4 Healthy Foods that can Easily Pad Your Waistline—and Low-Cal Alternatives

Wednesday Sep 24 | BY |
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4 Healthy Foods

Though hummus helps fight cravings and may lower cholesterol, it can also pad your waistline.

Sometimes healthy foods get a pass in the diet books. We figure as long as we eat something healthy, we can eat as much as we want, right?

Turns out that type of thinking can be dangerous for your waistline. Below are four foods, in particular, that can pad your belly way faster than you may have realized—and some ways that you can make them less likely to gather around your waist.

1. Hummus

If you’re looking for a golden halo around a food, you’ll find it over hummus. The hummus industry has grown from $5 million a year to $530 million a year in 15 years, according to the New York Times. A paste made of chickpeas and tahini, it’s a Middle Eastern favorite rich in protein, a good source of healthy fats (from olive oil), packed with antioxidants (from garlic and lemon juice), and full of nutrients like vitamin B and folic acid, manganese, iron, copper, and amino acids.

Dieters often think hummus is a good option because it’s high in protein and helps fight hunger cravings. The chickpeas have been linked with lowering cholesterol (most likely because of the fiber content), and a two-tablespoon serving has only about 50 calories.

The problem is that it’s easy to overdo with hummus. It’s typically used as a veggie or flatbread dip, so you’re likely to be snacking on it at a cocktail party or mindlessly chowing down in front of a movie. A number of studies, for example, have shown that television viewing is associated with increased food intake. Others have shown that social interactions can also influence eating, encouraging people to eat more than they usually would.

To Avoid Overdoing It

  1. Measure it out: A standard serving is two tablespoons. Measure it out—you may be surprised at how little that is!
  2. Bulk it up: Add celery, red pepper, baby carrots, cucumbers, and the like into your hummus mix to create more volume with fewer calories.
2. Nuts

There seems to be no end to the health benefits of nuts. A recent study review found that regularly eating tree nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts over time helped reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 24 percent, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 13 percent. Researchers recommended about one ounce of nuts four times a week.

Nuts have also been linked with boosting the immune system, reducing the risk of age-related memory loss, fighting fatigue, protecting eye health, and even reducing the risk of cancer. Many of these benefits come from heart-healthy fats.

It’s easy to eat too many of them, though, particularly if you’re watching your weight. Too many nuts can also cause digestive issues, like bloating and gas.

To Avoid Overdoing It

  1. Measure it out: A standard serving of nuts is one ounce, which is about 160-200 calories. How much is one ounce? Think about 20 almonds, 16 cashews, 14 walnut halves, 28 peanuts, or about a quarter cup.
  2. Use packs: You can get those little 100-calorie packs full of nuts that may help you to know when to stop. These are often pricey, though, often heavily salted, and not really good for the environment. Another option—make up these packs at home and limit yourself to one.
  3. Mix it up: Mix up your almonds and cashews with chestnuts and lotus seeds—these are lower in calories.
3. Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice

Orange juice has been a dietary staple in America for years—and for good reason. It’s a great source of vitamin C, and it’s been linked with a number of other health benefits. A 2010 study, for example, found that drinking orange juice with a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal (like pancakes and hashbrowns, for example), prevented the usual oxidative and inflammatory stress this type of meal would typically cause.

A 2011 study found that overweight men who regularly consumed orange juice decreased their blood pressure. Another study that same year found that children 2-18 years who drank 100 percent orange juice had improved nutrient adequacy and diet quality than those who didn’t, and a 2010 study found that it helped reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase “good” HDL cholesterol.

Orange juice can be so tasty and refreshing, though, that it’s easy to drink more than you need.

To Avoid Overdoing It

  1. Measure it out: A standard serving of freshly squeezed orange juice is four to six ounces, or about one-half to three-quarters of a cup. Measure it out—again, you’re likely to be surprised at how little that really is.
  2. Eat the solid food instead: A real orange has fiber, which helps keep you satisfied and prevents blood-sugar spikes. One full cup of orange juice has about 2.5 times the sugar and only one-third the fiber as a typical real orange.
  3. Mix it up: Add four ounces of orange juice to your morning smoothie—you’ll get the benefits along with the extra fiber and nutrients in the other ingredients (hopefully goodies like leafy greens).
4. Olive Oil

The darling of health advocates over the last decade or so, olive oil has a lot going for it. It’s full of monounsaturated fatty acids that are considered heart-healthy, as they lower total cholesterol and normalize blood clotting. A recent 2014 study found that those who regularly consumed extra-virgin olive oil had reduced risks of cardiovascular disease. Even those at high cardiovascular risk had a reduced risk of mortality.

Another 2014 study found that increasing the amount of olive oil in the diet could reduce risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while a 2004 study indicated both olives and olive oil contain substantial amounts of compounds that have been identified as anticancer agents.

Olive oil, like most oils, is fairly high in calories—about 100 per tablespoon. Again, it’s easy to get too much.

To Avoid Overdoing It

  1. Measure it out: We normally put too much dressing on our salads. Measure out one-to-two tablespoons and stop there. Always ask for dressing on the side when eating out.
  2. Use a cast-iron pan: Non-stick pans encourage the use of less oil. Avoid those coated with chemicals, however, and choose a seasoned cast-iron option. (See more here on how cast iron is naturally non-stick.)
  3. Spray or mist instead: Instead of pouring the oil on your dishes, spray it or mist it. If you want to avoid propellants in the store-bought sprays, make your own in an oil mister. Try these from Crate and Barrel or Misto.

Do you tend to eat/drink too much of these items? Please share your tips for portion control.

* * *

Renee Jacques, “10 Reasons Why We Should All be Eating More Hummus,” Huffington Post, February 26, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/26/hummus-health-benefits_n_4834315.html.

Cornell University, “Beating Mindless Eating,” Food Psychology, http://www.foodpsychology.cornell.edu/research/beating-mindless-eating.html.

Ghanim H, et al., “Orange juice neutralizes the proinflammatory effect of a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal and prevents endotoxin release and Toll-like receptor expression,” Am J Clin Nutr, April 2010; 91(4):940-9, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20200256.

Christine Morand, et al., “Hesperidin contributes to the vascular protective effects of orange juice: a randomized crossover study in healthy volunteers,” Am J Clin Nutr, 2011; 93(1): 73-80, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/93/1/73.abstract.

Cesar TB, et al., “Orange juicedecreases low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic subjects and improves lipid transer to high-density lipoprotein in normal and hypercholesterolemic subjects,” Nutr Res, October 2010; 30(10):689-94, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21056284.

O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Rampersaud, GC, Fulgoni, VL. 100% orange juice consumption is associated with better diet quality, improved nutrient adequacy, and no increased risk for overweight/obesity in children. Nutrition Research. 2011;31:673-682.

Marta Guasch-Ferre, et al., “Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study,” BMC, May 13, 2014; 12:78, http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/12/78.

Sarah Kenwright, “Olive oil may offer diabetes protection,” Royal Society of Chemistry, April 8, 2014, http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/04/olive-oil-oleic-acid-diabetes.

Owen RW, et al., “Olives and olive oil in cancer prevention,” Eur J Cancer Prev., August 2004; 13(4):319-26, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15554560.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


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  1. Emma says:

    Hey Colleen,
    Great list of healthy foods. Nuts are the best substitute for calories whereas hummus are the yummiest. Thanks for sharing the measures and instructions for each one.Keep updating 🙂

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