We’ll admit it: Making your own meals is a well-intentioned effort that many people don’t get enough credit for doing. Whether you have a crazy-busy schedule or would rather just squeeze in a workout that slave in a kitchen, cooking isn’t always the most alluring thing ever. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other people who are happiest in the kitchen, refining their favorite dishes and turning to their must-have ingredients several times a week. What do both of these people have in common? They’re probably still using some food items that undo their good efforts—and wind up hurting their waistlines.
Take a look at the list below of common ingredients that a lot of people still use—and cross-check the line-up with which items you plan to reach for the next time you step into your kitchen. And if you’re eating for two, protect your child with the first-ever doctor-recommended plan for baby and you, by our editors and Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News Chief Women’s Health Correspondent: Eat This, Not That! When You’re Expecting—available now!
CHEAP VEGETABLE OILS
Cheap oils like soybean, corn oil, and cottonseed oil are highly processed, contain high amounts of pro-inflammatory omega-6 saturated fats, and offer very little heart-healthy omega-3s. Instead of using these fats in your cooking, switch to avocado or coconut oil, which have both been shown to aid weight loss. Both oils have high smoke points, too, so they’re great options for pan-frying. To get a grip on all your slickest options that keep you slim, bookmark this guide on 14 Popular Cooking Oils and How to Use Them!
Cream of Something Soup
It’s amazing how many nutritious, promising dishes get ruined once someone decides to throw it all in a casserole dish and then drench it in a canned cream-of-chicken/mushroom/whatever. Vegetable oil, MSG, and more than 1,600 milligrams of sodium per cup—nope, not appetizing. If you’ve gotta use an ingredient like this, at least opt for an organic variety, like Amy’s Kitchen. And if we just broke your casserole-loving hearts, fear not! These 25 Best Casserole Tips Everyone Should Know will save the day—and your waistline.
“Some margarine tubs contain heart-harming trans fats and are made with processed oils that may be pro-inflammatory,” says Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. Inflammation has been directly tied to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Switch to grass-fed butter or pick up a product like Earth Balance that contains a mix of less processed oils—and then check out these 20 Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Weight Loss instead!
As much as we are telling you to avoid trusting all non- and low-fat foods, we’re not about to give a green light to something like heavy cream. Loaded with calories—about 50 per tablespoon or 800 per cup—heavy cream is basically a ticket on the fastest, non-stop train to Fatville.
“Artificial food dyes, which many people use to color baked goods, are cause for concern and may have serious side effects—especially in children,” says Jay Cardiello, diet expert and personal trainer to the stars. “Red 40, for example, may contain cancer-causing contaminants, despite the fact that it’s approved by the FDA. The dye may also be a potential trigger to hyperactivity in children. Instead, color your dishes with natural sources of color like beet juice, red cabbage or paprika.”
Fatty Ground Beef
Studies show that eating the right cuts of steak can help whittle your middle. But fatty cuts can have the opposite effect. In fact, they’ve been positively associated with belly fat and larger waist circumference in lab studies. Use 80% lean beef or better to keep your metabolism stoked and your heart healthy.
“Although they don’t contribute calories, artificial sweeteners are up to 700 times sweeter than natural sugar—and often leave you craving more sweets later in the day,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD. If you’re trying to cut calories from your baked goods, swap out sugar for unsweetened applesauce instead. Get a better handle on added sugars (not all artificial, either!) with our exclusive report on Every Popular Added Sweetener—Ranked!
Cardiello warns everyone to watch out for all-purpose flour that’s been bleached. “Although it may give your food a nicer color and help you to create baked goods that are more soft and tender, the bleach chemicals may be harmful to your health.”
Not only is white rice one of the worst carbs ever, it’s too-easily substituted to be tolerated! Barley, quinoa, and brown rice are all better bets for your waistline and are just as delicious—but more satisfying—with your culinary concoctions.
FAT-FREE DAIRY PRODUCTS
“Although I’m a fan of fat-free milk, other fat-free dairy products like cheese, cream cheese, and cottage cheese are a no-go in my kitchen,” reports Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND. “Many people find the texture, taste and mouthfeel of these products to be less satisfying, which either turns them off from the dish altogether or spurs cravings for seconds and thirds as they search for satisfaction.” Looking for some healthy and delicious full-fat foods that will whittle your middle? Check out these 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss!
Sorry, pasta lovers, but the bulk of your pasta bowl is likely filled with refined wheat and is void of fiber and protein (two vital weight loss nutrients). Thankfully, there are some healthy alternatives that won’t give you a bloated belly and nutrition-lacking headache. Whole grain pasta, Banza chickpea pasta, and zucchini noodles (AKA zoodles) are healthier options packed with things like fiber, protein and whole grains that your body can use for sustained energy.
CONVENTIONAL PEANUT BUTTER
“Conventional peanut butter is filled with fully or partially hydrogenated oils, which are basically trans fats,” Smith advises. “Whether you’re making peanut butter cookies or a Thai peanut sauce, use natural peanut butter that contains nothing more than peanuts and salt.” Not sure which jar contain the best nut butter? Check out our exclusive report, The 36 Top Peanut Butters—Ranked!
CERTAIN MILK ALTERNATIVES
Although it’s derived from a natural source, carrageenan—often found in almond milk—can be destructive to the digestive system. “It can trigger an immune response that causes inflammation, gut irritation and lesions, and even cancer,” shares Gina Hassick, RD, LDN, CDE. “While organic foods ban the use of GMOs, chemical pesticides, and toxic synthetic additives, carrageenan is currently still allowed—so it’s important to check food labels.”
Sometimes ‘healthy’ desserts or smoothie recipes call for flavored yogurt. However, reduced-fat flavored yogurts are not a health food. “Did you know that one container of flavored yogurt can have more sugar than a candy bar?! It’s true!” says Cassie Bjork, RD, LD of Healthy Simple Life. “When you remove the fat from a naturally fatty food like yogurt, you have to make up for the taste by adding sugar—or worse, artificial sweeteners.”
CORN & SIMPLE SYRUPS
If a recipe calls for corn or simple syrup, use maple syrup or honey instead. “While the former sugars are highly processed and contain little nutritional value, the latter options have antioxidants and antibacterial properties, all while providing the sweetness you’re looking for,” Smith says.
Like other low- or non-fat foods that must overcompensate with a bucket of bad stuff, fat-free dressings are often with sugar, salt and artificial ingredients you wouldn’t find in your kitchen. There is such a thing as healthy fats. In fact, Palumbo explains that “having a little fat with your vegetables can help you absorb more of the nutrients and antioxidants.”
What separates a healthy green bean from a not-so-healthy one? About three aisles in the grocery store! First, there’s the issue of cans most likely being lined with BPA. And then there’s the fact that many canned vegetables have excess salt and “flavor enhancers” like MSG, which, even in small doses, can cause stomach aches and indigestion. Just a half cup of canned cut green beans contains 380-390 mg of sodium—that’s more salt than you’ll find in a snack-size bag of Doritos! Switch to frozen or fresh to give your pot a healthy makeover.
Canned fruit might seem like an easy shortcut, but it’s just a quick route to belly fat. It’s packed with syrup — upwards of 20 grams of sugars a can! — and nasty additives such as artificial flavorings. Even unsweetened fruit in its own juice is a nutritional miss: Peeled fruit is missing crucial fiber, and vitamin content can degrade in the canning process. If having fresh fruit around the house is impractical, go for frozen—it’s often more nutritious than fresh fruit because it’s picked and frozen at its peak and the ice crystals (like on the skin of blueberries) can even help your body absorb more nutrients.
Broth is such a basic staple to so many people and often a little boring in taste that many people don’t give it that much thought. But one cup of full-sodium chicken broth can have more than 800 mg of blood-pressure-raising salt. That’s like three orders of large french fries from McDonalds! Low-sodium and unsalted broths are the way to go if you want to ward off water retention and stop belly bloat.
Another overlooked, unassuming broth-esque item, the bouillon cube is like a tiny, rectangular trap. Monosodium glutamate (better known as MSG), Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are just three of the unsettling ingredients found in a typical bouillon cube. The former has been shown to stimulate appetite while the latter two, both artificial coloring agents, may have adverse effects on activity and attention in children.
EGG BEATER-ESQUE PRODUCTS
“Eggs that come out of a container are not a health food,” says Dana James CDN, a nutritionist from Food Coach NYC. “This kind of product is processed so much that makers have to add in synthetic vitamins to boost its nutrient density. This is as far removed from a natural egg as you can get.” Looking to make a morning meal that’s also nutritious? Check out these 50 Best Breakfast Foods for Weight Loss—Ranked.
From smoothies to soups, there are more recipes that call for juice than you might think. It’s usually an easy hack to amp up flavor profiles, but it’s not a smart trick. Steer clear of the excess sugar and calories by avoiding those recipes.
There’s no denying it: Bacon can make anything taste ten times better. But if you think you’re making the healthy choice by opting for the turkey variety over the pig, you’ve got things all wrong. Though turkey bacon has about 13 fewer calories per slice, it’s higher in sodium—not great news if you have high blood pressure. Plus, pork offers more protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) than its poultry-based counterpart. Bear in mind that no matter which option you add to your dish, serving size still matters—so don’t pig out.
Mmm, mmm, mmm! Italian sausage is so tasty in so many things! But unfortunately, most sausage links are the opposite of diet-friendly. The reason: The majority of their calories come from fat and to make matters worse, many links are laced with appetite-boosting MSG. We know this one can be tough to cut out, though, so follow these 18 Easy Ways to Control Your Portion Sizes.
Believe it or not, it’s fairly common for non-dessert foods to get a spoonful of sugar—which, if you’re anything like your fellow citizens, is the last thing your body needs. According to the CDC Americans eat a whopping 82 grams of added sugar a day—which is 37 grams above the recommended intake! Oh, and sugar is one of the 20 Foods That Age You 20 Years.