Just this past week, I posted an article on the 3 best exercise to lose fat. What better follow-up article to that than one on the 3 best food to lose fat? As mentioned in the outset of that article, exercise is one piece of the foundation for fat loss. And my guess is that if you’re reading this article right now, you know what the another piece of that foundation is. That’s right, our food intake and nutrition plays a major role in our journey to losing that stubborn fat.
The same way that certain exercises are touted as the best fat burner of the decade or the long lost exercises practiced by the fi
ttest people that ever lived, certain foods are given similar praise by fitness “gurus” and “experts”. Compared to exercise however, nutrition has much more conflicting information and opinions in the fitness industry. I’ve mentioned this briefly on my articles on Recommended Meal Frequencies Part 1 and Part 2. This can be quite troublesome since we’re interested in the facts and in this case, the best foods that work for us in losing fat.
Following in the same footsteps of all my posts, this is another no fluff, straight to the point article based on scientific studies and facts. This should help us see through a lot of the misinformation and confusion that exists in the fitness world and distinguish between the real information and marketing scams.
3 Best Foods To Lose Fat
The avocado has long been recognized for it’s nutrients, monounsaturated fats, phytochemicals, and its general versatility when it comes to making recipes. Most famous for being a center ingredient in guacamole and other dips, it can also be used for spread, ice cream, or just sliced to compliment the main dish.
Although there are different types of avocados, we’ll be discussing the Haas avocado since it’s the most common and readily available.
So what makes this fruit the #1 food for burning fat?
There are multiple factors that attributes to avocado taking the #1 spot in its ability to help us lose fat. As mentioned, it packs a huge punch in nutrition. Just to list some of the nutrients in a single avocado¹:
- Vitamin C: 20.1 mg (33% of Recommended Daily Value)
- Vitamin K: 42.2 mcg (53 % of RDV)
- Folate: 163 mcg (41% of RDV)
- Dietary Fiber: 13.5 g (54% of RDV)
- Potassium: 975 mg (28% of RDV)
In addition to these vitamins and minerals, most of the fat content of avocados are that of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs). According to the American Heart Association, when compared to a diet high in carbohydrates, a diet high in MUFAs is more effective in reducing belly fat². In addition, a study done on the effects on MUFA and belly fat shows a direct correlation in the moderate intake of MUFAs and the reduction of belly fat³.
Although the topic of interest here is finding the best foods for losing fat, it’s worth noting that the nutrients mentioned before improves a variety of biomarkers as well, including4:
- Lower cholesterol
- Promote normal blood pressure
- Help oxidative/inflammatory stress
- Increase the bioavailability (how much becomes available for absorption) of carotenoid
All these factors attributes to vibrant health overall and keeps our bodies functioning the way it’s supposed to. So in addition to MUFAs that help us directly burn fat, all these other benefits that may not directly cause us to burn fat attributes to a healthier body, which allows the fat burning to take place as efficiently as possible.
When it comes to losing fat, the importance of satiety of our foods cannot be overstated. Having something to keep us feeling satisfied for longer periods of time will obviously cut down on the inclination to snack or eat through out the day. The calories from those snacks can definitely add up, especially when they’re small but frequent, because c’mon, who’s really keeping count?
So how does the avocado rate on the scale for satiety? At this point, we’ve established that avocados are very high in fats. Matter of fact, an avocado is mostly fat out of all 3 macronutrients (it’s mostly water by content). This fact is why some recommend limiting our consumption of avocados. Although it should be taken in moderation, the whole “fats make you fat” myth is starting to get exposed even within the public community. That’s a topic of another article. Back to the fat avocados, I mean the fats in avocados.
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study performed involving young men ages 19 to 24 years old showed that the intake of dietary fat delayed hunger in the participants5. The participants were deprived of any time cues so they simply ate their second meal when they felt hungry.
This study also showed that energy intake was delayed in the group with the high dietary fat intake. This means that compared to a high carbohydrate meal, a high fat meal will provide you with energy throughout a longer period of time instead of all at once. Bye-bye to post lunch crashes!
A review performed on recent studies reaffirms the conclusions from the study stated above. It also notes that the type of dietary fats consumed plays a role in the level of satiety. It also states that certain genetic factors may cause some of us to have a lower tolerance for high fat foods6. This could explain why some individuals eating plenty of healthy fats cannot lose their stubborn belly fat even when they’re doing everything else right.
This review goes on to conclude that foods high in fats are typically more palatable, which would increase the chances of frequent eating and in large amounts. Although I’ve said before that the “calorie in = calorie out” concept is not true (will be explained in a later post, I promise!), the idea of taking in more calories just because a certain food is tasty is not going to help us lose fat.
However, if we consider the high fat foods that are most prevalent today, it’s obvious why the case can be made regarding the palatability of high fat foods. Most high fat foods people think of comes in the form burgers, french fries, pastries, hot dogs, all of which are available at you favorite fast food restaurant. It’s no wonder why increase eating frequency and calorie consumption would be a concern with high fat foods!
#1, Deservedly So
Yes, the avocado is really that awesome in helping us lose fat. It obviously doesn’t belong in the fatty junk food category, and the benefits range from cardiovascular disease reduction to cancer risk reduction to what we’ve been talking about, fat reduction. As mentioned before, avocados also releases energy slowly into our system so we get a steady supply of energy over time, which reduces our need to eat for more energy. It also promotes healthy bodies with its many nutrients and minerals, improving our bodily functions, which equals better fat burning efficiency.
The fact that it is a food that’s readily available in most places, provides substantial satiety, and helps us lose fat both directly and indirectly as mentioned above puts this fruit in the #1 spot on this list.
Not as common as the avocado in parts of the western hemisphere, kelp is an exotic vegetable to some and a common dish to others. Kelp by definition is seaweed or sea algae that are much larger in size than your typical feet-grabbing-leg-tangling seaweed from the beach. It is generally farmed and harvested for use in supplements, medical supply of iodine, and food.
At a glance, it’s a very simple vegetable with nothing much to its appearance. But the power of kelp in improving fat loss lies in its one key ingredient, iodine.
The Power of Iodine
If we browse the supplement section of any supermarket or health food store, we’re bound to find an iodine supplement or ten. A quick look at the ingredients will show us the common ingredient in all of them include kelp or another form of sea vegetable. This is because kelp is a very rich source of iodine.
As of 2007, the World Health Organization reported that over 2 billion people globally are deficient in iodine7. If left unchecked, iodine deficiency leads to a very bad problem that spells trouble for fat loss.
A study was conducted on the effect of iodine supplementation on individuals with iodine deficiency but are otherwise healthy. Two groups participated in this study, with one group given a low dose while the other had a high dose. The study last 4 weeks and pre and post-study parameters were taken at the beginning, end, and 2 weeks after supplementation. All of the parameters tested for were hormones that are indicative of thyroid function. Before we get into the results, let’s see why thyroid function is of interest to us.
The Role of Thyroid
Simply put, the thyroid takes iodine that we’ve absorbed and converts them into different hormones. These hormones are released into the blood and enter each of our cells, regulating metabolism of calories and oxygen into energy. Those hormones rarely even stay at a constant level for long. If they drop too low, our pituitary gland signals the thyroid to produce more. When the levels are back to the optimal range, the thyroid down-regulates the production8.
One can see the problem with iodine deficiency not only affects our ability to burn fat, but also our health in general. If the thyroid hormones drop too low due to an iodine deficiency, the pituitary gland can signal all it wants, but the thyroid can only do so much with limited iodine. This not only stresses our thyroid, but also the pituitary gland. And a stressed pituitary gland causes a whole host of physical and mental health problems.
We can see why these thyroid hormones are so important. Just purely from a fat loss perspective, these hormones are what tells us to burn calories for fuel. And these hormones can only be produced and maintained within the optimal ranges with sufficient iodine intake.
Three thyroid hormones were examined throughout this study. The study showed that both low and high dosage groups experienced no change for one of the hormones, and an increase throughout the study for another one of the hormones. The third hormone only increased for the high dosage group. However, 2 weeks after the end of supplementation, the hormone levels were analyzed again and while they returned to baseline for the low dosage group, the high dosage group had levels lower than baseline9!
While the study concluded that further tests are required to determine the long term viability of iodine supplementation for lower the risk of thyroid disease, I think a few insights can be gained from this.
- Iodine supplementation can definitely help those with a thyroid problem due to iodine deficiency
- Both high and low dosage of iodine can help produce thyroid hormones in the short term
- Sustained high dosages of iodine can lead to drop of thyroid hormones after stopping supplementation
- Possible tapering high dosage to low would be a solution to avoiding hormone level drops (just speculating)
More studies will need to be conducted to test the long-term effectiveness of iodine supplementation. But there is a question that we need to ask…
Why Supplement In Place Of Food?
This very simple question has an equally simple answer.
It doesn’t make any sense to take something that we can get from a food source, especially when that food source is full of other nutrients as well.
Kelp is a great addition to any meal and can be cooked in a variety of ways. I’ll leave it up to you on how to prepare it for cooking but it is a must for optimal fat burning in my opinion. As one of the few food sources that provides what our thyroid needs to regulate our metabolism, this sea vegetables sits rightfully at our #2 spot on the list.
3. Green Leafy Vegetables
Last but not least, the last food is actually a category of food, although I will make a few recommendations. I believe that I don’t need to go into details on the benefits of green leafy vegetables. It is one of the few things that the fitness industry has right. Foods in this category should be a stable in our diet if we’re serious about losing fat.
Besides all the nutrients and fiber in this food group, there is at least one other way that this food group helps us lose fat.
A study performed on 38 women showed that the intake of green-plant membrane supplementation for 3 months promoted weight loss10. In addition, the overall cholesterol were lowered, and the urge for sweet and fat palatable food were both lowered as well (so much for the fatty palatable food dilemma from before).
Out of this food group, there are two specific vegetables that I highly recommend including in your diet: kale and spinach. Both are very nutrient dense and full of fiber. Both have the effect of suppressing appetite and lowering urge for palatable foods. Most of all, both have been proven to be great for fat loss.
Between the two, I’d go with kale over spinach and here’s the reason why.
Oxalic Acid, What Is That?
Oxalic acid, or oxalate, is a substance found mostly on the surface or leafy greens and other foods. This substance is vital for the metabolism of plants, animals, and humans. However, too much of this substance can wreak havoc on our health. Studies have shown that kidney stone formation and calcium deficiency due to poor absorption can be traced to high levels of oxalates in the blood11.
Interestingly, an increase in the intake of calcium, magnesium, and fiber can offset the amount of oxalate absorbed in our intestines12. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so we’re better off limiting our intake of this substance than trying to combat its absorption after ingesting it.
The reason why I prefer kale over spinach is due to the oxalate content of each. Leafy green vegetables in general have always been grouped together as having high oxalate content. But that is not the case with kale. Although spinach, rhubarb, beets, and some other vegetables have higher than recommended oxalate content, kale is definitely not one of them13.
As far as spinach goes, it seems its oxalate content is lowest in the fall season. So any spinach consumption would ideally be in the fall. Although it’s not a problem to have leafy greens year-round, just like anything else, moderation is key here.
I did not mention so called superfoods because many of them are not technically something that we
can should make a meal out of. The top 3 choices on this list can either be a meal all to itself or can at least make up the bulk of a dish. Superfoods like goji berries and cacao are great, but just not in the same amounts as we would have for a meal.
The 3 foods chosen for this list is also suitable regardless of the type of diet or eating habit you’re on. Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan or anything in between, these foods are gluten-free and dairy-free by nature. This is another big reason why they belong on this list because unlike other great candidates such as eggs, salmon, lean meats, etc., these foods can fit in everyone’s diet no problem (unless you’re a fruitarian or refuse to include vegetables in your diet).
I hope this article has proven to be helpful to you. So what foods have you personally found to be helpful for fat loss? Please leave your comments and feedback in the comments section below!
- “Nutrition Facts.” And Analysis for Avocados, Raw, All Commercial Varieties. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2016.
- Dreher, Mark L., and Adrienne J. Davenport. “Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Taylor & Francis, May 2013. Web. 11 June 2016.
- Samra, Rania Abou. Fats and Satiety. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 11 June 2016.
- “How Your Thyroid Works.” EndocrineWeb. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2016.
- “Body Weight Loss, Reduced Urge for Palatable Food and Increased Release of GLP-1 through Daily Supplementation with Green-plant Membranes for Three Months in Overweight Women.” Body Weight Loss, Reduced Urge for Palatable Food and Increased Release of... N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2016.
- “Can You Tell Me about Oxalates, including the Foods That Contain Them and How Are They Related to Nutrition and Health?” Can You Tell Me about Oxalates, including the Foods … N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2016.
- “Oxalates in Kale vs. Spinach.” Oxalates in Kale vs. Spinach. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2016.