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—all making it more challenging to lose weight.<sup>1</sup>
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.
10 Foods You Should Not Eat When Trying to Lose Weight
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.2
<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, substituting water for sweetened beverages is associated with significantly lower weight gain over time, even without other diet changes.3 Also, while some 100 percent fruit juices may have a few extra vitamins, it's better to get your nutrients from whole fruit.
Cutting sugary drinks can be tricky, as some people who try to stop drinking sodas can experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue.4
Unfortunately, choosing artificially sweetened beverages isn't much better. Studies suggest diet sodas are associated with impaired glucose metabolism, increased calorie intake, and weight gain.5
<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 tend to take the place of whole grains, which are associated with much better health outcomes.6
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, creating a vicious cycle.7
<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>
It should come as no surprise that sweets like candy, cookies, ice cream, or baked goods are usually made with added sugars that negatively impact your blood sugar.
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 makes 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>
Ever reach for potato 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 that could contribute to inflammation in your body.8
Chips have their own set of health halos with all the options out there. Gluten-free, low-carb, and grain-free messaging bombards food labels, but, in the end, these options are still easy-to-overeat snacks. 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.9
<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 loss. The bread coating is usually made of refined grains that spike blood sugar, and these items are fried in refined seed oils that aren't always the best quality. In fact, eating more fried food is associated with weight gain and can increase your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.10,11
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 in the body, with links to increased risks of chronic disease.12
<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>
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 or a loss of sensitivity to insulin, the hormone responsible for moving sugar out of your blood.13
Plus, many drinks are high in carbs and calories from added sweet mixers or juices. Alcohol also lowers your inhibitions, making it more likely you'll reach for something unhealthy.14
<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 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 extra calories and 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 coffee drinks are 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>
9. Processed meats
While processed meats may be an easy-to-grab meal, eating large amounts of these items may contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of chronic diseases. Processed meats are proteins that manufacturers have salted, cured, or smoked, and include deli meats, bacon, sausage, hot dogs. These items can also contain hidden ingredients, be higher in salt, and lower in whole food nutrients.
Also, the World Health Organization has classified processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means there is strong evidence that processed meats could lead to certain cancers, specifically bowel and stomach cancer. This risk comes from certain chemicals found in these products that can damage the cells that line the bowel and stomach.
<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: Instead of processed meats, choose leaner meats like poultry and beans. To save time throughout the week, cook these proteins in large batches on weekends so they are easy to grab.</p>
10. Hydrogenated oils
Oils are not created equal, and the type of oil does make a difference! Partially hydrogenated oils contain high amounts of trans fats, which have no benefit for the body and cause cardiovascular and metabolic harm. The FDA required that by 2018, no food products can contain these oils.15 Fully hydrogenated oils are still in processed food products like vegetable shortening, packaged baked goods, and coffee creamers.
Fully hydrogenated oils are high in saturated fats and used primarily in pre-packaged foods high in sugar and fat and low in beneficial nutrients, making them one of the worst cooking oils.
<p class="pro-tip">Try this instead: One healthier alternative is olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants, like vitamin E, and the fat content is 83% monounsaturated fatty acids.16,17 Consumption of olive oil is also related to anticancer, anti-inflammation benefits, and cardiovascular disease prevention.17,18</p>
Tips to Stay Away from High Calorie and High Sugary Foods
1. Avoid Processed Foods
Ultra-processed foods are often high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat. These foods are also often low in fiber and high in added sugars.19 Without fiber present to slow down digestion, the sugar molecules have an opportunity to rapidly enter your bloodstream and potentially cause a spike in your sugar levels.
To avoid processed foods, try making some of these easy switches:
- Unflavored yogurt instead of sweetened options
- Whole vegetables that are served fresh or cooked with minimal oil instead of deep-fried
- Roasted meats cut for sandwiches instead of deli meats
- Unsalted nuts that are seasoned with garlic powder and chili flakes instead of potato chips
2. Focus on Lean Proteins
Several studies show that protein helps people with weight loss even without changing anything else in their diet (like cutting calories). This macronutrient supports lean muscle mass while reducing body fat, and it helps people feel fuller for longer so that they are less likely to snack.
To start incorporating lean protein sources into your meals, try out some of these options:
- Nuts & seeds
3. Read Labels
There will always be new products rolling onto the market, and sometimes a favorite item might change its recipe and introduce new ingredients. You always need to double-check the nutrition label before buying a product.
On the nutrition label, you need to review the list of ingredients. Some food items may contain high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, colorants, hydrolyzed proteins, and modified starches. If you see any of these listed on your favorite product, try to find a similar product that doesn't have these ingredients.
4 Quick Weight Loss Tips
Muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest. Researchers found that a nine-month resistance training program increased resting metabolic rate by five percent.20
All other factors equal, men with more muscle mass burn calories faster and have greater weight loss than men or women with less muscle mass. Resistance exercises are a great way to increase muscle mass.21 Other added benefits of resistance training include increased bone density, slowing osteoporosis, and improving insulin sensitivity.22
Focus on Gut Health
Did you know you have a gut-brain connection where the bacteria in your gut can improve or impair your energy metabolism? Your microbiome can influence your weight through the synthesis of hormones that regulate your appetite. Leptin, known as the satiety hormone, and ghrelin, a hormone that sends hunger signals to your brain, are both modulated by gut bacteria.23
Don’t Overlook Sleep
Adequate sleep is only one factor that contributes to weight loss or maintenance of a healthy weight. There is a lot of epidemiological data that reduced sleep is associated with higher BMI, obesity, and weight gain over time. People who sleep less generally eat more calories per day and may burn fewer calories per day.
Build a Varied and Balanced Diet
Counting calories and not seeing an equivalent weight loss can be frustrating and cause many individuals to give up on their weight loss goals.
Focus instead on making sustainable dietary changes, such as choosing lean protein sources, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. Those who choose healthy foods and watch portion sizes are usually more successful at losing weight than individuals who exclude certain foods from their diet.
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