Published 16th August 2022

Can certain foods help you burn calories?

Certain foods have a reputation for “increasing your metabolism” to burn more calories, but is there any evidence?

If you’re looking to burn more calories, attempting to change your metabolism won’t help. 

“Metabolism” refers to the cellular processes involved in converting the food you eat into energy, so you can't actually change your metabolism. 

“Metabolic rate,” on the other hand, refers to the speed at which your body burns energy, or calories.

In this article, we’ll explore whether any foods can help increase your metabolic rate to help you achieve a moderate weight. We’ll also delve into the research on whether you can use certain foods to aid weight loss.

How does the body use energy?

Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is all of the calories your body burns throughout the day. Four categories of energy expenditure make up your TDEE:

Why most metabolism advice isn’t true

Often, people think that weight loss is about eating specific foods and exercising to burn calories. Unfortunately, the solution isn’t so straightforward — there’s no universal key to losing weight. 

People often use a basic calories-in versus calories-out equation to explain this strategy, but the reality isn’t quite so simple

Still, it’s possible to lose weight, and there are things you can do to make the journey easier.

Unpublished research from ZOE shows that people who closely followed our personalized, gut-friendly nutrition program lost an average of 9.4 pounds after 3 months, and around 80% of participants didn’t feel hungry and had more energy.

Can any foods help you lose weight?

Is there any truth to claims that metabolism-boosting foods exist? Here, we’ll delve into what the evidence says.  

Protein-rich foods

Foods rich in protein may be able to increase TEF energy use. In fact, approximately 20–30% of the energy in protein is used just to digest food, compared with 5–10% in carbohydrates and 0–3% in fats.

Also, research shows that protein reduces appetite. This is because when you eat protein-rich foods, they suppress hunger hormones like ghrelin and prompt feelings of fullness.

However, protein is just one component of a healthy diet and not a magic potion for weight loss. While it may slightly increase your energy expenditure, it’s not likely to have a significant effect.

Good-quality sources of protein include lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and tofu.

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Caffeine

Caffeine is naturally present in coffee beans, tea, and cocoa beans. 

Research to date has shown that caffeine may promote weight loss and reductions in body fat.

However, these results from different studies haven’t all been consistent, so the evidence isn’t very strong.

Everyone has different levels of sensitivity to caffeine. But up to 400 milligrams a day appears to be safe for most people. 

This is the equivalent of about four cups of coffee or five to six cups of tea.

Having more than this can dehydrate you and cause symptoms like irritability, headaches, tiredness, and trouble sleeping. 

Other ‘calorie-burning’ foods

Capsaicin is the active spicy component in chili peppers. While some studies have found that it may promote weight loss and suppress appetite, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that it could make a significant impact.

There are also claims that ginger could aid weight loss, but overall, the research is mixed. Consuming ginger on a regular basis is unlikely to directly affect your weight. 

Blood sugar dips and overeating

ZOE’s research has shown that people who experience large blood sugar dips in the 2–4 hours after they’ve eaten tend to feel hungry sooner and consume more calories than those with smaller dips.

Not all people experience blood sugar dips, and how much your blood sugar fluctuates is down to a combination of factors, including the foods you eat. 

Try swapping out highly processed and sugary snacks for alternatives like:

  • hummus with carrots or pepper sticks

  • apple slices with nut butter

  • a handful of dried nuts, fruit, and seeds

  • Greek yogurt with mixed berries

  • hard boiled eggs and edamame beans

A varied diet rich in high-quality, minimally processed whole foods can help keep your blood sugar levels stable. 

With the ZOE program, you can discover how to eat the best foods for your body and your long-term health and weight goals. 

Summary

People have linked different foods with “increasing metabolism,” or increasing your metabolic rate. But there isn’t much evidence to suggest that specific foods, like ginger or chilies, can significantly benefit weight loss.

Make sure you include good-quality protein in your diet, and you may see a small impact on how much energy your body burns each day. A moderate amount of caffeine could also help with your weight loss goals. 

At the end of the day, there is no magic formula for losing weight. 

At ZOE, we know that crash diets or calorie counting for weight loss doesn’t work long term. Focusing on a varied diet full of high-quality and minimally processed foods is a more sustainable long-term plan for your overall health and weight. 

Weight management is about more than just food, however. Exercise, sleep, and gut health all play big roles in supporting a moderate weight.

The ZOE at-home test analyzes your unique blood sugar and blood fat responses, as well as the “good” and “bad” bugs living in your gut. Using this information, we’ll give you nutrition advice tailored to your body.

To get started, take our free quiz.

Sources

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Capsaicinoids and capsinoids. A potential role for weight management? A systematic review of the evidence. Appetite. (2012). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22634197/ 

Comparison of 2 diets with either 25% or 10% of energy as casein on energy expenditure, substrate balance, and appetite profile. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2009). https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/89/3/831/4596720?login=false 

Effect of green tea catechins with or without caffeine on anthropometric measures: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2010). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19906797/ 

Effect of short- and long-term protein consumption on appetite and appetite-regulating gastrointestinal hormones, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Physiology & Behavior. (2020). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938420304376 

Effects of novel capsinoid treatment on fatness and energy metabolism in humans: possible pharmacogenetic implications. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2009). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151435/ 

Examining variations of resting metabolic rate of adults: a public health perspective. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4535334/ 

Gut microbiota in human metabolic health and disease. Nature Reviews Microbiology. (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41579-020-0433-9 

Human microbiome and metabolic health: An overview of systematic reviews. Obesity Reviews. (2022). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/obr.13409 

Human postprandial responses to food and potential for precision nutrition. Nature Medicine. (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0934-0 

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Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure. Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry. (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6058072/ 

Postprandial glycaemic dips predict appetite and energy intake in healthy individuals. Nature Metabolism. (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s42255-021-00383-x 

Role of resting metabolic rate and energy expenditure in hunger and appetite control: a new formulation. Disease Models & Mechanisms. (2012). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424457/ 

Spilling the beans: how much caffeine is too much? (2018). https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much 

The effects of caffeine intake on weight loss: a systematic review and dos-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. (2019). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2018.1507996 

The effects of ginger intake on weight loss and metabolic profiles among overweight and obese subjects: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. (2019). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2018.1427044 

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