These fat-burning foods are not only delicious, but they're scientifically proven to help aid weight loss too.
If you're a parent with young children, then you've probably got a few more important things to think about before you start looking for ways to burn fat and how to lose belly fat. And even once you've done your research and found a diet that works fast, trying intermittent fasting or cutting out carbs isn't a realistic adjustment to make when you've got a toddler running rings around you. That's why we've put together this list of fat-burning foods to aid weight loss, so you can kick start your health journey without making a dramatic change to your eating habits.
"If you’re focussing on weight loss then it’s great to know that certain foods can help you reach your goals faster," says Suzie Sawyer, a clinical nutritionist with over 20 years of experience in the industry. "These foods that are scientifically proven to help the body burn fat when eaten as part of a controlled eating plan." And while no one should feel pressure to lose weight, it can be useful to know which foods to eat more of and which can help actively burn fat and calories.
21 of the best fat-burning foods for weight loss:
A simple salmon dinner can help you lose weight fast, as this delicious lean fish is packed with protein and omega-3s.
Nutritionist and personal trainer David Weiner, explains, “Salmon is a fantastic source of high-quality protein which is beneficial for weight and fat loss as the body must work harder to digest it. In addition, salmon is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids which are shown to reduce inflammation and promote fat burning, with studies showing that fish oil supplementation can help to reduce weight and the stress hormone cortisol, which is also linked to fat storage.”
Indeed, one study in a Public Library of Science journal into omega-3 found these friendly fats helped with a “reduction in abdominal fat”. Whilst another study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that salmon - compared to cod and fish oil capsules - was the most effective for weight loss overall.
There’s further good news too. As one serving of salmon contains around two-thirds of the nutrient selenium - which your body needs for a healthy thyroid. This is especially important, as your thyroid holds the key to an efficient metabolism. With this in mind, make sure to stock up on salmon on the weekly supermarket shop.
2. Greek Yogurt
Not only is this breakfast food delicious, Greek yoghurt is good for you and is scientifically proven to help burn body fat too.
“Greek yoghurt can really help with fat burning but it needs to be the full-fat variety,” says clinical nutritionist Suzie. “Firstly, full-fat Greek yoghurt contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which promotes fat burning. And secondly, probiotics naturally found in the yoghurt support the good gut bacteria which is key to any weight loss programme.”
This is important, Suzie notes, as the more overweight the person, the more imbalanced the bacteria in their gut. And it's this imbalance that makes it harder to lose fat overall.
As for Greek Yogurt's fat-burning qualities - researchers in a Journal of Nutrition study reported that the amino acids, vitamin D and calcium it contains speed ups fat burning. And this was further supported by one University of Tennessee study in which participants who cut calories and ate just over 500g of yoghurt daily lost an incredible 81% more belly fat than their counterparts.
Suffice to say we'll be drizzling over our granola and adding to our morning smoothies in the hopes of reaping the same rewards.
3. Dark Chocolate
It seems that dark chocolate is good for you, your body AND your waistline. Win-win!
Nutritionist David says it reduces sugar cravings, leaves you feeling full, and fires up your metabolism. "Dark chocolate is packed with monounsaturated fatty acids which help boost your metabolism," he explains. "And as a result, you will burn calories faster. However, when choosing dark chocolate, check the ingredients as many are still packed full of sugar."
As an added plus, science has suggested that giving in to the evening chocolate munchies might work in our favour. In one study in the FASEB Journal, women who ate chocolate at night (compared to those during the day) had a better metabolism and lost weight from around their middle after two weeks.
However, while there was evident weight loss, the researchers advised against regularly overindulging in chocolate due to its overall high-calorie content.
Our experts have given these cute tiny trees the green light as one of the best fat-burning foods for weight loss.
“Broccoli and its counterparts – like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts – are super high in fibre and nutrients that keep your body burning fat,” says registered dietician Claire Muszalski of MyProtein.
According to researchers, broccoli contains calcium, which is good for healthy joints and weight loss. One University of Tennessee study found that calcium in fact controls how fat is processed and stored in the body. And that the more calcium in a fat cell, the more fat that cell will burn.
Meanwhile, Scientists at Kanazawa University in Japan delved into the science of broccoli further and credited the chemical Sulforaphane, found in this mighty green veg, as the key to fighting flab.
They discovered this chemical not only encourages brown fat cells to speed up your metabolism but also helps to beat the bloat after a particularly salty meal.
A word to the wise though - steaming this green superfood is the best way to reap the full fat-burning effects, because it gives you the best chance of absorbing its nutrients. And of course, frying broccoli carries extra calories if seasoned and brushed with olive oil.
Nibbling nuts on the regular has a number of nutritional benefits to our bodies, says nutritionist David. “Nuts, specifically almonds, are a great source of magnesium and healthy fats. These healthy fats also provide antioxidants, which both fight and repair the damage caused by inflammation,” he tells us.
Indeed, almonds in particular are something of a fat-burning superfood, according to one study in the International Journal of Obesity. Overweight participants who enjoyed almonds as part of a low-calorie diet lost 50% more fat overall and around 18% of their weight compared to 11% lost by the other test group.
“Nuts are also a good source of protein, and as such they require the body to use more energy during the digestive process which can boost your metabolism and help burn more calories,” David adds.
And this was certainly the case with one European Journal of Nutrition study which find those who included nuts in their diet were at less risk of gaining weight or becoming obese.
So far, so good. But Suzie notes that whilst peanuts may be tasty, these are not the nuts in question when discussing fat-burning foods. “Though nuts are really healthy, they are high in fats (although mainly healthy fats), meaning they do need to be eaten in moderation in order for any benefits to be noticed,” she adds.
6. Green Tea
Glugging a mug of green tea can do wonders for your waistline, with this herbal tea hailed as one of the best fat-burning foods out there.
“Green tea is known to be thermogenic, or a fat-burner,” Suzie tells us. “It’s loaded with antioxidants called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which helps speed up metabolism. Plus green tea also contains a small amount of caffeine, and research has found it to speed up metabolic rate and increase fat-burning if drunk before exercise.”
One University of Birmingham study study reported that men who took green tea extract before a workout burned 17% more fat than those who didn’t. So be sure to sip some regularly before a gym session for maximum potential.
Mind you, dietician Claire adds that you don't necessarily have to drink green tea to get the goodness. “This nootropic tea can be used in its beverage form or found as a supplement to support a healthy metabolism,” she says.
Starting the day with hearty eggs as part of a high-protein breakfast is excellent for weight loss.
One study in the Journal of Nutrition Research gave one male group an egg breakfast and the other a bagel breakfast which contained the same calories. The researchers found that those who enjoyed eggs in the morning ate less during the remainder of the day, which is great news if you're making a conscious effort to watch the calories
Another study in the International Journal of Obesity with a similar egg vs bagel diet found that after eight weeks, those on the egg diet lost over 30% around their waists and saw a decrease in overall body fat percentage.
The reason eggs are good for you and your weight loss goals? It’s all down to protein says Suzie, “Eggs are one high-protein food that can promote fat-burning,” she says. “Protein speeds up metabolic rate, which can be as much as 30% after eating high-quality protein. Furthermore, protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, and the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active you’ll be.”
Suzie told us: “With around 234 calories and 20 grams of fat per fruit, avocados would not be a natural ‘go-to’ when trying to burn fat and lose weight. However, research says otherwise.”
One study in the Current Developments in Nutrition found that eating an avocado daily, as part of a calorie-controlled diet, aided weight loss in participants.
And the benefits of avocado don’t stop there, with another study from Loma Linda University finding that those who ate this fat-burning food for breakfast or lunch were less likely to over-eat during the rest of the day.
Nutritionist Suzie links this to research that avocados help stimulate leptin - our appetite-suppressing hormone - which helps us feel fuller and satisfied.
However, she does share a word of warning against your avocado munching with other high-fat foods. “If you’re including avos frequently into your diet (and they are nutritional powerhouses), but you overeat additional fat or calories from other foods, then your fat may be stubborn to shift,” she adds.
As the saying goes - little and often is the mantra to follow in this instance.
Sadly the verdict is out on our beloved Heinz baked beans. But did you know that other beans, particularly cannellini beans, are a common fat-burning food?
In a study in the Nutritional Journal, 50 obese adults were given a white bean extract twice a day for eight weeks whilst on a low-fat diet, and scientists found that those in the bean research group lost more weight and had better control of their blood sugar levels.
As David explains: “White beans such as cannellini beans act as alpha-amylase inhibitors, which means they can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates by blocking the enzymes needed for their digestion. This means you do not get a high blood sugar spike after eating them, which can result in the laying down of more fat around the body.”
Add into your stews and soups or scatter over a salad to get your lean bean fix.
Be it a breast, a thigh, or a good old chicken drumstick - chicken has earnt a spot on our fat-burning foods round-up, with research showing that this popular poultry can aid weight loss.
A study by the University of Navarra found that those who frequently ate chicken as part of a balanced diet experienced a “significant weight reduction mainly due to the loss of fat mass”.
Dietician Claire explains that this is due to chicken’s high protein nature, “Lean protein sources, like chicken, actually take more energy (or calories) to digest than simple carbs do,” she tells us. “Eating lean protein also protects your muscle mass when you’re in a calorie deficit, and lean mass burns more calories than fat.”
Another study in the Molecular Metabolism journal found that chicken is also effective in making us feel full after a meal. The amino acids in it make our brains recognise that we are full afterwards.
Of course, be aware that deep-fried chicken does not carry the same nutritional benefits, and is best avoided or eaten as a rare treat.
Not only do they count as one of your five-a-day portions, but blueberries are also brilliant for burning fat - especially belly fat.
One study by the University of Michigan on rats found that those who ate a diet rich in blueberries lost abdominal fat. And saw other health benefits like low cholesterol and improved glucose levels.
“Blueberries, and other berries, have a high water content and are lower in sugar than other fruits without sacrificing sweetness,” says dietician Claire. “Their high antioxidant content helps keep you healthy, too.”
12. Whole grains
“Whole grains such as oats and quinoa are high in fibre, which can enhance weight loss, digestion, and blood sugar levels,” says nutritionist David. “Eating whole grains has also shown to reduce appetite and influence your body’s energy use, both of which can affect body composition.”
Indeed science agrees, with one study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finding that a research group who added whole grains to their diet lost more body fat than those who continued eating refined grains. The same group also boasted a significant loss in belly fat too.
Then there’s a 2017 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found whole grains can help speed up your metabolism and increase calorie loss. And the reasoning behind this is that when digested, fewer calories from whole grains are retained overall. Porridge for breakfast and quinoa on your salad anyone?
13. Chia seeds
Dietician Claire swears by chia seeds as one of the best fat-burning foods out there.
“Small but mighty, chia seeds have many benefits – many of which are thanks to their protein and fibre content,” she tells us. “They can turn liquids into thicker substances – think chia pudding or adding into your oatmeal. And they provide minerals and vitamins to support the conversion of fat to energy.”
One study in the Journal of Nutrition Research and Practice found that the fibre and low-carbohydrate content of chia seeds was responsible for people feeling fuller for longer, while another study from the same researchers recorded that overweight adults who ate 30g of chia seeds daily for six months lost weight around their middles and body overall. Now that's a result worth emulating.
Did you know that you can burn fat by eating spicy foods like chillis and peppers?
Nutritionist David notes that a little heat can go a long way to aiding your weight loss goals, “Chillies can help to stimulate the metabolism, having a thermogenic effect which speeds up the metabolism and the rate at which your body uses energy,” he says.
Thermogenesis works by raising our body temperature, and people may find they burn more calories during this process just by being warm.
Indeed, a 2019 study in the Bioscience Reports journal credited chilli as one fat-burning food that facilitates weight loss. It found that the active substance capsaicin in chilli aids thermogenesis and improves insulin levels in the body.
You can additionally reap the fat-burning rewards of chilli without eating it, explains David. “You can use chilli directly on the skin in the form of a good quality chilli oil, this can help increase circulation and reduce cellulite and increase fat burning,” he says. “But if you are applying chilli oil to the skin, do so very carefully, avoiding cracked skin, crevices and the eyes.”
You may be curious why we’ve included cinnamon as one of our fat-burning foods. But it turns out that this spice has more than one special role in weight gain prevention.
Scientists at the University of Michigan found that cinnamaldehyde - an essential oil present in cinnamon - can help burn fat. Much like capsaicin in chili, this oil activates thermogenesis. This is the metabolism process where heat helpfully burns calories.
There are further fat-burning benefits too, as nutritionist Suzie points out, “Cinnamon has been found to help balance blood sugar levels, therefore helping stop the body store fat,” she tells us. “When blood sugar levels are imbalanced, there is a constant shunting mechanism - with insulin working hard to remove glucose from a high sugar/carb diet and sending it to the safety (from getting it out of the bloodstream perspective) of the fat cells.”
Incorporate it into your daily diet by sprinkling some on your morning porridge or adding it to smoothies.
Your morning cup of joe can really help you achieve your weight loss goals - and that's according to science.
Coffee’s caffeine content has been hailed as an effective stimulant that fires up metabolism. And indeed, one Swiss study found that after a caffeine hit, fat burning increased by 44%. Whilst a University of London study reported that one group who drank 100mg of caffeine a day burned 150 more calories as a result.
Though the evidence looks good, dietitian Claire has some words of warning, “While it provides its own metabolism boost, be careful that you don’t add too much sugar or fat to your coffee and counteract its energy-boosting effects,” she says.
Stick to a regular black coffee and stay clear of fattier coffee variations like flavoured lattes and Starbucks cappuccinos.
17. Coconut Oil
Suzie claims that the benefits of coconut oil go further than just your hair and skin - with this oil a fat-burning food you need to know about.
“It’s all down to the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil which are metabolised by the liver and used as an energy source rather than stored as fat,” she explains.
One 2020 study by researchers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro stated that: “Coconut oil appears to help in weight loss and improve metabolic parameters associated with obesity.”
This being said, there have been other studies into the oil that have found little evidence to support this.
As Suzie clarifies: “Coconut oil has always been a consumer-driven food rather than backed by lots of research, but MCT’s do appear to promote fat loss and are very useful when eaten as part of the keto diet.”
18. Apple Cider Vinegar
We’ve all heard of the Apple Cider Vinegar diet, but how exactly has it earnt a place on our fat-burning foods list?
Researchers in one animal study published in the Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry journal found that it was the acetic acid in this vinegar that was effective in burning fat from our middle.
Then there’s a 12-week study published in the same journal that showed that obese males who had a daily tablespoon of the stuff saw a half-an-inch loss from their waistlines.
If you’re eager to give this fat-burning food a go, then start off small by diluting a teaspoon in water and seeing how your body responds. The taste and smell might make it one trick that doesn’t appeal to everyone.
We’ve all heard of the celery diet trick, as dietician Claire points out, “Celery is the famous ‘negative calorie’ food – some people claim it takes more calories to digest celery than it does to eat it.”
And it turns out that science agrees in this situation - with one UK study proving exactly that. In Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped series, researchers from University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust and the University of Warwick placed presenter Matt Tebbut in a metabolic chamber. Here they recorded the number of calories he ingested and burned while eating celery in different forms over 12 hours.
Two meals included raw celery and a celery smoothie - both worth 53 calories. And results showed that Matt burnt 73 calories when munching raw celery, and 112 when drinking the smoothie.
Juicy and refreshing - this is one of many fat burning foods we can get on board with.
“A sweet summer treat, watermelon’s benefit is in its name – its high water content (and fibre) makes it satisfying without lots of calories,” says Claire.
And it’s not just it’s low calorie status that appeals to dieters. With research revealing that watermelon also aids weight loss too.
One San Diego University study found that participants who ate watermelon daily for four weeks had “reduced body weight and blood pressure". A win-win in our eyes.
21. Black Pepper
Turns out that our humble black pepper seasoning on meals could actually promote fat burning in our bodies.
Scientists in one study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry hailed black pepper as a natural treatment for fat-related disorders like obesity. And they put this down to the substance piperine, found in black pepper. Which they discovered prevents new fat cells from developing.
There’s further good news, with the same researchers finding that pepper also increased the ‘bioavailability’ of other nutrients. This basically means when sprinkled on meals, it draws the goodness out of the other foods, making your dish more nutritious.
Berries - particularly raspberries - are full of fibre, making them low calorie but nutrient-dense, and therefore able to satiate your appetite and satisfy sugar cravings too.
Studies from Oregon State University found that the consumption of the equivalent of one serving of raspberries daily curbed weight gain in mice, even when they ate an unhealthy and high-fat diet. So science says these fruits can help you in your weight loss journey.
You can add them to your breakfasts, blend them into a smoothie or use them to sweeten up your homemade bakes.
You may well have already heard of the grapefruit diet, an extreme diet plan that encourages followers to eat grapefruit alongside every meal. Supposedly, grapefruits contain fat-burning enzymes that mean rapid weight loss can be achieved, and apparently actress Brooke Sheilds is a fan of this method.
However, the grapefruit diet is a fad, and while delicious, this fruit doesn't contain the magical fat-burning properties that some people claim and we don't recommend giving it a go.
With that being said, grapefruit can aid weight loss because it is rich in fibre and nutrients but low in calories, meaning it will make you feel fuller and prevent you from consuming as many calories throughout the day.
There are plenty of other health benefits of adding grapefruit to your diet too, because they are high in vitamin C, which is good for your immune system, and one study published in the Metabolism journal found that people who regularly ate grapefruit experienced significant reductions in blood pressure.
If you're looking for more diet and weight loss tips, we've revealed the best time to eat breakfast lunch and dinner to lose weight, and broken down some of the most popular weight loss methods, including the 16:8 diet, the 5:2 diet and the Fast 800 diet. We've rounded up 14 celebrity diets too - though you might want to steer clear from some of these.
We spoke to the following experts:
Suzie Sawyer is a nutritional expert with more than 20+ years of experience. Specialising in female health and food supplements, she is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and has a diploma in nutrition from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London. Suzie has been featured in a range of title, including Women’s Health, woman&home, Women, Women’s Own, and Daily Mail.
David Wiener is a Freeletics Training and Nutrition specialist A level 3 personal trainer with a huge passion for health and fitness. David works closely with his clients to motivate and inspire them to reach their goals both in one to one and group sessions, and he loves working with his clients to improve their physical and mental wellbeing, pushing them to their maximum.
Claire Muszalski is a registered dietitian, accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She's also a certified health and wellness coach through the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching. Having studied at the University of Pittsburgh, she also has a BA in Science in Biology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition. Fitness fan Claire is also a certified indoor cycling instructor.
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