You dutifully pack your own lunch every day, blend up a smoothie after your workouts, and try to avoid the vending machine—so, yeah, you’d say you’re a pretty healthy eater. Why, then, are you struggling to lose those few extra pounds? As healthy as your efforts may be, there are some sneaky foods that can add a whole lot of extra calories to your diet.
We chatted with top nutritionists about some of the biggest not-so-obvious calorie bombs out there—along with alternatives that will be friendlier to your waistline (while still totally delicious).
You know that soda is loaded with sugar, so green juice seems like a better beverage choice—after all, it’s made from fruits and veggies! But it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. “Even at trendy juice bars, fresh-squeezed juices can be packed with sugar,” says D.C.-based nutritionist Victoria Jarzabkowski Lindsay, M.S., R.D. “Yes, there are vitamins and minerals in these fruit and veggie juices, but with them comes a lot of sugar and virtually none of the fiber that helps mitigate your body’s blood sugar from spiraling out of control.”
A medium apple clocks in around 72 calories,14 grams sugar, and three grams of fiber, but a 12-ounce serving of most leading juice brands could contain upwards of 200 calories and 30 grams of sugar, depending on what ingredients are used, Jarzabkowski Lindsay says.
What to do instead: Choose juices made from vegetables only (since they have less sugar than fruits) or limit yourself to a six-ounce serving, says Jarzabkowski Lindsay. If your juice spot doesn’t have a size that small, split your juice with a friend or stash some in the fridge. Or, if you like drinks with extra flavor, go for unsweetened teas, low-sugar kombucha drinks, or plain sparkling water with a splash of juice added in, she recommends.
Pumpkin spice creamer might add a seasonal kick to your morning cup of Joe, but you’re likely using way too much of the stuff. Get this: One tablespoon of flavored coffee creamer can pack up to 45 calories, says Alexia Lewis, M.S., R.D., founder of New Motivation Coaching in Florida. And considering many of us pour closer to three or four tablespoons of creamer into our mugs, we end up taking in close to 180 calories from creamer alone.
Things aren’t any better if you order a fancy latte from your neighborhood coffee shop—especially if you add whipped cream to the mix. A medium flavored coffee drink with whipped cream could land anywhere between 200 and 500 calories, says Lewis.
What to do instead: Switch out the flavored creamers for unsweetened almond milk, which is just 30 calories (and zero grams of sugar) for a whole cup, says Lewis. Almond milk offers a subtle nutty taste and can be fortified with up to 45 percent of your daily calcium needs. Otherwise, just stick with whole or two-percent milk.
“The little bit of extra fat [in the milk] helps the drink taste indulgent, keeps blood sugar more stable, and cuts my desire to add something more sweet to the drink,” says Jarzabkowski Lindsay. (A quarter cup of whole milk comes in at 37 calories, while a quarter cup of two-percent is about 30.) If you use lots of milk in your coffee—or drink multiple cups per day—stick with two-percent, Jarzabkowski Lindsay suggests.
You get major points for starting any meal with spinach, kale, or another green, but you may be sabotaging your salads by throwing on too many mix-ins. “Many people think eating a salad is healthy, but if you add a ton of nuts, dried fruit, cheese, and dressing, you’re taking a somewhat healthy meal and turning it into an unhealthy meal,” says Cara Walsh, R.D., of Medifast Weight Control Centers of California.
While two cups of greens is just 20 calories, half a cup of Parmesan cheese adds 200 calories, half a cup of craisins adds another 200, a tablespoon of walnuts adds 100, and six tablespoons of ranch dressing adds yet another 200 calories. Suddenly your salad is packing around 700 calories!
What to do instead: Top your salad sparingly with a tablespoon of raw sunflower seeds (53 calories), half a cup of chickpeas (100 calories), and a sixth of an avocado (50 calories), says Walsh. Each of these foods contains ‘good’ monounsaturated fats and is loaded with satiating protein, she says. Walsh likes drizzling salads with a tablespoon of olive oil for 120 calories. Try mixing your olive oil with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic for extra flavor.
When we said to use avocado sparingly, we meant it. “While avocado is considered a superfood and packs the nutrition to back up that claim, it is also a high calorie food,” says Lewis. We’re talking 160 calories for half an avocado or 320 calories for a whole one.
What to do instead: Don’t worry, you don’t have to steer clear of guac altogether. Just limit your intake to a quarter of an avocado (about 80 calories-worth) at a time, says Lewis.
If your deli sandwich of choice happens to be tuna or chicken salad, chances are your favorite between-the-bread filling packs a major calorie wallop. Typically, chicken and tuna salads are made with mayo, which packs 188 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat per two tablespoons, says Vanessa Rissetto, R.D., nutritionist in the New York City area.
What to do instead: Make tuna salad at home, and swap out the mayo for vinegar, red onion, and mustard. “Vinegar is calorie-free and two tablespoons of mustard has only 21 calories,” says Rissetto.
Nuts, like avocado, are good for you—but it’s easy to go overboard. “Nuts are a great, portable snack and can add crunch and flavor to your meals, but while they’re a great source of healthy fats, they can add calories when you’re eating mindlessly,” Lewis says. A serving size (which is about an ounce) of cashews, peanuts, almonds, or pistachios ranges from 150 to 165 calories, says Lewis—which is perfectly reasonable. But double or triple that (which is all too easy to do if you’re not careful), and you’re looking at upwards of 300 to 450 calories.
What to do instead: Stick to the portion size of one ounce—or replace your afternoon nut nosh with something else that’s crunchy and salty, Lewis suggests. She likes sliced cucumber sprinkled with salt (about 50 calories) or two plain rice cakes topped with a tablespoon of peanut powder mixed with some water to form a paste that’s lower-cal than regular PB (about 100 calories total). The nutty flavor of the rice cake snacks satisfies any craving for crunch, she says.
We’ve extolled the health benefits of red wine (studies have shown that it can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease), but vino isn’t without its downsides. A five-ounce serving of red wine comes in at about 125 calories, says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., New York City-based nutritionist. So if you’re skipping dessert but drinking two glasses of wine, well, you’re not really doing yourself any favors.
What to do instead: Cut a five-ounce serving of wine with a quarter cup of seltzer to make a spritzer, says Rizzo. Or, skip the booze and sip on low-calorie fruit and herb-infused water. Try adding slices of lemon, orange, or strawberries along with a few basil or mint leaves to your glass. “I love the combo of basil and strawberry or cucumber and mint,” says Rizzo.
Save this handy infographic for future calorie-saving reference: