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When Your Healthy Diet Isn't So Healthy

Trying to eat healthier? Great. Just avoid these 9 common diet mistakes.

5. Fat-Free Fallacy

There was a time when "low-fat" and "fat-free" were dieters' mantras. Food manufacturers catered to this trend by introducing trimmed-down versions of their products, such as fat-free cookies and low-fat salad dressings -- and many people promptly went overboard.

But fat is no longer the dietary bad guy. Doctors and dietitians stress that fats are good for us. We need them.

"Fat is a component of every cell in our body. In order to be as effective as possible metabolically for our cells to do their jobs, we need to have fat in our diet," Nolan says. 

Fat is especially important at every meal when you're dieting, she says. "Fat helps you stay full. It satiates you. If you cut all of the fat out of your diet or have very little fat, your blood sugar doesn't stay stable for as long a period of time and you notice that you're hungry sooner," Nolan says.

Fix it: Choose healthier fats -- unsaturated fats from plant sources -- and not too much.

Nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils like canola or olive oil are the healthiest kinds. Fatty fish are a great source of heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The FDA and EPA recommend that women of childbearing age not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because those fish contain high levels of mercury; to eat up to 12 ounces per week (about two average servings) of a variety of lower-mercury fish and shellfish, and to limit albacore ("white") tuna to 6 ounces per week.

6. Diet Martyrdom

How many of us have punished ourselves for putting on a few pounds by going into a state of denial? We deny ourselves sweets, fats, and just about every food that makes us happy.

Cutting out your favorite foods only sets you up for failure. When you feel hungry all the time, you're more likely to binge. "I think it's really unrealistic for most people to eat that way for the long-term," Nolan says.

Fix it: Don't give up your favorite foods. Just eat them in moderation.

"It's all about small splurges without being overindulgent when it comes to very calorie-dense foods," Greaves says. She suggests combining sweets with healthy foods, like drizzling melted chocolate over strawberries, or adding a few chocolate chips into your granola.

7. Gorging on Grazing

Another recent dieting trend is substituting six small snacks for the old three meals a day.

Grazing does have advantages. It keeps your blood sugar level stable throughout the day, so you don’t get as hungry.

The trouble with grazing is that you're eating throughout the day, which can spell calorie trouble.

"If you're used to eating fuller meals and then you start grazing, I think it's very easy to graze on larger quantities than what you should be eating," Nolan says. "So you might end up eating more calories."

Fix it: Pace yourself. Eat mini-meals about every two to three hours, limiting each to 200-300 calories.

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