<> <>
Health Hub

8 foods to avoid if you're trying to lose weight

Plus, healthier alternatives to give you a leg-up.

8 Foods to Avoid for Weight Loss | Juniper

Whether you've just started your weight loss journey or are a veteran, you've likely encountered the expression 'abs are made in the kitchen.' Translation: while exercise is important for your overall health, what you eat is what is ultimately going to define your results.

But, does this adage apply to those who aren't looking to get Love Island-worthy level chiselled and rather, reach a healthy weight where they look and feel amazing? And, if so, which foods are going to best support weight loss efforts?

Here, we delve into the role that specific food choices have on losing weight — including the high-calorie foods that are best avoided if you're trying to lose weight, and healthier alternatives that can help give you a leg-up.

How your food choices impact your weight loss journey

You've no doubt heard that losing weight is simply a matter of consuming fewer calories than you burn. While there is certainly plenty of truth to this CICO (calories in calories out) approach, the reality isn't always quite so straightforward. That's because when it comes to weight management, not all foods are created equal.

You can think of food as being similar to an investment portfolio — you can buy the same amount of 'stocks' in fresh fruit or french fries, but they're both going to give you a different ROI.

Some foods, such as fresh produce or lean protein sources, have a low caloric density (ie. a low amount of calories relative to their volume) but will keep you full for a while and contain plenty of nutritional value. These will be your healthy diet MVPs when it comes to weight loss.

Others, such as ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages contain 'empty calories' — meaning they are high in calories (as well as sugars and trans fat) but have very little nutritional benefit.

These foods aren't going to give you great bang for your buck when it comes to weight loss. You'll also likely find that you feel lethargic, sluggish, and all-round crappy after eating these foods. Not only does this make you less likely to want to get active, but it can also create a vicious cycle where you're more likely to continue to crave more unhealthy foods [1].

8 foods to avoid for weight loss (and healthy alternatives)

While all foods can have their place in a healthy, balanced diet, these ultra-processed foods are best enjoyed in moderation if you're trying to shed some pounds.

1. Sugary drinks

Whether it is fruit juice, soft drinks, energy drinks, or even alcoholic drinks (we're looking at you, cocktails!), if it's sickly sweet, it's unlikely to support your weight loss goals.

Not only are these sugary beverages typically high in calories but they're often loaded with chemicals that can be detrimental to your health (and your teeth). In fact, research shows that people who consume sugary drinks regularly have a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who don't [2].

Healthier alternative: There's a growing number of sugar-free soft drinks, lightly sweetened mineral waters, and kombuchas in the market that can give you that sweet fix with far fewer calories. Otherwise, if you are trying to avoid artificial sweeteners, herbal teas and water with slices of fresh fruits make for refreshing options.

2. Fried foods

Containing a trifecta of saturated fat, trans fats, and heavy carbs, fried foods are about as processed as it gets. Unfortunately, the very things that make them delicious are what make them a one-way ticket to weight gain. Whether it's corn dogs, samosas or even our beloved fish and chips, if it's available at a festival food truck, it's probably not the best for your health.

Healthier alternative: While deep-fried foods might be off the menu, there's no reason you can't continue to enjoy battered foods. However, you might want to consider making it yourself at home, using a lower-carb coating such as almond meal or panko.

3. Processed meats

Who doesn't love prosciutto on a charcuterie board, pepperoni on pizza, or hot dogs at a soccer game? Unfortunately, these foods tend to contain a lot of fat, salt, and sometimes even sugar, which add up to be a calorie bomb. Not only that, but eating high amounts of processed meats can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes [3].

Healthier alternative: Consider opting for fresh-cooked meats such as chicken or grass-beef meat as a snack or on your sandwich instead. Other naturally salty foods such as anchovies, tinned tuna, and olives might also hit the spot.

4. Refined carbs

Humans have been eating grains for hundreds of thousands of years and for good reason! They're filling, versatile, cost-effective, and great for your fibre intake.

However, the more processed a grain is, the more calories it typically contains, and the less nutritional value it brings to the table. Foods such as white rice, white bread, and pasta typically have lots of added preservatives to improve the taste and prolong their shelf life.

Healthier alternative: As well as enjoying refined grains in moderation, you might want to consider diversifying your diet with other less processed grains such as oats, wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and rye. You can also consider non-grain options, such as products made from soybeans, chickpeas, cassava, and konjac.

5. Processed granola bars

There are few more convenient options for snacking on the go than a granola or muesli bar. They're a quick energy source and are easy to stash in any bag. Unfortunately, being loaded with added sugar, carbs, and fat, many options on the market are glorified candy bars.

In fact, it's been said that the popular granola bar brand LUNA has just as many calories gram for gram as a Snickers bar [4]. Not only are these sugary, highly processed options a calorie trap, but they're likely to spike your blood sugar and leave you feeling peckish soon after.

Healthier alternative: Instead of granola bars made out of breakfast cereals, keep an eye out for options that are seed and nut-based. These tend to have a higher protein count to keep you full for longer. Alternatively, you can make your own using ingredients like natural oats, nut butter, and plain Greek yogurt.

6. Potato chips

We all have those times when we're craving something salty with a bit of crunch. However, crisps are about as far as you can get from a health food — even if they do contain potato.

Thanks to the high salt, carb and fat content, even a small packet of potato chips has a high caloric density with minimal health benefits. Plus, as we all know, they're incredibly moreish. Once you start, it's difficult to stop until you hit the bottom of a packet!

Healthier alternative: Keep an eye out for veggie chips, which are made from ingredients like sweet potato, pumpkin, beans, or beetroot. You can also make your own low-fat chips at home if you have an air fryer.

7. High-sugar baked goods

Many of us enjoy a biscuit, scone, or muffin alongside our afternoon cuppa, but these sugary foods are common saboteurs for even the best-intentioned weight loss efforts. As well as being made from refined flour, they tend to be loaded with trans fats, sugar, and carbs.

With a single slice of cake, for example, containing 500 calories [5], these are very difficult to fit into your daily calorie intake (but great for birthdays and other special occasions).

Healthier alternative: Home baking can be a therapeutic hobby, and it's also a great way to have more control over what you're putting in your mouth. Rather than refined flour, you can use almond meal or coconut flour as your base.

8. Ice cream

Bad news for those who enjoy something sweet after dinner. If you're trying to lose weight, your nightly ice cream habit could be sabotaging your efforts. Whether you're into chocolate, vanilla, or salted caramel, most varieties are high in calories, sugar, and fat. If you find you're craving something cold and sweet, it might actually be a sign that you're thirsty, or that your blood sugar levels have dropped.

Healthier alternative: Frozen yoghurts and sorbets typically contain less fat and sugar and are a great way to satiate your sweet tooth. Whole fruits like mango or banana can also be frozen to replicate the texture of ice cream. Otherwise, dark chocolate always makes for a healthy dessert and contains plenty of beneficial nutrients.

What else can you do to lose weight?

As you can see, certain foods support weight loss goals better than others. If you're trying to lose weight through diet alone, it's best to give these ultra-processed foods the cold shoulder.

However, you'll likely find that if you have the foundations down pat, the specific foods you eat matter less than your overall eating habits and lifestyle.

For example, if your body has undergone metabolic damage through yo-yo dieting or other health conditions, you may feel like you need to survive on low calories just to lose any weight — and even then, it doesn't always work. However, many find that once they regulate their metabolism and hormones, they can reach and maintain a healthy body weight without restriction.

At Juniper, we help you find this food freedom through our Weight Loss Reset Programme by combining weight loss medication with lifestyle coaching. By hitting reset on your metabolism, you'll likely find it easier to stop eating when you're full, without the need to label certain foods as good or bad.

Image credit: Getty Images