Like most humans, you probably rejoiced at recent news stories revealing that some of the foods your taste buds savor are also good for your heart, muscles or overall health. But it’s important not to lapse into blissful ignorance. All good things are only good to a point. Certain healthy foods can come back to bite you in your newly expanded behind if you consume them in unwise quantities. So we’ve pinpointed the most common temptations and provided some perspective on portion sizes, because you shouldn’t have to sweat the good stuff.
Avocados are one of the tip-top good fats, loaded with fiber and antioxidants that contribute to weight loss. People who ate half an avocado daily had lower body mass and smaller waists than those who didn’t, a study published in Nutrition Journal showed. But you’ve still got to keep portion sizes in perspective, particularly when it comes to the avocado’s noble scion, guacamole: ¼ cup of guac (about three hearty chip scoops) contains 8 grams of fat, or almost as much as an six-inch Subway roast-beef sandwich. One scoop of guac on your Chipotle chicken bowl can add 150 calories and 13 grams of fat. Keep in mind that nutritionists consider one serving of avocado to be ⅕ of a whole fruit, which contains 4.5 grams of fat.
With their fat-burning amino acids, almonds are a superfood. But they can also be dietary Kryptonite: One cup has 529 calories and an eye-popping 45 grams of fat. So avoid reaching into a full bag and measure yourself out some snack packs instead. A study found that people who ate one-quarter cup of almonds a day lost more weight than those who ate a snack with complex carbs and safflower oil, and lost 62% more BMI and weight after six months. Consider that the ideal serving.
Like guacamole, hummus contains a weight-zapping base. Studies have shown that eating legumes like chickpeas four times a week correlates with greater fat loss. But that doesn’t mean you can attack the dip tray like a bowl of naked salad. One serving of hummus is two tablespoons, which can fit on a couple of dipped crackers or baby carrots, containing 6 grams of fat thanks to the fat-laden mix in, tahini. When’s the only time you should feel guilty about eating ten baby carrots? When they’ve smuggled half your day’s recommended fat allowance into your gullet before dinner.
You know that protein is the foundation of eating well: It builds muscle, provides energy and keeps you feeling full. But protein’s benefits may have been over-publicized at the expense of other components of your plate—and your calorie count. The American Dietetic Association advises that each main serving of protein—be it chicken, salmon, or grass-fed beef—should be about 3 ounces, a.k.a. the size of a deck of cards. Some average-sized chicken breasts can actually be two or three servings in one, with way more protein than you can process in one sitting. So say g’bye to patties the size of your head, and save room for whole grains and 10 Greens Healthier than Kale.
Olive oil is a weight-loss wonder: An olive-oil-rich diet releases the hormone adiponectin, which breaks down fats in the body, a study in the journal Obesity showed. But exactly how rich are we talking here? The FDA recently suggested that consuming two tablespoons of olive oil a day can reduce the risk of heart disease. One tablespoon of olive oil contains about 120 calories and 13 grams of fat. It’s monounsaturated fat, which is good fat, but it’s fat all the same. The American Heart Association recommends that 500 to 700 calories of your daily diet come from fat. Since olive oil is basically 100% fat, three tablespoons is about half the upper limit of that allowance. The good news: Three tablespoons is more than enough for cooking a meal or topping a salad. To be safe, use it to replace other fats in your diet.
For decades, cholesterol-rich egg yolks were a dietary no-go, and egg-white omelets practically mandatory. But in recent years, science has chilled out a bit. In a paper titled “Fats and Cholesterol,” researchers at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health point out that studies have shown that consumption of dietary cholesterol has a weak effect on blood cholesterol. Nutritionists stress that consumption of good fats is necessary for weight loss. Egg whites, while full of protein, are nearly fat-free, which can leave you unsatisfied and reaching for more calories after brunch is over. Plus, only the yolks contain choline, an essential nutrient that burns fat. Just keep your consumption to two yolks daily.
Green Juices with Fruit
You probably know by now that fruit juice can be a calorie bomb—too much sugar without belly-filling fiber to compensate. But if you thought green juice was exempt by virtue of its hue, think again. A 15-ounce bottle of Naked Juice Green Machine may be labeled “No Sugar Added,” but it has 66 grams of carbs, of which 56 grams are sugar. And no wonder: It contains apple and pineapple juices and mango, banana and kiwi. You can easily find yourself in the same situation at the juice bar, where a large cup usually runs about 16 ounces. A good guideline is to balance every fruit with two vegetables. Or keep it strictly veggie.
Starchy Vegetables Like Peas and Corn
Peas may be green, but did you know dietitians consider them in the same class as potatoes? That’s because peas, along with corn, are starchy vegetables—higher in carbohydrates and calories than other veggies, say researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in their publication Your Diet & Diabetes. One serving contains 15 grams of carbs, or more than a slice of whole-wheat toast. They’re healthy and should by no means be shunned, but it’s a good idea to keep your servings to ½ cup. Save the all-you-can-eat action for kale, Chinese cabbage and broccoli.
In trying to build fat-burning lean muscle, you could actually be giving yourself a gut, depending on how much and what kind of protein powder you’re reaching for. The optimal amount of protein to consume at one time is about 30 grams, and the average person only needs 0.5 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, depending on how active you are. The excess can be calorie overload. So know how much protein is in each scoop, and know that two isn’t always better. Plus, most whey proteins cause bloating (we prefer plant-based protein powders) and contain artificial sweeteners, which can give you the munchies and result in metabolic syndrome.
If you’re still drinking skim milk or eating reduced-fat or fat-free cheeses and yogurts, it’s time to reconsider. They’re a lose-lose proposition, and neither are the kind of loss we’re going for: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat low-fat dairy products tend to be heavier than those who don’t because it’s less satiating and seems to encourage more carb consumption. Additionally, when dairy is processed to remove fat, it’s skimmed of nutrients as well. So add full-fat or 2% yogurt and cheeses to your diet: We’ve picked out the 9 Best Yogurts for Weight Loss.