What Foods Actually Make You Gain Weight? RDs Say to Watch Out For This One In Particular

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Woman stepping on scale

You’ve likely heard that a diet that consistently includes fattening foods like French fries and fried chicken won’t do the body much good. That’s not to say you can never have these foods—they certainly taste good, and they’re fine in moderation.

However, you may find yourself minimizing your consumption of fried foods and still noticing the number on the scale creep up. You may be consuming foods marketed as “healthy” that actually contribute to weight gain. “Many of those foods that are marketed as organic, keto, plant-based, gluten-free and other labels that are trendy may seem like great choices, but they just aren’t,” says Kimberly Gomer MS, RD/LDN, who runs a private practice.

Weight isn’t everything. However, by spotting sneaky marketing practices that make certain foods seem healthy, you can make more informed decisions about the foods you consume. And that’s empowering.

“Acknowledging sneaky foods will allow you to plan around them and incorporate them less consistently within the diet when you are trying to either lose or maintain weight,” says Yelena Wheeler, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Endomondo. “It will also prevent frustration with yourself when you were supposedly consuming healthy foods which turned out to actually be foods that can lead to weight gain.”

Related: The One Snack You Should Eat Every Day if You Want to Combat Metabolic Syndrome

The No. 1 Food to Be Wary of When Trying to Lose Weight

What makes you gain weight the fastest? Fruit juice. Yes, it has fruit in it. But Wheeler has concerns.

“Drinking fruit juice is mostly like drinking sugar water with some vitamins mixed in,” Wheeler says. “Drinking juice does not give us the same fullness and satisfaction as eating a piece of fruit because we are missing a very important component, fiber,” shares Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for Body Building Reviews. “The calories in juice can add up if we are not paying attention to portion and added sugar content.”

Instead, opt for the solid version of whatever you’re sipping. “Consuming the fruit version of the juice would be a good swap,” Wheeler says.

Related: These Are the 3 Go-To Dinners of People Who Never Gain Weight

9 Other Foods to Be Wary Of

1. Plant-based milk alternatives

People have various reasons for veering away from non-dairy milk, like sustainability goals and lactose intolerance. However, just because the milk comes from a nut doesn’t make it healthier. “Even though they do not contain lactose, they still contain calories, and excess consumption will lead to weight gain,” Wheeler says.

Additionally, some may be sweetened for taste, so check the ingredients and choose one without added sugar.

2. Dried fruit

Like juice, dried fruit simply isn’t as good as produce in its natural, whole form. “Dried fruit is another big weight gainer that looks healthy since it is fat-free and has one ingredient—fruit,” Gomer says. “The problem is that the water is removed, and the sugars are concentrated. It is also very easy to overeat.”

3. Gluten-free baked goods

Dietitians say “gluten-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “healthier.” “They may not contain gluten, however, they still contain sugar, fat and ingredients that are substituted for gluten,” Wheeler says. And gluten-free baked good are often high-calorie foods as well.

In other words, gluten-free cookies loaded with added sugar are still just that.

4. Reduced-fat or low-sugar ice cream

Again, people are trying their best when they opt for these treats in the novelty aisle—and they can be useful, especially if you have been instructed to lower sugar and fat in your diet for health reasons. The problem? You might think it’s OK to head back for more because the ice cream has less fat or sugar (or in search of the full-fat, added-sugar version you were really craving).

“Reduced-fat or sugar ice creams are perceived as a healthier choice, but the calories are still there, and this may let your guard down for portion control,” Berger says. “When a food we all know and love is reduced in fat or sugar, we identify the taste we are used to as not there, and we may eat more, thinking we’ll eventually get that taste.”

5. Yogurt

Yogurts are an excellent source of protein. Greek yogurts have protein that can keep you full. However, yogurt can get sneaky too.

“Some flavored yogurts can have the added sugar equivalent of a piece of cake. This can lead to increased sugar cravings throughout the day,” Berger says.

Fat-free yogurts may also be full of the sweet stuff. “Even though it may not have a lot of fat, it can still have a lot of added sugar, which will contribute to weight gain when consumed in high amounts,” Wheeler says. “Yogurts with fruit syrups and artificial flavorings/sweeteners can have a lot of calories in them.”

6. Breakfast cereal

Again, peep the label. “Many are low in fiber and high in sugar,” Wheeler says. Therefore, it is important to look at sugar content and portion size when consuming them.

7. Energy bars

Slumping? Hangry? You may want to think twice before reaching for an energy bar.

“The bars that are low in filling nutrients like fiber and protein and high in added sugar can lead to a blood sugar spike, then crash and a desire for more food,” Berger says.

That said, some energy bars are the opposite—and may give you the boost you need to power through the rest of your to-dos. “Energy bars that are packed with protein and fiber but low in added sugar can be a great midday pick-me-up,” Berger says.

8. Nuts

Moderation is key when noshing on nuts. “Nuts are another healthy food that is marketed as a weight loss food but are, in fact, extremely calorie-dense,” Gomer says about the high-calorie food. “There are 826 calories in one cup of almonds, and it is very easy to eat one cup.”

Opt for a quarter cup containing about 206 calories or a 100-calorie, pre-portioned bag.

9. Nut butters

Again, portioning is important here because nut butter can be a good source of protein and fat. “There are 188 calories in two tablespoons of peanut butter, and you will likely eat double or triple that amount just dipping an apple in it,” Gomer says.

Nut butters are also high in fat.

“Though they are a healthier alternative to butter and do contain some protein, they are also high in fat and therefore need to be limited in how many portions are consumed,” Wheeler says.

Related: People Who Never Gain Weight Swear By This Simple Morning Habit

Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain Through Dietary Choices

One of the best things you can do is look at the ingredients list on the back of the label rather than being lured by the marketing copy on the front. “Choose foods that have less added sugar,” Berger says. “Large amounts of added sugar can cause a blood sugar spice, then a crash, and a desire to eat again.”

That nutrition label will also have serving sizes—keep those in mind once you get home, Berger suggests.

Finally, tune into yourself. “Listen to hunger cues and consume based on what the body is telling you,” Wheeler says. “Focus on deciphering between actual hunger for a meal or a snack while also remembering that mood and boredom can also come into play when making choices to eat and the type of food to consume. Be in tune with your mood and emotions and how they affect your consumption.”

Next up: Registered Dietitians Share Their Top Tips for Losing Weight After 60

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