Like Katniss and Finnick from The Hunger Games, certain superfoods are better described as weight loss frenemies than allies. Yes, that’s right, some seemingly innocent eats can cause you to pack on the pounds—despite the fact that they’re overflowing with disease-fighting nutrients.
There are a few reasons this happens. Superfoods aren’t free of calories (yet many of us eat them with reckless abandon), nor are all renditions of superfoods as wholesome as they are in their purest form. And then there’s the healthy fare that we’ve managed to ruin with pesticides and chemicals. Few people recognize these facts—which is where the trouble and weight gain begin.
To help you recognize friend from frenemy, we’ve identified a handful of superfoods that you need to be a little wary of. Read on to find out what they are—and when you’re done, be sure to check out these 30 Foods You Should Never Eat After Age 30 to keep your health in tip-top shape for the long haul!
BECAUSE RESTAURANTS RUIN THEM…
Tea contains antioxidants like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), catechins, and polyphenols, which have been found to help boost metabolism, block the formation of new fat cells, fend off disease, and even minimize cell damage, aging, and risk of stroke. But don’t let these facts trick you into believing that all teas are created equal; that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Not only do restaurants and coffee chains serve brews that have a fraction of the antioxidants as the kind you would brew at home, they’re also usually injected with more sugar than you’d find in a Halloween candy stash. So, essentially what you’re left with is a cup of sugar water with very few—if any—health benefits. Skip the stuff your local Dunkin’ or Applebee’s is serving up and enjoy a potent cup of detox tea at home instead.
Tofu is a potent source of protein, calcium, and iron—and it’s served in many vegan and vegetarian restaurants which trick people into believing it’s a health food worth ordering. But not so fast. Certain varieties of tofu contain magnesium sulfate, a coagulant shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Plus, restaurant cooks typically dip the bland blocks of soy in decadent sauces or deep fryers to improve the flavor. The resulting dishes are ones that can leave you both sick and fat. If you want to enjoy tofu, make it at home and be sure to look for a package that’s made with a better-for-you coagulating agent such as nigari salts, lushui, or clean sea water.
In its purest form, coffee’s benefits span from warding off Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease to aiding weight loss efforts. But the second you start tinkering with your cuppa joe— adding things like chemical-filled flavor syrups, whipped cream, and fatty half-and-half—you start diminishing these health-protective properties and adding in tons of calories. To reap the most benefits from your morning cup, add a splash of milk, a teaspoon of sugar, and a shake of cinnamon if you need some extra flavor.
BECAUSE THEY’RE DOUSED WITH CHEMICALS…
Before you call our bluff on this one, hear us out! Both organic and conventionally grown strawberries get their bright red hue from antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins, which have been found to help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cognitive decline. However, conventional strawberries have a major flaw: they’re covered in pesticides that can cause a dip in metabolism and make it more difficult to lose weight. In fact, strawberries topped the 2016 Dirty Dozen, a list of the produce with the highest pesticide loads. Your best move is to buy organic fruits and veggies whenever possible. Even though organic fruits and veggies have been found to carry pesticide residues (due to inadvertent spray drift in the air or cross-contamination in harvesting bins), they’re still the better option—especially when it comes to strawberries. Worried about the cost of the berries and other fresh fruits and veggies? Don’t miss our guide to Eat This, Not That! to Save Money on Produce!
Apples: They’re crunchy, they’re tart, they’re said to keep the doctor away, and they’re also the second most pesticide-laden piece of produce on that aforementioned 2016 Dirty Dozen list. So despite the fact that their skin is filled with belly-flattening fiber and ursolic acid, a compound believed to increase calorie-incinerating brown fat, this delicious fruit may be doing your body more harm than good if you tend to buy the conventional varieties and eat them regularly. Even if you don’t put on weight right away, over the years as the chemicals compound in your system, they could wreak havoc on your metabolism and waistline.
Atlantic & Farm-Raised Salmon
Unless it’s the wild-caught variety, salmon isn’t doing your body any favors. Soy-fed, farm-raised salmon (which is commonly labeled as Atlantic salmon) has those omega-3s you’re looking for, but they’re also packed with a fair amount of omega-6s, which actually increase the waistline-inflating inflammation that omega-3s combat. Not to mention, farmed salmon have been found to be high in PCBs (an endocrine disruptor) and have one-fourth the belly-flattening vitamin D of their wild cousins. Unless you’re going wild, we suggest skipping this fattening fish and getting your omega-3s and protein elsewhere, like from anchovies, grass-fed beef or any of these 15 Best Omega-3 Superfoods.
BECAUSE MANUFACTURERS RUIN THEM…
Since fresh produce is often shipped from so far away, it loses a fair share of their nutrients before you can enjoy them. On the flip side, frozen fruits and veggies are typically frozen shortly after they’ve been harvested, which means they’re chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. That said, we can see why you always load up on the stuff to make smoothies, homemade sorbets, and “nice cream.” But did you know that many bags contain added sugar? It’s true! Be sure to read the ingredient list before you buy to ensure you’re choosing something that won’t contribute to a sugar high or weight gain.
Known as a powerful anti-inflammatory and source of protective antioxidants and heart-healthy omega-3s, the acai berry is a powerful superfood. However, most Americans aren’t just popping the raw fruit into their mouths. They’re consuming it in bottled smoothies, sorbets, and snack food form, which almost always means they’re also getting a dose of excess calories and sugar that their bodies don’t need.
If made with nuts, salt, and nothing else, nut butters are a superfood that serves up a potent dose of minerals, healthy fats, and satiating proteins. And even if you manage to stick to a reasonable serving size (which is a tablespoon or two, by the way) that won’t matter much if you’ve purchased an icky container that’s filled with added sugar and hydrogenated oils, a type of man-made trans fat that can raise bad cholesterol levels and promote inflammation that builds belly fat and induces weight gain.
BECAUSE YOU OVEREAT THEM…
Prunes are one of these 21 Surprising Foods That Melt Fat—and for good reason. A serving of four to five dried plums packs three grams of fiber. “About half of that is insoluble, which helps speed food through the digestive tract. The other half is slow-moving soluble fiber, good for enhancing satiety, lowering cholesterol and regulating blood-sugar levels,” explains Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN. The fruit is also a potent source of polyphenols, plant chemicals that help preventing disease. But here’s where things go awry: a cup of dried fruit packs up to eight times more calories and sugar than a cup of the fresh stuff. So, if you tend to have trouble controlling your portion size, prunes and other dried fruit may wind up doing your waistline you more harm than good. As a general rule, think of dried fruit as a garnish and not as a snack.
Snacking on dark chocolate isn’t just a good way to curb your sugar cravings, it’s a great way to improve your health—if you stick to a reasonable serving size, at least. The superfood is rich in nutrients like healthy fats, iron, magnesium, and flavanols, which are antioxidants that work with the caffeine found in cocoa solids to boost blood flow to the brain and enhance cognitive function. And since chocolate is made from fermented cocoa beans, it’s also a good source of probiotics and prebiotics, the fuel and bacteria that work together to restore gut balance. To help you understand how chocolate can go from friend to foe, consider this example: Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cacao Bar (which is featured in our report, The 17 Best & Worst Dark Chcoclates) carries 178 calories, 14 grams of fat and 5.5 grams of sugar per one-ounce serving, or about a quarter of the bar—which are actually some pretty impressive stats. But as any chocoholic can tell you, it’s really hard to stop after a small serving. So, let’s say you ate half the bar. That means your innocent superfood snack is now one that serves up about 40 percent of your allotted day’s fat, 11 grams of the sweet stuff, and a staggering 356 calories—which isn’t something you should be eating regularly if maintaining a lean figure is among your chief health goals.
Many people think agave is a healthy source of sugar because it comes from a plant and doesn’t spike your blood sugar. But the truth is that it’s not any better than white granulated sugar, which also comes from a plant. In fact, agave may be worse for your system than table sugar. That’s because unlike other sources of sugar that have a more even ratio of fructose and glucose, agave is 90 percent fructose. Consuming too much fructose has been associated with health issues like liver and kidney disease, high blood pressure, and even premature aging. If you’ve been adding the stuff to your smoothies and homemade granola bars by the cup-full, this can be really bad news. Dial back on your intake of this frenemy superfood to keep those excess pounds at bay! And for an even better understanding of added sugars, check out our exclusive guide to Every Popular Added Sweetener—Ranked!
Über-trendy coconut oil is a potent source of lauric acid, a unique medium-chain triglyceride that battles bacteria and increases the 24-hour calorie expenditure in humans by as much as five percent—which is why you add it to everything from your frying pan to your smoothies on the reg. But add a few too many tablespoons to your daily diet and you can undo all of its belly-flattening effects because of the steep calorie count. To help get a better idea of how much is too much, don’t miss these 18 Easy Ways to Control Your Portion Sizes.
Avocados are overflowing with good fats, fiber, antioxidants and nearly 20 vitamins and minerals that contribute to weight loss and improved health. But you’ve still got to keep portion sizes in perspective. Nutritionists consider one serving of avocado to be about a quarter of a whole fruit (which contains 81 calories and 7 grams of fat). Take in any more than that and you may wind up packing on belly fat.
Yes, they’re packed with protein, folate, thiamine, and fiber but that doesn’t mean you should pile your plate sky-high with the stuff. Lentil and bean pasta varieties still have calories that can contribute to weight gain. Measure out your protein-rich noodles just as you would regular varieties and mix in lots of colorful veggies to balance the meal out and lower the cup-for-cup calorie count.
Thanks to its high resveratrol content and anti-inflammatory properties, people who consume the red wine may be at reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and seasonal colds. But wine glasses these days are oversized, making it particularly difficult to stick to the 5-ounce serving, which packs about 130 calories. To make sure you don’t overdo it—a habit that can lead to weight gain—pour a glass of good red wine into a measuring cup and then transfer it into your wine glass. This will help you eyeball the right amount next time you want to enjoy some vino. However, you should also know this: Drinking alcohol, even something with healthy properties like red wine, can make you more sensitive to food aromas and less likely to resist indulgent fare. One study found that sipping alcohol caused people to take in an extra 384 calories daily, on average. That means if you drink three times per week, you’d potentially pack on 17 pounds of fat in a single year.
The FDA recently suggested that consuming two tablespoons of olive oil a day can reduce the risk of heart disease. Consuming similar amounts has also been shown to aid weight loss. But eat much more than two or three tablespoons and you may find your pants getting tighter! Be sure to measuring your portions to keep your portions in check. A drizzle here and there can mount up—and quickly! But it’s still one of the 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen, of course.