Surprisingly, while the usual advice to dieters is to eat less, eating more of certain foods can be the best way to banish blubber. Fighting flab with a fork may sound like magic, but some supercharged foods really do rev up your metabolism and help you burn fat more efficiently, studies show.
What’s more, these fat-blasters do double duty by filling you up while also torching calories as you chew and digest. And all of them are nutritional powerhouses with other documented health benefits beyond weight loss.
So what’s the catch? The metabolic boost is temporary. To permanently amp up your metabolic rate, regular exercise, such as strength training, is a must, since muscles burn more calories than fat does. Eating a few of these fat-burning foods every day, as part of a well-balanced diet, will help keep your metabolic furnace stoked and trim off pounds.
1. Hot peppers. Capsaicin is the natural compound that gives hot peppers their heat; it fires up your metabolism while lowering blood glucose levels. One study reports that eating just one spicy meal, such as a bowl of chili, can boost your metabolism by nearly 25 percent, while another found fat-burning benefits to adding ½ teaspoon of red pepper to meals. Canadian researchers also report that men who ate pepper-packed snacks, plus coffee, burned nearly 1,000 more calories daily than the control group.
2. Chocolate. In delightful news for chocolate lovers, a study of more than 1,000 adults, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, in March found that those who ate chocolate often—and also exercised—had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who ate it less often.
Chocolate contains antioxidants like epicatechin, which appears to increase the energy-producing elements of body cells. However, the sweet treat is high in calories, so experts advise limiting yourself to an ounce a day or adding unsweetened cocoa powder to your food.
3. Dairy products. It’s a myth that dairy undermines weight loss. In fact, the opposite is true: A study by University of Tennessee researchers showed that consuming three servings of dairy a day significantly trimmed fat in obese volunteers. If they also cut calories moderately, while sticking with the same amount of dairy, it sped up fat and weight loss.
4. Pine nuts. Noshing on these tasty nibbles boosts satiety hormones that make you feel full and helps keep belly fat at bay. In a 2006 study, overweight women reported a 29 percent drop in desire to eat and a 36 percent drop in subsequent food intake after ingesting fatty acids from pine nuts, compared to a placebo group given olive oil. Two appetite suppressing hormones remained elevated for up to four hours after pine nut oil was consumed.
5. Oranges and grapefruits. The high amount of fiber explains why oranges were the highest ranked fruit on a “satiety index” of filling foods compiled by Australian scientists. A study at the Scripps Clinic in California found that people who ate a half grapefruit with each meal lost nearly four pounds over 12 weeks. Grapefruit also helps your body use insulin more efficiently, keeping blood sugar on an even keel and enhancing calorie burn.
6. Green tea. Drinking four cups of green tea daily helped study participants drop more than six pounds in eight weeks, research published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports. A compound called EGCG in the brew temporarily boosts metabolism. Another study published in the same journal found that fat oxidation increased by 17 percent in men who took green tea extract prior to exercise.
7. Lean chicken, turkey and other proteins. Arizona State University scientists report that people who ate a high-protein diet burned more than double the number of calories in the hours after the meal than did those who ate carbs. A Danish study also found that men who swapped protein for 20 percent of the carbs in their diet amped up their metabolism, torching 5 percent more calories per day. Protein also helps build lean muscle mass so you burn more calories.
8. Water. Not only is water a natural appetite reducer (because it helps you feel full) but drinking it seems to actually speed up weight loss, according to a 2004 study. After drinking about 17 ounces of water, the volunteers’ metabolic rate rose by 30 percent for about 40 minutes. The researchers calculate that boosting your water intake by 1.5 liters per day would torch an extra 17,400 calories a year.
9. Sardines, salmon and tuna. All of these oily fish contain plentiful amounts of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They appear to boost metabolism by influencing levels of leptin, a hormone that plays a role in regulating whether calories are torched or stored as fat. A diet rich in omega-3 acids has been found to turn up metabolic burn by up to 400 calories per day.
10. Broccoli. Study after study links calcium and fiber to weight loss. Broccoli is loaded with both, along with powerful phytochemicals that protect against illness. One survey found that broccoli is America’s favorite vegetable—and that’s no wonder, given that a cup of cooked broccoli has just 44 calories and ranks as a fat-burning nutritional powerhouse. Research shows that on average, people who eat more fiber have less flab.
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