When two foods--one that's low in fat and one that's unapologetically full-fat--are staring you down, choosing the low-fat option is a the key to a slimmer you, right? Nope.
It turns out your so-called diet foods could actually be making you fat. Fat-free and low-fat foods are often full of sugar, flour, and thickeners, all of which can wreck havoc on your waistline. "Fat is flavor. When you take it out, you need to add something else," says nutritionist Keri Glassman, RD, author of The New You and Improved Diet. These low-performing, high-taste stand-ins are digested too quickly to satiate, which contributes to low-fat fans eating about 28 percent more calories, according to research from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. Believing that low-fat snacks have a about 40 percent fewer calories than their full-fat counterparts, people often feel free to eat almost twice as much low-fat food without the guilt, according to Cornell. Too bad they are usually only 11 percent lower in calories. Not to mention often higher in sugar, sodium, and seriously lacking in protein and fiber, Glassman says.
Steer clear of these 15 low-fat foods. (And for more advice on how to slim down, check out Dr. Travis Stork's no-diet prescription to a flatter belly.)
Breakfast is the key to getting your energy levels up and your metabolism humming bright and early, but when you cut out the fat in your yogurt, you are eliminating the most energy-packed nutrient around. Plus, many low-fat yogurts use artificial sweeteners to make up for lost flavor. Sugar substitutes may kick your taste buds into overdrive, leading you to crave more sweet foods and upping your risk of weight gain, Glassman says.
The Slimmer Choice: Enjoy 2 percent yogurt to get a real energy boost. And if you want a fat-free yogurt, make it Greek--most types have no added sweeteners, artificial or otherwise. (Olympus Greek Yogurt is one of Fitbie's favorites.)
Related: 10 Ways Your Diet Affects Your Skin
Think Egg Beaters are the secret to a slimmer breakfast? This yolk's on you! Although a single yolk contains nearly the recommended daily limit for dietary cholesterol, it is the most nutrient-rich part, packed with zinc, iron, vitamins A and D, choline (Search: What is choline?), and hunger-squashing protein, Glassman says. And several studies, including a 2011 one published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have debunked the myth of eggs causing heart disease.
The Slimmer Choice: Have a hardboiled egg for breakfast or even a snack. For just 70 calories, you can stay full for hours. If you like your eggs scrambled, avoid packing on extra cholesterol with excess cheese, milk, and butter, Glassman says. Sprinkle some basil in them for extra taste and an antioxidant power punch.
Related: 5 Reasons to Eat Eggs
Milk is an excellent source of fat-soluble vitamins A and D--unless it's fat-free. (That's why fat-free milk often comes with vitamins A and D added in.) And when you take all the fat out of milk, your body can't properly absorb these and other essential vitamins, which are vital to healthy metabolic function.
The Slimmer Choice: Instead of fat-free or skim milk, try 1 percent--it's still low in saturated fat, but it has enough of the nutrient to up vitamin absorption, Glassman says. What's more, 1 percent milk contains higher levels than fat-free milk of conjugated lineolic acid, which may help reduce body fat. You should also try these six dairy products for maximum health.
With less fat than potato chips, these little munchies have been called "healthy" since the fat-free craze of the '90s. But most pretzels have no real nutritional value and are typically made with refined flour, which quickly converts to glucose, spiking your blood sugar levels and keeping you going back for more, Glassman says. And reduced-fat pretzels can be even worse. "There is often very little, if any protein in them. They are basically just carbohydrates," she says.
The Slimmer Choice: If you absolutely have to eat some pretzels, go for the full-fat version, or better yet, eat them alongside fat- and protein-rich food like nuts or nut butter, Glassman says. Fat isn't the easiest nutrient to digest, so it sticks around in the digestive system for more time than all those carbs in your pretzels.
Whether alone as a snack or on top of a sandwich for a meal, cheese is a true hunger-buster. The combination of protein and fat in regular, full-fat cheese can hold your appetite at bay for hours, and can cut down your caloric intake during later meals, Glassman says. Plus, most low-fat cheeses are mass-produced, vacuum-sealed, and seriously preserved.
The Slimmer Choice: Go ahead, enjoy a small portion of one of these healthy full-fat cheeses you'll love. Get it sliced fresh at the gourmet cheese counter to avoid preservatives. Don't fret over your cholesterol: When compared to a habitual diet, eating plans rich in cheeses don't increase LDL cholesterol levels (and even lowers them when compared with a butter-rich diet, according to a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
All the taste and half the calories? Sure. But what the bag doesn't say is that the flavor is coming from salt and carbs. Yep, your favorite salty snack just got saltier. Lay's Light Original potato chips, for instance, pack about 18 percent more sodium and 13 percent more carbohydrates than their full-fat counterpart. Not to mention more than twice the ingredients.
The Slimmer Choice No potato chips are going to help you slim down. But if you are really craving them, try making some fresh at home. Or even try baking kale chips--it takes as little as 20 minutes start to finish. They'll give you the crunch you need without all the sugar-spiking carbohydrates or preservatives, Glassman says.
Most peanut butters contain the same type of sugar that's in cake frosting. (No wonder it tastes so good!) Reduced fat peanut butters have even more sugar. When you pack your bloodstream with glucose like that (and don't burn it off, say, running a marathon), your body pumps out insulin to help store the glucose. "The most efficient way for the body to store extra glucose is as fat," Glassman says. What's more, low-fat peanut butters often have fewer healthy fats than their full-fat versions.
The Slimmer Choice Stick with an all-natural peanut butter instead. (These typically are 100-percent nuts and don't contain any trans fats.) Just remember to pour off the top layer of oil and if the butter starts stiffing up, replace it with olive oil. It's a great source of unsaturated fatty acids, and people who consume the most of these healthy fats have lower body mass indexes and less abdominal fat than those who consume the least, according to a 2009 study in the British Journal of Nutrition.
There's nothing good about the stuff in these sugar traps--regular or low fat. While you can save yourself substantial calories with a light variety, you can still easily suck down a meal's worth of calories and carbohydrates. A 16-ounce Starbucks Caffé Vanilla Frappuccino Light Blended Beverage, for example, has 40 grams of carbohydrates--nearly three times the carbs in a slice of Classic White Wonder Bread.
The Slimmer Pick Avoid coffee drinks like these and enjoy a cup of joe sans sugar, sweeteners, whips, and any blends, Glassman says. Pure coffee can actually help you lose weight. Besides boosting athletic performance and calorie burn, a 2012 study presented at the American Chemical Society found that young adults taking various doses of green coffee bean extract lost an average of 17.5 pounds and 16 percent in body fat in 22 weeks.
Without some fat, that salad's not going to help you shed any pounds. Dietary fat allows your body to absorb many nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, which contribute to energy and muscle health, Glassman says. What's more, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people who use fat-free dressings don't absorb any lycopene or beta-carotene, two health-boosting antioxidants.
The Slimmer Choice Drizzle your greens with a bit of olive oil. It will help you get the most nutritional bang from your salad, while giving you a healthy dose of body-slimming unsaturated fats, which can boost metabolic health, according to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Just be sure not to go for one of these salad dressings that have too much fat.
The low-fat version contains less saturated fat and calories, but it's also full of extra chemicals and sodium, and has far fewer healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are both vital for weight loss. "Old" fat stored in the body's peripheral tissues--around the belly, thighs, or butt (also called subcutaneous fat)--can't be burned efficiently without "new" fat to help the process, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dietary fat helps break down existing fat by activating PPAR-alpha and fat-burning pathways through the liver.
The Slimmer Choice Top off you sandwich with a sliced-up avocado quarter. It will provide your sammy the creamy, fatty taste and texture you crave, while helping to hold your appetite and to keep fat from accumulating around your waist. If only mayonnaise will do, either buy mayonnaise with olive oil or whip some up on your own. All you need are eggs, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. The olive oil will score you the monounsaturated fats you need to stay trim.
The calorie toll in frozen "healthy" meals isn't so bad, but the sugar impact can be worse than that of a dessert. For instance, Lean Cuisine Beef Chow Fun packs 18 grams of sugar--5 more than a serving of Edy's Grand Vanilla ice cream. And forget about the sodium. Frozen dinners are salt-fills--many low-fat frozen dishes half your 2,300 mg recommended daily allowance of sodium in one meal. No wonder they don't taste half bad.
The Slimmer Choice To lick your salt habit once and for all, make your own frozen meals. All you need are fresh foods and a freezer.
Canned soup doesn't have a lot going on in the nutritional department, but when manufacturers cut out saturated fat, unsaturated fats tend to go with it. To get rid of .5 grams of saturated fat, for instance Campbell's 98% Fat Free Broccoli Cheese Soup sheds 3 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It's giving up a lot of healthy fats to lose just a little unsaturated fat. And in the end, scoring unsaturated fats is more important to your waist than ridding your meals of saturated ones, Glassman says.
The Slimmer Choice Look for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats on your soup label. They can help stabilize blood sugar levels, according to Mayo Clinic. That means you feel full once you hit the bottom of the bowl.
The ingredient list on a package of low-fat or fat-free ice creams looks like something you should find in a lab, not your freezer. Breyers Fat Free Strawberry Ice Cream, for example, has more than three times the ingredients of its full-fat version.
The Slimmer Choice Go ahead and have a small splurge of some full-fat ice cream. Even better, enjoy some Greek yogurt and top it with a bit of honey. The dietary fat will make your treat much more satisfying. Plus, without all that extra refined sugar and corn syrup, you have a better chance of staying slim.
A bit of fat in your cookies can make the difference eating one and eating the whole box. "Fat gives us a sense of satiety, and without it, you just want to eat more and more and more," Glassman says. Plus, low-fat cookies can with extra sugar keeping low-fat cookies yummy, you can expect a sugar crash after 30 minutes--that will likely send you back to finish of the package.
The Slimmer Choice Go ahead, have a cookie. But just one. For that matter, just buy one cookie fresh from your local baker. Not only will it taste better and lack preservatives for a longer shelf life, but it will also keep you from mindlessly plowing through a whole sleeve.