cutting sweetened beverages can be tricky, as some people who try to stop drinking sodas can experience withdrawal symptoms<sup>4</sup> like headaches and fatigue. 

And unfortunately, choosing artificially sweetened beverages isn't much better. Studies suggest that diet sodas are associated with impaired glucose metabolism<sup>5</sup>, increased calorie intake, and weight gain.

<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: Swap your sweetened drinks for sparkling water or herbal tea. If you remove two cans of soda a day, you've already cut around 300 calories and about 70 grams of sugar from your daily intake. Add mint, cucumber, or even frozen blueberries to your water to spice it up.</p>

3. White Bread

Like white pasta, white bread is made by removing the grain's fiber and nutrient-containing parts during processing. Once again, it's not that a single slice of white bread eaten as part of a healthy diet will lead to weight gain. Still, refined grains<sup>6</sup> tend to take the place of whole grains that are associated with much better health outcomes.

Once digested, white bread can lead to rapid blood sugar spikes and insulin response. As insulin is released, it should help bring your blood sugar back down. Still, for some people, this rapid rise and drop can lead to feelings of fatigue and even more cravings for simple carbs<sup>7</sup>, creating a vicious cycle.

<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: If you tolerate wheat, try a high fiber 100 percent whole grain, sprouted bread option with at least three or four grams of fiber per slice. You can also experiment with the many veggie-based wraps (like cauliflower) that help keep refined carbs in check.</p>

4. Sweets

It should come as no surprise that sweets like candy, cookies, or baked goods are usually made with refined grains and added sugars that negatively impact your blood sugar. 

But even treats labeled "gluten-free" or "low-carb" may not be the best choice as they still can interfere with your weight loss goals. These foods have what is known as a "health halo," meaning the way they are packaged make them appear like a healthy choice when often they really aren't.

The problem with supposed "healthy" treats is that they are also usually high in calories or other types of sweeteners. Once again, occasionally having a treat is okay, but keep it to a minimum if weight loss is your goal.

<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: If you’re craving something sweet, reach for dark chocolate or frozen fruit. And if you do choose to have a sweet, keep it to special occasions, skip the fake or diet treats and go for the real thing so you feel satisfied.</p>

5. Chips

Ever reach for the bag of chips as a snack and soon find out you finished the whole bag? It's a little too easy to do. Chips tend to be high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods that spike your blood sugar and add empty calories. Plus, many are cooked with refined seed oils<sup>8</sup> that could contribute to inflammation in your body.

Chips have their own set of health halo with all the options out there. Gluten-free, low-carb, and grain-free are all over the food labels, but, in the end, they are still an easy-to-overeat snack. Plus, they tend to be naked carbs, meaning they aren't paired with protein or fiber that could otherwise slow down digestion and blood sugar spikes<sup>9</sup>.

<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: If you need something crunchy to snack on between meals, try reaching for nuts, carrots and guacamole, or crispy chickpeas. Keep pre-washed and chopped veggies in the fridge, so a lack of time or energy won't get in the way of your healthy eating.</p>


6. Fried Foods

Fried foods are a double whammy for weight. The breading is usually made of refined grains that spike blood sugar, and they are fried in refined seed oils that aren't always the best quality. In fact, eating more fried food<sup>10</sup> is associated with weight gain, and can increase your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes<sup>11</sup>.

Fried foods are also higher in advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are toxic compounds formed in foods cooked at high heat. AGEs are associated with oxidative stress and inflammation<sup>12</sup> in the body, with links to increased risks of chronic disease.

<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: You can make dupes for fried foods by baking instead of frying at high heat. And for those who love kitchen gadgets, air fryers are a healthy alternative that lets you make food that tastes fried without the oil. </p>

7. Alcohol

Alcohol has a direct impact on your blood sugar and insulin response. While light to moderate drinking isn't associated with long-term blood sugar issues, heavy drinking is associated with increased insulin resistance<sup>13</sup> or a loss of sensitivity to insulin, the hormone responsible for moving sugar out of your blood.

Plus, many drinks are high in carbs and calories from the sweet mixers or juices added. Alcohol also means you lower inhibitions<sup>14</sup>, making it more likely you'll reach for something unhealthy.

<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: Minimizing alcohol intake is your best bet. Mocktails made with sparkling water can be a fun and festive choice. But if you do drink, swap out dark beer and mixed drinks for spirits on the rocks mixed with club soda, light beer, or wine.</p>

8. Sweetened Coffee Drinks

Many people are shocked to find out just how many grams of sugar are hiding in their favorite coffee drink. That seasonal pumpkin spice latte filling everyone's social media feed has 50 grams of sugar, more than a soda. That means you're starting your morning with 12 teaspoons of sugar.

Many coffee shops use simple syrups to sweeten your drink, which is a concentrated source of sugar. Not only does this make it more challenging to lose weight because of the extra calories and the blood sugar spikes, but it can zap your energy and make you feel like taking a nap by early afternoon.

<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: Sugar-free is ideal, but it can be hard to go from sweetened drinks to black coffee. You can try natural sweetener options like monk fruit or stevia instead. These options are sugar-free and won't contribute to blood sugar spikes or add excess calories.</p>

Foods to avoid for weight loss are those that are filled with empty calories and promote blood sugar spikes that leave you feeling more tired and hungry later. Instead, opt for real foods like lean proteins, healthy fats, and a rainbow of fresh produce to help you reach your weight loss goals.

<p class="pro-tip">Check out our guides to foods that you should eat for weight loss.</p>

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About the author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.

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