Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

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Myth: Some foods burn fat.

Nicole Senior

Fact: Burning body fat (losing weight) requires an energy deficit and individual foods are unlikely to make a big difference to your waistline.
The idea that some foods have inherent fat-burning properties has been around for some time. Until I typed ‘fat-burning foods’ into my search engine I had no idea so many foods were recommended for this amazing ability. Bananas, chilli, ginger, garlic, grapefruit, pineapple, low-fat dairy products, kidney beans, green tea, eggs and even olive oil get a mention. There is obviously some confusion about the difference between healthy foods to include in a weight loss diet and actual ‘fat-burning foods’, but is there any evidence to back up any such claims? A perusal of the scientific literature revealed several foods showing some promising effects: green tea, caffeine and chilli. Contrary to the diet book of the same name, evidence for the fat-burning power of grapefruit is conspicuously absent.

Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins which have been found to increase metabolic rate and fat oxidation (the sciency term for fat-burning). But before you go out and drink your own body weight in green tea you need to know the research is far from conclusive and any effect is likely to be somewhat modest. On the plus side, green tea is typically consumed without milk and sugar and without sticky buns and chocolate biscuits. Even without the fat-burning benefits, green tea is a zero kilojoule/calorie source of fluids with the bonus of antioxidants.

Caffeine is well known for its effect in enhancing exercise performance. It actually releases stored fat to fuel exercising muscles. The stimulant effect also helps to reduce fatigue and make exercise feel easier. As expected, there is a down side – too much caffeine is harmful. There are also practical aspects to consider. For instance, a cup of instant coffee or tea before your morning jog is likely to have benefit, whereas an ‘energy drink’ loaded with sugar or an iced coffee on whole milk with whipped cream without exercise will not.

Chillies have an active ingredient called capsaicin, which is the substance that makes them taste hot. The studies on chilli are small and show a variety of responses between individuals, however they do support the idea that daily ingestion increases metabolic rate and increases ‘fat burning’. However the positive impact is limited by the small amounts typically consumed, and eating it daily poses a challenge. On the practical side, chilli is popular in Tex-Mex cuisine and it is easy to see how any advantage could be lost amidst the corn chips, cheese and sour cream! On the other hand, chilli in high concentration may forcefully put the brakes on eating because of the pain, and comes with the added bonus of clearing out your sinuses. There is no need to suffer pain in your quest for health because enjoying comfortable levels of chilli within healthy, balanced meals is one of the many natural highs you can get eating great-tasting food flavoured with healthful herbs and spices rather than the demon salt.

For more information about heart-friendly foods and enjoyable healthy eating including recipes, check out eattobeatcholesterol.com.au.