11/04/2024

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7 “Bad” High-Calorie Foods to Eat, Shared by Dietitians

7 “Bad” High-Calorie Foods to Eat, Shared by Dietitians

Calorie-dense foods are often demonized in a world that is steeped in diet culture. Certainly, there are many foods that are indeed high in calories, and when eaten in excess, can contribute to weight gain. You may have heard the old adage that “calories in, calories out” is how our metabolism works to manage our body weight. However, this overly simplistic trope often gets extrapolated to any food that contains a significant source of energy. 

“Calories aren’t a bad thing, they’re simply a source of energy found in every single food that we eat. Higher-calorie foods can deliver plenty of nutrition, and sometimes they’re the easiest way to give your body the energy it needs,” Christine Byrne, M.P.H., RD, intuitive eating dietitian and the owner of Ruby Oak Nutrition in Raleigh, NC explains.

There are many healthy foods that are both high in calories and highly nutritious—and can definitely be included in a balanced diet. We spoke to dietitians to find out exactly which foods they recommend keeping in your routine despite their higher calorie content.

7 “Bad” High-Calorie Foods to Add to Your Diet

1. Whole Eggs 

Eating the entire egg—yolk and all—has been criticized for its higher fat and cholesterol content. However, eggs also deliver a whole lot of nutrition that you won’t get unless you eat the entire thing. “Eggs have gotten a bad reputation when really they are nutrition powerhouses. They offer a great source of protein and provide vitamins A, D, E and folate. Plus cholesterol from eggs does not appear to be a driver in our ‘bad’ cholesterol levels,” comments Sandra Chavez, M.S., RDN.

2. Whole Milk

Cow’s milk has been mislabeled as a food that is “bad”, says Amy Goldsmith, RDN, founder of Kindred Nutrition in Frederick, MD. Full-fat dairy, including whole milk, is certainly higher in total calories coming from the higher fat content, but it also includes a variety of vitamins, many of which are fat soluble and need dietary fat to fully absorb and be utilized in the body. “It is a high biological value protein, meaning it has all 9 essential amino acids,” says Goldsmith. Essential amino acids are amino acids our body doesn’t make on its own and need to be consumed through food. Goldsmith continues, “It’s a great source of vitamin D and calcium and has zero added sugar, unlike some substitutes that are marketed as ‘healthier’.” 

3. Pasta

White pasta that is now whole-wheat or legume-based is often coined a “refined food”, but this beloved grain boasts a surprising amount of nutrition. Pasta contains 2 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein per 2-ounce serving, which is not common in “white” grains that are usually stripped of their fiber. You’ll also get a nice boost of iron and B vitamins. Pasta’s “bad” reputation likely comes from it being easy to over consume. It’s also often paired with high-fat, calorie-dense sauces, so it can be easy to pack a lot of calories into a pasta dish. 

If you want to up the nutrition in your pasta dish, consider swapping for a whole-wheat option that’s higher in fiber, pairing it with veggies and protein, and being mindful about the amount of sauce you add. However, experts agree that white pasta still contains a notable amount of nutrition on its own.

4. Potatoes 

Rich in fiber, potassium and phosphorus, potatoes don’t get the love that they deserve. Despite being a starchy vegetable, potatoes are surprisingly modest in their carbohydrate content as well, containing just 27 grams per potato. They can be a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals—but be mindful of how you’re preparing them and the amount of fat and sodium that you’re adding.

Brooke Baird, RDN, LD of Simply Divine Nutrition gives us her take: “This nutrient-dense vegetable gets a bad reputation because of its high glycemic index, meaning it contains rapidly-digestible carbohydrates that can spike your blood glucose. However, potatoes contain high amounts of potassium, magnesium, fiber and vitamin C and are a cost-effective food to add to your grocery cart.”

5. Cheese 

Full-fat dairy products like cheese are certainly high in calories, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid them. Cheese provides dietary fat, protein and nutrients we need like calcium. “Rich in protein, calcium and other essential nutrients, cheese supports bone health and muscle maintenance, and those with lactose intolerance may find that cheese is often more tolerable compared to milk due to its lower lactose content,” shares Krista Wale, RD, LDN and founder of Louisiana Nutrition Associates.

6. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts are certainly energy dense, but they are also super nutritious. Packed with heart-healthy fat, fiber and minerals like magnesium or selenium, nuts are the perfect example of a high-calorie food that should not be avoided.Peanut butter offers a mix of fat, plant-based protein and a little bit of carbohydrate, plus significant amounts of magnesium and vitamin B6. It’s so easy to spread peanut butter on toast or spoon it over instant oatmeal in the morning, or to store single-serving packs at your work desk to eat with a piece of fruit or atop a yogurt for a snack,” Byrne recommends. If you avoid peanuts, other nuts and seeds (as well as other nut and seed butters) are also great sources of healthy fat, protein and vitamins, though their specific nutrition can vary.  

7. Salad Dressing

If you grew up during the low-fat craze, you might still feel the ripple effect of foregoing high-fat foods like salad dressing. While it’s true that these foods add more calories to your meal, it doesn’t mean we should limit them altogether. Salad dressing, especially when made with unsaturated fats like olive oil or avocado oil, can be highly nutritious and help enhance the absorption of nutrients in the salad we are pairing them with. 

“Fat soluble vitamins like A, K, E and D are supposed to be consumed with a source of fat! So drizzle some olive oil on your greens for maximum benefits,” shares Alyssa Smolen, M.S., RDN, CDN, New Jersey-based content creator.

The Bottom Line

Basing your nutrition decisions on whether or not a food is high calorie alone is not the best strategy for your health. There are many foods that are high in calories and can have a positive nutrition benefit, including foods like pasta, full-fat dairy, salad dressings, eggs and more. In addition to the total calories, consider the nutrient composition of your food. It might be high calorie, but does it also offer a good source of fiber, heart-healthy fat, vitamins and minerals? This context matters and if you cut out high calorie foods just because they are energy dense, you may miss out on all of these wonderful nutrition benefits.

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