The Calorie-Dense Foods to Pick and Skip


These calorie-dense foods may be healthy, but they can add up if you're watching your intake.

01 of 33

High-Calorie Foods

raw vegan diet sandwich

If you've ever measured out a single serving of peanut butter, then you know that some foods are surprisingly high in calories, but that doesn't mean you should avoid them! We repeat, just because a food is highly caloric doesn't make it "bad." Healthy, whole foods are often the more caloric for good reason: They're packed with nutrients.

Still, if you're aiming to stay within a certain daily calorie allowance or aiming for a calorie deficit, you'll probably want to familiarize yourself with some foods that can make you gain weight due to their high-calorie nature. Whether you're working toward a weight loss goal or want to prioritize healthy calorie-dense foods that can help you gain weight (if your doctor says this is necessary or you're training for a specific performance or body goal) here are some foods you should pick and some you should skip.

02 of 33


A Whole New Way With Grains
Westend61/Getty Images

Like other ancient grains, quinoa is a tasty and versatile protein source, that tops the list of healthy calorie-dense foods that can make you gain weight if you overdo those grain bowls. In reality, one cup of cooked quinoa has 222 calories, putting it on par with brown rice (which has around 218 calories per cup). Enjoy it in your favorite healthy dish in a similar portion you'd use for rice or pasta (1/2 cup or about the size of your fist is a typical guideline).

03 of 33


annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

They certainly aren't nutrition villains, but raisins are considered a calorie-dense food, meaning that you can consume a lot of calories by ingesting only a small amount. For example, one small 1.5-ounce box contains 129 calories. You can eat two full cups of grapes for the same amount, making this one snack you're better off substituting (if you're really hungry) in order to maximize your calories. (Pro tip: Fresh product also boosts your hydration.)

04 of 33

Peanut Butter

Plant Sterols - foods that lower cholesterol

Peanut butter is one of the classic calorie-dense foods that can make you gain weight — just watch for additives. It has a lot going for it, including the ability to help build muscle, burn fat, and even fight heart disease. But unless you're aiming for a calorie-rich diet, you'll probably want to avoid spooning it straight out of the jar multiple times a day. Two large spoonfuls can pack almost as many calories and fat as a Snickers bar. Peanut butter has about 100 calories per tablespoon, which is about the same as regular butter. (Are any other nut butters healthier? Here's our guide.)

05 of 33

Chia Seeds

chia seeds
Westend61/Getty Images

A lot of nutrition pros consider chia seeds among the best high-calorie foods thanks to their fiber, omega-3, and protein content. While they're tiny, a single tablespoon still contains 70 calories, meaning you can easily add an extra 200 calories to that smoothie without even realizing it.

06 of 33

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate - foods that lower cholesterol
Baibaz/Getty Images

It's so easy to eat (and eat, and eat) flavonoid-rich dark chocolate. But this calorie-dense food doesn't come without its drawbacks. Some bars can contain as much as 600 calories. The lesson? Just because it's dark doesn't mean it's low-calorie. "Too much [dark chocolate] may constipate you or leave you wired before bedtime," says Amie Valpone, Nutrition expert and author of The Healthy Apple blog.

07 of 33

Greek Yogurt

Eating cereal - athlete diet
Foxys Forest Manufacture/Getty Images

With about twice the protein and only half of the carbohydrates as regular plain yogurt, Greek yogurt is an excellent food to include in your diet, especially if you're trying to lose weight. A 3/4-cup serving has about 150 calories. Most people can't handle the taste of plain Greek yogurt, and may end up smothering it in honey or other toppings to help sweeten the flavor—and rack up the total calorie count.

You don't need to deny yourself Greek yogurt, just stick to plain, and be mindful of your portions if you're looking to keep your calories in check.

08 of 33

Gluten-Free Cookies

gluten-free cookies
Tina Terras & Michael Walter/Getty Images

"Gluten-free" has become a diet buzzword. And while you may choose (or need) to avoid gluten in your food, don't get tricked into thinking that eliminating gluten automatically means you'll lose weight. Those gluten-free cookies are still cookies and still contain calories — maybe even more than similarly sized regular cookies. Portion your gluten-free treats just like you would with any other dessert.

09 of 33

Whole-Wheat Bread

whole wheat bread
Shefka Pavlova/Getty Images

While most commercially prepared whole-wheat bread contains the same amount of calories (sometimes even more) than white bread, the grains and fiber-packed into each slice still make this calorie-dense food the superior choice. Be sure to check the label of your favorite brand, as some 'reduced calorie' whole-wheat breads add more sugar or high fructose corn syrup to make up for the flavor lost with the extra calories. (Instead of whole wheat, you may want to opt for whole grain.)

10 of 33



Nuts like pecans are a great source of protein, heart-healthy fat, and tons of vitamins and minerals, and they also tend to be rich in calories. A 1-ounce serving of pecan halves contains 196 calories. (See: The 10 Healthiest Nuts and Seeds)

11 of 33

Olive Oil

Olive oil - foods that lower cholesterol

Just 2 tablespoons of olive oil add 238 calories to your meal, but it's still a heart-healthy cooking oil compared to saturated fat-heavy options like canola or coconut oil. And when was the last time you stuck with a 2-tablespoon serving while cooking? Olive oil is full of healthy fat (the kind that may even help you lose weight), just remember that it's also full of calories.

12 of 33

Refried Beans


This Mexican side dish is delicious, but this high-calorie food can make you gain weight if you spoon one too many dollops on your plate. Especially compared to its other whole bean counterparts — a single cup of canned refried beans will set you back about 237 calories (which doesn't include any cheese toppings). For a lower-calorie option, opt for refried pinto beans instead, which come in at only 180 calories per cup.

13 of 33

Coconut Milk

coconut milk
Westend61/Getty Images

Coconut milk may have the potential to speed up your metabolism and help boost your weight-loss efforts, but that doesn't make it low-calorie. One cup of calorie-dense coconut milk has a hefty 552 calories and 57 grams of fat. Be sure to check your favorite brand's label if you're keeping an eye on your calorie consumption.

14 of 33



While no cheese is exactly a diet food, certain kinds of cheese are more calorie-dense than others. Gruyere, Parmesan, and Manchego cheeses are some of the most calorie-dense—weighing in at around 120 calories per ounce. The typical recommended serving size for any kind of cheese is the size and shape of four dice.

15 of 33

Trail Mix

Healthy Snack: Nuts and Fruit
Westend61/Getty Images

This snack can cost you almost 700 calories per cup. Trail mix can include a wide range of ingredients, but you're almost always better off skipping store-bought brands and making your own at home to save on calories. Our suggestion: Mix 1 ounce of walnuts and about a teaspoon each of raisins and chocolate chips. The result is a satisfying snack for about 250 calories.

16 of 33


dates and sunflower seed butter post workout snack
Julie208 / Shutterstock

These naturally sweet and chewy fruits are a delicious whole-food alternative to candy. Dates are one of the healthy, high-calorie foods that could make you gain weight (with 23 calories each) that can have you racking up your daily intake fast if you eat them mindlessly.

17 of 33


What Is Aquafaba?
Winfried Heinze/Getty Images

Chickpeas are a great way to add fiber and protein to salads and soups, or even to enjoy as a standalone snack. One cup of canned chickpeas (a standard amount for side dishes) has 286 calories, making it a great choice for calorie-dense foods you can feel good about.

18 of 33


tofu high protein low carb food
by [D.Jiang] / Getty Images

Though tofu is typically low in calories, watch out for baked or flavored packaged varieties, which can up the calorie content considerably (such as baked teriyaki tofu, which has 140 calories per 3 ounces).

19 of 33


Fatty fish - foods that lower cholesterol
OlenaMykhaylova/Getty Images

While salmon is a very healthy protein source, it's not as light on calories as you might think. A 6-ounce serving of cooked Atlantic salmon could have about 37- calories and 22 grams of fat, according to the USDA. Keep your serving size in check (3 ounces or about the size of your checkbook) and prepare yours at home if you want to avoid a high-calorie dish while still reaping the health benefits.

20 of 33


F.J. Jiménez/Getty Images

Guacamole is packed with heart-healthy and potassium-rich avocados, and it's also packed with calories. One cup (which sounds like a lot but is easy to eat during a party) contains about 360 calories. If you want to max out on guac, you can still trade your chips for veggies to cut out some calories.

21 of 33


Claudia Totir/Getty Images

Granola is a calorie-dense snack that can easily make you gain weight if you don't watch your portions. For example, one cup of homemade granola can serve up a full meal's worth of calories. At 597 calories and a whopping 29.4 grams of fat per cup (exact totals may differ based on ingredients), this is one of the foods you should skip if you want to lose weight.

22 of 33



A 1-cup serving of this creamy dish can easily weigh in at 600 calories (or more). For a much lighter (and easy-to-make) alternative, try an alternative that uses a vegetable (such as mushrooms) to get that earthy, umami taste.

23 of 33


pepperoni pizza
David Crunelle/EyeEm/Getty Images

At about 27 calories per small slice, adding the word "pepperoni" to your pizza order is an easy way to add a ton of extra calories (to an already high-calorie meal). To cut back on more than 100 calories per slice, top your pie with veggies instead.

24 of 33

Buttered Popcorn

Carol Yepes/Getty Images

Air-popped popcorn can be a low-calorie snack, but when you add butter, it turns into a food that can make you gain weight — especially if you reach for a bag of butter-drenched popcorn every time you binge a new Netflix show. One small bag of popcorn at the movie theater could be loaded with up to 630 calories and 50 grams of fat. If you want to keep the calorie count low, your best bet is to pop your own at home and sneak it into the theater or buy a kid's size from the concession stand (and still share it).

25 of 33


Tetra images/Getty Images

Don't be fooled—even though most are fat-free, many pretzels can contain more than 200 calories per serving (and for very little nutrition). With pretzels and other high-calorie foods, dishing out a single serving and then putting away the bag can make you less tempted to eat more.

26 of 33

Non-Dairy Ice Cream

Vegan Ice Cream Brands
Radu Bighian / Getty Images

While some non-dairy ice cream alternatives can be lighter than the real deal, not all of them are—so be sure to check the label of your favorite brand. Some popular brands like Tofutti Vanilla dish out 210 calories and 13 grams of fat per 1/2 cup, while a 1/2-cup serving of vanilla ice cream comes in at 145 calories and 7.9 grams of fat. (Check out which healthy ice cream brands the Shape editors swear by.)

27 of 33


Chaloemphon Wanitcharoentham/EyeEm/Getty Images

Smoothies can make for a healthy calorie-dense meal or snack. If you're used to making your own, you might be surprised by how high in calories they can be when you're ordering on the go. Some smoothie chains blend in 400 calories (or more) per 20-ounce cup.

28 of 33

Salad Dressing

salad dressing
Westend61/Getty Images

You've probably heard this one before, but its worth repeating—many of your favorite salad dressings can be loaded in calories and fat. One 3-ounce serving of Caesar salad dressing, for example, has 390 calories and 42 grams of fat. To lighten up your salad, make your own version at home. Or play it safe away from home with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to keep your salad light.

29 of 33



Mayonnaise may be a sandwich staple, but spreading just two tablespoons on your bread adds an extra 180 calories to lunch. That's about the same as eating an additional sammy made with turkey, vegetables, and mustard.

30 of 33

Ground Beef

ground beef
istetiana/Getty Images

Depending on what kind you choose, plain, unprepared ground beef can contain 350 calories and 28 grams of fat (or more) per small 4-ounce serving. Aim to purchase 93-percent lean or higher to if you want a lower-calorie choice for your favorite recipe.

31 of 33

Potato Salad

potato salad
4kodiak/Getty Images

Potatoes are a great weight-loss food, so you might not suspect potato salad to be among a list of high-calorie foods. But one cup of packaged potato salad has about 460 calories.

32 of 33


Mitshu/Getty Images
Mitshu / Getty Images​

Often marketed as butter's healthier cousin, margarine isn't exactly low in calories. Yes, it clocks in lower than 100-calorie-per-pat butter, but just one tablespoon of margarine still has 45 calories.

33 of 33


etorres69/Getty Images

Like other nut or seed spreads, tahini (also known as sesame butter) is a pretty calorically dense food. That doesn't mean you should stop eating it — tahini's full of healthy ingredients like B vitamins and even rich in calcium. A Ping Pong ball-sized serving (about 2 tablespoons) clocks in at 178 calories and 16 grams of fat.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles