What does it mean for a food to be ‘negative calorie’? 

The concept of “negative calorie foods”, refers to foods that supposedly take more energy to digest and process in the body than they provide in calories. Or to put simply, the idea that you burn more calories digesting and metabolising certain foods than the foods themselves contain.

The theory is that by consuming these negative calorie foods, you can lose weight.

Do negative calorie foods exist? If so, what are they?

There is no real validity to the theory that negative calorie foods can be a weight loss aid and in actuality there are no negative calorie foods, and can be seen as a diet myth. Even though some foods may give your metabolism more of a boost than others, and some contribute very little calories to begin with that they do require a couple of extra calories for digestion, the extra calories burned won’t be enough to affect your weight.

The types of foods often credited as negative calorie foods are usually high in water content and fibre such as: celery, apples, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, legumes, mushrooms grapefruit, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, radishes, spicy foods and foods that contain caffeine. Cold foods, including cold water, are sometimes called negative calorie foods because your body burns extra calories warming them up during the digestion process.

Is it beneficial to eat these foods, or how should we best incorporate them?

Many of these foods are vegetables and fruits, which should be part of any healthy diet. They are high in fibre, which is very important to gut health, high in water content, which keeps the body hydrated, and contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help your body fight off inflammation, illness and disease. Therefore, these foods are beneficial to consume but should be seen for their health benefits rather than being “negative calorie” foods.

A lot of these foods are everyday foods for a lot of so can be incorporated in main meals or even as snacks.

Is there a risk thinking of foods as negative calories? What is a healthier approach to eating?

By labelling certain foods as such and following extreme diets that promote eating only a few foods can cause you to miss out on important nutrients obtained from other food groups and form an unhealthy relationship with food. It can also make social outings around food, restrictive and awkward.

A healthier approach to eating is to avoid all fad diets, adopt a healthy relationship with food and eat a balanced, nutritious diet while listening to your body’s hunger cues and not overeat. This should also be coupled with keeping your body well hydrated by drinking water, incorporating regular exercise and getting enough quality sleep. If you need help with behaviour and/or lifestyle modification, it is best to seek out a Dietitian or Nutritionist who can assist you making better and healthier choices that are sustainable.