Friday, June 25, 2010

Negative calories

I first heard about negative-calorie food from my daughter, Kara, who told me that all her friends were eating celery because it had negative calories. Eat it, and just the act of chewing, swallowing and digesting, brought the calorie count down to less than zero.

So I read with interest an article on Everyday Health, in which Kimberly Lummus, MS, RD, Texas Dietetic Association media representative and public relations coordinator for the Austin Dietetic Association in Austin, Texas, said there is no such thing as a negative-calorie food, which just proves that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

"Some foods do require more energy to digest, but digesting foods that are so-called 'zero-calorie' such as celery or cucumbers, is not going to have much impact" on your total calorie expenditure or weight-loss efforts, notes Lummus. "It wouldn't be smart nutritionally to think that you are somehow tricking your body and subtracting calories."

Foods that are sometimes touted as being zero-calorie or negative-calorie include:

  • Apples
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Garlic
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Lettuce
  • Mangoes
  • Onions
  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini

Lummus points out that you would have to eat such large amounts of these foods to make your body work hard enough to cancel out the calories that it wouldn't be worth it. That's the bad news.

The good news: There are some benefits to eating from the above list of foods -- all are fruits and vegetables, high in fiber, with a hefty dose of nutrition. Fruits and vegetables tend to be "nutrient-dense," meaning that they contain relatively few calories in comparison to their high level of nutrients.

What's more, they can help you lose weight. Fruits and vegetables can be just as filling as higher-calorie foods, but with far fewer calories and often a lot more bulk. Lummus suggests adding vegetables to your main dishes, snacking on fruit, piling sandwiches with fresh veggies, and substituting fruit for desserts.

If you are trying to lose weight, start by adding vegetables to your main dishes, snacking on fruit, piling your sandwiches with fresh vegetables, and having fruit instead of dessert after your meals. This doesn't "trick" your body into a calorie deficit, but it can help you feel full and satisfied while still eating fewer calories and getting lots of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.

That crunching you hear is me munching on celery, trying to prove that you can eat enough of it to get into the negative-calorie mode!

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