by Mike Simone and Hollis Templeton
Avocado is everywhere, and rightfully so. It’s a superfood. Each fruit is packed with 10 grams of fiber and more than twice the potassium of a banana. Avocado has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, reduce cancer and diabetes risk, and improve skin health. The drawback: Due to its high-fat content (heart-healthy monounsaturated fat is still fat) and the heavy praise avocado receives for its health benefits, it’s all too easy to go overboard. “While they’re packed with more than 20 vitamins and minerals, avocados are still calorically dense,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The Miracle Carb Diet. “Use moderation when adding them to your salads, sandwiches, and anything else.”
Hit up a sporting event or hang out at a local bar and you’re sure to come across a variety of nuts—and guys chowing down on them like they’re pieces of popcorn. It’s the perfect example of good gone bad. Like avocado, nuts are loaded with heart-healthy fats. But healthy doesn’t always mean lean. A couple of beers and a few handfuls of nuts and you’ve tallied up some serious calories. “A 1-ounce serving of nuts contains 135 calories, and how many nuts you get in a serving will depend on your nut of choice,” Zuckerbrot says. “Think about it: Would you rather have 12 cashews or 22 almonds?”
3. Protein Bars
Protein is good, right? Damn right it is. But not if it’s double-decked with ab-killers fat and sugar. Your protein-bar approach: Save them for when you’re in a jam, like when you’re traveling or out on a long hike, and in those instances eat half the serving size at a time. Rule No. 2: shop smart. Pick a bar with reduced sugar, or opt for a ready-to-drink (RTD) alternative. These products typically contain half the fat and sugar, and 100 fewer calories, compared with bars.
4. Granola and Trail Mix
In theory, whole-grain, fiber-rich mixes make great on-the-go snacks. Problem is, they’re often dressed up with ingredients like honey, dried fruit, seeds, and chocolate—plus it’s hard to stick to the proper portion size. “A serving of granola is only one-quarter cup—about 4 tablespoons—which is hardly enough to keep you feeling full until lunch,” Zuckerbrot says. Your plan of attack: Again, save these convenient eats for when you’re in jam and opt for a stripped-down mix sold in a bag that contains a single serving.
5. Dried Fruit
Take all the nutrients and antioxidants from several servings of fruit and shrink them down into something that’s super easy to eat. Sounds great, right? Well, these miniature fruit snacks are often loaded with added sugar, plus it’s not out of the norm to plow through an entire bagful. Go for fresh instead. “Two tablespoons of dried cranberries or raisins have the same amount of calories as 1 cup of fresh raspberries or 1¼ cups of strawberries,” notes Zuckerbrot.
High-cocoa chocolate contains compounds called polyphenols, which research shows may keep blood vessels dilated and help lower blood pressure. But before making a daily habit of the dark sweets, be mindful that along with cocoa comes saturated fat and sugar. “You may think it’s good for your heart, which it can be if eaten in moderation. But go overboard and you’ll get lots of calories that can pile on weight, which isn’t heart healthy at all,” Zuckerbrot says. Look for brands with the highest percentage of cocoa and opt for smaller packages versus the temptation of larger bars.
7. Gluten-Free Foods
Even if you don’t have a wheat allergy, you may be drawn to gluten-free versions of pizza, pasta and pancake mix because they just sound healthier. But get this: “Many gluten-free products actually have more calories than similar versions that contain gluten,” warns Zuckerbrot. “Ingredients such as cornstarch and brown rice flour, which are used by manufacturers to mimic the texture and taste of gluten, are more calorically dense than the ingredients they replace.” Your best bet: stick to whole foods that are naturally gluten-free, like quinoa.