It’s spring, which means time for cleaning, tossing, and storing. Another area to tackle on your to-do list: your kitchen. Even if you’re into eating clean, there may be some unexpected diet saboteurs getting in the way of your fitness and health. Here, a few foods in most typical pantries that may be tripping up your better-body goals.
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1. Natural Sweeteners
You already know to steer clear of the white granulated stuff. But even other so-called healthy or natural sweeteners such as honey, agave, Sucanat, or maple syrup have their dietary dangers. “High levels of excess sugar in your blood can result in elevated triglycerides, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease,” says Mary Jane Detroyer, R.D.N., a New York–based nutritionist. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than six teaspoons, or 100 calories, of total added sugar daily. And beware of the sugars you may not see. Flavored yogurts and fermented dairy drinks, for example, can have more than 25 grams of extra sugar per serving. Spaghetti sauce, salad dressings, cereals, and even protein bars are all also often laden with sugar, so check labels and stick to whole foods when possible.
A little Greek yogurt here and a little cheese there is fine, right? Dairy is one of the sneakiest culprits because it’s full of saturated fat. And while some saturated fat is OK, it’s not the most efficient form of fuel for your body, explains Cassandra Forsythe, Ph.D., R.D., a nutritionist based in Manchester, CT. “Saturated fat is not burned as effectively for energy as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods like nuts and seeds.” You may also find yourself experiencing some intestinal discomfort after you consume dairy products like milk or cheese. That’s because adults can sometimes develop an intolerance to lactose (the natural sugars found in milk) as we age. If you choose dairy for the calcium it contains, try swapping it for nondairy options such as white beans, fortified tofu, flax, bok choy, broccoli, and kale.
Nuts are a great source of healthy fats and protein, but these nutrient-dense powerhouses can be dangerous to your diet in excess. One ounce of nuts (typically 10 to 14 nuts, depending on the size and type) contains 150 to 200 calories and 12 to 22 grams of fat. And while some fat is healthy, too much can have its drawbacks.
“Fat is a necessary macronutrient. Without it, we are unable to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K, and E found in food,” explains Detroyer. “However, a little goes a long way. Most of us only need about 50 to 70 grams of fat per day, which is equivalent to about 450 to 600 calories, or about a third of all the calories you eat.” Mindlessly snack on a few handfuls, then, and it’s easy to reach the upper dietary recommendations and beyond. Bottom line? Enjoy your almonds, pecans, walnuts, and the like, but limit your intake to one small handful a day.
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4. Gluten-Free Foods
Groceries, restaurants, and even convenience stores all tout special “gluten-free” menus, but just because a food contains gluten doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. And on the flip side, if a food wears a gluten-free label, that doesn’t automatically give it a health halo. Many foods marketed as being gluten-free are also processed and made with corn, potato starch, and other fillers. “A gluten-free doughnut is just as unhealthy as the original kind,” says Forsythe. If you want to avoid gluten, don’t depend on processed replacements. Opt for naturally gluten-free foods like fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, or try wheat alternatives such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth.
While using some oils like olive, canola, and coconut can provide your body with healthy fats, it’s easy to overdo it—especially if you’re sautéing a bunch of broccoli or making a salad dressing from scratch. One tablespoon of oil equals 120 calories and 14 grams of fat, and most of us—unless measuring—use more than just one tablespoon for cooking. Forsythe suggests using a pump cooking spray filled with olive oil to reduce the amount of fat you need when cooking in pans or skillets.