Losing weight can be hard. Many fad diets are based on the idea that cutting out certain foods from your diet is the answer, but this is an oversimplification.
Eliminating specific foods from your diet won’t make you reach your health goals — there’s a place for all foods in a healthy diet.
But some foods can make weight loss difficult if you eat them frequently.
This article will look at nine foods and drinks to limit if you’re trying to lose weight.
Everyone responds to foods differently. What may help one person lose weight may not be right for another. The best approach will be unique to you.
With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn about your body’s blood sugar and blood fat responses, as well as the “good” and “bad” bugs in your gut. We’ll then provide you with personalized nutrition advice tailored to your body and health goals.
1. Deep-fried foods
Making foods like french fries, onion rings, and fried chicken involves large amounts of oil. The food absorbs lots of the oil, drastically increasing the amount of calories.
In a recent review of the research, scientists found that regularly eating fried foods increases the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. An overall healthy diet incorporates fried foods infrequently, they found.
Instead of deep-frying, try sautéing or stir frying with a high-quality oil, like extra virgin olive oil or canola oil. You could also try roasting, baking, grilling, or steaming foods instead.
2. Baked sweets
Regularly eating foods like cookies, cakes, and pastries can make weight loss difficult.
They’re often high in calories, sugar, and saturated fat. And large quantities of these foods aren’t good for our health.
You don’t have to completely cut baked sweets from your diet. But focus on having smaller portions or having them less often.
Baking sweets yourself using quality ingredients can be a good idea. But keep in mind that even homemade sweets might have plenty of calories and sugar.
3. Ultra-processed snacks
Many common snacks, like chips and cookies, are ultra-processed foods. They contain high amounts of unhealthy fats and salt, and they have few beneficial nutrients.
If you’re hungry between meals, try to grab something that will fill you up without the unnecessary additives.
You could try apple slices with peanut butter or carrot sticks with hummus.
If you’re looking for something to munch on — nuts, like almonds, pistachios, and pecans, can be a convenient, nutrient-dense option.
4. Sugary drinks
Sugary drinks — like certain sodas, sweetened teas, juices, and sports drinks — are high in sugar and calories and provide little nutritional benefit.
Research shows that sugary drinks can promote weight gain and increase the risk of cardiovascular conditions.
Because you usually drink quicker than you eat, drinking a lot of sugar quickly may overwhelm your body's insulin response, scientists suggest.
Also, the feeling of fullness may cause you to eat less at mealtimes, reducing your intake of important nutrients.
Studies also confirm that having fewer soft drinks can help prevent weight gain.
If you don’t want to replace sugary drinks with plain water, try infused waters or herbal teas. And eating whole fruits can satisfy a craving for juice. Whole fruits offer more nutrients and no added sugars.
Alcohol is energy-dense, containing about 7 calories per gram.
Research links drinking more than the recommended amount to overweight and obesity, as well as many other health conditions.
Alcohol isn’t filling, but it can stimulate your appetite, causing you to eat more, research indicates.
Tips for cutting back include:
having dedicated alcohol-free days
drinking alcohol more slowly than other drinks
alternating with alcohol-free options, like soda water
6. Refined grains
In their natural states, grains, like wheat, corn, rice, and oats, have many health-promoting nutrients.
But industrial processing removes lots of these nutrients. As a result, “refined” grains are less nutrient-dense. White rice is one example, and refined grains are made into white bread.
Evidence links a high intake of refined grains with a greater risk of overweight and obesity.
Also, refined grains are less filling than whole grains because they have less fiber, and your body can digest them more quickly. The result can be big spikes in your blood sugar levels.
ZOE’s own research shows that some people are prone to blood sugar dips after these spikes. This can make you feel hungry sooner and eat more throughout the day.
Try swapping out refined grains for whole grains that are rich in nutrients like iron and fiber. In fact, fiber can make you feel fuller for longer, which could help you on your weight loss journey.
Opting for less processed, higher-quality carbohydrates instead of refined grains can improve your health in many ways beyond weight loss.
It’s a good idea to focus on unprocessed whole grains, like whole oats, quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, spelt, rye, barley, and bulgur wheat.
Join our mailing list
Sign up for fresh insights into our scientific discoveries and the latest nutrition updates. No spam, just science.
7. Processed meats
Deli meats, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs are all processed, which means that manufacturers have salted, cured, or smoked them. This either preserves the meat or adds flavor.
In a recent meta-analysis with more than 1.1 million participants, researchers discovered that those who ate the most processed meats were more likely to have obesity and a larger waist circumference.
Eating a lot of processed meats over time may contribute to weight gain and increase your risk of chronic diseases.
These foods are OK to have once in a while, but try to limit how often you eat them, particularly hot dogs, burgers, and sausages.
Processed meats also contain nitrites and nitrates. These added preservatives may increase your cancer risk.
8. Artificial sweeteners
Companies have marketed artificial sweeteners as healthy alternatives to sugar, but it’s unclear whether this is true — the current research is conflicted.
Researchers have also found that artificial sweeteners may trigger cravings for sugary foods.
And some scientists believe that these sweeteners might alter your gut microbiome — the trillions of microbes that live in your gut and impact your overall health.
Moderation can be key. So, if you use a sweetener in your morning coffee, try to limit sugary foods and sweeteners throughout the day.
If you drink a lot of soda, diet soda is a better option. But it’s worth trying to cut down on sweeteners overall. You could try swapping some of your soda for sparkling water, still water, tea, or coffee.
Most candies are full of processed sugars. They can be a nice treat every now and then, but having candy too often can lead to oral health problems and possible weight gain.
Dark chocolate, with at least 70% cocoa, typically has less sugar and offers some health benefits. If you’re craving something sweet, it could be a good option.
Weight loss tips
No single weight loss plan works for everyone — all bodies are unique.
Still, a healthy diet is vital for good health, and here are some diet tips that might make your weight loss easier:
Eat more fiber. To feel fuller for longer, get plenty of fiber. But it’s best to increase your fiber intake slowly and drink plenty of water with your high-fiber foods to help your body adjust.
Look after your gut. A healthy gut microbiome is important for immunity, digestion, weight management, and other aspects of health.
Maybe consider intermittent fasting. It’s not for everyone, but some people find that focusing on when they eat can help with weight loss.
Keep your body moving. While exercise is great for your health, on its own, it’s unlikely to lead to drastic weight loss. Couple it with changes to your diet, and exercise can support your long-term weight goals.
Building a balanced, varied diet
One of the best ways to reach your health goals is to have a wide variety of plants in your diet. Plants are packed with important nutrients and compounds like fiber and polyphenols.
Everyone’s best diet is different, but a healthy, balanced one will include:
vegetables, like spinach, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale
fruits, like apples, pears, oranges, avocados, raspberries, and peaches
whole grains, like quinoa, barley, oats, buckwheat, and bulgur wheat
legumes, like chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, peas, and lentils
nuts and seeds, like almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds
spices and herbs, like turmeric, oregano, basil, and rosemary
healthy oils, like extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil
Losing weight is difficult for most people. And weight loss is unique to each person — there’s no magic potion or quick-fix solution.
At ZOE, we believe that cutting out foods isn’t a sustainable weight loss plan. But it’s best to have some foods and drinks in moderation — or to save them for special occasions.
Generally, it’s a good idea to limit deep-fried foods, baked sweets, ultra-processed foods, sugary drinks, refined grains, processed meats, artificial sweeteners, alcoholic drinks, and candy.
And focus on having plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, spices and herbs, and healthy oils in your diet to promote your overall health.
With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn about your body’s blood sugar and blood fat responses. We’ll also send you a breakdown of the “good” and “bad” bugs in your gut.
From this, we’ll provide you with a personalized nutrition program to help you reach your long-term health and weight goals.
23 infused water ideas that will make you forget about soda. (2022). https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/infused-water-ideas/
Alcohol consumption and obesity: An update. Psychological Issues. (2015). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13679-014-0129-4
Consumption of fried foods and weight gain in a Mediterranean cohort: The SUN project. Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases. (2013). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21824755/
Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health status: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Nutrition. (2021). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7844609/
Counterpoint: Artificial sweeteners for obesity—better than sugary alternatives; potentially a solution. Endocrine Practice. (2021). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1530891X21011083
Dietary sugar and body weight: Have we reached a crisis in the epidemic of obesity and diabetes? Diabetes Care. (2014). https://diabetesjournals.org/care/article/37/4/950/32201/Dietary-Sugar-and-Body-Weight-Have-We-Reached-a
Effects of whole grain Intake, compared with refined grain, on appetite and energy intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Advances in Nutrition. (2021). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33530093/
Food groups and risk of overweight, obesity, and weight gain: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Advances in Nutrition. (2019). https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/10/2/205/5364424
Fried food consumption and cardiovascular health: A review of current evidence. Nutrients. (2015). https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/7/10/5404/htm
Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. (2010). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892765/
Is there a relationship between red or processed meat intake and obesity? A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Obesity Reviews. (2014). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12172
Single-component versus multicomponent dietary goals for the metabolic syndrome. Annals of Internal Medicine. (2015). https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/abs/10.7326/M14-0611?journalCode=aim
Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: A brief narrative review. BMJ Opens Sport & Exercise Medicine. (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6196958/
Sugar consumption and oral health. Oral Epidemiology. (2020). https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-50123-5_19
The association between artificial sweeteners and obesity. Nutrition and Obesity. (2017). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11894-017-0602-9
The role of sugar-sweetened beverages in the global epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases. Nature Reviews Endocrinology. (2022). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8778490/
Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: Prospective cohort study. BMJ. (2019). https://www.bmj.com/content/365/bmj.l1451
Whole grains. (n.d.). https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/