5 Foods That Cause Diet Disasters

Labeling something "healthy" doesn't make it true

When it comes to a healthy diet, perception does not match reality.

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In 2011, Consumer Reports released a survey that indicated that only 1 in 10 Americans felt that they consumed an unhealthy diet. That means that 90 percent of us believe our diets are, in fact, healthy. In contrast, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that almost 36 percent of the U.S. population is obese.

The truth is too many people today are likely to perceive unhealthy foods as healthy. Marketers take advantage of our focus on health and wellness by focusing on the best attributes of their products (think high in omega 3, high in fiber or low in sugar) and ignoring the worst. 

Disaster may lurk within these well-marketed food items, like a slick spot on the road, spinning you off your path and sending your diet crashing into the guardrail. To keep your diet on the right road, steer clear of the 5 diet disaster foods below.

1. Alcohol

Have you been dieting but struggling to shed those extra pounds? Alcohol may be to blame. For years, researchers worked to shed light on some of the healthy benefits of moderate consumption, which may provide protection against Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment and heart disease. Moderate consumption may even play a role in your ability to lose weight.

Here’s the problem: Most of us have our own interpretation of “moderate,” and it usually does not fall within recommended parameters. Drinking too much alcohol may impair your ability to lose weight for several reasons:

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  • It contains empty calories. Just 6 ounces of a drink can cost you 150 calories (more if you’re having a mixed drink).
  • Food portion control goes out of the window when you’ve had too much to drink.
  • There may be a relationship between excessive alcohol consumption and obesity. In a recent study, the probability of becoming obese was much greater in women who consumed more than 30g of alcohol per day and men who consumed more than 60g.

You don’t have to stop drinking if you’re on a weight-loss plan, but cutting down will help.

2. Veggie chips

If you think that getting your vegetables through your chips is too good to be true, that’s because it is.

Dieters automatically perceive veggie chips to be a better snack than corn or potato chips simply because of the word “veggie.” In reality, popular veggie chip brands are no healthier and may even be worse than typical chip options — which could also be called veggie chips since potatoes are a vegetable. The next time you’re in the grocery store, compare the labels of your favorite veggie chips with your favorite potato chips. You may be surprised at how close they are in values, and most veggie chips are made with potato starch.

3. Takeout salad

When dining out, are you more likely to order a salad because it’s the most appealing part of the menu — or are you just trying to be “good?” Most people equate salads with healthiness, and although some are loaded with wonderful greens that are high in vitamins and minerals, that’s not the norm. Just because it’s a salad doesn’t mean it’s better than the burger on the same menu.

A typical house salad consists of bacon, cheese, croutons, and a creamy dressing, which, by the way, will never be conducive to weight loss. When choosing a salad, steer clear of these words:

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  • Crunchy
  • Breaded
  • Creamy
  • Caesar
  • Crispy corn shell
  • Bacon
  • Blue cheese
  • Tuna/chicken salad
  • Buttery croutons

Instead, stick with dark-colored greens (arugula, romaine, spinach) with grilled fish or chicken, little to no cheese and a simple olive oil and balsamic blend.

4. Fast Food

Ignore the clever advertising — even occasional fast food can lead to diet disaster. A 2010 report found that eating just one meal away from home each week translates to roughly two extra pounds per year. The study also found that when eating away from home, the average adult consumes less fruit, dark green vegetables, and servings of whole grains but increases the percentage of calories from saturated fat. Another study in the Journal of Obesity found that fast food consumption was associated with poor diet and obesity.

Do you need more reasons to skip fast food when choosing your fuel?

5. Granola

Many dieters have been tricked into believing granola is a healthy breakfast food. Some homemade granola options are OK, but most store-bought brands will put a halt to your weight-loss efforts. A very small serving of granola (1/2 cup) is high in calories (about 150 or more), and when trying to lose weight, controlling caloric intake is essential. Check the label, too; sugar is likely the second ingredient listed after oats, and a small serving size will leave you hungry soon after eating it due to rapid blood-sugar fluctuations. Shredded wheat, oatmeal and some bran cereals are better options that will fill you up and keep you full!

Brigid Titgemeier, BS, nutrition assistant in the Center for Lifestyle Medicine, contributed to this blog entry.

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