At the start of the year, everyone is intent on dropping a few pounds, especially after the holiday binge. Most people have a general idea of how to lose weight: Cut back on unhealthy food and get some exercise. What many may not be aware of is that there might be sneaky ingredients in some go-to “healthy” food items, which may be sabotaging your slim-down efforts.

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Be sure to check the labels of the stuff in your grocery cart and rethink the way you prepare your meals at home. Keep a sharp eye out for the following ingredients:

Low-fat or “lite” anything. Decades ago, fat became the villain. It was thought that consuming more fat meant gaining fat. We’ve come to find that this isn’t entirely true but low-fat options of food still abound—and the marketing ploy seems to be working. Research published in the Journal of Marketing Research suggests that consumers tend to eat much more when they know they’re eating something that’s low-fat. Apart from that, low-fat foods tend to have sugar added to make up for the loss in flavor. Low in fat but high in sugar? Definitely a no-no.

Weight-loss tip: Don’t be afraid of fat! It’s a necessary component of your diet. Just make sure you get the good kind from such sources as avocadoes, healthy oils, and nuts.

Sugar. Copious amounts of the sweet stuff may be hidden in pre-packaged foods that may not even taste sweet, like your favorite ready-made salad dressing. Fruit juices and sodas, packaged sauces, flavored yogurt (and not the protein-rich Greek kind), seemingly healthy dried fruit, store-bought smoothies, store-bought granola, your favorite coffee shop frap…all these are chock full of the sweet stuff, which studies have shown contributes to weight gain and thus derails your weight-loss efforts.

Weight-loss tip: Check the labels of your store-bought items, being extra vigilant about added sugars. Got a sweet tooth? Get your sugar fix from fresh fruit in their whole form; even 100% fruit juice loses a lot of its nutritional value as nutrient-dense parts like the pulp are thrown out.

Sodium. Salt retains water. So if you’re still feeling bloated after practicing portion control, then think back to what you’ve been eating to find where sodium may be hidden. Maybe you’re overusing salt to add flavor to baked, grilled, or roasted food. Or maybe you’re using too much soy sauce in your stir-fries, or eating processed foods or frozen dinners that are just filled with sodium.

Weight-loss tip: Add flavor to food with herbs and spices instead of seasoning with salt. Look into using lower-sodium soy sauce alternatives when prepping your stir-fries. (Read up on your options here.) Always in a rush and thus getting by on frozen meals? Double up the servings when you do get the chance to cook and freeze the rest for another day! 

Alcohol. Drinks in general have empty calories—meaning they pile on the pounds without making you feel satiated or providing you with nutrients. Booze is even worse because a few glasses can affect your decision-making, leading to a fast-food run to end a night of partying, for example. Many cocktails are made up of a number of ingredients that are calorie bombs, giving you the caloric equivalent of a meal in one glass.

Weight-loss tip: Nurse some bubbly water or lemon water instead of downing a couple of drinks. If you must drink, go for the lowest-calorie options you can find. Champagne, vodka, gin, and rum all come in at a little less than 100 calories a pop. And keep it to one serving to minimize damage. 

Salad toppings. You may think you’re doing a good thing by having a big salad for lunch but take a long hard look at what’s on there. A bowl with 10% lettuce does not a healthy meal. If it’s topped with croutons, bacon, candied walnuts, breaded chicken, and a creamy dressing, it’s time to be honest with yourself and admit that it’s not a healthy salad.

Weight-loss tip: Make sure your salad is mostly vegetables, throw in some healthy protein (like grilled chicken or some shrimp), and top with a minimal amount of a non-creamy dressing, like a homemade vinaigrette. Make it more interesting and up the nutrient content by including a mix of colors and add texture with some crunchy nuts.

Losing weight doesn’t have to be torture. Nurture a healthy relationship with food instead of banning ingredients completely. You can practice the 80-20 rule, meaning you can eat healthy 80% of the time; the rest of the time, allow yourself to indulge in the foods that you love.




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