Nutrition Articles

Can Certain Foods Help You Burn More Fat?

What the Research Really Says about Acai, Green Tea, Carbs and Dairy

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Though food is supposed to be one of life's simple pleasures, few things cause more angst and confusion. It's no wonder why. We're constantly being told which foods we should eat to be healthy, which diets we should follow to be skinny, which preparation methods we should use to be safe, and which chemicals and contaminants in food we should shun to avoid illness. It's enough to give anyone indigestion.

If you're confused about what to believe, you've come to the right place. In "Coffee Is Good for You," I'll give you the bottom line on an array of popular diet and nutrition claims in a quick, easily digestible way. Research about diet and health rarely yields the equivalent of DNA evidence, which provides incontrovertible proof. All types of studies come with caveats. However, if interpreted properly, a body of research can allow us to make sound judgments about how believable a claim is.

To that end, I've carefully reviewed the relevant studies and assigned each claim to a category on what I call the Truth Scale:
  • Good Evidence: This means the claim is believable because there's solid supporting evidence from at least several randomized trials or large cohort studies (the type in which people are asked about their dietary habits and then followed for years or decades). As a whole, other evidence points in the same direction.
  • Half True: This indicates that a claim contains an element of truth because some aspect of it is supported by solid science. For example, the claim may be valid for a limited number of people or in limited circumstances. But overall, it's misleading.
  • Weak Evidence: This means the claim is not believable based on the available evidence. The supporting research may be very limited or nonexistent. If there's a body of research, the bulk of it refutes the claim, or indisputable scientific facts shoot it down.
Let's start by looking at four very common weight-loss claims.
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About The Author

Robert J. Davis Robert J. Davis
Robert J. Davis, PhD, is an award-winning health journalist whose work has appeared on CNN, PBS, WebMD, and in the Wall Street Journal. He is founder and editor-in-chief of and the author of "Coffee Is Good for You" and "The Healthy Skeptic". He also teaches at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health.

Member Comments

  • As for the milk, I read the paper one research did. Well a condensed version. The people that drank milk did have a lot more fat in their poo. The people that drank skin milk had almost as much. More if you factored in the extra fat the ones drinking whole milk drank. The people that eat calcium fortified foods all most as much. Calcium supplements increased the fat in your poo. but not as much as eating the calcium. Since it would be too hard to eliminate all the fruits and veggies that have calcium in them for 2 weeks to get a base that wasn't tested. Bottom line it is the calcium, not the milk and if you drink whole milk you are drinking more fat then you are eliminating. - 5/31/2015 6:18:18 PM
  • JEANW2
    I don't think anything is ever good for everyone. Food allergies, food intolerance, etc. . ., make a huge difference. I avoid milk. I tested allergic to it and when I drink it my sinuses get congested. - 5/31/2015 3:19:03 PM
    The unmentioned fact in many of these studies is that any diet that forces someone to pay attention to what they are eating affects their eating patterns just as much as their food choices do. When we are recording our food choices we definitely feel more accountable and tend to make better choices, which is why food logs work. - 5/31/2015 8:09:29 AM
    Well written, easy to read article with lots of common sense. I have found out that all one stop vitamins or herbs or other supplements have the same issue. Read the science behind the claims. I have gotten very syndical about them. I have a one and only one, for cholesterol that helps me. However the rule of thumb is not everything works for everyone. There are huge variations based on age, sex, and sometimes ethnicity as well as preferences. - 3/10/2015 1:38:50 PM
  • I think common sense is the best judge. I have decided nothing is off limits. I eat a 5+ fruits and vegetables (especially greens) with small portions of meat like skinless, boneless chicken tenders, whole grains along with lots of herbs and spices. This works for me. One to two pounds loss a week and I can eat whatever I want. I watch the salt content and refined foods. Nothing taste as good as real food so who needs crazy diets! - 3/10/2015 11:19:44 AM
  • Foods do not burn fat, plain and simple. I am a registered dietitian. We are the only people that can give you credible nutrition advice. NOT a doctor, blogger, personal trainer, nurse, health magazine, billboard, etc.
    Never go on a 'diet'! Limit added fat, salt, sugar, alcohol, control portions and have a lot of variety of foods in your eating plan. Never eliminate food groups, pop pills, waste money of prepacked meals, snacks, shakes, etc. These are not permanent lifestyle changes and they teach you nothing about living a healthy lifestyle. Be smart and seek out a registered dietitian to provide you with tailored nutrition advice! :) - 12/12/2014 6:23:21 PM
    interesting.... - 7/15/2014 3:41:50 PM
  • "The Truth About Fat-Burning Foods". I'm really sick of SparkPpl playing with peoples emotions and getting us confused in regards to which foods to eat to burn fat. In one article, an "expert" will say: eat a banana. In a 2nd article, another so called "expert" will say: don't eat bananas! I hold SparkPpl responsible big time for this confusion. I honestly use SparkPpl only to track my carb intake per day.

    I'm no doctor but I don't need a Ph.D. to know that sugar raises INSULIN which will then "ask" your brain to STORE FAT. No Sugar, equals to no Insulin which equals to no Fat being stored. Simple! ASK ANY DIABETIC: the body does not make a difference between an apple and a Caramilk bar. It's different on the plate but it's no different to the human body. Sugar is sugar, whether it's an apple, legumes, a chocolate bar, a banana or pasta.

    Your body works on FUEL and there are 2 kinds of fuel: Glucose (sugar) and Fat.
    You burn what you eat (Dr. Eric Westman).
    1) So if you eat Carbs, your body will burn carbs and store the remaining in your cells.
    2) If you eat Fat, your body will burn fat instead of sugar since you're not providing it with sugar. Fat doesn't raise your insulin level. Makes sense? You don't need a Ph.D. to know that.

    What about Protein? Most people think that a low-carb diet is all about eating lots of meat. Wrong! Protein is not a fuel. Proein's purpose is to MAINTAIN muscle mass and other organs of the body. That's it, that's all! You cannot live on high-protein. It's not necessary and moreover, whatever extra protein you consumed, your body will transform it into Glucose and I just wrote that Glucose is stored as fat because of the insulin.

    So what do you eat? You MAINLY eat fat FOR FUEL because fat burns fat.
    You moderate your PROTEIN and you lower big time your CARBS since your body doesn't require Glucose in order to survive. It requires Fat. The logic explanation: If you don't eat Fat, like most Americans do because of this fat-phobia that's getting everybody diabetic, your body will naturally produc... - 7/15/2014 12:22:30 PM
  • Here's a tip: if you saw it on an afternoon talk show, or it's the subject of an NYT best-seller, it's probably crap. - 7/15/2014 12:07:05 PM
  • Very refreshing to see an author relying on evidence, and categorizing claims on the basis of evidence available. Hooray!

    A pet peeve of mine is nutrition articles that report a study (quality not described) finding something like "antioxidants reduce cancer," then noting that blueberries have antioxidants, and then recommending everyone eat blueberries. The concept of dose, frequency and duration of this intake to have any effect is not addressed.

    Given the position of authority that nutrition writers occupy, I hope that as a group these people will avoid extending poorly supported claims. - 5/29/2014 12:03:57 PM
  • this should be required reading for all people trying to lose weight - 4/4/2014 3:53:27 AM
  • Thanks for sharing - 1/4/2014 6:02:02 AM
  • There are no foods on the Strong Evidence list because there are no foods that make you lose weight when used as a supplement. Shifting your diet from low-RS carbs like white-flour products and sugar wherever it's found, including honey, to high-RS carbs like whole grains and beans will help, but only if the whole grains etc. are INSTEAD OF the sugars etc., not as well. Drinking green tea might help, if you like green tea, but only if you drink it INSTEAD OF the usual frappucino or whatever, not as well, and only if it's the tea alone, not in combination with fats and sugars as in ice cream. - 12/28/2013 1:04:04 PM
  • There are ways to mislead people without making a factually untrue statement. How about this statistic: teen pregnancies drop drastically after age 19.

    Here's an ad for a diet food someone could try to sell but that I wouldn't recommend; everything in the ad is true. Hemlock Tea: no sugar, fat free, and LOW CARB!!!!! Everyone who drinks our tea will lose weight. No one who drinks our tea will die of cancer or heart disease.

    Anyone trying to sell you a shortcut to weight loss is most likely lying to you. - 12/28/2013 11:38:16 AM
  • Wow...finally an article about carbs by an expert who actually knows their subject ! - 6/8/2013 11:13:23 AM

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