7 Health Foods That Can Ruin Your Diet

soup and salad

Even when you think you’re eating healthy, you may want to think again — there are some foods pretending to be healthier than they really are. Or they may be healthy in themselves, but only if you don’t overdo them.

These foods could be undermining your attempts to lose weight and eat healthy:

1. Smoothies: A swirl of hidden calories

There are few foods – calorie for calorie – as nutritionally packed as vegetables and fruits. But depending on the ingredients in your smoothie, including the amount of fruit, juice and protein, it can contain far more calories than you’d imagine, up to 1,500!  Try this: Add fruit for flavor, but focus on veggies, and add some leafy greens in the mix – which are uber-low in calories but superheroes in health benefits. A few pineapple chunks can help make the baby spinach or kale in a smoothie easier to enjoy.


2. Granola and trail mix: Dense, power-packed

Granola has healthy properties – whole oats and grains – but it is often prepared with a lot of butter and oil. If it is sticky and clumped, that’s an indicator of an unhealthy recipe. There are also healthy granola recipes, but still, a serving is a very small amount. Granola contains a whopping 400 calories in an average cup. The same is true for nuts and dried fruit, which are also calorie-dense. A single cup of almonds contains more than 500 calories. A little bit goes a long way.


3. Bagels: Carbohydrate ‘crash cart’

Most bagels contain three or four servings of carbohydrates and if you add cream cheese, it can have more than 400 calories and contain a whopping 25 percent of the daily allowance of sodium. If you compare a plain bagel and a simple glazed donut, they have about the same number of calories, 215 and 229 respectively. Donuts are hardly a health food and certainly contain more sugar than bagels, but bagels can sometimes go under the radar as a good, regular breakfast option.

bagel with cream cheese

4. Soup and salad: Mischievous match

Soup and salad can make a healthy meal. But the devil is in the details: Cream-based soups can be quite high in fat, and when it comes to a salad, once you add croutons, cured meats, and high-fat dressing, it’s no longer a low-calorie meal. The other, less obvious issue with soups at restaurants is that they are notoriously high in sodium. Too much salt doesn’t just raise blood pressure, but it also increases your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.

soup and salad

5. Fat-free foods: Good bye fat, hello sugar

Some fat-free foods really are healthier, like cheese and other dairy products made with skim rather than whole milk. But usually, manufacturers of fat-free foods add sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to help the foods stay shelf-stable, and this adds empty calories. People tend to have a phobia of fat, but healthy fats are essential to our diet — as long you eat fats in moderation. Choose monounsaturated fats, like those in nuts or fish.

corn syrup

6. Meatless ‘burgers’: What are you?

If you’re eating a processed meatless “burger” or “hot dog,” consider what has been used as a protein source. Sometimes these products have a lot of added chemicals. People can actually gain weight on a meatless diet from eating the wrong types of proteins. What should you look for? A smaller ingredient list. The more ingredients you actually recognize, the better that food is.

veggie burger

7. 100-calorie snack packs: DIY is better

Single-serving snack packs are helpful for people who have trouble with portion control, but these snacks are not a good source of calories. Choose a banana or a container of Greek yogurt instead, or make your own serving-sized baggies of nuts. You’ll avoid the blood sugar spike and drop that you’d get from eating a 100-calorie pack of packaged mini cookies.


Tip: Eat healthy foods 75 percent of the time

The key to healthy eating isn’t just the choice of foods themselves, but also moderation.  Remember also that it’s OK to indulge once in a while if you generally eat right. My advice: Try to eat healthy foods 75 percent of the time, rather than it being all or nothing.


Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and Outpatient Nutrition Manager in the Center for Human Nutrition.
  • Heather Gray

    I know I am in the minority with this but I had my gallbladder removed 4 years ago and have had pain after eating anything since the day of the surgery. I have been thoroughly checked by my GP and specialist and they have found no reason for my discomfort. I had to have it removed, no question, but I wish I had known this was going to happen. I live on Greek yogurt and soup. On a good note I went from a size 18 to a 10, but I feel awful. Anyone else experience anything close to this?

    • MLe Howland

      Heather I too am having this very problem because of my gallbladder, removal, 2009. Weight loss, vomiting, hurts when i have a bowel movement or eat anything, nausea. I no longer can eat red meat, only turkey or chicken breast meat and like you..in a soup it seems to digest better. I have been the rounds with my doctor who is getting me to think its all in my head. My surgery was a have to also. I was really very ill, before, during and now after all these years. So if you find an answer, please let me know as well.

    • Denra Proffitt

      Nutritional supplements such as bile salts can help and also digestive enzymes also can be bought in health food stores

  • Dave Wallack

    I’ve been a vegan for years and fruitarian for 6 months now. Fruitarianism is not a short term weight loss diet, it is a long term way of life. It is not something I will ever stop. Since my body has been free of eating grasses, sugar, sodium, animal flesh, and mother cow’s milk, I have realized how much these addictions held back my body and mind. The best part is that instead of trying to stop eating, my focused has turned to making sure I get enough calories — my focus is now on making sure I eat enough. That’s more fun that trying to avoid food. My health has never been better, my dentist thinks I am a model patient, and I run at least 4 miles every morning. I haven’t been even the slightest bit sick in 5 months. There are easy vegan ways to get B12 and other essential nutrients. Do it for a month and judge for yourself.

    • SloopJB

      LCHF eating is definitely more fun than being a fruitarian, no need to focus on calories. Also a way of life, we also avoid sugar and grains, but not meat or dairy. Guess we all need to find our own ideal diet, LCHF seems to be the way for caucasians from northern europe. Asians have different needs, they can live on rice which is a big no-no for LCHF.

      • Rother Vandross

        I don’t know, the original poster looks like a Caucasian from Northern Europe and he says the fruit diet works for him, so maybe you’re just scared, which is normal.

        • SloopJB

          Nothing to do with fear (why should I fear fruit or fruit eaters?) just an observation I’ve made. Low carbers who lose weight seem to be of euro stock, that’s all. It ‘works’ for them. Living off fruit seems complicated, esp. if you want to travel. It’s definitely not for everyone, would be dangerous for people with high insulin resistance, for example.