The Science Behind Fat-Burning Foods

Would you click on a title that reads, "Best foods for burning fat"? Weight loss is challenging; thus, most people search for magical ways to slim down. You have probably come across an article or person claiming specific foods burn fat better to help you lose weight quicker. In this article, we'll discuss the scientific evidence behind fat-burning foods.

Key takeaways:
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    No specific food burns fat. Weight management is closely related to overall nutrition rather than the consumption of particular foods.
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    Some foods, including coffee, green tea, cocoa, chili pepper, and cinnamon, have higher thermic effects than others. This means you burn more calories when you digest and metabolize them.
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    A food's thermic effect also changes based on age, physical activity, insulin hormone levels, and meal timing and composition. Therefore, following an individualized healthy and balanced nutrition program is the most established way to lose and maintain weight in the long term.

The scientific evidence behind fat-burning foods

You've been misinformed if you've been told that some foods or ingredients are fat burners. No foods have negative calories. Also, eating specific foods does not make you lose weight healthily. However, some foods have a higher thermic effect than others meaning the body burns more calories when digesting and metabolizing them.

The digestion and metabolism of food burns energy called dietary-induced thermogenesis (DIT) or the thermic effect of food. The DIT process makes up about 10% to 15% of total energy expenditure. This is the amount of energy used to maintain physiological function (digestion, circulation, respiration) and physical activity.

If food has a high thermic effect, it doesn't mean that eating it makes you lose weight. For example, alcohol has a high thermic effect; however, it's not beneficial for either weight loss or health.

5 foods with higher thermic effects

Some foods have higher thermic effects. These include the following:

1. Coffee

Coffee contains compounds called caffeine and chlorogenic acid. Although green and roasted coffee contains similar amounts of caffeine, green coffee has higher amounts of chlorogenic acids.

Data show that caffeine increases thermogenesis (production of heat) and energy expenditure. For example, a study showed that 100mg of single-dose caffeine's thermic effects lasted approximately 150 minutes.

However, high and long-term caffeine consumption can result in insensitivity to caffeine's metabolic impacts. An increase in energy expenditure was also reported between 6% (response to 50mg caffeine intake) and 7% (response to 200mg caffeine intake).

Keep in mind that up to 400mg of caffeine daily is considered safe for healthy adults, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and Health Canada. However, an overdose of caffeine may interrupt health, including bone health and cardiovascular and reproductive systems.

2. Green tea

Green tea contains catechins, mostly epigallocatechin-3-gallate. An acute increase in energy expenditure has been shown after green tea consumption, but there aren't proven long-term effects. However, foods containing higher levels of catechins have been shown to prevent and treat many chronic conditions.

3. Cocoa and dark chocolate

Cocoa has been shown to reduce fatty acid synthesis and improve the function of insulin-producing cells (pancreatic beta-cells).

Analysis of randomized controlled trials showed that more than 30g of dark chocolate per day for at least four weeks reduced body weight by 200 grams and body mass index by 0.1 kg/m2. Although research showed a significant decrease in body weight and body mass index, about 200 grams of weight loss in a month is not fast.

4. Chili pepper

Chili pepper is a commonly used spice. It contains a compound called capsaicin. In mice, capsaicin activated thermogenesis in fat cells resulting in increased metabolic activity. Side effects of a high dose of capsaicin include gastric distress, anal burning, and diarrhea.

5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon may increase dietary-induced thermogenesis. However, study results are not consistent. Analysis of 16 studies showed that cinnamon supplementation had been shown to reduce body weight by less than 1kg over a 3-month period.

Other factors affecting the thermic effects of foods

Differences in nutrient digestion and/or food structure are other factors affecting the calories you get from foods. As a result, the actual energy content of some foods can be different from the energy they provide when consumed.

The difference can result from nutrient digestion and/or food structure differences. For instance, unprocessed foods retain their food structure which may result in less fat absorption. For example, a study showed stool fat content significantly increased when 70 grams of peanuts were eaten versus peanut butter, oil, or flavor.

The meal's nutrient composition may change diet-induced thermogenesis. Some studies suggest that larger meal sizes, protein intake, and low-fat plant-based diets may increase the thermic effect of foods. Also, your age, physical activity, insulin hormone levels, and meal timing may have an impact on the thermic effect of foods.

Research findings show that energy balance is one of the important components of weight loss diets. Therefore, you lose weight only with consistent, daily calorie deficiency while adhering to a healthy and balanced nutrition program.

So-called fat-burning foods take more credit than they should. For the best results, you should consult your doctor and dietitian to lose weight. A healthy and balanced nutrition plan individualized for your needs will help you to reach healthier weight goals.


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