When you're trying to say “see ya” to some stubborn pounds, you’ll want to sidestep extra calories whenever possible. As you fine-tune your strategy to burn more and consume less, you'll likely be on the hunt for lower-calorie foods to help you stay within your target range.
While there are certain foods that seem inherently diet-friendly—like salads, yogurt and smoothies—be careful not to indulge without checking their nutrition information first. Some seemingly innocent foods can actually be calorie traps. Before planning your next week's worth of meals or heading out to a restaurant, check out these surprising calorie comparisons.
Pizza Versus Salad
It's easy to assume that veggies are always the lower-calorie choice, but this shocking side-by-side comparison proves that's not always true. You can indulge in two small slices of cheesy pepperoni pizza for fewer calories than a veggie and rice salad.
- 2 slices of Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza (180 calories)
- Starbucks Hearty Veggie Salad with Brown Rice (430 calories)
Taco Salad Versus Bacon Cheeseburger
Even if it has a little beef in it, a salad is always a better choice than a cheeseburger, right? Not when it comes to calories. This Wendy's taco salad matches the chain's infamous bacon cheeseburger calorie-for-calorie.
- Wendy's Taco Salad (660 calories)
- Wendy's Baconator Single (660 calories)
Chipotle Versus Taco Bell
Hitting the Taco Bell drive-thru might seem detrimental to your diet, but it can actually rack up fewer calories than a stop at Chipotle, which is known for its fresh, organic ingredients.
- Chipotle Salad Bowl with lettuce, sofritas, brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies and tomatillo green chili salsa (560 calories)
- Taco Bell Cheesy Gordita Crunch Supreme (520 calories)
Muffin Versus Cupcake
Given its grand-scaled proportions and high sugar content, a Starbucks muffin is basically just a dessert masquerading as breakfast. Indulging in a single-sized cupcake will net you fewer calories.
- Starbucks Blueberry Muffin (350 calories)
- Chocolate cupcake with frosting, homemade (~188 calories)
Yogurt Versus Frozen Yogurt
Low-fat yogurt may seem like a smarter choice than frozen yogurt, but indulging in a serving of the real thing won't always result in a major calorie overload.
- Chobani Flip yogurt (230 calories)
- 1/2 cup Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia (240 calories)
Smoothie Versus Cheesecake
Just because it's packed with fruit and comes with a straw doesn't mean it automatically qualifies as diet-friendly. Although a high-sugar smoothie may sometimes have more health benefits than a slice of cheesecake, it usually packs just as many calories.
- Smoothie King "The Hulk Strawberry" smoothie (964 calories)
- 1 slice Cheesecake Factory chocolate mousse cheesecake (940 calories)
Big Mac Versus Sushi
Steering clear of the drive-thru is typically rule #1 of any diet plan, but the sushi bar could be just as dangerous as a fast-food burger in terms of skyrocketing your calorie count.
- McDonald's Big Mac (540 calories)
- Shrimp Tempuro Sushi Roll (508 calories)
Granola Bar Versus Cookie
Getting your hand caught in the cookie jar may not be the worst offense. Granola bars may contain more nutrients, but they can pack even more calories and sugar than a single chocolate-chip cookie.
- Nature Valley roasted almond granola bar (190 calories)
- McDonald's soft chocolate chip cookie (170 calories)
Soft Pretzels Versus Eggrolls
Low-fat pretzels may seem harmless enough, but when paired with the creamy beer cheese dip, this Applebee's appetizer exceeds the calorie content of the chain's cheeseburger eggrolls.
- Applebee's pretzels and beer cheese dip (1,050 calories)
- Applebee's cheeseburger eggrolls (990 calories)
Baked Potato Versus French Fries
To those counting calories, "fried" may as well be a four-letter word. In some cases, however, the baked version of a food is actually higher in calories. When it's topped with butter and sour cream, the Wendy's baked spud is more of a calorie concern than a small order of French fries.
- Wendy's Baked Potato with Chives, Butter and Sour Cream (380 calories)
- Wendy's Small French Fries (340 calories)
Of course, just because a food is low in calories doesn’t mean it’s good for you, as calories aren't the only consideration when it comes to healthy eating. However, it’s smart to get into the habit of checking your food’s nutrition information, and to make sure your body is getting the right amounts of macronutrients—protein, fats and carbs—as well as micronurients.
Which of these comparisons surprised you? What other foods have more (or fewer) calories than most people would expect?
Registered dietitian Laura Dilz contributed some of the food comparisons for this article.