When we’re greeted with an overwhelming barrage of choice at the supermarket, it can be tempting to go with any item that has attractive labels like “low-fat”, “fat-free” and “whole wheat” on the box. While they may really help us decide if they’re healthier options, but they may not always necessarily mean they are the ideal foods to eat if we are trying to lose weight!
The multitude of dieting strategies out there may have their respective benefits and appeal, but successful dieting is really about a simple equation: consuming less calories than you are able to burn in a day.
Of course, there are plenty of other factors that affect how much your calorie intake will influence weight gain, but for the sake of keeping things simple and generally applicable to most people, this article will be looking at the hidden calories of foods usually perceived as being “healthy”, and are the options we will reach out for when we are trying to lose weight.
1. Flavoured yoghurt
Snacking on a small tub of yoghurt after dinner may seem like a much healthier alternative than that sinful tub of chocolate ice cream, but be sure to double-check the nutrition label. A 6 oz. (~170g) container of flavoured yoghurt may contain 15 to 29g of sugar! For comparison, Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream contains 25g of sugar in a half-cup (~104g) serving.
DV Tip: Try going for plain Greek yoghurt if you’re craving for a cold dessert, but determined to control your sugar intake. If you still need some flavour in it, you can drizzle a bit of honey, or a few cubes of your favourite fruit to enhance the flavour. Of course, honey and fruit both contain sugars as well, but at least you have some measure of control over what you’re going to consume!
2. White rice
Even when the high calorie count of white rice got more attention, people would usually only cut down on white rice instead of switching over to its unprocessed and original form – brown rice. If we compare the nutritional facts of white rice and brown rice, it may not be evident why one should choose brown rice over white, since one cup of about 200g of cooked rice contain about 200 calories for both.
However, the comparison doesn’t give us the full picture. Not only does brown rice contain a lot more antioxidants like selenium, manganese and magnesium, it also contains more dietary fibre.
DV Tip: Eating the same amount of brown rice will make you feel fuller and for a longer period of time than if you had eaten white rice, because of the high glycemic index of brown rice. This makes you consume less rice less frequently over the same period. This will result in a decrease of overall calorie intake over time.
3. Energy bars
With a hectic lifestyle that sometimes gets in the way of letting us have a proper meal time, energy bars have become very popular as a delicious, quick and easy way to eat on the go. Moreover, the granola variety of energy bars have often been marketed as being “healthy” to boot. Unfortunately, the bad news is that most of these energy bars are glorified candy bars, chock full of sugar and calories.
But not all protein bars are high on calories, so give that nutrition label a glance-through before you decide to purchase. If your energy bar is clocking in at 300 – 500 calories for an entire bar, you’re better off eating other more filling dishes. Lean chicken or salad have the same amount of calories (300 – 500 kcal) but contain more nutritional value than an energy bar.
DV Tip: Get energy bars that contains less than 200 calories for the entire bar, and at least less than 10g of sugar, although less than 5g would be ideal.
4. Dried fruit
When trying to cut down on unhealthier snacks, a popular and supposedly healthy alternative is raisins. It’s easy to carry around, sweet and derived from something as healthy as fruits, so it should be safe, right? Unfortunately not. Raisins and other dried fruits tend to have more sugar added to them to extend their shelf life.
Furthermore, because of the smaller size and lower water content of dried fruits compared to their fresher counterparts, it’s also easier for people to consume more of them, which will add up to a net increase of sugar and calorie intake.
There are several alternatives if you still love your dried fruits. Stores specialising in healthy foods may stock unsweetened dried fruits, which should only contain natural sugars from its original form. You can also choose to buy fresh fruits and dry them yourself, so you can control the process and what is added.
DV Tip: Go for fresh fruits rather than dried ones, whenever possible. It’ll make you feel fuller faster, so you’ll consume less calories in total.
5. Diet soda
Interestingly, the nutrition labels of diet sodas may play into their marketing strategy more than we realise. Seeing a soda drink that has little to no sugar and calories is what drives a lot of us to opt for this instead of the original sweetened form. Diet sodas are known for using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, which provides sweetness at a major calorie discount.
However, everything comes with a price. According to recent studies, artificial sweeteners have come under fire for actually indirectly encouraging weight gain.
Our brain is wired such that it associates the taste of sweetness with an imminent consumption of energy-giving sugar. Because artifical sweeteners trigger that association, but without matching it with energy intake, it may eventually lead to cravings for sweet foods, and therefore lead to weight gain in the long run.
DV Tip: Go for sugar-free teas, or better yet, drink more water!
6. Green juices
Vegetables are so famous for their health benefits that we tend to extend this association with most green foods. Because of that, green juices have recently become popular as a tasty but “healthier” option. Unfortunately, that’s not always accurate.
Not all green juices are created equal. Many green juices have a significant amount of sugar added to appeal to your taste buds, so not only are its health benefits negligible, but it may have more hidden calories than you realise.
If you want to drink something healthy, go for primarily vegetable-based green juices, and don’t add more than one or two servings of fruit. If possible, try making it yourself at home just so you are in complete control of what you are consuming.
DV Tip: If the taste of vegetable juices is too bitter for you, try adding in something with an acidic or tangy taste like lemon or ginger. Stay away from fruits with high sugar levels.
7. Caesar salad
Salads have always been the hallmark icon of dieting, so why does it make our list? Salads in themselves are good ways of getting a healthier diet and losing weight. However, some salad dishes, such as the Caesar salad, are chock-full of fattening side ingredients, like cream-based dressings, croutons, and cheese, which are going to offset the health benefits of the vegetables.
Instead of cream-based dressings, opt for something plain and healthier like olive oil. You can choose to add lemon juice, vinegar, or herbs to give your salad more flavour.
DV Tip: Consider adding fresh cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers to give you a tasty and filling meal, with little calories.