Eat Empowered, Weight Loss

Do Negative-Calorie Foods Really Exist?


Wouldn’t it be nice to eat as much as you wanted of certain foods and lose weight just from eating them?! Umm, yes! Before I break down whether these miracle goodies actually exist, let me give you a little background.

What is the negative-calorie foods theory?

The negative-calorie food theory is based around the idea that the body uses energy to digest and process foods. The theory suggests that some foods cause the body to burn more calories than they actually contain. These are considered negative-calorie foods.

What are some negative-calorie foods?

Negative calorie foods include celery, cabbage, garlic, vinegar, and leafy greens, which all have … (you guessed it) very few calories.

Does the body use energy to digest food?

Yes. A person uses about 10% of their daily caloric expenditure (how much we burn on a daily basis) on digesting food. It’s also often referred to as the thermic effect of food (TEF).

It takes energy to chew, swallow and digest (think food moving around your stomach, creating acid to breakdown food, etc. …), but don’t pull out the Champagne just yet.

This isn’t an extra 10% you get to all of a sudden add into your metabolic life because you now know about it. Your body has been doing this, always. It’s not something we should now depend on.

Of the three major macronutrients, protein has the highest TEF, meaning it burns the most calories during digestion; then carbs, and finally fat. And if you need another reason to eat whole foods instead of processed ones: research shows that the TEF after eating processed foods is about 50% less than after eating whole foods. There you have it, an apple beats a Pop-Tart again!

Should I be eating negative-calorie foods?

Did it sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. However great this theory may sound, there is no scientific proof that it’s an effective way to diet.

With that said, should you be incorporating whole, real foods into your meals that also have the reputation to be negative-calorie foods? Why, yes. But that’s because they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, water, fiber and/or protein, not because they may have negative calories.

Eat up the celery, lettuce, cider vinegar, lemon, garlic and radishes, because they’re good for you. They really do help you manage your weight—and they’re loaded with nutrients.

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