I hate the phrase “healthy food.”
When you really think about it there’s no such thing as an inherently “healthy food.”
Obviously some foods are low(er) calorie, nutrient dense, and have certain qualities that should be emphasized within an overall “healthy” diet.
But there isn’t a single food that, in isolation, can be deemed “healthy” or “unhealthy.”
Healthiest Foods: Why Can’t a Food Be Labeled “Healthy” or “Unhealthy?”
Because one food doesn’t make up the sum and substance of your diet or lifestyle.
Rather, the context of your life as a whole determines your health including things that are both in and out of your control.
To name a few, below is a small list of the countless determinants of your health:
- Health care
- Living environment
- And a whole lot more
Without overly digressing, it’s incorrect to label a single food as “healthy” or “unhealthy” for the same reason it’s incorrect to say men are stronger than women, dumbbells are safer than barbells, or toilet paper is more effective than a bidet.
Context must be taken into consideration and only then, once we appreciate context, can we begin to see no food is inherently “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong,” “healthy” or “unhealthy.”
Rather, all foods are equally neutral with some being more conducive to successful long-term dieting than others.
For example, some foods might help you stay full for longer periods of time, others might be higher in protein , and others might include vitamins and minerals that are difficult to find elsewhere.
These foods – the ones that make dieting easier – should obviously be emphasized within your diet.
But Emphasis Does Not Include Excess
This is a really important point to understand and where most fitness junkies who eat “healthy” but can’t get a 6-pack go wrong.
Just because certain foods are worth emphasizing does not mean they can or should be eaten ad libitum.
These traditionally labeled “healthy” foods still have calories and, contrary to popular dogma, calories always count regardless of whether or not a food is “healthy,” “clean,” “natural,” or “organic.”
In other words, you can overeat “healthy foods” and if you do you will gain fat.
What If You Eat Paleo? Or Low Carb?
It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter how or what you eat.
Paleo, low carb, vegan, South Beach, vegetarian…everything has calories and if you eat more than your body needs to maintain its current weight you will gain fat.
So What Should You Do?
First and foremost, if you’re having trouble losing fat you should start by reading my ultimate guide to training and nutrition for fat loss which has already helped over 10,000 people to date.
Second, track your calorie intake for 3-6 weeks to see how much you’re eating, where the majority of your calories are coming from, and what an appropriate portion looks like.
Third, below I’ve listed 5 of the most commonly overeaten “health foods” that you might be overlooking. You don’t need to eliminate these foods from your diet but you should keep moderation in mind when eating them and be aware that they are far more calorically dense than you might think.
In no particular order of importance here are…
5 of the Worlds Healthiest Foods (That Are Actually Making You Fat!)
1. Nut Butter
I have a love/hate relationship with nut butters.
I love them for the same reason everyone loves them –> they’re freakin’ amazing.
I hate them because a true serving size (2 tbsp) is offensively minuscule and inordinately high in calories (~200 cal).
Do you realize how small 2 tbsp really is?
Contrary to what we like to convince ourselves, 2 tbsp is not a fist-sized slab o’ nut butter on your largest spatula.
Nope, 2 tbsp is about the size of a golf ball.
Sucks, I know.
Want to see what that looks like on a slice of bread?
That’s not even enough to spread a halfway decent layer across 1 slice.
Trust me, I was pissed when I found out too.
The good news is you don’t need to completely eliminate nut butters from your diet. What you do need to do, however, is pay very close attention to how much you’re eating to make sure you aren’t overdoing it by consuming 2, 3, 4 or 5x as many calories as you think.
My Favorite Low Calorie Alternative: PB2
PB2 is a low calorie, powdered peanut butter alternative and it’s abso-freakin-lutely amazing.
A fraction of the calories and fat of standard peanut butter, PB2 is a great way to enjoy a large portion of peanut butter without going completely overboard on the calories.
I eat PB2 on a daily basis and my girlfriend eats it at pretty much every meal.
In all seriousness, it’s great for both of us since we can feed our nut butter addiction without worrying about blowing our calorie allotment for the day.
Want to try PB2? Grab it HERE.
The main ingredient in guacamole is avocado which, in case you aren’t aware, makes avocado the single most delicious food in the history of history.
On a serious note, while avocado is the single most delicious food in the history of history, it’s also exceptionally high in calories and remarkably easy to over eat.
Just today I was speaking with one of my brand new online nutrition coaching clients who had difficulty hitting her calorie and protein guidelines on her first day of the program.
Soon after asking what she ate, she told me she’d eaten a whole avocado because she thought it was a “health food.”
While I assured her avocado is a phenomenal option with a variety of health benefits, I explained how calorically dense one avocado is and can easily add up to 350 calories and 30g of fat.
After assuring her she didn’t screw up, we discussed how eating the entire avocado made it significantly harder for her to stay satiated throughout the day while hitting her calorie and protein guidelines. From that point we came up with a plan that would allow her to enjoy avocado on a regular basis without blowing past her calorie guidelines.
My Favorite Low Calorie Alternative: Moderation
The best low calorie alternative for avocado is simply being aware of how much you’re eating and moderating portion sizes accordingly.
For some that might mean weighing and measuring out how much you’re going to eat while for others that might mean establishing a pre-determined portion (1/2 an avocado).
Regardless of how you choose to moderate your portion size it’s essential to keep moderation in mind.
Pro Tip: My personal favorite food scale for perfectly measuring portion sizes is THIS ONE. It’s inexpensive and very accurate.
3. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is candy disguised as “health food.”
Loaded with sugar (more often than not it’s coated with an extra layer of added sugar), dried fruit is exceptionally calorie dense and atrocious at reducing hunger.
Keep in mind, it’s not inherently bad for you and you’re more than welcome to eat it so long as it fits in your calorie allotment (just like candy), but it’s definitely not something you want to emphasize on a daily basis.
My Favorite Low Calorie Alternative: Fresh Fruit (shocking, I know)
Significantly fewer calories per serving, fresh fruit is more filling than dried fruit and, in my opinion, far more conducive to long-term dieting success.
My personal favorites include strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, melon, oranges, and apples.
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4. Olive Oil
The health benefits of olive oil are extensive to say the least. So much so that I tend to include olive oil within my diet on a daily basis.
My only problem with olive oil is that, like nut butters, a single serving (200 calories) is just about the size of a ping pong ball.
And if you’re like me and pretty much every other person in the history of ever…you don’t just use 1 serving of olive oil.
So without even thinking, if you accidentally double your serving you’re downing a quick 400 calories with minimal satiety and zero protein.
Not your best bet when fat loss is the goal.
My Favorite Low Calorie Alternative: Olive Oil Spray
Equally as beneficial to your health with significantly fewer calories per serving, spray olive oil is a nutritional game changer.
Without the hassle of breaking out the measuring cups or food scale, you can quickly spray it onto anything you want without nearly as much worry about overdoing the calories and still reaping all the health benefits liquid olive oil has to offer.
Pro Tip: If you order Pam Olive Oil Spray online it’s way cheaper than it is in stores.
5. “Health” Bars
Kind bars, zone bars, atkins bars, south beach bars, power bars…there are a million brands, 10 million opinions as to which one is best, and ya know what I say?
Don’t waste your money.
Calorically dense, low in protein, anything but satiating, and usually packed with sugar…”health” bars are a scam wrapped in plastic.
Could you eat them while still losing fat?
Of course, as long as you hit your calorie and protein guidelines.
Are they “healthier” or more beneficial than real food?
And, truth be told, I’d argue a diet with fewer “health” bars is probably easier and more conducive to long-term fat loss than a calorically comparable diet including more “health” bars.
My Favorite Low Calorie Alternative: Real Food
Even the smallest “health” bars can easily pack 200-300+ calories per serving.
And while that doesn’t make them inherently bad (I’ll have a quest bar or epic bar when I need a bite on the go), I could easily throw down 4-5 bars as an appetizer for my appetizer without thinking twice because they do absolutely nothing to keep me full.
So rather than toss 300+ tasteless calories down my pie hole, I’d prefer to make a big ass meal loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, and a massive slab of high quality protein.
Not only will it taste better but it will keep me full for a longer period of time and likely provide countless health benefits far beyond what the bar has to offer.
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