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Are There Really Any Negative-Calorie Foods?

There are certain foods synonymous with dieting and you probably know them already.

Foods like:






We’ve all seen Jane eat her celery sticks at work because she says she's on a diet. But is there actual method to this madness? Are these foods completely necessary to include if you want to look good nude?

The facts

To drive forward fat loss we need to ensure that we are taking in less energy than we are expending. The simplest, easiest way to do this is to eat fewer calories.

When we digest and break down food this actually costs calories to do (bonus right – we can actually burn calories just by eating!)

Protein is the most ’expensive’ food type to break down (as if you needed ANOTHER reason to up your protein intake) carbs next and last fats which have a very small cost to break down.

If you were around in the health and fitness industry about 10 years ago, or as recently as 2015 [1] you would have heard the term negative calorie foods or zero calorie foods - the premise that eating negative or zero calorie foods will cause you to actually burn more calories by eating these foods.

In other words - if you take a stick of celery this is 10kcal, when you eat it you will burn 20kcal via the digestive process. You have consumed something that costs more to break down than there is actual energy in it.

This phenomenon is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) when oxygen consumption increases after food ingestion which costs calories to break it down [2].

So the theory is that you can consume as much celery as you can want because you will never actually be in a position to put on fat.

Is this true?

Nope. Sorry.

No food will burn 100% of its calories when consumed.

I wish it was that easy. It’s not. C'est la vie!

The truth is that seeking out so called negative calorie foods as a strategy to initiate fat loss is pretty abysmal. No food has the capacity to promote a greater than 100% thermic effect. It’s more likely in the 3-30% percent range if anything at all.

So that 10kcl celery you just ate? The reality is that you only really burned about 3 kcal through the digestion process.

Always think critically when you see claims that certain foods are ‘fat-loss’ foods. You'll see it all the time on social media and in the papers.

It’s like the claim from about 3 years ago that stated dark chocolate was a fat burning food.

The problem was that everyone continued to eat their normal diet AND include dark chocolate on top of this. Dark chocolate being quite calorific just added to the problem and people actually gained even more weight because they thought the dark chocolate was free calories!

So what foods SHOULD I include in my fat loss diet if there is no way to eat zero calorie foods?

The aforementioned foods (celery, carrots, lettuce etc) are all low in calories and filled to the brim with water content. That means it is very hard to over-consume these foods and have any major consequences.

100 grams of lettuce is going to be more nutritious, more filling and lower in calories than 100 grams of cookies.

A BIG problem you can face when dieting is satiety. The feeling of fullness. That’s why these foods are a big win when it comes to a long term dieting strategy.

I always recommend clients get these foods and incorporate them in their meals because it’s almost impossible to over-consume on low calorie foods.

Add some lean protein to your meal which is also high is satiety, and you’ve pretty much nailed a diet.

You can never go wrong with a plate of protein and vegetables.

So yes - Jane is on to something with her incessant celery munching. But by no means is this the only way to go for fat loss.

In summary: fat loss foods will not in-and-on-themselves create a negative calorie diet. But eat them anyway because they are low calorie and will fill you up!

For more calorie free tips and advice head over to:


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  1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-2961282/The-ten-guilt-free-foods-burn-calories-contain.html

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9449148

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