11 Surprisingly Bad Foods for Your Waistline

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Colleen de Bellefonds on May 20, 2021
  • Woman with tape measure
    Surprising Foods That Add to Tummy Bloat
    Trying to follow a belly fat diet? Added sugar is hiding in many common packaged “health” foods for flavor and texture. Other so-called health foods are loaded with excess added fats. Even “low-fat” or “low-sugar” foods contain processed ingredients that lack nutrition and can add to tummy bloat. Your best bet: Read the labels on packaged goods and go for those with just a few ingredients you know and understand. And as often as possible, opt for fresh, whole, fat-burning foods instead. Here are 11 of the worst foods for your waistline, along with smart weight loss tips.
  • Fresh orange juice
    1. Juices
    Skip the juice blends: Juicing strips fruits and veggies of some of their filling fibers, plus juice is super-concentrated—meaning fruit-heavy ones are high in sugar. One 8-ounce glass of unsweetened orange-grapefruit juice, for example, has a whopping 25 grams of sugar with 0.2 grams of fiber. Instead, eat your greens whole and pair with lean protein or healthy fats for staying power. Or spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of peanut butter over a medium apple—which has 18 grams of sugar and 4.4 grams of fiber—for a healthy, filling snack.
  • Woman shopping for yogurt
    2. Fat-Free Fruit Yogurt
    Flavored yogurts are one of the worst foods for your waistline. Some form of sugar is usually the second ingredient after milk; some yogurts pack over 20 grams, most of it added, in a serving. Plus once you take out all the fat, a serving will leave you reaching for another snack in no time. Instead, opt for plain low-fat Greek yogurt, which has just 7 grams of sugar plus nearly 20 grams of filling protein. Top with half a cup of fresh blackberries and you’re still at just 10 grams of naturally occurring sugar plus 3 grams of fiber.
  • Suishi
    3. Sushi Rolls
    Don’t toss the chopsticks just yet. What you need to watch out for are specialty rolls: In addition to mayonnaise and canola oil, many (like a spicy California roll) have added sugar right up among the first few ingredients. Others are packed with cream cheese or fried fish, making them high in saturated fats and low on nutrition. Instead, opt for sushi featuring a slab of just fish. Choose brown rice when possible, and keep an eye on the rice portions in your roll—some contain a lot more grain than fish, serving loads of extra carbs and calories.
  • Muffins
    4. Low-fat Muffins
    While that coffee shop low-fat muffin might seem like a “healthy” breakfast, the fat’s likely swapped for sugar—at nearly 20 grams in a typical small muffin. Instead, make whole-grain muffins at home. Swap some oil in your recipe for applesauce and use whole wheat flour for a more filling snack that won’t add to belly fat. Another nutritionist favorite: Egg muffins—scrambled eggs mixed with your favorite veggies (grilled onions, spinach, green pepper) with a dash of garlic salt and pepper, baked in a muffin tin for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Bagels
    5. Wheat Bagels
    Read the label of your “whole wheat bagel” and you’ll realize you’re loading up on calories and carbs from sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup. Don’t be tricked by the “wheat” label, either: Packaged grains that claim to be “whole wheat” are simply refined white bread. Top your bagel off with a schmear of cream cheese—even the low-fat stuff—and you’ve got a calorie-dense whopper that’s not so friendly for your belly fat diet. Instead, have two slices of “100% whole grain wheat” toast. Top with 2 tablespoons of nut butter for healthy, filling fat.
  • Veggie burger
    6. Veggie Burgers
    Many restaurant veggie burgers are loaded with butter and unhealthy fats. Other frozen patties contain soy protein isolate to boost the protein and create a “burger-like” texture. But this processed filler ingredient commonly makes people gassy, adding to belly bloat. What’s more, many veggie burgers have 400 grams of sodium per patty, adding to water retention. If you do eat meat, order a turkey burger instead. At home, keep an eye on sodium and check that veggies are among the first ingredients. Skip those with soy or wheat protein isolates and get your protein from chickpeas, beans or quinoa instead.
  • Frozen dinner
    7. Frozen "Diet-Friendly" Dinners
    So-called “healthy” frozen diet dinners usually read like a science experiment loaded with additives (maltodextrin, triglycerides), preservatives (nitrates, sulphites) and sodium (600 grams)—all of which add to bloat, making them a poor choice for a belly fat diet. But plain frozen veggies are usually picked in season at their ripest, making them more nutritious than the fresh variety. For a healthy meal in 10 minutes, heat a tablespoon of sesame oil, then add 2 cups of frozen veggies and one serving of frozen chicken. Microwave a frozen packet of quinoa. Toss together, top with low-sodium Asian dipping sauce, and enjoy.
  • Woman drinking sports drink
    8. Sports Drinks
    Just because “sport” is in its name does not mean it’s healthy. In fact, most sports drinks are little more than sugar water, with some bottles containing more than 500 calories and over 30 grams of refined sugar. For a healthy boost after a gym sweat session, have a glass of water and a medium banana. Bananas contain 14 grams of healthy sugars, 3 grams of fiber, and potassium, a natural electrolyte that helps restore water balance. Sick of plain old water? Toss real fruits and herbs, like raspberries and mint, in a water infuser for a refreshing alternative.
  • Woman eating protein bar
    9. Protein Bars
    Most protein bars are among the worst foods for your waistline, containing 20 grams of various forms of added sugars (glucose syrup, cane invert syrup) that work against weight loss, plus forms of protein (like whey or soy protein isolate) and added fiber (chicory root and inulin) that make many people gassy and bloated. Plus many “low sugar” varieties still contain sugar and sugar alcohols (like stevia leaf extract, tagatose and trehalose), which can also cause gassiness and bloating. You’re better off snacking on a hard-boiled egg for a serving of healthy fat and protein.
  • Couscous
    10. Couscous
    While couscous might look a lot like a whole grain, it’s more akin to pasta—though couscous contains crushed durum wheat semolina and not the ground type used in pasta, making it a bit less refined. A better option is its less-refined cousin, whole wheat couscous. Better yet, opt for quinoa or whole wheat pasta (look for “100% whole wheat” on the ingredients label), both of which have a similar amount of protein and 2 to 3 times the fiber in 1 cup.
  • Fruit-and-Nut Bars
    11. Low-fat Granola
    Store-bought brands of granola have added canola oil and sugars—and the low-fat stuff usually isn’t any better, since it usually has even more added sugar. Craving crunch? Make your own granola at home to control the oils and sugars. For store-bought, pick one with 10 grams of sugar or less per serving; look for whole ingredients, like oats and nuts, among the first 2 to 3 ingredients. And don’t forget to check the serving size: Some are 1/4 cup while others are 1/2 cup, a difference that adds up if you’re not paying attention.
Weight Loss Tips | Worst Foods for Your Waistline
  1. Food Composition Databases. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
  2. Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Whole Grain Label Statements. United States Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/98fr/06d-0066-gdl0001.pdf
  3. Mamerow M, Mettler J, English K, et al for American Society for Nutrition. Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. The Journal of Nutrition, January 2014: 113.185280. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/early/2014/01/28/jn.113.185280.abstract
  4. Fluid and Electrolyte Balance. National Institutes of Health U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/fluidandelectrolytebalance.html
  5. Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Daily Fiber Recommendations for Adults. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983?pg=2
  6. Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Artificial Sweeteners. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936?pg=2
  7. Stick with Real Fruit. Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/23/health/la-he-nutrition-lab-snacks-20100823
  8. 5 Sneaky Causes of Bloat and How to Avoid Them. Time. http://time.com/4306824/foods-cause-bloating/
  9. Are Frozen Fruits and Vegetables as Healthy as Fresh? The New York Times. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/are-frozen-fruits-and-vegetables-as-nutritious-as-fresh/
  10. Couscous: Don’t Just Call It Pasta. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/health/23recipehealth.html
  11. Why Your Granola Is Really a Dessert. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/30/well/eat/why-your-granola-is-really-a-dessert.html
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Last Review Date: 2021 May 20
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