Conversation overheard at the Elms pool in Provo, Utah
Girl: Did you know that by eating celery you actually burn more calories than there are in celery?
Boy: Yeah, same with Top Ramen!
(my sister and I look at each other with raised eyebrows, waiting for the girl to laugh)
Girl: Oh, I know! My sister was really sick one time, and she swears that she lost weight by eating only Ramen.
Boy: Yeah, whenever I'm living on Ramen, I lose weight, too.
There are a few lessons to be learned here, whether these splashing co-eds were confused or not.
One. You can eat nearly anything and lose weight, as long as you're consuming fewer calories than you burn (and it might be fun for a minute to tell people that you lost weight eating only snickers. Ramen, not quite as fun. During the diet, anyway). I'd recommend the Katie/Kathy way, though.
Two. You really do burn more calories digesting celery than the vegetable contains. But, you already knew that, and, how much could it be, right? I don't really know, and testing it extensively wouldn't taste that great. Celery aside, though, there is a whole little group of foods and spices that can increase metabolism.
Well, backtrack a tiny bit. Let me explain that all foods require energy to digest, so eating anything burns calories. This is known as diet-induced thermogenesis (the increase in energy expenditure/calorie burn above the basal metabolic rate). A person eating a mixed diet burns about 5-15% of their energy digesting food. Dietary induced thermogenesis for different nutrients is 0 to 3% for fat, 5 to 10% for carbohydrate, 20 to 30% for protein. So, protein can temporarily increase metabolism more than carbohydrate can, and much more than fat. (Info comes from this article.)
Now for the freebies.
The idea with these foods is that the spice increases the body temperature, requiring the body to use more energy to maintain homeostasis and get back to preferred temperature. Just like what Alex mentioned with drinking ice water (the study I found showed that drinking 16 8 oz glass of 40 degree water can burn about 200 calories. I don't know if I could do a gallon, but 8 cups would still be 100 calories, and 12 would be 150...not bad!).
Salsa. Shown at the Oxford Institute to stimulate the metabolism approximately 15 to 20% for a few hours. The hotter the better.
Cayenne Pepper. Again, Oxford Polytechnic Institute studies show that cayenne pepper stimulates the metabolism approximately 20%. And other studies suggest that metabolism can raise up to 50% for three hours. Only eat as much as your tongue can handle.
Mustard. Oxford keeps studying spicy stuff and finds that one teaspoon of spicy mustard can boost metabolism 20-25% for hours after eating, burning about 45 extra calories. Horseradish and wasabi, cousins of mustard, have a similar effect.
Ginger. Tastes good, can increase metabolism 20%, may aid in lowering cholesterol.
These foods rev up metabolism in other ways:
Cinnamon- makes fat cells more responsive to insulin, which aids in sugar metabolism.
Black Pepper- helps dissolve lipids (fat) and burns calories because of its heat.
Garlic- helps reduce and break down unhealthy fats.
Lemon or Vinegar- can slow stomach emptying, which slows down the rate of starch digestion and lowers blood sugar response.
There are more, but I thought I'd focus on the everyday ones that don't require online orders or scouring ethnic markets. You can probably figure out how to add more of these great foods into your diet, but here are a few things I like/do/have done.
-Heat V8 juice on the stove and add red pepper flakes or cayenne or tabasco. Much more tasty and filling than cold V8, and easier to drink on a winter day.
-Saute a few tbs each chopped garlic and ginger in a tiny bit of sesame oil. When a little browned, add carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, snow peas, etc. for a really delicious stir fry.
-Sprinkle/pour cinnamon on sliced apples. I also add it to smoothies or yogurt now and then. And oatmeal, of course.
-Grate equal parts pear and beets, then squeeze lots of lemon on top and mix well. If you're not used to eating raw beets, this may take some getting used to before you love it.
-Squeeze lemon on any chopped fruit, or bean salad, or green salad, or meat, or anything. It will taste good.
-Leave sour cream, dressing, and cheese off of taco salad, and dump on salsa and cottage cheese. Still cheesy and flavorful and wet, plus cottage cheese adds protein. Squeeze on lemon or lime, too.
Of course, I'm not recommending that you eat a hole in your stomach with only thermogenic foods, but remembering to eat them more often can add up to a lot of little differences. And don't forget your celery! High water content vegetables burn calories and help fill you up.
PS: I'm Marae. I study nutrition sometimes and live in London with my husband, Ben. I used to live in Utah with my roommate, Katie.