When it comes to losing weight, not all foods are the same. Some foods can increase the amount of calories you burn, kill your appetite, or both. This can be caused by protein, fiber, as well as many substances found naturally in foods.
Here are 10 evidence-based fat-burning foods and beverages.
Despite being high in fat, nuts are among the most weight loss friendly foods in existence. They are low in carbs, but high in fiber, healthy fats and protein.Because of the way nuts are structured, the calories in them are pretty hard for the body to access, and about 10-15% don’t even get absorbed (1).
Nuts are also highly satiating, so they make you feel more full with fewer calories. There is also some evidence that they can boost your metabolism (2). People who eat nuts (or peanuts) tend to weigh less, and controlled trials show that they cause weight loss and lead to significant reductions in waist size (3, 4, 5, 6). In one study, a low-calorie diet supplemented with almonds caused 62% greater weight loss than the same diet supplemented with complex carbohydrates (7).
2. Coconut Oil
The fats in coconut oil are not the same as most other fats. They consist mostly of fatty acids called medium-chain triglycerides. These types of fats are metabolized differently, and can have potent biological effects (8). Some studies have shown that these fatty acids can make you feel so full that you eat up to 256 fewer calories per day, and boost the number of calories you burn by up to 120 calories per day (9, 10).
Interestingly, studies have looked at whether coconut oil can cause weight loss in humans. These studies did not find a reduction in weight, but they did show a significant reduction in waist circumference in people who ate 30 mL (2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day (11, 12). What this means, is that coconut oil is particularly effective at helping you lose belly fat, the harmful fat that tends to build up around the organs.
Bottom Line: Coconut oil contains fats called medium-chain triglycerides, which can reduce appetite, increase fat burning and help you lose belly fat.
3. Boiled Potatoes
Potatoes can either make you fat, or help you lose weight, depending on how you prepare them. While french fries and potato chips can be highly fattening, the same is not true for whole, plain potatoes. There is a scale called the satiety index, which measures the ability of foods to cause fullness and make people eat fewer calories at subsequent meals. Interestingly, white, boiled potatoes score by far the highest of all foods tested (13). What this means, is that if you eat more potatoes, you should automatically eat less of other foods instead.
There is some evidence that this is partly mediated by a protein in potatoes called protease inhibitor 2, which is believed to have beneficial effects on appetite hormones, but this needs to be studied further (14, 15). If you want to boost the weight loss effects of potatoes even further, then cool them down after boiling them. This greatly increases their content of resistant starch, a fiber-like substance that can help you lose weight (16, 17).
Bottom Line: Boiled, white potatoes are very effective at inducing satiety and making you feel full. This should help you eat fewer overall calories.
Coffee is not the devil it has been made out to be. It is actually very healthy, and loaded with antioxidants and bioactive compounds (18). There is quite a bit of evidence that caffeine, the active ingredient in coffee, can boost fat burning and help with weight control (19, 20). In fact, caffeine has been shown to temporarily boost metabolism by 3-11%, and temporarily increase fat burning by up to 10-29% (21, 22, 23, 24).
According to one study, 600 mg of caffeine per day (4-6 cups of coffee) can help you burn an additional 79-150 calories per day (25). However, a tolerance to the effects can build up quickly, so this may not apply to people who drink coffee every day.
Bottom Line: Caffeine, the active ingredient in coffee, has repeatedly been shown to boost metabolism and increase fat burning in the body.
5. Fish and Lean Meats
When it comes to losing weight, protein is the king of nutrients. Some of the best sources of quality protein in the diet include fish and lean meats. Studies show that a high-protein diet can boost metabolism by up to 80-100 calories per day, and one study goes as high as 260 calories per day (26, 27, 28, 29).
Another study showed that protein at 30% of calories helped women eat 441 fewer calories per day and lose almost a pound of weight per week, without intentionally restricting anything (30). A high-protein diet can also reduce cravings and desire for late-night snacking, and has been shown to help prevent weight regain during a “maintenance” phase (31, 32). If you want to lose weight and keep it off, consider making a permanent increase in your protein intake. Eating sufficient protein can be challenging, so it is recommended to use a nutrition tracker (like Cron-o-meter) for a while to make sure that you’re getting enough.
Bottom Line: Fish and lean meats are some of the best sources of quality protein. Eating a high protein diet (25-30% of calories) is very effective for weight loss.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is incredibly popular in the natural health community, and has been shown to have numerous benefits. It can significantly reduce the blood sugar response after a high-carb meal, and may have modest effects on your weight (33, 34). Studies have shown that taking vinegar with a high-carb meal can increase fullness so much that people eat 200-275 fewer calories for the rest of the day (35, 36). In one study, taking 15-30 mL (1-2 tablespoons) of vinegar per day caused weight loss of 2.6 – 3.7 pounds (1.2 – 1.7 kg) over a period of 12 weeks (37).
Bottom Line: Apple cider vinegar has been shown to reduce appetite when taken with high-carb meals, and may cause modest weight loss if taken every day.
7. Green Tea
Green tea is another weight loss friendly beverage. Like coffee, it does contain some amount of caffeine, which can aid fat burning. However, green tea also contains several other bioactive substances that can have an effect. This includes the antioxidant EGCG. EGCG can increase norepinephrine activity and help liberate fatty acids from your fat stores (38, 39). According to some studies, green tea extract can boost metabolism by about 3-4%, and increase fat burning by up to 17% (40, 41, 42). Although the evidence is mixed, some studies have shown that green tea can help you lose fat, especially in the belly area (43, 44, 45).
Bottom Line: Green tea contains caffeine and EGCG, substances that have been shown to boost metabolism and increase fat burning. Several studies have shown that green tea can help with fat loss.
8. Hot Peppers
Hot peppers, like chili pepper, contain a substance called capsaicin. Many studies have shown that capsaicin can reduce appetite and boost metabolism (46, 47, 48). For this reason, capsaicin is a very popular ingredient in commercial weight loss supplements. If you don’t mind spicy food, then upping your intake a bit may be useful for losing weight. However, this doesn’t seem to work for people who eat spicy food all the time, indicating that a tolerance to the effects can build up (49, 50).
Bottom Line: Hot peppers are high in a substance called capsaicin, which has been shown to reduce appetite and increase fat burning.
Drinking enough water can have many benefits, and is surprisingly effective for weight loss. The thing is, drinking half a liter (17 oz) of water can boost your metabolism by 30% for a period of 1 to 1.5 hours (51). Drinking your water cold is best, because then the body needs to expend energy (calories) to heat the water to body temperature. The best time to drink water is before meals. Drinking half a liter (17 oz) of water, half an hour before meals, has been shown to increase fullness and help people on a fat loss diet lose up to 44% more weight (52).
Bottom Line: Drinking water, especially before meals, can be useful as a weight loss aid. Water boosts metabolism and helps increase fullness.
10. Whole Eggs
Whole eggs are among the healthiest and most nutritious foods on the planet. They were demonized for being high in cholesterol, but new studies show that they have negligible effects on cholesterol in the blood (53, 54). There are also some very impressive studies showing that eating eggs for breakfast can be useful for weight loss.
In one study, eating eggs instead of bagels for breakfast made people feel more full, so that they ended up eating fewer calories for the next 36 hours (55). Another study showed that a breakfast of eggs caused 65% greater weight loss than a breakfast of bagels, even though both meals contained the same number of calories (56). If you can’t eat eggs for some reason, then that’s fine. Any protein-rich and nutrient-dense breakfast should work.
Take Home Message: One of the great things about these foods and beverages, is that you are adding them to your diet, instead of removing stuff.