Fat Burning foods


First: the bad news.

Although the energy required to eat and digest some foods (celery, other green vegetables, nuts and seeds), is less than energy supplied by the food, a diet with a large emphasis on these foods will leave you hungry, lacking essential nutrients and likely to eat fatty foods to compensate. These foods have an important place in the diet, but there are better ways to burn off energy. 

Then, the good news:

There are foods that help you build lean muscle and burn fat by preventing hunger and providing high quality nutrients that make you feel energetic and ready to power into that exercise routine!

But remember that fat burning foods should suit your body type, as everyone has a different burn rate for food.

Now let’s get busy burning off that little Christmas and New Year present that’s sitting on your thighs and round your tummy!


First, some Fat facts

(Science alert: skip this bit if you don’t need to know mechanisms!)

How do we convert food into usable or stored energy? Food is first broken down in the digestive system, by enzymes and acids, and the resulting small compounds such as amino acids from proteins, sugars and fatty acids from carbohydrates. These are absorbed and carried by the blood to the cells that make up body tissues and it is here that nutrients react with oxygen to release energy.

This is stored in energy-rich phosphate compounds and used to fuel cell processes, such as making new cells, secreting new enzymes, hormones and growth factors. The body use energy in when digesting food, so expends energy to extract energy and foods that are hard to digest, such as complex carbohydrates, use more in the extraction energy. Plant material with tough cell walls (celery, some seeds and nuts) is inefficiently broken down and passes through the digestive tract virtually intact. Food energy is measured in calories or kilojoules (kJ). One food calorie (kilocalorie) equals 4.184 kilojoules.

Fats and ethanol yield the greatest amount of food energy per mass (see table below, from Wikipedia). Proteins and most carbohydrates have about 4 kcal/g (17 kJ/g). Carbohydrates that are not easily absorbed contribute less food energy. Other vitamins and minerals supply no energy and are not included in the table .   

The energy extraction from food can be less than required to run the body, as in starvation, or more than required. In the latter case the excess is stored as fat in special cells designed as storage units. Note that your stored fat is made by the body and comes from all food sources, so eating fat does not directly lead to fat storage: eating too much of any food leads to fat deposition.

“The reason for the “Flab” – One important point to understand is that a human body, under normal conditions, has “limited” fat cells and there is a limit to how much fat can be stored up in these cells. Once these cells reach their limit, the fats start getting stored up in muscle linings, and also in the liver and blood vessels. Normally, fat cells are present under the skin of your chest, waist, thighs and hips. As more fat is deposited in these cells, they grow larger in size and this enlargement shows up as flab around the chest, waist and hip regions in men and women. Once the fat cells reach the limit of their expansion, the fats start getting stored in the muscle linings of arms and legs, creating flabbiness in these limbs also.”



Foods that reduce fat deposition (OK to read this!)

1. High protein foods

Lean white meats (turkey, chicken, pork), lentils, tofu, seafood, low fat dairy products, eggs*.

These, although having the same calorific value as carbohydrates, use more energy for digestion, breaking down into essential amino acids that are then used up in maintaining body structure and function, in muscle building, making blood, hormones and renewing all the cells of the body. Excess amino acids are generally broken down and excreted as urea and not stored as fat.

High protein low carbohydrate diets such as the CSIRO diet* have proved successful for many folk, particularly those of the Kapha and Kapha/Pitta dosha types, who are particularly efficient at storing excess carbohydrate calories (see What’s your Dosha website) Fish is also a good source of unsaturated fats (rich in omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids),

2. Heating and flavoursome spices

Turmeric, cumin, cayenne, chillies, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Raising the body temperature increases your metabolic rate (food burns up faster). Thus exercise, hot weather and hot spices all have this effect. Many spices also contain laxative compounds that hurry food through the gut, decreasing fat absorption, avoiding constipation and bloating. Spices, both mild and hot, improve food taste and quality without adding calories and can be substituted for high calorie butter, sauces, mayonnaise for adding taste to food.

Folk with excess pitta dosha should be careful with very hot spices, such as cayenne and horse radish and use milder heating spices such as ginger and turmeric. Folk with excess Kapha dosha can use as many hot spices as they like!


3. Fruits rich in vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential to maintain a normal metabolic rate and thus helps greatly in boosting fat metabolism. Most fresh fruit contains vitamin C (including grapes, apples, pears, berries tomatoes, melons, cherries, kiwi fruit) and citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit) are particularly rich in C. Eating the whole fresh fruit is more beneficial than taking vitamin C pills, or drinking fruit juice, because the fruit is low in sugar, high in water content and also supplies fibre, plus essential vitamins and minerals in a symbiotic mix that aids digestion.

“Try out a citrus fruit only breakfast for a few weeks to see how effectively it helps in burning fat around your waist and hips. I’ve personally seen excellent results with this method of eating a fruit only breakfast”.

4. Oats, barley, bran

The high fibre content of oats and other cereals means that this food is digested slowly, thus regulating blood sugar, and preventing feelings of hunger. The fibre content also reduces the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.

Five to 10 grams or more of soluble fibre a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fibre. If you add fruit, you'll add about 4 more grams of fibre.


5. Leafy green vegetables and vegetable oils

Most vegetables, other than the non-green starchy ones (potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots) are low in calories and carbohydrates, contain no fat and provide fibre, essential vitamins and minerals. The best way to cook veggies stir fry them with a little healthy oil (olive, sunflower or sesame oil). Many leafy greens are wonderful eaten raw in salads, combined with fresh herbs, fruit and flowers (see the November 2011 newsletter for recipes!). Delicious leafy greens include lettuce, rocket, spinach, green beans and peas, cucumber, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli. Add mint, rosemary, basil, coriander and balsamic vinegar for low calorie flavour in salads

Olive oil, in particular, provides antioxidants that can lower your cholesterol levels. Extra-virgin olive oil, which is extracted without heat, is richest in antioxidants. Note that "light" olive oils are usually more processed than extra-virgin or virgin olive oils http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cholesterol/CL00002

and are lighter in colour, not fat or calories.  

6. Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, cashews

Although nuts are high in calories, eaten in moderation they provide essential unsaturated healthy fats. Used as snacks and added to salads and cooked vegetables they, along with polyunsaturated oils, they provide the fats required to build cell membranes and maintain the health of blood vessels and skin. Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can reduce blood cholesterol.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, eating about a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease. Just make sure the nuts you eat aren't salted or coated with sugar.


6. Water, tea, coffee

Water is essential for metabolic function. Our body is 70% water: it is required for blood circulation, temperature control and elimination of waste products. Foods with a high water content (water melons, cantaloupes, cucumbers) are filling, and also provide essential electrolytes, minerals and vitamin C.

Drinking too much water can result in electrolyte depletion, so eating water-rich foods and drinking herbal tea and coffee can also boost water intake. Water intake should not be prescribed (eg,deciding that you must drink 2L of water a day) and should be moderated according to climate, activity levels and body type. Vatta dosha people may require more frequent warm drinks, Pitta dosha people can take in cool drinks and fruit, while Kapha dosha people can drink caffeinated tea and coffee, but should avoid milky drinks and eat fruit rather than take in large volumes of water.

Foods to avoid:

Alcohol: it reduces stress and has some anti-oxidant properties, but packs a high calorie punch for little nutritional value. Best avoided until the Christmas bulge is gone, then used in moderation.

White stuff!! This means refined foods with high carbohydrate content that are rapidly absorbed (and turned into fat rapidly). White rice, bread, sugar, instant potatoes.



In conclusion

Whole foods are better than refined or processed foods when it comes to reducing the fat profile of the body. If there is a choice between a processed foods (like pastries, pizza, pasta etc) and whole foods (like milk, eggs, chicken, vegetables and fruits), make it your second nature to make a bee-line for the latter. You can use the list of fat burning foods, given above, to come up with ideas for your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on a daily basis to keep it enjoyable and healthy at the same time. Of course, don’t be hard on yourself – it’s totally okay to eat/drink foods that you like (that may not be totally healthy) once in a while in moderation, just don’t overdo it and make sure you workout or exercise to burn off the excess calories.







*The CSIRO Heathy Heart program. Dr many Noakes and Dr Peter Clinton. Penguin books 2008.


Happy New Year!




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