Negative Calorie Foods: Diet Fad or the Real Deal?
Nutrition Weight Loss
February 8, 2021

Are Negative Calorie Foods Real?

If you’ve been searching the internet for great ways to lose weight, the odds are you’ve stumbled across the concept of negative calorie foods.  Based on what you see on many sites, you’d think this is the miracle you’ve been looking for.  A scientific marvel that basically lets you eat more to lose more weight.

What Are Negative Calorie Foods?

The promises and claims made about negative calorie foods are often far beyond reality.  There simply isn’t a food out there that will let you eat more and more of it only to cause an increasingly impactful calorie deficit.

That is, after all, what negative calories are supposed to be.  The idea is that foods contain calories, but that it also takes energy for the body to digest the food you eat.  In most cases, the number of calories you consume is far greater than the energy you’d need to be able to digest them. After all, if that were the case, it would have been very difficult for the species to survive this long, and obesity would not have reached epidemic proportions.

That said, in the case of these somewhat rare negative calorie foods, the claim is that digesting these options requires more energy than the calories they provide.  Therefore, by eating them, you’re actually cutting down on the number of calories available to your body. The outcome is a net loss.

Can Negative Calorie Foods Help with Weight Loss?

It’s true that our bodies do expend energy to digest the food we eat. An estimated 5-10 percent of our daily calorie expenditure is used for digestion, nutrient absorption, and so on. However, as appealing as it sounds to be able to lose weight simply by choosing negative calorie foods, the shame is that the claim is inaccurate.

While study results do support the reduction of calories to result in fat loss, this is by far the result of changing overall calorie intake for the day and keeping it within a certain healthy range.  The impact that the net loss could have from eating certain foods could have would simply not be anywhere near enough to result in measurable weight loss.

What the Experts Say

According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, choosing nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods with a healthy daily macronutrient balance can help you to lose weight and keep it off when your daily calorie total is within an appropriate range.

Moreover, if you choose many of the foods often claimed to be negative calorie options, then you may find that they help you to stick to that goal, but only because of volumetrics.  They are very low in calories, so you can eat a large volume of them without causing you to risk regularly overeating. This makes them a great choice as a part of an overall balanced diet as opposed to being the foundation of a complete eating strategy.

Choosing only those foods, however, is not recommended, as this habit can be quite damaging to nutrient requirements.  Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats all contribute to the body’s ability to function properly, to achieve a hormone balance, satiety levels and, indeed, to lose weight.

The Bottom Line

Instead of trying to fudge the math and choose only foods that will somehow cheat the calorie system and let you lose weight by eating more, focus instead on developing a healthy lifestyle based on a balanced diet and regular exercise.

By building up those habits and maintaining them over time, you’re considerably more likely to achieve a healthy body weight and avoid regaining unwanted weight again over time. Always remember that a healthy diet you can keep up for years is far more effective and helpful than a fad diet that could help you only over the very short term.

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