When we're trying to lose weight and get into shape, the sound of "fat-burning" foods helping us along sounds incredibly alluring.
Green tea, chilli, pepper, dairy and fish have all been touted as "fat-burning" to aid with weight loss, but do these foods really burn fat, or are they simply over-hyped?
Let's first understand what it means for a food to be "fat-burning".
"When 'fat burning' is being referred to in relation to food, it's looking at specific foods which have the potential to speed up metabolism," Chloe McLeod, accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian, told HuffPost Australia.
The key word here being "potential".
"There is mixed science around the topic and some foods do appear to help to some degree, but having one fat-burning food in your diet and eating poorly the rest of the time isn't going to work. It's like the saying, 'you can't outrun a bad diet'. You still have to be ticking all of the other boxes."
As with all things weight and lifestyle-related, there must be balance, diet and exercise, nutritionist Fiona Tuck explained.
"There is no magic pill to long-term weight loss, but nature has provided us some foods that may help, in conjunction with a good diet and regular exercise."
1. Spicy foods
Spicy foods such as chillies, cayenne pepper and black pepper may help you burn more energy and lose body fat, as well as increase fullness and prevent overeating. This is thanks to a compound called capsaicin.
"Thermogenic spices produce heat within the body and can speed up the metabolising process," Tuck told HuffPost Australia. "Typical spices that help in fat absorption include chillies, cayenne pepper, black pepper and turmeric.
"There is some research that shows there is a slight increase in fat-burning ability in people, and it seems to be more in people who are overweight than people who are a healthy weight," McLeod added.
"But there's not enough research to say it's definitely going to work. Even if it is effective, it doesn't mean we can just eat poorly and have heaps of chilli."
2. Green tea
"This metabolism process is also helped by the caffeine content in green tea," Tuck said.
However, it may not be its (potential) fat-burning abilities which makes green tea a worthwhile beverage to drink. Indirectly, drinking green tea helps keep us hydrated, which can help with satiety.
"Green tea has the benefit of being rich in antioxidants and it helps you to stay really hydrated. Sometimes when you're dehydrated you overeat, so if you're drinking green tea it can help from that perspective," McLeod said.
3. Healthy fats
"Olives, olive oil, seeds and nuts are all monounsaturated fatty acids which aid in nervous system function, absorption of nutrients, blood pressure and they also help prevent the fat that accumulates around the belly," Tuck said.
In a study using fish oil supplements, the researchers found the subjects experienced a "significant reduction" in fat mass and a decrease in body fat percentage.
4. Dairy foods
According to some studies, the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese may reduce body fat mass.
"There's been research showing that consumption of milk, yoghurt and cheese can help with weight management," McLeod said. "It's less about increasing metabolism and more about staying satisfied and providing nutrients, which can help with avoiding eating junk foods."
5. High protein foods
According to Tuck, foods rich in protein, such as meat, fish, legumes, whole grains and tofu, decrease appetite and can boost metabolism.
"High protein foods that are especially good for fat metabolism include eggs, oatmeal and fish."
Foods which may help boost metabolism:
- Green tea
- Cayenne pepper
- Healthy fats like nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil
- Protein like eggs and fish
- Rolled oats
Remember, do take all this "fat-burning" talk with a grain of salt. It's difficult to pinpoint if any food is fat-burning as there could be many other variables -- you may be exercising more, generally eating more healthily, sleeping enough and so on.
"I wouldn't be saying to go and eat any one particular food and you'll suddenly be a Victoria's Secret model. It's a bit more complex than that," McLeod said.
"For the best results, eat whole foods, mostly plants. Drink plenty of water. Make sure there's plenty of fibre in your diet, which is mostly found in plant foods like vegetables, legumes and unprocessed whole grains.
"Include plenty of protein, whether that's from plants like chickpeas and lentils, or animal sources, plus healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. I know it sounds un-sexy, but follow a healthy, balanced diet."
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