Many factors play a role in weight management, including your diet.
Certain foods are more likely to contribute to weight gain than others, including processed foods high in calories, fat, added sugar, and salt.
Nevertheless, these foods can still fit into a well-rounded diet. Make sure to monitor your portion sizes and enjoy them in moderation, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
Here’s a list of 11 foods that can contribute to weight gain if you consume them in high amounts.
Soda is high in calories and added sugar but lacks essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
What’s more, drinking soda too often could contribute to weight gain.
Research shows that people who regularly drink sugary soda are much more likely to gain weight than those who don’t.
One study found that people who drank soda alongside their normal diet consumed 572 more calories per day. Over time, this could easily lead to significant weight gain.
Additionally, drinking soda may be tied to a higher risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
While you can still enjoy the occasional glass of soda, try to limit your intake to around 12 ounces (354 mL), and don’t make it a daily habit. You can also opt for sugar-free versions of your favorite beverages to reduce sugar intake.
Summary: Soda is high in sugar and calories but lacks essential nutrients. It could also contribute to weight gain and several chronic conditions, so limit your intake and prioritize sugar-free varieties.
2. Sugar-sweetened coffee
Rich in caffeine and various health-promoting antioxidants, coffee can be a nutritious beverage.
However, if sweetened with added syrup or sugar, coffee and coffee-based drinks like frappés, cafe lattes, or frozen mochas can contain just as much sugar as soda.
Like soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks, high-sugar coffee drinks can contribute to weight gain and may harm your health, for example, by increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Therefore, if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight, it’s best to avoid sugar-packed options at your local coffee shop and limit how much sugar you add to your coffee at home or in the office. You can also opt for a low-calorie sweetener like stevia instead.
Summary: Coffee drinks sweetened with syrup or sugar are high in calories. Regularly drinking them could contribute to weight gain, so limit your intake or use low calories sweeteners like stevia instead of sugar.
3. Ice cream
Most commercially made ice cream is high in sugar and fat.
Additionally, because ice cream is often eaten as a dessert, it can add many extra calories to your meal — even if you’re already feeling full after the main course.
For this reason, it’s best to enjoy ice cream as an occasional treat rather than a staple in your diet.
To choose a healthier type of ice cream, look for one with fewer than 15 grams of sugar per serving, and watch your portion sizes. You can also make homemade “nice cream” by blending frozen fruit and Greek yogurt for a more nutritious alternative.
Summary: Most ice creams are high in sugar and fat and can add a lot of extra calories to your meal. Enjoy it as an occasional treat, not as a dietary staple, and choose low-sugar or homemade alternatives if possible.
Commercially prepared pizzas are a popular convenience food among children and adolescents.
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Unfortunately, most pizzas are high in fat, refined carbs, and calories. Some varieties are also made with large amounts of cheese and processed meats that have been cured, smoked, or salted.
A higher intake of processed meats has been linked to obesity and an increased risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Nevertheless, pizza can still fit into a well-rounded diet — as long as you only enjoy it occasionally and in moderation.
Plus, keep in mind that not all pizzas are created equal.
For example, you can experiment with healthier homemade versions featuring plenty of veggies, unprocessed protein like sliced chicken breast, smaller amounts of cheese, and whole-grain pizza bases. You can also try to find a pizzeria that uses these ingredients.
Summary: Commercially prepared pizza is often high in calories and processed meats. Try finding a pizzeria that uses healthier ingredients or make your own at home.
5. Cookies and doughnuts
Cookies and doughnuts often contain high amounts of sugar, refined flour, and fat.
They’re also typically high in calories. For example, 1 large chocolate chip cookie can contain more than 220 calories, while a single glazed doughnut packs over 300 calories.
When cravings strike, stick to a tiny serving rather than an entire packet of cookies or doughnuts. This allows you to enjoy these foods as an occasional treat while limiting your consumption of excess calories and sugar.
Summary: Cookies and doughnuts are high in calories and sugar. Therefore, it’s best to enjoy them as an occasional treat and keep your portion sizes in check.
6. French fries and potato chips
French fries are a popular choice of snack or side, particularly when eating out.
An average serving of 4 ounces (117 grams) typically contains around 378 calories, making fries a high-calorie food.
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Most commercially made french fries are also high in fat and salt — two palatable ingredients that increase the risk of overeating.
Moreover, they’re often served alongside other high-calorie foods like burgers or deep-fried fish. Many people also enjoy eating them with sauces like ketchup or mayonnaise, which can be high in salt, sugar, and fat.
Combined, this means you’ll potentially eat a high number of calories in one sitting, which can increase your risk of gaining weight. Several studies link eating french fries to weight gain.
Similarly, potato chips are high in fat, refined carbs, and salt, and observational studies have associated them with weight gain.
Instead of frying potatoes, boil or bake them before seasoning them with your favorite dried herbs and spices. If you’re also craving a dipping sauce, try making your own using unsweetened Greek yogurt and flavorings like chives, garlic, or smoked paprika.
Summary: French fries and potato chips are high in fat, refined carbs, and salt. Studies link both foods to weight gain. Instead, opt for boiled or baked potatoes as a more nutritious alternative.
7. Sugary breakfast cereals
Many types of breakfast cereal are loaded with calories and added sugar, with some varieties packing a whopping 13 grams of sugar per cup (36 grams). In other words, sugary cereal contains almost 40% added sugar.
These cereals are also highly processed and refined, meaning they’ve been stripped of much of the fiber and nutrients in whole grains.
Some research suggests that swapping refined grains for whole grains could help prevent weight gain and improve diet quality.
Fortunately, plenty of healthy low sugar and whole-grain options are available, so you don’t need to give up cereal if you enjoy eating it for breakfast.
Studies show that eating whole grain or high-fiber breakfast cereals may lower the risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
When shopping for cereal, check the label and steer clear of varieties high in added sugar. Choose minimally processed, whole-grain cereals with ingredients like oats or wheat bran. Suitable options typically include bran sticks or Bircher muesli.
Summary: Many varieties of breakfast cereal are high in calories and added sugar. Certain types are also highly refined, which could contribute to weight gain. Instead, opt for low-sugar, whole-grain varieties.
Dark chocolate has been linked to numerous health benefits, including improved heart and brain function.
Still, it can be high in calories and fat. Plus, most commercially produced milk and white chocolate are high in added sugar. This means that chocolate, regardless of the type, can contribute to weight gain if you eat large quantities of it too often.
Therefore, it’s best to moderate your portion sizes and stick to around 1–2 ounces (30–60 grams) of chocolate per day to prevent weight gain.
If you struggle with moderation, remember that dark chocolate may be easier to enjoy in moderation. It has been shown to increase feelings of fullness and reduce food intake later in the day, compared with milk chocolate or white chocolate.
Summary: Dark, milk, and white varieties of chocolate are high in fat and calories. The latter two types are typically also higher in added sugar. As such, chocolate could cause weight gain if eaten in large amounts too often.
9. Fruit juice
Although fruit juice is often considered a healthy drink, most commercial brands contain just as much sugar as soda. Juice also lacks the fiber and nutrients you’d get from eating whole fruits.
Drinking excessive amounts of fruit juice has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, especially in children.
As such, you should instead aim to quench your thirst with water. You can still enjoy the juicy, sweet fruit flavor by enjoying them whole. You also reap the benefits of their fiber and other nutrients.
If you want to include fruit juice in your diet, choose unsweetened, 100% fruit juice whenever possible and keep an eye on your serving sizes. Children should limit their intake to 4–6 ounces (100–130 mL) of fruit juice per day.
Summary: Fruit juice is high in sugar and low in fiber. Drinking excessive amounts has been linked to an increased risk of obesity. Instead, quench your thirst in water, and enjoy fruits whole rather than juiced.
10. Other commercially processed foods
Increased consumption of convenience food may be partially to blame for increased rates of obesity in many areas around the globe.
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While not all processed foods are unhealthy, many are high in calories, added sugar, fat, and sodium.
Furthermore, some studies have found that eating more processed foods could be linked to weight gain and decreased diet quality.
In addition to the other foods listed in this article, other foods to keep an eye on include:
- Convenience meals: canned soup, fish sticks, frozen dinners, packaged meals
- Sweets: granola bars, protein bars, pies, cookies, pastries, puddings
- Savory snacks: crackers, chips, pretzels, microwave popcorn
- Sweetened dairy products: flavored yogurt, ice cream, popsicles, milk-based drinks, frozen yogurt
- Processed meats: hot dogs, deli meat, beef jerky, pepperoni, bologna, sausage, canned meat
Therefore, it’s important to read the food label carefully when purchasing processed foods and look for products that are low in calories, added sugar, and sodium.
Reducing your intake of processed foods could also improve your diet quality and make it much easier to maintain a moderate weight.
Summary: Eating fewer processed foods with added fat, sugar, and salt can improve your diet quality and help prevent weight gain.
11. Fast food
Fast food is often considered a convenient and time-saving alternative to cooking at home.
However, most fast food items are highly processed and contain calories, fat, sodium, and added sugar.
For this reason, many studies have reported that eating fast food more frequently could be tied to an increased risk of obesity and other health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Ideally, limit your intake of high-calorie fast food items, including:
- fish and chips
- mozzarella sticks
- french fries
- fried rice
- chicken nuggets
Instead, aim to cook most of your meals at home and not eat fast food more than 1–2 times per week.
When you swing by the drive-through, look for restaurants with healthier takeout options, such as soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, or burrito bowls. Plus, aim to load up on veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.
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Summary: Many fast food items are high in calories, fat, added sugar, and sodium. Limiting your intake and choosing healthier options can help prevent weight gain.
Many foods above are high in added sugar, fat, and calories. As such, they can contribute to weight gain over time, especially if you eat them regularly without making other adjustments to your diet.
Still, keep in mind that there’s no need to eliminate them from your diet entirely — even if you’re trying to lose weight.
Instead, aim to limit your portion sizes and enjoy these foods in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Just as many foods can promote weight gain over time, many nutritious foods can help promote long-term weight loss. Check out this article for a few of the most weight-loss-friendly foods: