This post was originally written to be published by Rapid Personal Training on their site. Since then the business has closed down, and so I have decided to re-publish any content that I produced for Rapid PT here so that everyone can still have access to it.
Specific foods don’t burn fat.
Although I’m sure you’ve read articles stating otherwise. You know the ones that I’m talking about; they go along the lines of –
5 Healthy Snacks That Actually Burn Fat
13 Foods That Will Increase Your Metabolism
These are certainly catchy titles, but unfortunately they’re misleading. These articles should be renamed to –
5 Snacks That Are Lower In Calories Than Your Current Snacks
13 Ways We’re Going To Bullshit You Into Reading Our Articles
But, sadly, that doesn’t sell magazines; so we continue with the flashy titles followed by subpar science, all whilst the end users (read – you) become more and more confused as to what’s true, and what’s not.
So are there any truths to these claims?
Here’s the run down – some foods may raise metabolism slightly after eating them, and other foods, namely high protein foods, have a higher cost of digestion (meaning that they require more calories to digest them, known as the thermic effect of eating), but it’s unlikely to be enough to have an actual, real-world effect on the amount of fat you lose.
And when it comes to what should you focus your time and efforts on when setting up your nutrition, you certainly have better bang-for-buck methods that you can choose over focusing on something that’s going to bring little-to-zero results.
I understand that I might be bursting some bubbles by letting you in on this, but part of our goal when we started writing these articles was to arm you with the knowledge to cut through the fitness industry marketing nonsense, and get real-world results.
What does work, I hear you ask?
By far, the biggest problem that most people who want to lose fat have is that they’re overeating during the day. It’s that simple – their calorie intake is more than their calorie output, and as a result the weight stacks on.
The solution to this problem, then, is to systematically reduce the amount of total calories that you’re eating over the course of a day (or better yet, a week), and to do this consistently over time.
With this is mind you can probably understand my disbelief when I look through your standard fitness magazine healthy snacks lists, and see that they’re full of the same, calorie-dense snack options that are easy to overeat on – nuts, dates, avocados, yoghurt and granola, and lately there also seems to be a rise in putting coconut and butter in your coffee (way to ruin coffee for everyone, guys).
Now I’m not saying that there’s anything inherently wrong with these foods, but what I am saying is that just because something is considered as ‘healthy’, it doesn’t mean that you can’t overeat on it. And when our food choices are on the higher side of the caloric spectrum, we’re often walking a fine line between eating enough, and too much.
As an example, let’s take my client Todd, who was a victim of misinformation delivered by popular fitness magazines. He was eating 1-2 cups of mixed nuts daily as his ‘healthy snack’, not understanding that it was the extra calories from these that were leading to his gradual weight gain. A slight adjustment, and still allowing him to eat his favourite snack daily, and Todd quickly dropped 9kgs.
So my warning to you when reading these lists is this – be careful that you’re not simply substituting one high-calorie option for another; because that won’t get you anywhere except frustrated.
5 Snacks That Are Lower In Calories Than Your Current Snacks
What’s this – an article within an article?
Solely leaving you with a ‘be careful that the snacks you eat aren’t too high in calories’ would be a little unfulfilling, right?
I wouldn’t do that to you, so here are five snack options that are lower in calories than your current snacks (even your ‘healthy’ snacks) that you can begin to bring into your nutrition plan immediately to help lower those calories.
1) Protein Smoothie
Whilst the protein shake/smoothie is a common solution for coaches and nutritionists to recommend, there’s a bit of a conundrum with them –
- Protein shakes in water are low in calories, but taste like straight up dog poop, but,
- Protein smoothies typically have all kinds of other stuff added – milk, yoghurt, chia sees, fruits, nuts, honey etc. – that effectively make them the calorie equivalent of a Big Mac.
And I mean that quite literally –
Big Mac = ~500kcals
Protein Smoothie = 200mL milk (90kcals), 1 cup fruit (90kcals), 1 scoop protein (120kcal), handful of nuts (200kcal), plus whatever else you add.
So where’s the middle ground?
It’s pretty simple – just pair the protein with maybe one other item there, instead of multiple ones.
Personally I’d prefer to opt for protein powder and a cup of mixed berries blended in water. If you want you can sweeten it up with some stevia. It’s less than 200kcals, and tastes a lot better than straight protein.
2) Vegetable Chips
I know, I know, this sounds like a terrible idea – but they actually aren’t too bad!
I’m not going to lie to you and say that these chips taste better than regular ‘ol potato chips, because they don’t, but they are going to be a whole lot more conducive to getting you to your goal (and they’re still infinitely better than eating air, which was probably your alternative should these not exist).
The trick with these is to firstly bake them (rather than frying in oil), but secondly to match the vegetable of choice with spices that compliment them.
For example –
- Sweet potato with paprika and salt
- Kale with paprika and salt
- Zucchini with garlic and salt
- Carrots with turmeric and salt
Your best bet would be would be to experiment with different combinations.
So how good are these, calorie-wise?
How does between 40 and 150kcal per serving sound? Plus they’re full of fibre.
Cook up a batch at the start of the week, and then stick them into your drawer at work to snack on between meals.
3) Protein Ice Cream
Let’s be real for a second – most meals that begin with the word protein taste like sadness. Protein muffins, protein pancakes, protein chips – they’ve all let me down at a certain point in my life.
Protein ice cream, however, hits the nail on the head.
Now, you can make these (there are plenty of recipes online), but I don’t – I buy Powtein Ice Cream from the local supplement store, and I love it!
At 130kcals per serve, and 22g of protein, it’s perfect for me to get my chocolate-y hit at night whilst still staying calorie-conscious.
What ever happened to eating a piece of fruit as a snack?
Seriously, though, it seems as if a few nutritionists warn people that fruit has sugar in it, and suddenly everyone started abandoning it as a suitable snack.
An apple runs around 80-90kcals, is sweet, full of micronutrients and fibre, and can be satiating enough for a between-meal boost.
Compare that to the handful-of-almonds alternative that’s highly touted, and it’s less than half the total calories. I know which one I’d be choosing if I was searching for a bang-for-buck food volume versus calories option.
5) Carrots & Hummus
This is not one that I’m a huge fan of, but dipping baby carrots into hummus has been a hit with clients of mine in the past.
The reasons are that it’s tasty, it’s easy to make and transport, and as long as you don’t go crazy with the hummus then it’s a meal that will comfortably come in at under 150kcals.
Beyond that, much like the fruit, the meal itself is highly nutritious, and full of fibre.