So you’ve probably seen articles and videos like this floating around, you know “The 8 Best Fat Burning Foods” or “5 Foods That Burn Fat Fast”, and depending on how you interpret the idea of a fat burning food, it’s either a completely false concept or there’s some truth to it but only a little bit.
So let’s take a look at both scenarios.
So, the first is the literal idea of fat burning food; and these are the one that you’ll see on ads and in general weight loss articles where they basically implied that is you add a particular food into your diet that you’ll actually burn
more fat as a result.
And this could be because the food supposedly boost your fat burning hormone levels or increases your metabolism or whatever else, and this is totally false.
And for people who are totally new to fitness and proper nutrition, it’s actually a really dangerous concept that does a lot more harm than good.
It is true that when you eat a particular food your body has to expand a certain number of calories to extract the
total calories from that food.
This is called the thermic effect of food or TEF. However, the overall result is going to be a positive net increased in your calorie intake.
There’s no such thing as a negative calorie food or a free food that you can just eat in unlimited quantities.
Anything that you consume that contains calories will add to your calorie intake.
So in that sense the idea of a fat burning food is basically an oxymoron and adding a particular food to your diet on top of what you’re already eating is never going to result in more fat loss for the day as a whole.
And this is why articles that talked about this are dangerous because they’ll tell people that, you know, avocado is a fat burning food or coconut oil or chocolate are fat burning foods and then people think, “Okay, great, I can add some avocado or some dark chocolate to my diet and I’m going to get better overall results.
” When in reality a lot of these so called fat loss foods are actually extremely calorie densed, and the number of calories that you end up storing hugely outweighs what your body burns to digest them.
Yes, obviously some foods have lower calorie density in comparison to the total volume that they provide, vegetables are a good examples of that.
And so including those foods in your diet is a helpful way to keep yourself feeling full without adding a lot of calories, but they still do add calories to your diet.
And usually you won’t be eating them plain anyway, and so whatever else you add to those foods also contributes to your calorie intake.
Now, unless you’re a complete beginner then I’m sure most of you were aware of that already, but I did mention that
there was some truth to this concept and that’s because different macro nutrients have higher or lower thermic effects.
So certain foods do require more calorie output to digest them in comparison to other foods.
Now, there’s no universally agreed on figures here, so these are just ballpark estimates but dietary fat has the lowest TEF at about 3-5% , carbohydrates are around 5-15% and protein is the highest at about 20-30%, and fiber is also about the same as protein.
So in other words of you ate a hundred calories worth of fat, your body would expand, maybe 5 calories in order to extract those hundred calories and so the net results would be 95 calories.
Whereas if you ate a hundred calories worth of protein, your body might expand, say 25 calories, and so the net result might be 75 calories.
So in that sense the idea of fat burning foods, sort of make sense but only in terms of comparing one food item that has a lower thermic effect and with the same number of total calories as another food item that has a higher thermic effect.
So, for example, a can of tuna could be looked at as more of a fat burning food than one and a half table spoons of olive oil because even though they both have the same calorie content your body has to expand more energy to extract the calories from the tuna.
Now some people will hear this sort of thing and then think, “Okay, I’m just going to eat nothing but high protein and high fiber foods, and that way I’ll maximize TEF and I’ll lose more fat.
” It’s obviously not that simple though, and there’s a couple important things to keep in mind.
First off, even though dietary fat has a very low thermic effect you still need a certain amount of dietary fat for health reasons, like proper brain function and keeping hormone levels in check.
So, really low fat diets are basically never a good idea to begin with, not to mention that they will cause your appetites to go way up.
Secondly, most people generally won’t be best off on a low carb diet.
For some people it works, but for the majority a low carb diet will caused low energy and lower mental focus among other things, which can negatively affect your training performance and your motivation levels.
And then thirdly, TEF only makes up a small percentage of your total calorie burn for the day anyway, usually about
10%, and so it doesn’t really make any sense to try and structure your diet around maximizing the thermic effect as opposed to just making sure that you’re maintaining a calorie deficit and consuming a good balanced mix of macro nutrients.
I already recommend that you consume around 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily.
I recommend that you do include high fiber foods like vegetables in order to fill yourself up and meet your micro nutrient needs.
And so you’re going to get decent thermic effect from that already, and you’re going to do that while keeping your appetite controlled.
So I really wouldn’t worry much about TEF beyond that. Like I’ve said a million times before, fat loss is about maintaining a calorie deficit overtime through a balanced macro nutrient intake.
And it’s not about only eating certain food items and avoiding other ones.
There’s no such thing as fat burning foods or fat storing foods, there’s only such a thing as a fat burning diet or a fat storing diet.
And that’s going to be primarily dictated by overall energy balance.