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What Does the Research Say About Negative Calorie Foods?

Most people consider their calorie intake whenever they’re on a weight gain or loss plan.

Calories are a measure of energy stored in your body tissues or food.

Whenever a person starts a weight loss plan, they are advised to focus on reducing their calorie intake or burning up more of their stored calories through exercise and other forms of physical activity.

Some foods are now trendy in weight loss diet plans because they are considered “negative-calorie.” This means that you get to lose calories when you eat them.

But how true is this?

This article will discuss everything you need to know about negative-calorie foods, including their role in weight loss.

An infograph of negative calorie vegetables and fruits


Defining negative-calorie foods

Food provides your body with many nutrients, mainly carbs, fats, and proteins. These three categories of nutrients dole out energy as calories.

Digestion and processing of food require energy. However, the amount of energy needed to digest and process food varies depending on the food (1).

Negative-calorie food means food that takes more calories to eat, digest, and absorb than the food naturally contains and provides to the body.

If such foods exist in nature, mere eating them could trigger weight loss.

In most cases, vegetables and fruits are typically promoted as negative-calorie foods because they contain a lot of water.

Examples of so-called negative-calorie foods include:

  • Celery: 95% water, 14 calories per 100 grams

  • Lettuce: 95% water, five calories per cup (35 grams)

  • Carrots: 88% water, 52 calories per cup (130 grams)

  • Broccoli: 89% water, 31 calories per cup

  • Apples: 86% water, 53 calories per cup

  • Watermelon: 91% water, 46 calories per cup

  • Tomatoes: 94% water, 32 calories per cup

  • Grapefruit: 92% water, 69 calories per cup

  • Cucumbers: 95% water, eight calories per cup

Other vegetables and fruits, like cabbages, lemons, zucchini, or lemons, are also included in this category of foods.

Now since these foods all contain calories, the question is whether the body uses more calories than they have to process them.

Green vegetables and fruits

Photo by Dose Juice on Unsplash

There is nothing like negative-calorie foods

While it is true that most foods are nutritious, they are unlikely to be negative-calorie.

Each of these foods contains calories, but there is no evidence to show that these foods’ eating, digestion, and processing require more energy than they provide.

Calories expended in chewing food

Many may wonder if the energy spent during the chewing process could count to a portion of food being negative-calorie.

A study has shown that your body uses up to 11 calories per hour when chewing gum (2).

Therefore, the energy expended during a few minutes of chewing foods like celery is small and relatively insignificant.

A teenager chewing gum

Photo by Marlene Bauer on Unsplash

Calories used during food digestion

Yes, the body uses calories to process foods, but the number of calories expended is less than the calories the food provides (3).

The energy your body uses to process foods is more or less a percentage of the calories you take in and is estimated separately for proteins, fats, and carbs.

For instance, the energy used in processing foods is about 5–10% of the calories the food contains for carbs, 0–5% for fat, and roughly 20–30% of its protein content (1).

Most so-called negative-calorie foods mainly contain carbs and water, with very little protein or fat.

It is unlikely that more energy may be used to process these foods than other carb-based foods.

Zero-calorie food items?

An example of a zero-calorie food item would be cold water. It is often promoted as increasing metabolism.

Some studies support small increases in metabolic activities for a short time after taking cold water


But the increase is insignificant, ranging from about 3–24 calories per hour (456).

Just like chewing, some calories are expended when drinking cold water. However, the effects are so small and will not cause any substantial increase in the number of calories your body burns.

A woman next to a lake holding a can of water

Phot Credit: By sakurra


Negative-calorie foods take more calories to eat, digest, and absorb than you provide for your body.

Foods in this category are typically low-calorie fruits and vegetables with a large amount of water.

While it is true that these foods can be part of a healthy, nutritious diet, it is unlikely that any are negative calories.

Disclaimer: Dr. Berner does not diagnose, treat, or prevent any medical diseases or conditions; instead, he analyzes and corrects the structure of his patients with Foundational Correction to improve their overall quality of life. He works with their physicians, who regulate their medications. This blog post is not designed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or services to you or any other individual. The information provided in this post or through linkages to other sites is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, consultation, or the advice of your physician or another healthcare provider. Foundation Chiropractic and Dr. Brett Berner are not liable or responsible for any advice, the course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other information, services, or product you obtain through this article or others.

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