What Makes The Food Fattening?
Every food provides you with a certain amount of energy. Some more, some less, but every type of food contains calories and a variety of nutritional components. But there are certain types, which are rarely, if ever, allowed by most of the healthy diets. So, what is it exactly that makes some foods more fattening, while some others more weight-loss acceptable? The main aspect that can help you determine fattening foods is their nutritional value.
Weight-loss diet plans usually focus on the most nutrient-dense and low-calorie foods. Fattening foods, however are the richest in calories, while offering you a critically small amount of vital nutrients. That is why in order to successfully lose weight, you need to know your enemy, in other words, be aware of and keep away from the most fattening foods out there. Luckily, today you have a chance to find out what are the most fattening foods to avoid, what are the healthy fattening foods, what are the least fattening foods, and more.
The Basis Of It All – Calories
Your body always requires energy. Even when it seems like you aren’t doing anything, you spend energy to keep breathing, maintain heartbeat, keep your blood pumping, and to be able to sustain all the other vital body processes. Calories are the energy in food. The main sources of calories are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Among these three macronutrients, fat is the most calorie-rich, with 1 gram containing 9 calories, while 1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories, and so does 1 gram of protein (11). The calories that you consume may either be used as fuel or stored in your body in the form of fat. These stored calories will remain in your body as fat until you use them up.
As you may know, counting calories is one of the basics of weight loss. If you want to slim down, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn, or burn more calories than you consume. In such a way your body will run out of energy that comes from food and start burning the stored fat. In order to lose 1 pound (0.45kg) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories.
Therefore, if you reduce your daily caloric intake by 500-1,000 calories, you will be able to shed 1-2 pounds (0.45-1 kg) a week (6). Since reaching this result may be difficult with sole exercising, it is recommended that you cut the consumed calories with the help of a healthy diet that creates a caloric deficit. And to be able to successfully trim a couple of inches with the help of a diet, you need to know what foods are fattening.
Empty Calories – The Antagonists Of Weight Loss
Although in general calories are not your best friends when it comes to weight loss, your main enemy on this journey is empty calories. This type of calories provides you with energy, but very little nutritional value. They come mainly from foods and drinks that have a high sugar, fat, or alcohol content, but little or no essential components. Consuming a lot of empty calories may lead to weight gain and nutrient deficiencies.
A 2012 survey found that an average male adult consumes an average of 923 empty calories per day, and an average adult female eats 624 empty calories per day (14). And, as you know from the previous paragraph, cutting the consumption of the foods and drinks that provide those calories could help them lose 1-2 pounds (0.45-1 kg) a week. That is why experts recommend avoiding foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and alcohol (7, 12).
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The Most Fattening Foods To Avoid
It is only natural that you should steer clear of foods that are packed with empty calories and only make you put on pounds, in the meantime harming your health. So, here are the top 10 most fattening foods to avoid (16, 1):
French fries, like other fried foods, are generally high in calories, salt, and unhealthy fats. They lack fiber and protein, which are responsible for making you feel fuller for longer, and so add to the possibility of overeating. Although by itself potatoes are not that rich in calories, prepared in the wrong way they become the number one enemy of any weight loss diet.
Many restaurants cook them in deep fryers to provide them with a crispy structure, but such a cooking method only adds to the number of calories and amount of fat. Besides accelerating your weight gain, regular consumption of fried potatoes can even increase the risk of premature death (8). That is why, it is recommended that when you are eating out, try to have a salad, pickle, or fresh fruit as a side dish instead of french fries.
Fast food hamburgers
Since hamburger is a close relative of a sandwich, you can’t state that all of them are extremely fattening. If you make one at home with a whole-wheat bun, fresh vegetables, and lean meat, it will not be so diet-unfriendly like the one that you can get at a restaurant. Hamburgers from fast food establishments are oftentimes packed with unnecessary empty calories from unhealthy fats.
A 2013 study showed that participants who ate restaurant burgers at least twice a week had a higher risk of obesity than those whose consumption of this type of food was limited to less than 5 times per year (13). So, you should avoid fast food hamburgers and instead eat their healthy alternatives, such as grilled chicken, fish, or salads with grilled meat. If you are a die-hard fan of hamburgers, then try to switch to an occasional before-mentioned healthy homemade version which will provide you with plenty of protein, fiber, iron, and various vitamins.
Another beloved type of junk food, which is also one of the most fattening foods is the takeaway pizza. Pizzas are usually filled with fat, refined carbs, and calories. Some of the most popular ones also contain a lot of cheese and processed meat. Like in the case with hamburgers, not all pizza is that fattening, and there are healthier varieties, made with fresh vegetables and whole-grain dough.
Crackers and chips
These two foods are often jam packed with calories, added fats, salts, and sugar. They are some of the most notorious unhealthy snacks and undoubtedly belong to the category of fattening foods and rich sources of empty calories. A 2015 study has found a link between the regular consumption of “ultra-processed foods”, to which crackers and chips belong, and obesity (5). If you are looking for a healthier snack option, then plain yogurt with berries, small portions of nuts, or a serving of fresh fruits will be the best for you.
One of the main sources of empty calories in a regular diet of an average adult is a sugary drink. Many beverages, including sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit juices are filled with added sugars while being low in essential nutrients. Consumption of these drinks significantly adds to the caloric intake but doesn’t make a person feel full.
A person tends to not pay that much attention to what they drink, and so end up gaining weight since almost half of the consumed daily sugars comes from drinks, including sweetened tea and coffee. Of course, it is extremely important to stay hydrated, especially if you are trying to slim down and exercise regularly.
Try to reduce your consumption of sugary drinks, and instead drink water. If you don’t like plain water, you can have oatmeal water, lemon water, or cucumber water. They will keep you hydrated while providing you with additional nutrients, including vitamins and antioxidants. You can also drink coffee and various teas, as long as they are unsweetened.
This summer dessert is widely known to be packed with sugar, fat, and calories. It is very easy to go overboard with ice cream, since most of the time people exceed the recommended portion size of ice cream, which is usually half of a cup. Try to substitute the store and restaurant ice-cream with frozen fruits. Pick your favorite fruits and blend them together until you get a smooth mixture, then put it in popsicle molds and freeze. This sweet-sour cold treat will be much more effective at satisfying your sugar cravings than ice-cream. You can also add plain Greek yogurt to the mixture, for a creamier texture.
Another slow calorie-piler, alcohol is also often underrated due to its liquid form. In general, alcoholic beverages are calorie- and sugar-rich, take, for example, the following drinks and their caloric value:
- A 5 oz (around 140g) glass of red wine contains around 125 calories
- 12 oz (around 340g) of regular beer contains about 153 calories
- 12 oz (around 340g) of light beer contains 103 calories
Although these numbers may seem insignificant, think of it as an addition to your daily caloric intake. If you tend to have a glass of wine with your meal or prefer to drain a bottle of beer after work, keep in mind that regular overconsumption of those drinks will eventually result in a beer or wine belly. If your goal is to burn a couple of excess pounds, you can still enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink if you want to, but remember to drink in moderation.
High in added sugars, baked goods, such as cookies, pastries, and many premade desserts are not the best option if you are trying to shed pounds. A lot of them contain trans fats which belong to the category of unhealthy fats and promote various health problems, including cardiovascular diseases and obesity. That is why baked goods can be extremely high in calories and therefore should be avoided.
White pasta and bread
They make white pasta and bread of refined wheat flour and are usually high in calories, but low in essential nutrients. There are healthier whole-grain varieties of pasta and bread, which contain more fiber and nutrients and are overall more filling. Search for a whole-wheat flour, brown rice flour, and whole-rye flower on the labels, to make sure that it is the type that you need.
Candy, candy bars, candied dried fruits, energy, and granola bars all belong to sweets and to the category of fattening foods. And this is only natural, since usually they are filled to the brim with sugars, fats, and calories. Instead of these commercial sweets, go for a healthy snack that will satisfy your sweet tooth, such as small portions of regular dried fruits, fresh fruits, or a mix of nuts.
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Healthy Fattening Foods
Not all fattening foods provide you with only empty calories. There also is a great variety of healthy fattening foods. Usually those who want to gain weight and muscle mass in a healthy way ask the question “What are the most fattening healthy foods?” because it’s not so easy to separate the unhealthy from the healthy ones. So now here are some healthy fattening foods (10):
Milk is a great source of various essential macro- and micronutrients. Of these, it is considered to be one of the best sources of calcium, which is extremely important for your bone health and vital functions. Milk also provides you with plenty of protein, which helps your body build muscles. Drinking milk throughout the day will add to your caloric intake, health, and muscle mass.
Nuts and nut butter
Nuts are a great healthy snack option no matter what your goal is. The main difference is that when you are trying to slim down, it is recommended that you consume nuts in small portions, whereas in a weight-gain plan you can have more of them. Both raw and dry roasted nuts are filled with healthy fats and calories and are a great addition to many meals, including salads. Nut butters made without added sugar or hydrogenated oils can also be of great help.
Another representative of the dairy products, cheese is also a great option for a healthy weight gain. Like milk, it contains plenty of nutrients and even more calories.
Whole-grain pasta and bread
It was already mentioned earlier that pasta and bread are quite fattening. If you’re aiming at muscle gain, stock up on healthy whole-grain variations of pasta and bread, to provide your body with enough carbs.
A single egg is not that rich in calories, and won’t make you put on pounds, that is why eggs are often a part of weight-loss diets. However, if you’re bulking up, consuming eggs may help you boost your results. They are a great source of protein, healthy fats, and a wide plethora of other vital nutrients, most of which are found in the yolk.
A cup of rice contains around 200 calories and provides you with plenty of carbs and minerals. It contributes to weight gain and is very easy to implement into meals containing proteins and vegetables. Brown rice is the whole grain version which contains fiber and other nutrients that are missing from white rice, so choose brown rice when you can.
Red meat has proven to be extremely effective when it comes to muscle building. Some bodybuilding diets, such as the vertical diet, focus mainly on the consumption of red meat, and the previously mentioned white rice. Besides the essential protein and fat, red meat also contains leucine and creatine – nutrients that play a crucial role in boosting muscle mass. It is recommended that you consume leaner cuts of meat, as they are healthier for the heart because they contain less saturated fat.
Like meats, fish is also a great source of protein that can add to your caloric intake. Salmon in particular is rich in healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Avocados are known for their contents of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and calories. They will make a great addition to your salad or sandwich, leading to higher caloric intake.
Fats and oils
It is only natural that fats and oils are some of the most fattening foods. They are bursting with calories and may significantly contribute to weight gain. Aim at oils that contain healthy unsaturated fats, such as olive and avocado oil.
Rich in nutrients and calories, dried fruits are a great option for a weight-gain diet. They are widely available and quite affordable. You can order some dried fruits online, find them in the closest grocery store, or even dry fresh fruit at home.
Starches are effective at boosting muscle growth and weight gain. They can significantly increase the number of calories consumed with a meal. Here are some of the foods rich in starches to add to your diet:
- Potatoes (regular and sweet)
- Beans and legumes
- Winter squash
- Winter root vegetables
Least Fattening Foods To Add To Your Diet
Now that you know which fattening foods to avoid and which to add to your diet when you are trying to gain weight, it is time to look at the least fattening foods that can provide you with plenty of nutrients without making you put on pounds. Here is a list of some of the least fattening healthy foods for you (3, 2):
Herbs and spices
What foods are calcium-rich and fattening?
- Dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk)
- Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, turnips, collard greens)
- Fortified foods and drinks
- Soy products (soybeans, tofu, edamame, soy milk)
- Dried figs
- White beans
- Certain seeds (sunflower, chia, sesame)
- Sweet potatoes
Among all these foods, the most calorie-rich are almonds, sardines, seeds, cheese, and soybeans.
What do fattening foods do to your skin?
Regular consumption of fried foods, simple sugars, alcohol, and dairy can significantly affect your skin in a negative way, leading to acne, oily skin, and even rashes. To improve the state of your skin it is recommended that you follow a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, loaded with essential vitamins and minerals (9).
It is extremely important to know your enemy when it comes to dieting. Unfortunately, this enemy is often hiding in the very foods that you consume every day. Since losing weight is all about eating fewer calories than you burn, you make one step closer to your goal by figuring out what are the most fattening foods to avoid. It only makes sense that foods rich in empty calories and unhealthy components should be banned from your diet. Try to keep away from junk food (such as french fries, restaurant hamburgers, takeout pizza) as well as sugary drinks, sweets, alcohol, ice cream, crackers and chips, white bread and pasta, and baked goods. You can also include in your diet some of the least fattening foods to ensure that you consume all the essential nutrients without significantly increasing your caloric intake.
If your goal is to pack on muscle and you are trying to have healthy weight gain, then eggs, cheese, milk, red meat, rice, salmon, avocado, healthy fats and oils, dried fruits, nuts, whole-grain pasta, and starchy foods are the best options for you. Make sure to consult a specialist before making any adjustments in your current diet.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 10 Foods That Are Highly Fattening (2019, healthline.com)
- 12 Foods That Don’t Cause Weight Gain (2016, healthline.com)
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- Everything you need to know about empty calories (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Fried potato consumption is associated with elevated mortality: an 8-y longitudinal cohort study (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Healthy Diet, Healthy Skin (2011, webmd.com)
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- How many calories are in one gram of fat, carbohydrate, or protein? (n.d., nal.usda.gov)
- How many calories do you need? (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Restaurant foods, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, and obesity risk among young African American women (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Snacking Associated with Increased Calories, Decreased Nutrients (2012, ars.usda.gov)
- Top 10 Calcium-Rich Foods (2004, webmd.com)
- Which foods to avoid when trying to lose weight (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)