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Can Certain Foods Help You Burn More Fat?

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

-- By Robert J. Davis, PhD
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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 everwell.com 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

  • 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
  • Yeah, I want to know about the latest craze "Green Coffee Bean Extract" touted on the Dr. Oz show. - 6/6/2013 3:14:48 PM
  • Interesting - 1/23/2013 9:09:41 AM
  • Acai can be great for energy, but it has to be the right kind. I often take Sambazon juice or frozen blended into a smoothie. As long as I'm not exhausted, it can give me an energy boost I couldn't figure out at first (with no crash like caffeine), but I haven't lost any weight directly because of it.

    The supplements with weight loss claims almost always have added ingredients like caffeine, which I can't have. The plain acai pill I tried from Sambazon had no obvious effects, energy or otherwise. - 10/5/2012 1:31:30 PM
  • If it were true we wouldn't need spark people!
    - 9/7/2012 8:29:54 PM
  • ice water! - 8/12/2012 2:51:57 AM
  • The food that helps you burn more fat is healthy fats! Salmon and other fatty fish, raw almonds ( the healthiest nuts you can eat) seeds, avocados. We need fat to burn fat, that is why low fat diets never work. - 7/13/2012 7:04:50 AM
  • JWOOLMAN
    The first item reminded me that years ago, I was on a weather page and saw a sidebar ad proclaiming something (weight loss, I think) by someone who actually lived in my town (pop. 40,000). This seemed so unusual that I clicked on it. The post was so odd - there was nothing in it that really would identify my town, no local details at all. All generic. We've got a downtown that extends just a few short blocks and just one public high school, so it's kind of hard to talk about yourself and your family without saying something about a familiar spot. So I changed my location on the weather page to Chicago - and lo and behold, the same person now hailed from Chicago!!!! Now they do this frequently, so I just ignore all the people mysteriously from my little town who are touting products on the web. - 6/19/2012 4:45:33 PM
  • JWOOLMAN
    CraftyMandy is quite right about moving more and eating less. The only food that helps lose weight is the one you don't eat ... :) at least in huge amounts if you've been eating more and moving less. Don't know why bananas got out of favor, they're quite filling. I like them with peanut butter or sunflower seed butter, just cut it up and drizzle or spread. They also are quite good with cinnamon, which supposedly helps many people control blood sugar (people who routinely measure their blood glucose levels have seen results on about 1 tsp per day).

    But there are changes in dietary habits that can help a little, such as adding more fiber. Fiber actually will reduce the calories actually ingested as it whisks stuff through the GI tract, but not huge amounts (I saw an estimate of about 200 calories difference per day when going from a very low fiber diet to a much higher fiber diet). High fiber foods also tend to fill you up and taste better, and eating foods that taste good and are satisfying and meet your body's needs is bound to have an effect on appetite. I think sometimes our bodies are just crying out for nutrients and that's what triggers overeating if the food we've been eating isn't nutrient-dense enough. - 6/19/2012 4:43:48 PM
  • JWOOLMAN
    The first item reminded me that years ago, I was on a weather page and saw a sidebar ad proclaiming something (weight loss, I think) by someone who actually lived in my town (pop. 40,000). This seemed so unusual that I clicked on it. The post was so odd - there was nothing in it that really would identify my town, no local details at all. All generic. We've got a downtown that extends just a few short blocks and just one public high school, so it's kind of hard to talk about yourself and your family without saying something about a familiar spot. So I changed my location on the weather page to Chicago - and lo and behold, the same person now hailed from Chicago!!!! Now they do this frequently, so I just ignore all the people mysteriously from my little town who are touting products on the web. - 6/19/2012 4:29:48 PM
  • Craftymandy has the attitude I agree with. Fads and extremes in nutrition can consume far too much of our time, attention (and money). Patience and perseverance, common sense, moderation I wish had more of them. But knowing that some favorite food is not forbidden will help me stay the course.

    Eat less; move more. Yep. - 6/18/2012 2:31:51 PM