Q&A: Do certain foods increase fat-burning

Q: I’ve heard that there are some foods you should not mix in order to avoid fat storage. For instance: Don’t consume a fat with a carb or a carb with a protein. I may have the combinations wrong but is there any truth to this and if so, what are the best combinations to maximize fat burning?

LM, Rocky Hill

A: There isn’t enough evidence to support the claim that eating certain foods together maximizes fat burning but there are several lifestyle patterns that can support your metabolism.

Avoid crash dieting. Severe calorie restriction may help with short-term weight loss but can slow down your metabolism and lead to weight gain in the long-run because it could cause you to lose muscle mass.

Metabolic rate is higher in people with more muscle mass because it takes more energy to maintain a pound of muscle (about six calories a day) than a pound of fat (two calories a day). 

Get active. The best way to maintain muscle mass is to exercise regularly, so aim for thirty minutes of heart-pumping exercise three-to-five days a week and consider adding strength training to build muscle and enhance calorie burn.

Exercise does more than just burn calories. It releases endorphins — feel-good molecules — that reduce stress and food cravings.

Get enough fiber. Eating more fiber from whole foods like oatmeal and lentils can help you lose weight without spending hours at the gym everyday.

Stay hydrated. Water is essential for all metabolic reactions so even mild dehydration can slow metabolic rate. Drinking unsweetened beverages such as water and tea first thing in the morning and before meals boosts metabolism and supports fat burning.

Sip a cup or two of tea. Drinking tea combines the calorie burning benefits of caffeine and catechins — such as the primary antioxidant in green tea (EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate). Caffeine and catechins increase the release of fat into the blood stream, where it can be burned as fuel. So, sipping tea could help you burn more calories from fat during exercise (1). The caffeine in coffee can also increase metabolism for a short period of time, but remember that adding cream and sugar ruins that calorie-burning potential.

Beware of calorie bombs: A ‘grande’ (16-ounce) Eggnog Latte from Starbucks has 450 calories and 52 grams of sugar.

Get enough of the right kind of fat. Research shows that switching from saturated fats (such as butter) to liquid fats (olive oil and omega-3s) increase metabolic rate. Omega-3 fatty acids found primarily in fatty fish have been shown to boost metabolism by enhancing the activation of fat-burning enzymes so aim to get 8 ounces — two servings — of sardines, mackerel, wild salmon or trout per week. Ground flaxseed and walnuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids (2).

Be well.


1. Hursel, R., Viechtbauer, W., Dulloo, A. G., Tremblay, A., Tappy, L., Rumpler, W. and Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2011), The effects of catechin rich teas and caffeine on energy expenditure and fat oxidation: a meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 12: e573–e581. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00862.x

2. Logan SL, Spriet LL. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for 12 Weeks Increases Resting and Exercise Metabolic Rate in Healthy Community-Dwelling Older Females. Nishi D, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(12):e0144828. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144828.

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