Mythbuster: Negative Calorie Foods

Imagine you consistently meal-prep, set aside an hour each day to workout, and regularly get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Sounds great, right? You’ve been doing this for about four weeks, but the scale won’t change like you want it to. You’re annoyedand pressed for time. So you Google the latest weight-loss tactics and see the idea of "negative-calorie" foods. “I can eat foods that burn more calories than I take in? Hmm, this could work.” But could it?

Supposedly, negative-calorie foods take more energy to digest than they do to eat. So theoretically you would “burn calories” by eating them and therefore offset the calories you are ingesting. Typically celery tops this list, followed by lettuce or cucumbers. Are you sold yet?

Defining Negative Calorie Foods

Who coined the term “negative-calorie foods”? To be honest, I’m not sure, since there’s little scientific evidence to back up the concept. But let’s go with it. Foods that top the list of “negative calorie foods” are often celery, lettuce, and ice. Perhaps some low-calorie fruits like blueberries or apples are added in. Most of these foods are really just high in water (and sometimes fiber) and low in calories. So if you’re okay with eating almost nothing, this diet may work for you.

If you’re not convinced, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has written a simplified version of how metabolism works, which helps to explain why the idea of negative-calorie foods is not all it’s cracked up to be. Essentially, eating an unlimited amount of negative-calorie foods isn’t actually going to leave you with a negative energy balance.

It will, however, leave you with a pretty low calorie intake for the day, and you might be low in vital nutrients too.

Could You Eat Celery All Day, Every Day?

Let’s say we wanted to take on this challenge and eat these negative-calorie foods. Our diet would consist of ice, celery, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, and some fruit here and there.

Does that sound sustainable? Not really. Eating these “negative-calorie foods” can definitely be part of a healthy diet from a nutrient standpoint, but they are not enough to support a strong, capable body.

The Take-Away

We acknowledge that there are nutrients in most of these so-called “negative-calorie foods,” and they belong in a balanced diet. But ultimately the term “negative-calorie food” is just a fancy catchphrase to grab the attention of those who want to lose weight.

Realistically, there is no magical food or single type of foods that will help you lose weight immediately. Instead of trying to eat “negative-calorie foods,” focus on the positives that can lead to real lifestyle changes, like portion control, appropriate food choices, consistent exercise, and balance.

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