Losing weight, especially fat, is never an easy task. It requires discipline, consistency and sometimes eating foods that haven’t been in your diet for a while. So, can certain foods help your body burn fat? If so, what’s the best way of getting them into your diet?
First of all, it’s important to understand that there is no magic food out there that can incinerate fat or shape that 6-pack for you, despite what the latest headlines may promise you. Fat loss comes through a calorie deficit; burning more calories than you consume.
However, certain foods can certainly assist with the process of burning fat, as well as helping to keep you on track for losing weight. Making food work for you is what makes the journey of weight loss that bit easier. Ultimately, it is the whole diet which counts and not just a selection of foods, plus - variety is the spice of life after all, and losing weight isn’t all about boiled chicken, sweet potato & broccoli in tupperware tubs. It’s about making the right choices to help you reach your goals as smoothly as possible.
In the past few years, fats, and their role in the diet and general health, have dropped the stigma once attached. We now know that not all fats are bad, and they’re not all created equal, either.
Fat is key for the body to function, it provides energy, protects our organs, maintains cell membranes, and helps the body absorb and process nutrients. It also helps the body to burn fat too. We’re not talking about the fats in pizza, chips and processed foods, but foods which predominantly contain unsaturated sources, both monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) which includes fish, avocados, seeds, leafy vegetables, olive oil and nuts.
A 2009 Study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who filled their diets with mostly unsaturated fatty acids had less abdominal fats, the key reason being their food choices were better and much higher quality. Consuming the right fatty acids can help boost metabolic health, additionally, old fat which is stored in the body as subcutaneous fat, cannot be burned as efficiently when there is a lack of dietary fat, as this helps break down the existing fat by activating fat burning pathways.
Dietary fat is great for keeping you feeling full as the digestion time is longer, meaning that you’re less likely to be thinking about raiding the snack cupboard shortly after a meal. Finally, fat aids with the absorption of key nutrients such as fat soluble Vitamins A, D, E & K. A lack of fat in the diet and your body won’t absorb these as well. Vitamin D is key too, especially when on a diet. It’s the feel good vitamin, as well as low levels being a predictor for low abdominal fat loss.
Complex Carbs & Fibre
The move from vilifying fat meant that a new scapegoat was needed, and that came in the form of carbohydrates - largely thanks to people like Dr Atkins, and also the ketogenic diet. Both in their own way effective for fat loss, but debatable when it comes to long term sustainability. More importantly, we were once again at a point of vilifying a macronutrient. (guess we’ve got to point the blame somewhere!) However, just like fat, there’s more to carbohydrates than just one type, and some are better than others. You see, the issues behind carbohydrates themselves are not simple, but complex, which is what causes confusion for many. In short, they are the bodies preferred energy source, and are basically made up from sugar molecules that are a union of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (CHO). They are the binding together of one or more sugar molecules, and are broken down by the body for fuel. They are found in foods such as fruit, vegetables, grains, sugars and tubers. Complex carbs come from foods that are also rich in fibre. Fibre plays a key part in weight loss by balancing gut flora, helping to keep you fuller for longer, and also helps fight against heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Ensuring your carbohydrate sources are nutrient dense, and bringing more to the table than just energy, is a great base for any diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
As previously mentioned, fibre plays an excellent role in fat loss, and fruit and vegetables contain plenty of this. Not only does research show that eating over five portions of fruit and vegetables per day is a great way to help prevent disease, but it also shows that those who eat more fruit and vegetables generally have lower body fat levels. Additionally, because they are so rich in vitamins and minerals they help the body perform better. By perform better, this means improved sleep, better recovery from exercise, and stablised energy levels. All essential to keep you on track for losing body fat.
In addition to this, research has shown that if we eat more or less the same volume or weight of food every day and swap high-calorie low-nutrient value foods for nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, we’ll fill up on these foods with lower calories. This is key to weight loss. To lose weight you should be eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Easy ways to hit this target include adding fruit to your morning porridge, having a veg based smoothie for a mid-morning snack, including a side salad with your lunch, eating mixed berries and yoghurt for a mid-afternoon snack, and having a couple of different vegetables with your evening meal. This would give you between six and nine portions, which is a great variety of key vitamins and minerals, and fibre. It will also help with filling you up!
Protein has been given a somewhat hero status of late when it comes to weight loss. However, it is important to know that eating too many calories from any food will cause weight gain. Also, as previously mentioned, no one food actually burns fat, despite the many claims out there. Increasing calorie expenditure or deficit is what causes fat loss. However, there are many claims regarding the thermic effect of protein which - whilst true - are over-stated.
Protein, however, has been shown to increase satiety, much like fibre, it’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer. It has also been shown to slightly increase metabolism. Combined, you can see how these two factors can help with a calorie deficit diet and weight loss. Research has also shown that those who consume a high protein diet can lose more weight than those on a high carbohydrate diet whilst consuming the same calories. However, it is important to note that there’s still a lot more research to be done in this area.
Most importantly for weight loss, protein helps maintain muscle mass and aid recovery from exercise. Losing muscle usually leads to a decrease in your metabolic rate, which usually means burning fewer calories. Protein helps retain muscles whilst on a calorie restricted diet, so you’ll be more likely to lose fat than muscle, meaning your metabolic rate is maintained.
Protein amount is also a hotly debated subject area. For weight loss, current guidelines are between 1.5g-3g/kg, and good sources include meats, fish, eggs, dairy, beans and pulses.
As you can see, the key to weight loss doesn’t rely solely on one magical fat-binding food, and many different foods can play a role in supporting fat loss. No one food is the key to fat loss and all macronutrients have their place, making the right decisions on a consistent basis - which includes eating less calories than you burn, preferably from whole food sources - is they key to maintaining weight loss and losing body fat.
The real key to fat loss is not eliminating one macronutrient, not relying one so-called superfood or looking for the next super potion, it is the consistency and ability to adhere to the dietary changes of eating a healthy and balanced diet which enables you to exercise regularly and recover and rest well.
David Stache - Nourish Founder