Jade Teta ND, CSCS
The term “fat loss foods” is showing up a lot lately, and you may be wondering what the hell is meant by a “fat loss food”?
What Fat Loss Foods Really Are
There is no such thing as a food that burns fat. Fat loss foods don’t have magical fat burning properties. The reason they are so good at helping with fat loss is because they do three things:
- Control hunger. They make you full quickly and keep you full for longer because they are digested slowly.
- Raise energy. Because they are digested slowly their nutrients are absorbed in a slow steady fashion. This gives a steady supply of fuel and raises energy levels.
- Reduce cravings. Another benefit of the slow digestion, is balanced blood sugar. This along with the sustained energy and reduced hunger means cravings are also lowered.
The Properties of Fat Loss Foods
Fat loss foods have specific properties that make them almost impossible to overeat. They are high in protein, high in fiber, and high in water. These three factors are the most important elements in the satiety index, a measure of how well a food controls hunger.
It is wrong to think about some foods as “fat burners” and others as “fat storers” because the truth is if you eat too much of anything you are probably going to get fat. The point is no normal human can overeat fat loss foods! Let’s face it, certain foods are very easy to overeat while others are almost impossible.
I love the example of a doughnut and chicken breast. Both have the same number of calories (roughly 250). I know plenty of people, myself included, who could eat 5 to 10 doughnuts at a meal. I am not sure I know anyone who could eat 5 to 10 chicken breasts at one time, not to mention in one day.
The chicken breast is a fat loss food because eating it fills you up fast, will supply stable energy, and makes it less likely you will crave more food later. Anyone who has ever eaten a few doughnuts for breakfast realizes almost the exact opposite effect…….they don’t keep you full for long, your energy usually crashes within 30 minutes, and you will likely be craving something sweet again in a few short hours.
What it Takes to Burn Fat
To burn fat, you need two things: a caloric deficit and hormonal balance. I realize the term “hormonal balance” is extremely ambiguous, so I will explain just briefly. Calories don’t control metabolism, hormones do. If you are in a caloric deficit you will likely lose weight, but because calories don’t control metabolism you may or may not be losing mostly fat.
Hormones control metabolism, and when insulin, cortisol, leptin, catecholamines, thyroid and others that control fat metabolism are “balanced” (balanced meaning in the right amounts, ratios, and able to interact correctly with their cell receptors), fat loss, not just weight loss, is the more likely outcome. Lowering calories can help you lose weight, but paying attention to hormones can make sure that weight is fat.
The Final Benefit of Fat Loss Foods is More Nutrition
The above distinction between caloric weight loss and hormonal fat loss explains why going on the Twinkie diet or the Starbucks diet can result in weight loss. And with weight loss comes some fat reduction. But, the real trick is are you eating in a way that is sustainable for you or not? If you are constantly hungry, have low energy and suffering uncontrollable cravings, are you more or less likely to make a permanent lifestyle change?
This is no small matter. 95% of all people who go on calorie controlled weight loss diets fail to keep the weight off after 5 years. 66% of these dieters actually end up fatter than they were before they started the diet. It is now a well established fact that diets don’t work in large part because people simply can’t maintain them. It might be a good idea in theory, but a perfect plan that is impossible to do is not a perfect plan.
Fat loss foods control the very sensations that make dieting impossible for most, and one hidden benefit is they are usually loaded with nutrition. The foods with the highest proportions of protein, fiber, and water happen to be vegetables, fruits, and animal proteins. A diet containing these foods and eliminating all other foods, usually referred to as a ” Paleo diet”, was also found in research to be more nutritious compared to a low fat, high grain diet.
Eating More Fat Loss Foods
Rather than worrying about eating less, a focus on fat loss foods in particular almost assures you can eat your fill and remain in a caloric deficit and hormonal balance that will result in both weight loss and fat loss. To help you get started, read my blog on the top 10 fat loss foods and follow the 5 steps below:
- At breakfast switch your cereals for either eggs, a protein shake, or a leftover protein and vegetable from the night before.
- At lunch trade out your sandwich and replace it with a soup or salad that is mostly vegetables and/or meat.
- For snacks lose the crackers, popcorn, and candy and replace them with fruits, vegetables, animal protein, protein shakes, or high protein dairy foods (Greek Yogurt, string cheese, etc).
- Replace all beverages with water, unsweet tea, or unsweet coffee.
- Make sure you are eating frequent enough according to your needs. Check out this blog on how frequent you should be eating if you are unsure.