38 Fat-Burning Foods to Help You Lose Weight
There’s no magical way to lose weight instantly. But paired with exercise, these foods have the power to torch fat you just can’t seem to get rid of.
Milk, yogurt, and cheese
Secret fat-burner: Calcium
There are a lot of dairy myths circulating online, but as it turns out, milk really does do a body good—as do yogurt and cheese. A review of more than 90 studies in the journal Nutrition Reviews revealed a strong link between high calcium intake and improved body composition. In another study from the International Journal of Obesity, researchers reviewed 14 randomized controlled clinical trials and found that people who ate the most dairy had a 1.6-pound greater reduction in fat mass than those who didn’t eat much dairy. This is likely because calcium in milk decreases the levels of a vitamin that encourages fat cells to grow, making it easier to lose weight. (Find out the dairy myths you should stop believing.)
Oats and barley
Secret fat-burner: Fiber
Let’s settle this once and for all: As long as you eat the right kinds, carbs are actually good for you. In fact, they are one of the fat-burning foods you should add to your plate tonight. Enjoy a delicious barley side dish instead of white rice with dinner and you could be well on your way to shedding dangerous belly fat, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Eating whole grains keeps you full and stops you from overeating. Barley in particular is known to raise blood sugar slowly, so you skip the sugar spike and crash that leaves you hungry soon after a meal.
Secret fat-burner: Catechins
Aiding weight loss is just one of the health benefits of green tea. “Catechins increase metabolism and the rate at which the liver burns fat,” says Journal of Nutrition study author Kevin C. Maki, PhD, whose team found that drinking green tea may directly target abdominal fat. To reap those rewards, drink four to six cups of caffeinated green tea a day and log at least 180 minutes of exercise each week. Make your tea more heart healthy by adding lemon juice. (This power food pairing let catechins be more readily absorbed into our systems.)
Secret fat-burner: Protein
Protein helps with weight loss in a number of ways. (Use these tricks to eat more healthy protein without even trying.) First, your body uses more energy—think calories—to break down protein foods than it does to break down other foods. Protein also helps you hang onto muscle mass as you’re losing weight, and since muscle burns more calories than fat, you want to keep as much of it as you can. Finally, protein dampens hunger better than carbohydrates do, says Donald K. Layman, PhD, the Journal of Nutrition study’s lead researcher, adding that decreasing carbohydrates also helped the protein group lose weight.
Walnuts and almonds
Secret fat-burner: Good fats
Plenty of studies point to nuts—aka the best disease fighter in your pantry—as one of the fat-burning foods you should add to your diet (as long as you don’t go overboard). Chalk it up to their fiber, their protein, and their good fat, which may increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, aiding weight loss. Walnuts are one of the best non-fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and almonds provide an extra benefit in the form of bone-building calcium. (Check out more non-dairy sources of calcium that give you the nutrients you need.)
Secret fat-burner: Omega-3’s
Eating fat might sound like a crazy idea when you’re trying to lose fat, but getting more omega-3 fatty acids from fish like salmon could be just what the diet doctor ordered, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. “Although the exact mechanisms are unknown, omega-3 fatty acids reduce fat mass,” says Irene Munro, study author and researcher from the University of Newcastle in Newcastle, Australia. In addition to adding years to your life, other studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids make you feel less hungry and more satisfied up to two hours after eating a fatty fish meal. Aim to eat salmon or another oily fish, like mackerel, herring, or canned tuna, at least twice a week. If that doesn’t sound appealing, substitute the fish for other fat-burning foods that are rich in omega-3s.
Apples and pears
Secret fat-burner: Flavonoids
What do these foods have in common? They contain flavonoids, natural chemicals in plant foods that may have fat-fighting effects. That’s why they’re two of the best fruits for weight loss. Women who consumed the most flavonoids had significantly lower increases in body mass index over a 14-year period than women who ate the least, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Animal studies have shown that these flavonoids can increase energy [calorie] expenditure, increase glucose uptake into muscle, and increase fat burning,” says Laura Hughes, MSc, the study’s lead investigator and a nutritional epidemiologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Secret fat-burner: Lignans
These shiny, fat-burning foods pack a secret weight loss weapon: lignans. As estrogen-like compounds, they also make flaxseed one of the superfoods all healthy women need in their diets. Consumption of lignans in postmenopausal women was associated with lower body fat and body mass index, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Try grinding and adding a tablespoon of flaxseed each day to cereals, yogurt, or salad dressing.
Secret fat-burner: Acids
You already know that vinegar has super helpful uses around the house, but it could do your body some good, too. Researchers say vinegar turns on genes that produce enzymes that help the body break down fat. Interested in trying it? Slurp 15 milliliters (about a tablespoon) of vinegar daily, perhaps diluting it with milk or soda to make it less acidic and more palatable. You can also try cooking with vinegar using tips from professional chefs.
For more ways to make your next diet the most successful it can be, read up on the 13 fat-releasing foods that help you lose weight fast.
Secret fat burner: Melatonin
Tart cherries contain high levels of the hormone melatonin, key to healthy sleep. And good quality sleep is crucial for maintaining your weight. “Research shows that when we don’t get enough sleep and we feel tired, we crave more high-calorie foods. We’re probably also less active because we’re tired,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a nutrition and diabetes expert, and author of the 2-Day Diabetes Diet. “I generally recommend that people consume the tart cherries—fresh, dried, or in juice—within two or three hours before bed.” Check out the 13 secrets to better sleep doctors wish you knew.
Secret fat burner: Beta carotene
Sweet and starchy foods are often off-limits to dieters, but sweet potatoes satisfy both those cravings—plus, they can help you burn fat, too. Unlike other sweet and starchy foods, sweet potatoes are high in fiber. They also have high levels of beta-carotene, a type of antioxidant, that gives the tubers their bright orange color and also helps stabilize your blood sugar. Beta carotene also lowers insulin resistance, which prevents calories from being converted into fat. Some research suggests that sweet potatoes may even boost a hormone called adiponectin, which helps mobilize fat in the body. Check out more of sweet potatoes’ many health benefits here.
Secret fat burner: Fiber
“People can burn up to 100 more calories a day when they eat whole grains versus fluffy white ones,” says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutritionist based in New York City. “Eating foods in their most natural state is how our bodies are designed to handle them,” she explains. “Bodies are less efficient at processing foods in their natural state, so that’s what gives you an advantage.” A Tufts University study found that people who ate three or more daily servings of whole grains had less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from processed carbohydrates like white rice, pasta, or bread. Here are some more easy ways to get fiber in your diet.
Garlic and onions
Secret fat burner: Allicin
Allicin, the same compound that gives onions and garlic their very strong distinctive taste and smell, also delivers fat-fighting properties. Both these vegetables contain volatile oils and allicin—although garlic has a lot more allicin than onions. But studies indicate that the oils in both vegetables can help control fat accumulation and body weight. Here’s a quick way to peel an entire head of garlic in seconds.
Secret fat burner: Vitamin C
“Blood oranges have one of the highest vitamin C contents of all citrus fruits,” says Palinski-Wade. “And when you have high levels of vitamin C in the bloodstream, stress levels return to normal faster.” Why is this good for fat-busting? Because high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol can encourage your body to store fat, especially around the middle; when vitamin C lowers those hormones, it’s easier to lose weight. Fresh blood oranges, so-called because of their bright red pulp, can be eaten as a snack or sectioned into salads. (If you can’t find blood oranges in your local supermarket, navel oranges also have very high levels of vitamin C.)
Secret fat burner: Iodine
Seaweed—in sushi, salads, or dried sheets for snacking—is low-cal and full of iodine, a mineral that helps regulate the functioning of the thyroid gland. One of the thyroid’s jobs is to regulate your body’s metabolism, which is why people whose thyroids don’t produce enough hormones may struggle with excess weight. Research shows that eating seaweed may be helpful for losing fat, especially around the middle. Brown varieties of seaweed contain a compound called fucoxanthin that could be especially helpful for weight loss—it increases the number of calories your body burns. Here are some more fat-burning, bloat-busting seaweed benefits.
Secret fat burner: Leucine
All protein is not equal: Whey protein—usually sold as a powder supplement to add to shakes and smoothies—may be especially helpful for shedding pounds. This may be due to its high levels of leucine—an amino acid that helps the body synthesize protein. “As a protein-based supplement, it promotes muscle maintenance and growth,” says Jennifer McDaniel, RD, owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy. “Some research has shown it to be more effective at suppressing appetite compared to other protein sources. In one small study, whey protein was found superior in increasing metabolic rate compared to other types of protein-rich sources such as casein or soy.” Try whey protein, rather than casein or soy, in a meal or shake.
Secret fat burner: Capsaicin
If you’ve ever felt the burn of a chili pepper—or cayenne, habañero, or jalapeño—it probably won’t surprise you to learn that these peppers may help burn calories, too. “Capsaicin, the compound found in chili peppers [and other hot peppers] may boost metabolic rate slightly,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. “It raises energy expenditure.” According to Palinski-Wade, “Besides the fact that the capsaicin is thermogenic, eating hot peppers also makes you feel more satisfied.” She compares it to the feeling you have after brushing your teeth when you don’t want to eat anymore because of the minty taste in your mouth. Find out how hot pepper can help you live longer, too!
Secret fat burner: Monounsaturated fat
Don’t grab a spoon and eat a whole jar—peanut butter is high in calories, after all. But a tablespoon or two of peanut butter on toast, apple slices, or celery is a great way to add healthy fat and protein to a meal or snack. The combination of fat, protein, and fiber in peanut butter makes it very filling. And according to one study at Penn State University, a diet that includes foods, like peanut butter, with high levels of monounsaturated fats can help people lose weight. For the healthiest option, look for brands without added sugar. (Learn about some surprising uses for peanut butter—such as getting gum out of your hair.)
Coffee and black tea
Secret fat burner: Caffeine
Numerous studies have shown that caffeine can lift metabolic rate, which leads you burning more calories. “But don’t go crazy with it,” says Palinski-Wade. The optimum amount seems to be about 300 mg per day, she says, equivalent to about two medium cups of coffee or four of black tea. “Too much caffeine starts to reduce serotonin production,” she warns. “You might feel in a depressed mood and less motivated.” And don’t undermine the effect by loading up on cream and sugar. Find out how coffee can improve your memory.
Secret fat burner: Curcumin
This bright orange spice does more than liven up curries. Curcumin, which is just one of turmeric’s active ingredients, helps fight fat by inhibiting the development of the blood vessels new fat cells need to survive, and by reducing inflammation in the body. No wonder turmeric lattes and “golden milk” have become so popular. Turmeric has benefits for your skin and hair, too.
Secret fat burner: Water!
Yes, water can help fill you up—and doesn’t contain the useless calories of soda or juice. However: Simply drinking a glass of cold water could, at least temporarily, boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories. “The general theory is that when you drink water your body has to expend energy to heat it up to your body temperature,” says Donald D. Hensrud, MD, MPH, editor of The Mayo Clinic Diet. “I suspect cold water would have the largest effect.” How much water do you really need? Find out here.
Secret fat burner: Monounsaturated fat
“Fat isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” says Palinski-Wade. “If it’s a plant-based monounsaturated fat like that in olive oil, it’s a great choice. Olive oil might also help with fat reduction and body composition changes.” Palinski-Wade cautions that in spite of olive oil’s benefits, it’s important to use it in moderation since, like all fats, it’s calorie dense. (Find out how to tell if your extra virgin olive oil is the real deal.)
Beans, chickpeas, lentils
Secret fat burner: Fiber
“Beans, chickpeas, and lentils are rich in fiber, and people with higher fiber diets tend to be leaner,” says McDaniel. She explains that “fiber-rich foods take up more real estate in our stomachs, helping us to feel full longer. And according to research from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, eating food rich in soluble fibers, like beans, reduces belly fat.” As an added plus, says McDaniel, foods that are naturally rich in fiber also tend to be lower in calories yet nutrient dense, “providing you the right formula for weight loss.” Find out more about how beans can help you lose weight. And check out these five delicious bean recipes.
Secret fat burner: Soluble fiber
Grapefruit earns its diet superfood reputation: For one, it’s full of soluble fiber, which fills you up and takes longer to digest. One study found that people who ate half a grapefruit before each meal lost more weight than a group who skipped the Other research found that adding grapefruit to your diet could reduce belly fat. Try eating half a grapefruit before your biggest meal of the day. One caveat: Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interfere with the absorption of some drugs—find out more here, and check with your doctor about any medications you’re taking.
Secret fat burner: Monounsaturated fat
There are good fats and bad fats, and when it comes to avocados, “75 percent of the fat is good fat,” says Palinski-Wade. As with peanuts and olive oil, the monounsaturated fats in avocados are both heart-healthy and filling. “There have been studies showing that people who add half an avocado to their meals were more satisfied after eating and ended up snacking less and eating fewer calories afterward. It’s a great way to control calorie intake throughout the day,” says Palinski-Wade. Here are 16 delicious avocado recipes that will make your mouth water.
Secret fat burner: Gum base
Well-known food and nutrition expert Joy Bauer, author of Joy’s Simple Food Remedies: Tasty Cures for Whatever’s Ailing You, says that chewing gum can be a powerful tool for weight loss. The gum base is what keeps gum chewy and keeps your mouth occupied. “Chewing a stick of gum fills your mouth with a shot of flavor and rescues you from mindlessly munching when you’re bored or battling a craving,” explains Bauer. She recommends popping a piece in your mouth when you’re cooking to save yourself from too much nibbling and tasting. Bauer adds that the act of chewing itself can burn an extra 11 calories an hour. Not exactly a workout, but any extra calorie burn is a good thing. (Chewing gum stuck to your carpet? Here’s how to remove it.)
Secret fat burner: Piperine
Not a chili head? No problem. Hot peppers aren’t the only kind that can help with weight loss. Black pepper’s active ingredient is piperine, which gives the spice its pungent taste. Piperine helps food move more quickly through the digestive tract, and that reduces how many calories you can absorb.
Secret fat burner: Polyphenols
“Blueberries are great because you’re getting a high-volume food that is low in calories and tastes great,” says Palinski-Wade. But there’s more. “In animal studies, blueberries actually helped to reduce visceral fat (belly fat). We need more studies on humans, but we think it works because of the antioxidants [polyphenols] in blueberries that help reduce inflammation and stress hormone levels.” In a study at Texas Women’s University, mice fed the highest doses of blueberry polyphenols had the fewest fat cells at the end of the study. (Try this yummy, low-fat blueberry bavarian recipe.)
Secret fat burner: Lean protein
The body uses more energy to digest protein than it does with carbohydrates or fats, making proteins the center of many successful weight loss plans. But people watching their weight—and their heart health—often avoid red meat because of its high saturated fat content (and calories). Bison is a tasty exception. According to the USDA, bison has less fat and fewer calories than beef. The Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami puts it on the menu every week for its guests who can enjoy red meat without the health risks of high saturated fat.
Secret fat burner: Gingerol
Gingerol, the active ingredient in ginger root, is related to both capsaicin and piperine, the compounds that make chili pepper and black pepper spicy and that help boost metabolism. Studies suggest that like those other spices, ginger may also be thermogenic, helping the body to burn more calories; the spice may also help decrease hunger. One study showed that dissolving ginger powder in hot water and drinking it with a meal may help burn 43 more calories than drinking hot water alone. Try some ginger tea, or grate fresh ginger into a stir-fry. (Find out how ginger tea can help soothe a hangover, too.)
Secret fat burner: Cocoa
Some fat-burning foods can be downright indulgent. “Dark chocolate definitely has some health perks,” says Cassetty. “It relaxes your blood vessels and allows blood to flow more freely. And it’s such a satisfying treat, it can help people control their craving for other sweets.” Studies have shown that cocoa may have direct benefits for weight loss, too. For instance, one study found that cocoa may inhibit some digestive enzymes, reducing the absorption of calories. But the danger of indulgence is overindulgence; Cassetty warns that dark chocolate’s health benefits are best enjoyed in small doses. Try one small square after dinner as an end-of-day treat. (Check out chocolate’s brainy benefits.)
Secret fat burner: Betaine
Quinoa is an excellent source of vegetable protein and fiber, and also contains high levels of betaine—an amino acid that helps promote muscle gain and fat loss. “Quinoa is more satisfying and a healthier swap for rice or pasta as a side dish,” says Palinski-Wade. “About 1/3 of a cup is a good size serving.”
Kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut
Secret fat burner: Probiotics
Fermented vegetables like these contain live bacteria—probiotics—that keep your gut functioning well and help prevent bloating. “And research has shown that the healthier our gut bacteria, the leaner our waistlines,” says McDaniel. (Here are some more good-for-you probiotic foods to add to your diet.)
Secret fat burner: Broth
How much we eat is partly determined by how much space a food takes up in our bellies—and how full we feel after eating. Soup is satisfying and filling; provided you choose broth-based rather than cream-based varieties, soup will help you cut calories effortlessly. “Studies suggest that if you have soup either as a meal or before a meal, you tend to eat less because of that volume,” confirms Palinski-Wade. Make—or purchase—soups that contain lean chicken or meat, beans, and lots of veggies for a great way to increase your intake of protein and fiber. (What’s all the hype about bone broth?)
Secret fat burner: Resistant starch
Not all white carbs are evil. Potatoes, for example, are one of the most filling foods around—one study found that boiled white potatoes took the top spot on a satiety index of common foods. That means when you eat potatoes you’ll feel full faster and eat less. And potatoes don’t provide just empty calories. The tubers contain a variety of nutrients—including potassium, which can help regulate sodium in the body and prevent fluid retention and bloating. If you let your boiled potatoes cool before eating them, they’ll form resistant starch, which takes longer to digest, and can help promote weight loss.
Secret fat burner: Cinnamaldehyde
This spice can help curb a craving for sweets and keep blood sugar levels stable. “Cinnamon is slightly thermogenic—it slightly increases metabolism,” explains Palinski-Wade. “Cinnamon also helps the body regulate insulin. And when you’re not getting a big spike of insulin, you’re less likely to store fat.” Cinnamaldehyde, the active ingredient in cinnamon, may be responsible for the fat-burning effect. Add cinnamon to coffee, oatmeal, yogurt, or recipes, then reduce the sugar—cinnamon adds flavor without calories. As an added benefit, cinnamon can help regulate blood lipids, like cholesterol and triglycerides, too. Find out more about how cinnamon can help you lose weight.
Secret fat burner: Water
Watermelon is 92 percent water, and that means it can fill you up (and satisfy your sweet tooth) for almost no calories. The melon isn’t only water, though; it also contains the antioxidant lycopene plus vitamin A and C. Animal studies at the University of Kentucky found that mice fed watermelon extract improved their blood lipids and gain less weight when fed a high-fat diet. Here’s how to choose a watermelon at the market.
Secret fat burner: Thylakoids
Dark leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are perfect weight loss foods for several reasons. “They provide so much volume for so few calories,” says Palinski-Wade. “And they’re a really good source of vitamin C, which moderates stress hormones, and magnesium, which helps convert food to energy.” In addition, these greens are packed full of other nutrients like vitamin A and folate, iron (in spinach), calcium, and vitamin C (in kale). If you’re unfamiliar with thylakoids, you should know that they’re a structure in green plants involved with photosynthesis. They also bind with dietary fat, preventing absorption and helping shrink stores of body fat, according to recent research. Thanks to the high levels in leafy greens, these foods can help you feel full and eat less. (Try these delicious kale salad recipes.)