You probably know that whole foods (like fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) are great for your health, while fried and processed foods don’t usually offer much nutritional value. But while focusing on wholesome foods is a crucial step in establishing healthier eating habits, many of us overlook their recommended serving sizes.
Nutritious foods can be easy to overeat for the simple fact that they are, indeed, nutritious. You don’t often hear people saying, “I feel so ashamed, I ate all the carrots in one sitting.” For the record, guilt should not be an emotion associated with any type of eating, but if you have a goal to lose weight, portion control matters—regardless of what type of food you’re consuming.
“Wholesome foods still have calories and may even have more calories than their more processed counterparts,” explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. “For example, many whole-grain breads that are full of seeds and exotic grains may have two to three times the calories of one slice of regular white bread, though they offer more essential nutrients, like fats and fiber.”
Here are nine healthy foods that are easy to overeat (and might ultimately be messing with your goals), plus how to enjoy their goodness in moderation.
1. Dried fruit
Because dried fruit is shrunk down to a much smaller size than fruit in its fresh and natural state, it’s easy to overconsume without a second thought. “When the water has been removed by the drying process, the fruit has less volume, but the calories remain, so it goes from being a high-volume, low-calorie food to a more calorie-dense food,” explains Adams.
He recommends keeping your servings of dried fruit to no more than a quarter-cup—and pairing the sweetness with a little protein, such as half a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt or a low-fat cheese stick. “This helps slow your digestion and lessens your desire to overeat your sweet treat,” he says.
We’ve all gone a little overboard on the honey-roasted peanuts at some point, so nuts are probably one of the more obvious healthy foods that are easy to overeat. Although most nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, are wonderful sources of nutrients like vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, and phosphorus, many people eat too many at a time, warns dietitian Toby Amidor, R.D., C.D.N., author of The Family Immunity Cookbook. “Grabbing several handfuls of almonds, for example, is easy to do for your snack, but it can rack up to hundreds of calories,” she says. “Your best bet is to pre-pack almonds in resealable bags so you have portions already in check.”
She recommends sticking to a one-ounce portion, which comes out to about 23 almonds.
3. Nut butters
Considering how easy it is to overeat nuts in their whole form, they can be even harder to resist when you grind them up into nut butter. “Nut butters are a great way to incorporate healthy fats and protein into your diet, and they can be very satiating, but you might eat more than you mean to before your fullness cues kick in,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N.
She recommends limiting your portion size to two tablespoons of nut butter, which comes in at around 200 calories. “This is a good portion for many people,” she says. “If you take that spoon to the jar, you might be 1,000 calories in before you even know it.”
There’s no denying that smoothies are a great way to pack a lot of nutrition into an easy-to-drink beverage. However, their downside is that when you blend all of your ingredients together, they often won’t keep you full for as long. “In liquefied form, your body breaks down your fruit, leafy greens, protein, healthy fats, and other nutritional support quicker, leaving you hungry sooner than you like,” Blakely says. “It can also be hard to keep track of just how much you’re putting in the blender…think about what all that food would look like on a plate!”
Though Blakely loves enjoying smoothies on occasion, she also recommends trying to get your fair share of those nutritious ingredients in their natural form. You may find that smaller amounts are more satisfying and filling than that jumbo blend.
“As a general guide for portions, try one scoop of protein powder (or 1 cup Greek yogurt), half to one cup of fruit, a big handful of leafy greens, and one or two tablespoons of nuts, seeds, or a healthy oil,” she says. “Sipping slowly can also help your brain recognize your fullness, since it can take 20 minutes for those satiety cues to kick in.”
If you have young children, you’ve probably been told to keep them away from fruit juices—and the same goes for adults, too. While enjoying an occasional glass of 100 percent fresh-squeezed orange juice can be healthy, it’s not as nutritious as actually eating an orange—and makes it much easier to consume loads of calories and sugar.
“Just a half cup of orange juice is equivalent to a whole orange in terms of calories and sugar content,” Blakely notes. She recommends consuming no more than four to eight ounces of juice daily and eating the whole fruit instead whenever possible.
6. Trail mix
Trail mixes, which often contain a mixture of nuts, dried fruit, and sometimes pieces of chocolate, can be a healthy and wholesome snack—but that doesn’t mean you should grab handful after handful from the bag. “Trail mixes have lots of calories per gram and do not take up much space in your stomach, especially after you chew them,” Adams says. “Because there isn’t a good signal from the stomach to tell you that you’ve had enough, it can be very easy to overeat them.”
That’s why Adams always coaches his clients to pair trail mix with something that has high volume but low calorie count, like an apple. This helps the stomach ‘feel’ fullness and signal to the brain that you can stop eating. “A half-cup serving of trail mix will keep you satisfied without blowing your healthy eating plan,” he says.
7. Veggie chips
If you love snacking on something salty or crunchy, veggie chips might seem like an easier alternative to regular spuds. Eat them straight out of the bag, though, and you can end up going overboard on both calories and sodium, Adams says.
His best advice: Grab one big handful, put it in a bowl, and put the bag away before starting to snack. This will help prevent you from reaching back into the bag for more and ultimately overeating.
8. Healthy oils
Perhaps the sneakiest of healthy foods that are easy to overeat? Quality cooking oils. Olive, avocado, and coconut oil are all wonderful alternatives to canola or soybean. However, they are still pure fat, which means they are calorie-dense. “One tablespoon usually has over 100 calories,” Blakely said. “And, since oils don’t add to the volume you see on your plate, it’s easy to overdo it.”
She recommends sticking to one to two tablespoons total per meal.
This green fruit (yes, fruit) is jam-packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber, vitamins C, K, and B6, plus folate and potassium, according to Amidor. “Avocados also provide lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that can help reduce the risk of macular degeneration (loss of eyesight as you age),” she says.
While avocados should certainly be a part of your diet, eating one medium-sized avocado in a single sitting costs you about 322 calories—and that doesn’t include the bread or whatever else you eat it with. She recommends sticking to a quarter of a medium avocado per serving, which comes out to about 80 calories.