Keep your belly flat and your wallet fat by steering your cart clear of these hidden calories at your favorite high-end food emporium
Walk into your local “gourmet” grocery store and you’re welcomed by piles of artfully arranged fruits and vegetables, beautifully packaged baked goods, more varieties of cheeses and charcuterie than you ever knew existed, and the mouthwatering aroma of all of them. Which makes for a more enjoyable (if pricier) shopping experience than you’d have at your average run-of-the mill supermarket, but it’s also easy to forget that, gourmet or not, calories still count. And even if you rarely shop at these spots, around the holidays there’s a good chance you may swing by for a specialty item or just to splurge.
There’s no reason, however, you need to pick up a few pounds while you pick up marinated olives and stuffed dates to take to your friend’s party. Watch out for these top temptations identified by Rachel Begun, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and follow her advice so you don’t check your calorie sense at the door.
Yes, the aged double cheddar came from a quaint Vermont village, and the dark chocolate is local, artisanal and packaged in handcrafted recycled paper...but the calories add up quickly. “This is a classic example of mindlessly eating just because food is available to you,” Begun says. When you’re not hungry and have something that’s free money-wise, it can feel free calorie-wise, so you don’t account for it when adding up what you ate for the day. Although it depends on what and how much you munch, you can easily rack up more than 200 calories, especially if you pass by and indulge more than once.
Consider the salads and other premade dishes behind the deli counter to be restaurant food—even those with seemingly healthy ingredients such as grilled chicken or greens often contain hefty amounts of sodium, sauce, oil, butter, and dressings. Ask the person behind the counter to take yours from the top of the serving platter, where the food isn’t soaking in these added calories, and skip the extra sauce or dressing. Be wary of portion sizes too: Even the smallest to-go container usually holds more than one serving.
Gourmet markets are not only home to specialty foods, they’re also often the go-to spot for organic products, gluten-free goodies, and lines of vegan foods. All of which is great if you’re on a specific diet or simply want variety, but research shows that these labels have a virtuous association. In a study performed at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, snackers believed that cookies labeled “organic” had 40 percent fewer calories that the same treats without a label. The truth is, “natural,” “organic,” and all of those other words you see on packaging don’t mean a food is low in calories or even particularly healthy. Always check the calories and saturated fat per serving since a box or bag often holds more than one portion, then scan the ingredients list for added or artificial items.
While the menu items at a store’s juice bar and coffee shop contain healthful ingredients, they also tend to come in huge containers. Ask for anything larger than eight or 10 ounces, and you can slurp down as many as 400 to 500 calories, especially if you request one of those 12-word-long blends that has extras such as yogurt, nut butter, protein powder, flavored syrup, or whipped cream. Drinking your calories is a surefire way to gain weight since your body doesn’t register those calories as satiating—meaning you will eat what you usually do on top of all that liquid. If you belly up to the bar, prevent your belly from expanding by sticking to eight ounces. For juices, focus on lower-calorie vegetables such as cucumber, greens, and carrots. If you prefer smoothies or coffee, skip high-fat, high-calorie add-ins such as syrups, sugars, and whipped cream, and sweeten with a little bit of honey or spices like cinnamon or nutmeg instead.
Specialty cheeses come with alluring names—French brie, Italian taleggio, Spanish goat—but rarely do they come with nutrition labels, and as far as fat and calories go, they are loaded. One measly ounce (about the size of a lipstick tube) of most cheese is about 100 calories and 10 grams of saturated fat, depending on the variety. When planning your tasting platter, remind yourself that even though you can’t see the calorie count on the label, it’s still a splurge, and try to stick to one or two dice-sized servings or a single super thin slice.
Walk through the fish and meat departments and you’ll find entrees already seasoned, marinated, and breaded, which cuts or eliminates prep work but adds extra calories—and the minutes you may save aren’t worth it. Rubs and marinades are a cinch to make and take very little time. Ask the butcher or fishmonger what they used and mix up the blend yourself at home. You’ll also save money since the prices of these offerings are marked up significantly.