Are there foods so low in calories that it takes as many (or more) calories to digest them as they contain? That is the myth behind diets that claim weight loss through “zero-calorie” or “negative-calorie” foods.
It would certainly make dieting easier if we could munch on calorie-free foods all day. But other than water and diet beverages, there is unfortunately no such thing as a zero-calorie or negative-calorie food, according to Kimberly Lummus, MS, RD, Texas Dietetic Association media representative and public relations coordinator for the Austin Dietetic Association in Austin, Texas.
Busting the “Zero-Calories” Myth
Apart from foods that have been engineered to be calorie-free, like sugar substitutes, virtually all foods contain calories. Some foods contain very few calories, and we do burn a few calories when we chew and digest the foods we eat. But the notion that eating certain foods can put us into a negative calorie balance just isn’t true.
“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:
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..
Zero to Hero Calories
Although these food choices with supposed “zero calories” aren’t going to put you into a negative calorie balance, there are other great benefits to eating them. “They are all fruits and vegetables, so they are great foods to incorporate into your diet,” says Lummus.
These foods are also high in fiber and pack a hefty nutrition punch. 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.
If you are trying to lose weight, start by adding vegetables to your main dishes. Try 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.
One true “zero” beverage to make sure you are getting enough of is water. Not only is it healthy to drink enough water, but substituting water for sugar-sweetened beverages can save you hundreds of calories. Aim for six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day.