October 13, 2019/Nutrition

7 Supposedly ‘Healthy’ Foods That Can Ruin Your Diet

Avoid unintentional weight gain

woman drinks smoothie while working

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 only if you don’t overdo them.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Here, dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, points out seven foods that could be undermining your attempts to lose weight.

1. Smoothies

There are few foods – calorie for calorie – as nutritionally packed as vegetables and fruits. But you have to be careful what ingredients you put in your smoothie. If you load it up with fruit, juice and protein, it can contain up to 1,500 calories! (Not what you were intending, right?) Try this instead: Add fruit for flavor. But focus on veggies. Add some leafy greens in the mix, which are über-low in calories but health benefit superheroes. A few pineapple chunks can help make the baby spinach or kale in a smoothie easier to enjoy.

2. Granola and trail mix

Granola has healthy properties – whole oats and grains – but it’s 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 a serving is a very small amount. Granola averages a whopping 400 calories per cup. The same is true for calorie-dense nuts and dried fruit. A single cup of almonds contains more than 500 calories. A little bit goes a long way.

3. Bagels

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% 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. (That’s 215 and 229 respectively.) Donuts are hardly a health food and certainly contain more sugar than bagels. But bagels sometimes fly under the radar as a good, regular breakfast option.


4. Soup and salad

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, it can stop being a low-calorie meal once you add croutons, cured meats and high-fat dressing. The other, less obvious issue with soups at restaurants is that they’re notoriously high in sodium. Too much salt doesn’t just raise blood pressure. It also increases your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.

5. Fat-free foods

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. 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.

6. Meatless ‘burgers’

If you’re eating a processed meatless “burger” or “hot dog,” consider what’s 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.

7. 100-calorie snack packs

Single-serving snack packs are helpful for people who have trouble with portion control. But these snacks aren’t a good source of calories. DIY is way better! 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% of the time

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


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Big open jar of pickles
May 22, 2024/Nutrition
Are Pickles Good for You?

Pickles are low in fat and calories and rich in some vitamins and minerals, but they’re usually high in sodium

Person reflecting on food and exercise
May 9, 2024/Mental Health
The Importance of Understanding Your Eating Habits

Learning about your relationship with food can help improve your eating behaviors and patterns

Bowl of partially peeled tamarind
May 8, 2024/Nutrition
5 Reasons To Try Tamarind

With a sweet, tangy flavor, this tropical fruit is super versatile and high in antioxidants

Yogurt, granola, fruit parfatis, with fruit on cutting boards
April 26, 2024/Lung
What To Eat When You Have COPD

A change in diet won’t cure COPD — but getting to or maintaining a healthy weight will help

Salmon over lentils and carrots
April 15, 2024/Nutrition
Psoriasis and Diet: How Foods Can Impact Inflammation

A well-balanced diet with anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce flare-ups and severity of psoriasis symptoms

Person on scale, questioning muscle weight vs. fat weight
April 12, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
The Difference Between Muscle Weight vs. Fat Weight

Both are needed for a healthy body

Turkey wrap cut in half on butcher board, with lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion
April 3, 2024/Nutrition
Is Your Sandwich Healthy? What About Your Wrap?

Wrapped or sandwiched, try to choose fillings and condiments that are minimally processed, low in saturated fat and high in fiber

Person monitoring nutritional intake on smartphone app while eating a salad
April 1, 2024/Weight Loss
How Many Calories Should You Eat in a Day?

It depends on factors like your age, activity level and if you want to maintain, lose or gain weight

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey