While the term 'fat-burning foods' isn't entirely accurate – unfortunately, there's no shortcut to a svelte physique – it's true that prioritising certain nutrient-dense foods in your diet can keep you satisfied, full and well-fuelled throughout your weight-loss journey.
How so? Certain foods act on hormones associated with fat storage – such as cortisol, the stress hormone – while others boost your metabolic rate, so you burn more calories at rest. Some give you more energy, so you can exercise for longer, or suppress your appetite, so you consume fewer calories throughout the day.
Here, David Wiener, training and nutrition specialist for Freeletics, and Aoife Okonedo Martin, personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, shed some light on the mechanism of so-called fat-burning foods, and recommend 21 healthy ingredients that deserve a place on your plate:
21 of the best fat-burning foods
'Fat-burning foods' is a misnomer, says Okonedo Martin, because the only way to achieve fat loss is by creating a consistent negative energy balance. 'To put it simply, if you want to tap into stored body fat, you must be burning more energy than you are consuming to lose weight,' she says. 'Think of energy balance as the base of the pyramid, regardless of nutrient quality or food source: fat loss is only possible when we are in a caloric deficit.'
The truth? Theoretically, you could eat nothing but the fat-burning foods on this list and still end up gaining weight. 'In the same way that there are no inherently fattening foods – some foods are just more calorie-dense, palatable or easier to overeat and put you in a calorie surplus – there are no foods that burn fat or are 'calorie negative',' Okonedo Martin says.
That's not to say you should necessarily chase every workout with a double chocolate milkshake. If losing weight is your goal, certain kitchen staples are proven to be beneficial – as you'll discover below. 'Some foods are more conducive to success on a fat loss diet, beneficial from a health perspective and make adherence on a calorie-controlled diet a whole lot easier and sustainable,' Okonedo Martin adds.
1. Full-fat greek yoghurt
2. Apple cider vinegar
Not only is apple cider vinegar loaded health benefits, but it's been shown to reduce appetite and lower blood sugar levels, says Wiener. The sour drink also contains acetic acid, which has been found to reduce belly fat in animal studies.
Curcumin, the compound responsible for turmeric's health qualities, suppresses inflammatory markers that play a role in obesity. In a review spanning more than 1,600 people, curcumin intake was linked to reduced weight, BMI, and waist circumference.
Stick the kettle on – research shows that caffeine helps to increase your metabolic rate by between three and 13 per cent. In another study, caffeinated gym bunnies burned nearly twice as much fat and were able to exercise 17 per cent longer than their non-caffeinated peers.
Oats contain soluble fibres called beta-glucans, which have been shown to increase satiety and improve metabolic health. 'Fibre is a vital micronutrient for health that is also important for helping to create the sensation of fullness,' says Okonedo Martin. 'Soluble fibres absorb fluid and expand in the gut, triggering signals to our body that we are full.'
6. MCT oil
The MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, a type of easily-digested fat that may increase the number of calories your body burns. MCT oil is usually extracted from coconut oil, which contains more than 50 per cent MCTs. One study found that consuming 15 to 30 grams of MCTs per day increases 24-hour energy expenditure by five per cent.
Not only is avocado a source of satiating fibre, but it contains high levels of mono-saturated fat, which prevent large spikes in blood sugar, says Wiener. When your blood sugar spikes, it triggers more insulin, causing more calories to be stored as fat. However, since avocados are high in calories, be sure to stick to reasonable portions.
As well as being rich in antioxidants and vitamins, studies show blueberries may regulate fat burning and fat storage, due to the high levels of phytochemicals they contain, while raspberries are packed with gut-filling fibre, helping you feel satiated for longer.
Turkey is naturally high in protein – around 28g per 100g. 'Probably the best bang for your buck when dieting is anything with a high protein content,' says Okonedo Martin. 'Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and it also has the highest thermic effect – at least 20 per cent of calories consumed will be burned in digestion.'
Snacking on 42g of almonds every day – instead of a high-carb snack with the same number of calories – not only reduces 'bad' LDL and total cholesterol, but also shrinks belly fat and waist circumference, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
11. White beans
White beans – cannellini beans, for example – act as alpha amylase inhibitors, says Wiener. This means they slow the absorption of carbohydrates by blocking certain digestive enzymes, preventing the dreaded blood sugar spike.
Vindaloo is back on the menu: a chemical called capsaicin – which gives chilli its heat – is responsible for a thermogenic effect, which means it boosts your metabolism. Studies have also associated the compound with reduction in fat tissue and appetite-curbing qualities.
The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have a whole host of benefits, with some studies suggesting they can boost your metabolism, build muscle and lose body fat – though research is mixed. Fish oil supplementation has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to fat storage – specifically belly fat.
Put the bird back on the menu. Not only is chicken a solid lean protein source – contain 27g per 100g serving – but it's also high in leucine, an amino acid that has been shown to protect muscle proteins and promote fat loss.
15. Leafy greens
Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach and bok choy are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre, and low in calories – making them optimal for fat loss. 'This is due to the higher volume per calorie, creating a greater sensation of fullness by pressing on the stomach lining,' says Okonedo Martin. 'They will also trigger a hormonal response for satiety.'
Certain non-digestible compounds in apples – including dietary fibre and polyphenols – benefit the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut. In one study, the compounds changed the proportions of faecal bacteria from obese mice to reflect that of lean mice, so may help prevent disorders associated with obesity, researchers concluded.
17. Peanut butter
Eating peanut butter for breakfast can cause a 'significant reduction' in the desire to eat for up to 12 hours, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, due to an increase in PYY – a hormone that promotes satiety and feelings of fullness.
Potatoes are incredibly filling and surprisingly nutritious. They're the highest-ranked food in the satiety index, which rates foods according to their ability to satisfy hunger. You'd need to scoff through more than twice the amount of pasta to feel as full as you would from one medium-sized potato.
Not only are eggs extremely nutrient-dense – with many of the benefits condensed in the yolk – these little orbs of goodness are the ultimate wingman (pun intended) for any fat loss diet. In one study, women who scoffed eggs for breakfast instead of bagels ate less for the next 36 hours.
Eating just half a fresh grapefruit before meals lead to 1.6kg weight loss over 12 weeks, one study found. 'Foods that are nutrient-dense but low in calories are more likely to assist with satiety and you are less likely to overeat or feel deprived,' says Okonedo Martin. 'The more satiated you are, and the more energy you have, the more likely you are to adhere to the calorie deficit.'
Beans and legumes – including chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and black beans – are high in fibre, protein, and resistance starch, and a rich source of vitamins and minerals. 'This is important because if your food intake is limited in a calorie deficit, you need to ensure you maximise your nutrient intake,' says Okonedo Martin.
Last updated: 12-02-2021
You Might Also Like