Foods clinically proven to burn fat

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published May 8, 2019

Key Takeaways

Eating delicious foods that burn fat and result in weight loss seems too good to be true. However, many foods that promote weight loss—including fruits and nuts—are delicious and healthy. Plus, these foods are packed with nutritional goodies, such as antioxidants and fiber.

Overall, the evidence supporting the weight-loss potential of various foods is still emerging. Some foods that are promoted as having weight-loss properties—like apple cider vinegar—do not actually result in weight loss. Therefore, it’s important to consult the literature to separate truth from fiction.

Here is an evidence-based list of fat-burning foods.

Caffeinated coffee and tea

People drink coffee and tea all over the world. Because so many people drink these caffeine-containing beverages, the population-level health benefits of caffeine in terms of weight could be substantial, despite the small, individual health benefits that these drinks may offer.

And small benefits in terms of weight loss over a long period of time are exactly what researchers found in a high-powered prospective study that examined the link between caffeine consumption and weight change over a 12-year period.

Using age-adjusted models, the researchers noted lower average weight gain in participants who upped their caffeine consumption vs those who limited their consumption. The differences between extreme quintiles, however, were small: -0.43 kg (95% CI: -0.17 to -0.69) in men and -0.41 kg (95% CI: -0.20 to -0.62) in women. After adjusting for covariates, including diet, the effect for women slightly decreased (-0.35 kg; 95% CI: -0.14 to -0.56) but stayed about the same in men.

To boot, increasing coffee and tea consumption was significantly linked to less weight gain. In men, this difference was most pronounced in younger participants. In women, the link was greatest in those with higher body mass index, as well as in current smokers and less physically active individuals.

Finally, it’s very possible that coffee and tea contain other compounds that help promote weight loss.


Becoming overweight or obese doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, weight gain creeps up after years of positive energy balance. According to evidence from intervention trials, frequent consumption of lean seafood vs meats decreases caloric intake by 4% to 9% percent over the long haul, which may prevent a positive energy balance and obesity.

Lean seafood also decreases fasting and prostprandial biomarkers of insulin resistance, and boosts insulin sensitivity in patients who are insulin resistant. Many of these effects are likely due to—you guessed it—omega-3 fatty acids.


The rationale behind the idea that nuts promote weight loss is that, even though nuts are fatty, they fill you up. Investigators who conducted a cross-sectional survey found that in women—but not men—there was a significant correlation between high nut consumption and lower prevalence of being overweight or exhibiting general and abdominal obesity. Additionally, eating more nuts was significantly linked to a lower risk of being overweight or generally obese in women. Nuts in the study included walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds.

Fruits and veggies

Dietary guidelines recommend that fruits and vegetables be consumed as part of any balanced diet. But the specific combination of fruits that you choose may result in greater weight loss and improved weight maintenance, according to the results of a high-powered, US prospective study. Specifically, fruits and veggies that were non-starchy resulted in the most weight loss.

In the study, after adjusting for covariates, increased consumption of fruits was inversely correlated with 4-year weight change: total fruits, -0.53 lb per daily serving (95% CI: -0.61 to -0.44); berries, -1.11 lb (95% CI: -1.45 to -0.78); and apples/pears, -1.24 lb (95% CI: -1.62 to -0.86). Increased consumption of various vegetables was also inversely correlated with weight loss: total vegetables, -0.25 lb per daily serving (95% CI: -0.35 to -0.14); tofu/soy, -2.47 lb (95% CI: -3.09 to -1.85 lb); and cauliflower, -1.37 lb (95% CI: -2.27 to -0.47).

But increased consumption of starchy vegetables, including corn, peas, and potatoes, was correlated with weight gain. Ultimately, vegetables with low glycemic load that were high in fiber were more strongly linked to weight loss (P < 0.0001).

Medium-chain triglyceride oil

Health experts recommend limiting your ingestion of saturated fats. But saturated fats come in different varieties (ie, short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fats)—some of which may be good for you.

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil has been promoted as a weight-loss agent. Sources of MCT oil include coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy products. MCT oil can be substituted for other oils for cooking and in salad dressings, or it can be taken by the spoonful as a dietary supplement.

Because people use it to diet, researchers have been interested in its cardiovascular effects, such as on lipid levels, which to date have been mixed.

In one study, experts examined the effects of MCT oil vs olive oil on lipid profile, weight, and metabolic risk factors, including glucose, insulin, and blood pressure, as part of a 16-week weight-loss program in overweight men and women.

They found that, after controlling for body weight, MCT oil did not affect fasting serum glucose levels (P=0.0177), total cholesterol concentrations (P=0.0386), and diastolic blood pressure (P=0.0413). Furthermore, weight loss was greater in participants who consumed MCT oil vs olive oil. In other words, they found no adverse cardiovascular effects.

“Our results suggest that MCT oil can be incorporated into a weight-loss program without fear of adversely affecting metabolic risk factors,” the experts concluded. “Distinction should be made regarding chain length when it comes to discussing the effects of saturated fats on metabolic risk factors.”

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