It used to be so simple: If you wanted to lose weight, or just feel healthier, you cut out sweets. Lately though, it’s those “good for you” foods that are impeding people’s progress, says Brooke Alpert, a nutritionist in New York. Thanks to the wellness boom, “there are more and more foods surrounded by a ‘health halo’,” she says. “People consider them nutritious, so they stop thinking about what—and how much—they’re eating.” Here are four ways to avoid the trap.
REMEMBER, FAT IS STILL FAT
It wasn’t long ago that foods such as avocados, coconut oil and almonds were treated with caution. However, as we focus more on eating whole, natural ingredients, it’s easy to consume these foods with gusto. “People rationalise them because they’re rich in nutrients,” says Amy Shapiro of Real Nutrition in New York. “Also, when you’ve eliminated junk from your diet, those foods seem extra tasty.” Shapiro cites “over-nutting” as one of the biggest ways clients sabotage themselves and says she has rarely met anyone who can restrict themselves to a single two-tablespoon serving of nut butter, which packs about 17g of fat. (“I like to remind clients that nut butters are what we give to malnourished people to quickly fatten them up,” she says.) Keep these foods in your diet, says Connecticut-based dietitian Catherine Perez, but reduce your portions and supplement with something rich in fibre. Perez’s perfect snack? Half an avocado and crudités. It’s less fattening and more filling.
PICK A DIET AND STICK WITH IT
Low-carb, gluten-free, vegan—there’s nothing wrong with any of these diets, says Alpert. “The problem starts when you begin the day on one plan and end on another.” For example, having a creamy, keto-approved egg scramble for breakfast and a low-fat pasta dish at night. “High-fat plus high-carb is an equation for putting on weight,” she explains. If you’re going to embark on a strict regimen, “pick the one you’re most likely to stick to”.
DON’T DRINK YOUR CALORIES
For health and ethical reasons, non-dairy alternatives have become so in demand that even coffee places such as Starbucks have struggled to keep them in stock. While these drinks may seem more virtuous than cow’s milk, they can be just as high in calories and carbs, says LA-based dietitian Maye
Musk, adding: “I’ve seen almond milks that are just water, sugar and flavouring.” Alpert’s tip: Skip the latte (“It’s mostly milk,” she says). Instead, get a black coffee and add your own oat, nut or soy milk separately.
LIMIT YOUR FRUIT INTAKE
“No one has ever come to my office because they’re eating too much fruit,” says Alpert. “That said, overindulging may prevent weight loss or cause you to plateau.” Adding to the confusion, several years ago, Weight Watchers (now rebranded as “WW”) made fruit “a ‘free food’. People got the green light to eat as much of it as they want,” says Shapiro. Yes, fruit is better than candy or cake—it’s naturally packed with minerals, antioxidants and fibre—but the “zero point” snack still has a significant amount of sugar. Limit yourself to one or two servings a day, says Alpert, who recommends lower-sugar options such as berries, apples and citrus fruits. Also, pay attention to portion size. A large apple actually counts as two servings and dried fruit is basically “nature’s candy”, Shapiro says. One serving is a measly half cup.
“More and more foods are surrounded by a ‘health halo’,” says nutritionist Brooke Alpert. “People stop thinking about how much they’re eating.”
PHOTOGRAPHY: PAUL MCLEAN