Some foods—from celery to spicy eats—maintain a mythical status among dieters, who believe they offer an effortless calorie-burning boost. But can a single food give you a real leg-up when it comes to shedding excess pounds, or is this right up there with baby unicorns and U.F.O.s? We asked Anthony Ricci, a certified sports nutritionist on the board of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, to give us the skinny on five foods often believed to magically tip the scales in your favor.
1Claim: Celery burns off more calories than it contains.
Ricci says the so-called negative calorie hypothesis is technically correct but the effect is so negligible it’s useless for shrinking waistlines. “You may burn a small fraction more calories chewing and digesting celery than the number of calories the stalk itself actually contains, but you’d have to eat acres of the stuff to burn off just a few extra calories,” he says. On the upside, the crunchy green veggie is low cal, fat free and packed with fiber so it’s smart choice as part of an overall healthy, weight-conscious diet.
2Claim: Eggs help control your appetite.
While eating eggs won’t trigger spontaneous fat loss, Ricci says that eggs may help stabilize appetite. A new study done at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana found that overweight and obese men who enjoyed two eggs for breakfast rather than cereal felt less hungry come lunchtime and consequently consumed less at an ‘all-you-can eat’ buffet. Eggs seem to act as an appetite suppressant by significantly lowering levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger, while raising levels PYY3-36, a hormone responsible for creating the sensation of fullness after eating.
3Claim: Spicy foods rev up your metabolism.
When you eat something so spicy that you break into a sweat, your metabolic rate does jump up briefly. But Ricci cautions that munching hot peppers will never take the place of, say, an indoor cycling class or a brisk walk. “Spicy foods simply don’t give you a metabolic boost that’s significant enough or long-lasting enough to help you lose an ounce,” he notes. That said, capsaicin, the ingredient that gives hot peppers their high-octane kick could play a role in the future of weight loss.
According to investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, using capsaicin to destroy the functioning of the nerves that connect the gut and the brain, as part of a weight loss surgery known as vagal deafferentation, can vastly reduce total body fat as well as visceral abdominal fat—the “beer belly” fat that pads the spaces between abdominal organs.
4Claim: Dairy products help you drop pounds.
Although they’re no quick fix, low-fat dairy products seem to help you slim down in the long run. A 24-week study at the University of Tennessee showed that dieters eating three or four servings of milk, yogurt or cheese daily as part of an overall weight loss program lost 70 percent more weight and 64 percent more fat as those who skimped on dairy. The reason? “The calcium found in dairy products appears to slow down the process of making fat and increase fat burning, especially belly fat,” notes Ricci.
Want better results? Combine dairy with weight training. McMaster University researchers in Canada found that women who drink two large glasses of milk a day after their weight-lifting routine gained more muscle and lost more fat compared to women who drank sugar-based energy drinks.
5Claim: Diet soda helps you lose weight.
We hate to burst your bubbles, but zero calorie soft drinks have been linked to weight gain. One University of Texas study discovered that over a 12-year period, people who guzzled two or more diet sodas a day experienced waist size increases that were five times greater than people who didn’t drink the stuff.
Ricci says one explanation could be that artificial sweeteners tell the brain that the body has eaten something high in calories, but since it really hasn’t, the brain directs the body to seek out those calories elsewhere, like by munching on a piece of pie or a candy bar.