Eat to lose weight? Sounds too good to be true. However, some research shows that certain foods may have a fat-burning effect in the body.
"Some [foods] have a thermogenic effect, heating up the body (and thus metabolism), where others increase metabolism by using calories to break them down, and some help with metabolizing fats," says Joy McCarthy, a Toronto nutritionist and the author of Joyous Health: Eat and Live Well Without Dieting.
But while some foods may help you burn fat more efficiently than others, McCarthy says there's no "magic solutions" to weight loss, unless of course you consider a lifestyle change to be magic. Depriving yourself of enough food for your bodily functions is not a healthy solution either. "Metabolism slows when nutrients are lacking because the body isn’t getting what it needs to work efficiently," she says.
"If someone follows a clean, whole foods diet that includes the foods outlined before, and includes physical activity, enough sleep, water intake, stress reduction and portion control weight loss could definitely happen," McCarthy says.
With that in mind, here are 10 foods that have been shown by research to have the potential to help you shed fat more efficiently.
"American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that drinking several cups of green tea a day, which has catechins, a type of phytochemical that affects the metabolism, can help to promote fat oxidation and thermogenesis," McCarthy says. She notes that this option isn't ideal for people who are particularly sensitive to caffeine. If that describes you, try taking a supplement with a concentrated dose of EGCG, the type of catechin found in green tea.
"It 'costs' twice as many calories to break down whole foods vs. processed foods where the breaking down was already done in a laboratory for you," McCarthy says. That makes whole grains like brown rice a smarter choice.
Coconut oil has a bad reputation but it can actually have a fat-burning effect, McCarthy says. It contains medium-chain triglycerides, which the body uses for energy instead of storing as fat.
Protein has a thermogenic effect, meaning that you burn more of the calories you eat compared to other foods. Go with lean choices like white chicken breast, however, if you are watching fat intake.
Hot peppers like jalapenos and chilis contain capsaicin, which may give them a fat-burning effect. "Studies show that capsaicin reduced belly fat in men and women by oxidizing fat," McCarthy said. "Capsaicins have also been found to increase resting metabolic rate, thus increasing the rate in which your body burns fat and or calories at rest."
Aside from being a whole food, lentils are a good source of iron — and many of us are short on that nutrient. If your body lacks an essential nutrient like iron, it's not going to be working as efficiently as it should, slowing your metabolism.
Fruit often gets a bad rap on some diets, but it's got a lot to offer —specifically for bananas, McCarthy says. "Resistant starch found in foods like bananas and beans/legumes has been found to have a positive affect on fat levels," she says. "The starch turns into a fatty acid in the gut by the good bacteria and helps to decrease obesity by metabolizing fats after eating, thus decreasing accumulation in the long term."
These and other nuts contain protein that helps you build muscle, which helps to keep your metabolism speedy.
Sure, we know broccoli is healhty, but this green vegetable (and other cruciferous vegetables) contain sulforaphane, a phytonutrient that stimulates an enzyme to get your fat cells burning.
Avocados are high in fat, but their fats are monounsaturated, which is good news. New research showed that people who eat unsaturated fats (like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are more likely to have excess fat stored in their liver and abdomen.