While there are many healthy foods out there, some are more calorie-heavy then others—a fact many people forget when they're looking for a healthy snack or ingredient for dinner. A healthy food may provide numerous vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, but often, people feel it is a green light to eat as much as their bellies can handle.
Eating more of anything isn't necessarily healthier, though, especially when the food comes with a hefty calorie tag along with all those other nutritional benefits.
Overeating high-calorie foods—healthy or not—can ultimately lead to weight gain and long-term health consequences, including Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. This is when portion control is especially important, allowing you to reap the benefits of a healthy food without going overboard. The following five foods are excellent pillars of your diet but should be enjoyed in reasonable portions to help you stay on track with your goals.
According to the USDA's nutrient database, one avocado provides 322 calories, a ton of good-for-you monounsaturated fat, and is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins C, K and B6, folate and potassium. The fruit is also a good source of riboflavin, magnesium and phosphorus. Avocados are also brimming with lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids, which in combination with the monounsaturated fat may help reduce the risk of a loss of eyesight due to age-related macular degeneration. Due to the fruit's high calorie number, paired with the fact that it is often enjoyed alongside other foods, your meal or snack can easily go over a reasonable calorie limit for a meal and, ultimately, lead to eating too many calories for the day. Whole avocados hide in smoothies, atop toast and in guacamole, so be mindful of how much avocado is hiding in your daily diet.
Recommended portion: One-third of an avocado
One ounce or 23 whole almonds provide 164 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein. The packable snack is also an excellent source of vitamin E, and a good source of fiber, magnesium and phosphorus. Studies have also linked almonds with several health benefits, including improving overall heart health and helping stabilize blood sugar levels. A study published in the "Journal of Nutrition & Metabolism" in 2011 found that eating almonds (a low-glycemic food) at breakfast can help stabilize blood sugar levels for much of the day.
However, because grabbing several handfuls of almonds as an afternoon snack isn’t uncommon, that can add hundreds of calories to your daily diet, making it too much of a good thing. Consider using small containers or snack-size Ziploc baggies to portion out the appropriate number of almonds so you don't over-indulge while at your desk.
Recommended portion: 1 ounce (or 23 almonds) or half an ounce (about 12) as a topper for oatmeal and yogurt
3. Olive Oil
A single tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories. Although every oil contains approximately 120 calories per tablespoon, olive oil comes with a health halo and many folks may find more is better. That same one tablespoon of olive oil provides 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamins E and K, and also contains monounsaturated fat, which has been found to help with heart health.
Many recipes call for a half cup of olive oil for one dish, which adds an unheard of 954.5 calories to your otherwise healthy meal. Even if the recipe is intended to serve four, you're still consuming more calories than necessary for one meal. When cooking, remember that pouring a generous amount of olive oil just racking up the calories rather quickly. Take care to avoid common traps like dipping bread in olive oil while dining out at restaurants or eye-balling as you pour it over your afternoon salad in place of dressing.
Recommended portion: 1 to 2 tablespoons
4. Peanut Butter
Due to its high monounsaturated healthy fat count, this tasty treat and cafeteria staple can improve your heart health. Depending on the brand, two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter usually provides 180 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein, making it a great post-workout snack to refuel your body—assuming you're able to keep yourself from scooping out heaps upon heaps of the stuff. If you're one of the many who spoons peanut butter right out of the jar, you could be eating at least one cup in a sitting—that's over 1,500 calories for a small snack.
As with many things in life, not all peanut butters are created equal, so it's important to take a peek at the nutrition label before dropping a jar into your grocery cart. The best options are made from just ground peanuts, without added salt, sugar or oils.
Recommended portion: 2 tablespoons for a meal, 1 tablespoon for a snack
By now, we're all aware of how to pronounce this once-trendy, now staple grain. Thanks to its high protein and fiber per serving, plus the grain's versatility, quinoa makes an appearance in many healthy recipes. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories, 39 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein. It’s also brimming with vitamins and minerals like several B-vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese.
While many believe quinoa is especially healthy due to all the nutrients it provides, just like any other healthy food that provides a healthy dose of calories, eating more than your fair share can lead to an overconsumption of calories. For example, downing three cups of quinoa can weigh in at 666 calories—and that’s without any other with which food it is served. When preparing a high-protein lunch or dinner, make quinoa the base of your meal, not the main show. Add vegetables and spices to jazz it up without consuming more quinoa than your body requires.
Recommended portion: Three-quarters to 1 cup, cooked
While it's certainly worse to binge eat a whole birthday cake, overeating healthy foods can also have an adverse effect on your weight-loss goals. Focus on incorporating these healthy foods into your diet in moderation to enjoy all the major health benefits without hitting an unnecessary plateau.