By Allie Firestone, Divine Coraline
What if I told you there are certain foods that can make you lose weight through the sheer act of eating them? That’s right- sit in front of the TV, eat these foods, get thinner. There are things we can eat that make us consume fewer calories than not eating at all does? Sign me up.
Being the extreme Web searcher that I am, I decided to do some research on the term -negative-calorie food- while looking for recipes online. Some Web sites (mostly disreputable blogs and weight-loss sites) claim that certain foods, because they’re tricky for our bodies to digest, actually burn more calories than they’re worth and therefore help us lose weight. This diet folklore surrounds low-cal foods like citrus, melon, and celery.
“It’s a huge rumor in the eating disorder community,” says Elaine Fung, a former anorexic who recently completed her master’s thesis on pro-eating disorder Web sites. “The thought is, if you eat these foods, they’ll help you lose even more weight than if you don’t eat at all.”
When I first came across this idea, I brushed it off as a silly diet myth. But I soon found that in a backward sort of way, there is some truth to this view of certain foods. But is it enough to make foods “negative calorie”? Not exactly.
Legend Has It…
According to diet legend, there are specific foods that cause our bodies to burn more calories than the amount we take in by eating them. Here’s how it works, according to NegativeCalorieFoods.com (come on, of course it exists): No food actually has a negative amount of calories, because all foods have some caloric value. But the overall effect of these particular foods balances out as negative because the energy we use to digest them is greater than the energy (or calories) than we consume in eating them. Skeptical? This diet “logic” gets even crazier.
This negative-calorie effect, according to diet lore, is true of only a special handful of foods that not only are low-calorie, but take a lot of work for our bodies to digest. “I figured if I ate one hundred calories of a food that only takes fifty calories to burn, I’m left with fifty extra calories. But if I ate one hundred calories of a food that takes 150 calories to burn- now, there’s something to shoot for, remembers Fung
When I quickly peruse a few of these diet Web sites, it’s easy to see why she would think so. “Typically, a twenty-five-calorie piece of broccoli (100 grams) requires eighty calories to digest,” claims NegativeCalorieFoods.com, “resulting in a net loss of fifty-five calories.”
Eighty calories?! That’s like biking for ten minutes. This is either the diet holy grail or a darn good piece of urban food legend. Foods on the negative-calorie list include apples, asparagus, beets, berries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, garlic, grapefruit, lemon, lettuce, onion, spinach, watermelon, and zucchini.
Even though it all sounded great to my non-nutritionist ears, I still found myself with more questions than answers. Does it really take different amounts of calories to digest different foods? What does nutrition science have to say about all this? And if these foods truly burn more than they’re worth, shouldn’t eating them be considered exercise, meaning I could literally eat my way to a smaller size?