The concept of weight loss and fitness is shrouded with several myths and misconceptions, the most common one being eating certain foods that will burn fat.
Some of the miracle foods that have been frequently listed are lime juice, honey, green tea, spices such as cumin and cinnamon, grapefruit, cucumber, yoghurt, garlic, quinoa and oatmeal.
But the truth is these foods will not burn fat. For fat to be ‘burnt’ it has to be used as fuel. Increasing expenditure of energy by moving and exercising more is the only way to use fat as fuel.
Simply eating a certain kind of food will not achieve the same results. Some ingredients like caffeine, spices, garlic, etc increase the metabolism of the body for a brief period of time following consumption and can lead to a temporary, marginal increase in calorie burn. All foods, when consumed, will require a certain amount of energy for digestion. This is called the ‘thermic effect’ of food. Some foods have a greater thermic effect than others. Protein, for instance, has a higher thermic effect than a simple carbohydrate. Digesting protein burns more calories than digesting simple carbs. Just consuming these foods however does not lead to any significant fat loss. There is absolutely no evidence to prove this myth.
However, all the above foods can be beneficial to the body. They have some key nutrients that are important for proper functioning of the body and keep your digestive tract healthy by improving the gut microbes.
Moreover, consuming such foods may also indirectly help in cutting down nutrient-poor foods. For example, drinking lime juice early in the morning is great especially in hot weather. Though it does not have the ability to miraculously burn fat, it could limit your intake of tea and coffee with added sugar and thereby cut calories.
Green tea has beneficial antioxidants called catechins which are known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and improve brain and heart health.
If you ate only grapefruit all day, there is a good chance of losing weight. This however is not the miraculous property of the fruit, but the general decrease in calorie intake.
When eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet, these foods provide great health benefits and help in weight loss if they can prevent you from indulging in processed fast foods with additives, flavourings and sugar.
Big companies that produce and market ‘fat-burning food’ have mastered the art of advertising and selling. The psychology used is an offer of a convenient solution for something that we desire deeply — to lose fat — packaged and marketed beautifully.
Take green tea for instance, the chances of buying a tin of expensive green tea is certainly more if it says “helps burn fat” on its packing, as opposed to “helps improve brain and heart health”. Just losing pounds is good enough! We can be slim with Alzheimer’s!
Diets that include ‘fat burning’ foods are numerous and impressive. That particular combination of exactly 1½ tsp of honey with lime juice, using the juice of just 2 limes, will help you lose weight is too attractive to ignore.
We prefer to believe in these miracle solutions especially when it comes to weight/fat. It suits us to think that something beyond our control has led to our weight gain and we need something extraordinary to help us get rid of the excess baggage.
I would suggest however that instead of focusing on weight alone, improving health and fitness levels by incorporating a regular, sound exercise programme, focusing on healthy balanced diet, including the fat burning foods, along with proper management of stress, sleep and relationships, will most certainly bring better, long lasting results.
Our obsession with fat, weight, size and appearance at the cost of neglecting deeper health issues has only compounded the problem of obesity and illness.
Food companies have capitalised on this anxiety by selling products that claim to help us lose weight at a drastic speed or provide ‘low fat’ versions of your favourite foods which are devoid of nutrients and instead supplemented with all kinds of additives to keep us addicted. The Internet is rife with products such as the latest berry or herb from some exotic, remote part of the world that claims you will drop five sizes.
The long-term complications of fad diets, eating certain foods exclusively or eliminating whole food groups, are numerous. Let us not be victims of these marketing strategies at the expense of our well-being and instead think sensibly about fitness and wellness by including simple solutions like regular exercise and healthy eating habits.
This article was first published in The Rotary News in April 2017.