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(Sometimes a reader will email me a question that needs a full article to answer properly, and sometimes it’s an answer I think many people will benefit from hearing. This is one of those times.)
QUESTION: I recently came across the concept of negative calorie foods (a food that supposedly burns more calories during digestion than the food itself actually contains… like celery and certain other fruits and vegetables) and wanted to know a few things.
First, is this a real thing? Second, assuming it is, do I need to log these foods into my daily calorie count? And third, can you provide us with a list of the best negative calorie foods to eat?
ANSWER: Okay, so this one is really a 3-part question, and I’m going to answer the third part first. Can I provide a list? You bet your sweet ass I can! If there’s one thing you know I love, it’s a list of foods!
Here now is what I personally consider to be the ultimate list of The 10 Best Negative Calorie Foods to include in your fat loss diet:
There you have it, the 10 best foods to eat to maximize the scientifically proven “negative calorie” effect and significantly improve your ability to lose weight.
Have a terrific day!
You’re still here?
Why aren’t you out shopping for the foods on this list?
And then eating them?
And then having a terrific day?
The entire list is blank?
Hmmm. That’s odd.
Why would the entire list be blank?
Ohhhhhhh! Hang on a second! I know why!
Because negative calorie foods are bullshit.
There Are No Negative Calorie Foods
As the person asking this question mentioned, the concept of negative calorie foods goes like this…
There are certain foods – primarily certain vegetables and fruits – that are claimed to require more calories to digest than they provide in the first place.
Meaning, your body will supposedly burn more calories digesting the food than the food contained, thus creating a scenario of “negative calories.”
For example, if some food contained 20 calories but required 30 calories to digest, that food would have provided -10 calories. It would have completely burned itself off, plus an additional 10 calories.
So, imagine how amazing it would be if you could eat a food that had NO calories whatsoever… therefore allowing to you eat unlimited amounts of it without worrying or caring because it won’t have any effect whatsoever on your ability to lose weight (or avoid gaining weight). Pretty amazing, right?
Now take that amazing scenario a step further and imagine that this food actually BURNED additional calories! Calories that were provided by other foods you’ve already eaten or will eat later on. Calories that are already stored on your body in the form of fat.
It’s like eating a tiny magical personal trainer that will do their own little calorie burning workout within your digestive system while you just sit around and do nothing (or simply eat more of this negative calorie food).
Pretty amazing, right?
Except for the fact that it’s all bullshit.
Here’s Why It’s Impossible
The human body does indeed burn calories during the digestion process. This part is true. It’s something we refer to as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
While protein, fat and carbs all have some degree of thermic effect, the macronutrient with the highest thermic effect is protein.
How high? Approximately 30%.
Which means, if you eat a high protein food (e.g. chicken breast), about 30% of the protein calories it contains will be burned during the digestion process. So if that food contained 100 calories primarily from protein, nearly 30 of those calories will be burned when your body digests it. This is an example of how TEF works.
The thing is, as I mentioned, TEF is highest with protein. Meaning, you’re not going to have anything higher than 30%.
Why is this important? Because in order for negative calorie foods to truly exist, the TEF of those foods would need to exceed 100%.
And that just doesn’t happen.
The bonus ironic part here is that all of the foods that idiots misinformed people will claim contain negative calories are typically fruits and vegetables… which are foods that contain little to no protein… which means they are foods with a minimal amount of TEF.
If you REALLY wanted to maximize TEF, the most effective way of doing that would be by simply eating a sufficient total amount of protein each day.
No, this will still never have a negative calorie effect or anything remotely close to it, but it can still be beneficial for someone trying to lose weight/prevent weight gain (not to mention the other various benefits of a sufficient protein intake).
So, negative calorie foods don’t exist. It’s a bullshit concept built on bullshit reasoning retold by idiots misinformed people just like any other bullshit diet myth.
So to answer the first part of this 3-part question – is this a real thing? – the answer is no.
The big problem, of course, is the second part of this question…
“Do I need to log these foods into my daily calorie count?”
See, that’s the thing about diet myths. It’s not just misinformed people believing in silly incorrect nonsense. It’s misinformed people believing in silly incorrect nonsense WHICH THEN HAS A DETRIMENTAL EFFECT ON THEIR ABILITY TO LOSE WEIGHT.
And negative calorie foods are no different, as our question-asker has clearly demonstrated with their second question…
“Do I need to log these foods into my daily calorie count?”
This is a question that implies the idea of magical “free foods.” Foods you can eat that don’t contain any calories (or at least any meaningful amount of calories worth logging, or even a negative amount of calories in this case) and therefore don’t need to be counted.
Which is bullshit. Everything needs to be counted.
It reminds me of that story I told on the AWR Facebook page a while ago… right here.
It was a story about a woman who claimed to be eating the right amount of calories she needed to be eating to lose weight, but yet she wasn’t losing weight despite tracking everything as accurately as possible.
Her problem? Her diet allowed her to have “free foods” (all of which were fruits and vegetables) that didn’t need to be tracked or counted. When she then began tracking and counting those foods, she realized they accounted for hundreds of additional calories.
Enough to prevent her from losing weight.
Guess what happened when she started counting those calories? She suddenly began losing weight.
Like I also once said on the AWR Facebook page…
If your weight loss diet has “free” foods that you’re allowed to “eat unlimited amounts of” and “don’t have to count,” then please allow me to bring to your attention the fact that your weight loss diet is fucking stupid.
Negative calorie foods fit into that exact same category.
Except, in this case, not only would the person NOT be counting those calories… they may actually be subtracting additional calories off of their daily total.
So What Are The Best Negative Calorie Foods?
There are none, and the entire concept of it will at best be a pointless time-wasting distraction, and at worst be the thing that’s preventing you from losing weight.
Just like every other equally stupid diet myth, it should be ignored completely in favor of what actually matters (which, in case you didn’t know, is this).
Studies show that less than 5% of people who want to get fit actually follow through.
JUST SHOW UP, GIVE IT YOUR ALL, AND WE'LL TAKE CARE OF THE REST.