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What you eat affects how much you weigh and whether you lose weight, but myths abound about fat-burning foods and whether they help with weight loss.
Here are five of the most common myths about fat-burning foods and why you shouldn’t buy into them,.
Myth #1: There Are Negative Calorie Foods
Have you heard the hype about negative calorie foods? The idea is that some foods, like celery or cucumbers, are so low in calories that you use up more energy breaking them down than the amount in the food.
This isn’t a complete myth, but it’s one that’s misinterpreted and misunderstood. As Mayo Clinic points out, this idea is more of a gimmick than a scientific fact.
It’s true that certain foods, like cucumbers, are so low in calories that your body may expend more calories to digest and absorb them than they contain.
However, the effect these foods have on total energy expenditure and body weight is small. Plus, most of the foods that people call negative calories are not that nutrient-dense, so eating these foods in abundance could lead to nutritional imbalances.
A better approach is to consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods that are unprocessed.
Myth #2: Foods Can Raise Your Resting Metabolic Rate
Some sources claim certain foods boost resting metabolic rate and may aid fat loss by increasing the number of calories you burn short-term.
An example is capsaicin in hot chili peppers and green tea. However, there’s no proof that eating or drinking any food will make a significant difference in fat loss.
You might burn a few more calories after eating chili peppers, but it’s unlikely you’ll lose weight from eating hot chili peppers and drinking green tea alone.
For example, studies show eating chili peppers boost resting metabolism by only 8%. Another study found taking dihydrocapsiate, an ingredient in chili peppers, boosted metabolism equivalent to burning an extra 50 calories per day.
That’s not enough to change your body weight. However, chili peppers help suppress appetite, so you may eat less if you add chili peppers to your meals.
Bottom line: Eat hot peppers and drink green tea if you enjoy them, but don’t count on them to slim you down.
Myth #3: It’s All About Calories
Calories are only part of the fat loss equation. The type of foods you eat affect hormones that regulate weight and body fat.
For example, eating ultra-processed carbohydrates and sugar causes a spike in insulin, and insulin blocks fat breakdown and make it easier for your body to hold on to and store fat.
Hormones also affect hunger and how much you eat. So, the quality of your diet matters too. If you choose nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods, it will have a beneficial effect on hormones that affect your weight. Think diet quality, not just calories!
Myth #4: Cutting Carbohydrates Is The Best Way To Lose Weight
Low-carbohydrate diets are popular for weight loss. Adopting a low-carb diet will cause greater weight loss at first, but some of that weight loss is water weight.
Low-carbohydrate diets also cause the depletion of glycogen from the muscles and liver. Since glycogen holds onto water, when you lose it, your weight drops.
However, it’s not fat loss. Plus, studies show you can lose weight on a low-carbohydrate diet, but you can also shed body fat on a low-fat diet.
According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, low-carb and low-fat dieters both lost equivalent amounts of weight, but the low-fat diet led to greater fat loss.
Ultimately, that’s what matters most. But for some people, like those with diabetes, cutting carbohydrates may be healthier in the long run since it helps lower blood glucose and insulin.
Myth #5: Fat Makes You Fat
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not fat that makes people fat but consuming too many total calories and too many ultra-processed carbohydrates.
Some fats, such as the monounsaturated fats in avocados, olive oil, and macadamia nuts, help with the loss of abdominal fat.
Replacing processed carbohydrates with these healthy fats can have a beneficial effect on health and body weight.
Fat has more calories per serving than carbohydrates or protein, but they also have satiety value, so you may consume fewer calories overall if include healthy fats in your diet.
The Bottom Line
Now you know some myths about fat-burning foods and why you shouldn’t believe them.
Successful weight loss is a combination of healthy eating habits, exercise, and healthy lifestyle habits.
There are no magical fat-burning foods that alone cause weight loss. At most, they may offer the benefit of slightly boosting your resting metabolic rate, like green tea or coffee, or reduce your appetite. Unless you get the other parts of the formula right, you’ll be disappointed.
Galgani JE, Ravussin E. Effect of dihydrocapsiate on resting metabolic rate in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1089-93. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2010.30036. Epub 2010 Sep 8. PMID: 20826626; PMCID: PMC2954444.
National Institutes of Health. “Low-fat diet compared to low-carb diet”
MayoClinic.org. “We’ve heard that eating negative-calorie foods might be a good diet strategy. But what exactly are they?”