The Truth About “Fat-Burning” Foods’ Magical Powers



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While it’d be cool if there were a food—preferably a chocolate one—that naturally burned body fat, the truth is that this concept exists only in your dreams.

“It’s a myth,” says

Dr. Caroline Apovian

, MD, the director of nutrition and weight management at Boston Medical Center and a professor of medicine at Boston University. “Burning fat—no specific food does that. The only way to burn fat is to eat less calories than you expend or burn as energy.”

Turns out, other experts agree that rumors of magical, “fat-burning” foods have gotten out of hand: If you ate candy in place of a higher-calorie option every day for a month but ended each day with a caloric deficit, says Philadelphia-based weight-loss physician

Dr. Charlie Seltzer

, MD, you could, technically speaking, call that candy a “fat-burner,” he says. That’s because it’s only when your body runs out of grub to turn into fuel that it taps into the body’s fat stores. Over time, this can lead to measurable results.

“It depends on where you’re starting,” Dr. Seltzer says of which dietary changes prove effective. “But no food will enable you to burn body fat in a noticeable way.”

Before you “but…but…buttttt!” and begin mourning foods that have long been glorified as fat-fighters, here’s how some of the most infamous “fat-burners,” i.e., ingredients that promote fat loss, got their health halos in the first place—and which claims actually deliver.

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Cinnamon sticks, tied with a rope, and ground cinnamon in a bowl lie on the table

Elena Rui

“It might regulate blood sugar metabolism,” says Dr. Seltzer, referring to


that has linked cinnamon and/or its extracts, in supplement form, to improvements in insulin sensitivity and positive effects on blood lipids and lean body mass. However, the theory is largely based on


done on animals like rabbits, with

no firm proof

of significant effects among humans.


Chili Peppers

Red chilies and one green chili on paper, close-up

Maximilian Stock Ltd.

Research suggests that supplementing with capsaicin, the active compound found in chili peppers, may reduce appetite, increase satiety, and suppress body-fat accumulation in response to doses ranging between six and nine milligrams a day, although many of the


are based on small sample sizes. “You might burn an extra calorie or two, but I don’t think you’d notice a difference,” Dr. Seltzer says.

Meanwhile, Dr. Apovian suspects a practical mechanism might contribute to hot peppers’ role in helping people reach their fat-loss goals: “If you eat something, and it tastes too hot, you won’t feel like eating it,” she says.

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Fresh green celery on wooden board.


“You couldn’t physically eat enough celery for a notable fat-burning effect,” Dr. Seltzer says of the veggie stalks, which are at least

90 percent

water. That said, there’s one caveat: “If celery keeps you from eating something else that has more calories, it might help your body maintain a calorie deficit that helps you burn fat,” he says.


Green Tea

Green (herbal, white) tea in white cup on white background. Flat lay food



may increase your metabolism

a little bit but it’s minor,” Dr. Seltzer says, citing caffeine as the likely mechanism. “You may notice a difference if you sub plain green tea for, say, a super value meal and a Coke.” Great! Except that tea isn’t food, and swapping meals for fluids is no way to live or see sustainable results.

This could be why the

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

doesn’t stand behind green-tea extract as a weight-loss supplement (or any others they’ve


)—particularly since supplementing with the stuff can deliver quantities that set some people, like those with liver disorders or related symptoms like abdominal pain and dark urine, up for liver damage. #notworthit.

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Greek Yogurt with honey and nuts

Dejan Kolar

Although more research is needed regarding potential mechanisms,


suggests there may be something about yogurt, when eaten instead of less healthy foods, that supports weight loss. The magic sauce could have something to do with the way it affects bacteria in the gut or with its nutritional composition, particularly when it comes to high-protein varieties like Greek yogurt. That’s because your body uses more energy digesting protein than breaking down carbs and fat, according to Dr. Seltzer. As a result, you process fewer of the calories you eat from protein-rich foods than you might have otherwise taken in from other options that contain less of the nutrient.

“Protein is more satiating than simple carbohydrates,” Dr. Apovian adds, naming chicken and fish as lean, high-protein alternatives to dairy. But again, it all comes back to eating fewer calories overall—not one special menu item. Yogurt doesn’t go from your spoon to fat stores and obliterate ‘em.

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High Angle View Of Coffee On White Background

Jolanta Petraityte / EyeEm


suggests that caffeine may make humans eat less and move more, which, as any weight-loss expert will tell you, is the real secret to burning fat. However, the substance’s physiological effects extend to the brain, so you can’t consume the stuff in excess without feeling jittery, unfocused, and a little loopy. In other words, don’t expect major, measurable effects from more frequent Starbucks runs—particularly without changing any other habits.


Cold Water

Water from a Decanter with sliced lemon, ice poured into a glass.


Exposure to cold temperatures—i.e., in a pool or ski slope—does actually appear to increase the metabolism and increase fat burn,



Small studies

have also shown that drinking water (about two cups of warm liquid) could increase the metabolism by up to 30 percent beginning 10 minutes after consumption with results that persist for up to 40 minutes. But Dr. Seltzer doesn’t prescribe these strategies alone for significant results: “Temperature doesn’t make a giant difference unless you’re looking at it in a test tube,” he says, referring to the way science doesn’t always apply to humans in everyday life outside the laboratory. That said, drinking any temperature liquid can make you feel full, so you eat less and provoke a calorie deficit, Dr. Apovian says.

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The Bottom Line

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“There are many ways to lose fat, and they all involve eating less calories than you need,” Dr. Apovian says, adding that although you can’t eat your way to more muscle mass, weight-bearing and resistance exercises can increase your strength and, in turn, amp up your metabolism at rest.

What matters is that any fat-burning tips you try are sustainable, since changes that don’t jive with your lifestyle (or leave you miserable) won’t deliver lasting results.

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