You’ve probably heard the term ‘fat-burning foods’ and wondered what it meant – and whether it was an unfortunate illusion, like so many weight-loss claims. Well, the news is mostly good. The term ‘fat-burning foods’ actually refers to the concept of thermogenesis, which is the process of heat production in organisms. All foods have some thermogenic effect, because all foods require heat (or energy, measured in the form of calories) to be digested and metabolized by the body.
However, research shows some foods can actually cause your resting metabolic rate to increase over a longer period. These are sometimes termed ‘fat-burning foods’ (although the term is a bit of a misnomer). And, of course, if you’re trying to lose weight, you want to choose ‘fat-burning foods’ that also don’t contain many calories themselves, since otherwise you’ll simply end up consuming more calories than you burn!
Foods That “Burn Fat” While Adding Few Calories
There are a couple foods that have been shown to have that desired ‘fat-burner’ (thermogenic) effect, while only adding negligible calories to the diet.
- Green Tea: We’ve discussed green tea’s weight-loss benefit previously. Research shows the compound epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG) present in green tea does increase resting metabolic rate, while adding essentially zero calories. However, it would take 3 to 4 cups per day to get the required amount of EGCG (270 to 300 mg) and, even then, research shows the average 24-hour increase in metabolism is only about 80 calories.
- Chili Peppers: The best known weight-loss component in hot chili peppers in capsaicin, which helps make them so spicy. Previous research has shown that capsaicin itself (when consumed in ‘tolerable doses’) burns roughly an additional 20 calories per day. However, unless you’re a spicy-food connoisseur, most people can’t tolerate large amounts of hot peppers, which can make it difficult to include them in sufficient quantities in your medical weight loss plan.
But there are other substances, called capsinoids, found in chili peppers, which may also have a thermogenic effect, without the spiciness. A 2010 study showed that dihydrocapsiate (a capsinoid in some non-pungent chili peppers) increased resting metabolic rate (RMR) an average of 50 calories per day after one month of consistent consumption. Research is still ongoing on other capsinoid compounds, and their effect on energy expenditure.
The Bottom Line on Fat-Burning Foods
There’s no miracle when it comes to burning fat, nor are there magical ‘fat-burning foods’ that will effortlessly melt away the pounds. However, both green tea and capsaicin are healthful substances that may also provide additional weight loss benefits (studies show both may increase satiety and decrease energy intake). So, incorporating these fat-burning foods into your medical weight loss plan probably can’t hurt, and may very well help. So, go for it if you’re so inclined, but stick first and foremost to your medical weight loss plan.
Remember to always get your medical provider’s okay before adding new substances—or any supplements—to your diet.
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