The fastest way to lose weight is to exercise more (including, some might say, building lean muscle mass) and shrink your portions at each meal (while also, some might say, eating fewer refined calories).
But there are some foods and beverages that can naturally increase calorie-burning or thermogenesis.
Here are a few that can help when consumed in moderation:
- Cinnamon. This low-calorie tree-bark powder is thought to help balance blood sugar, which can be a major factor in losing weight. Sprinkle it over a bowl of fresh berries with a splash of your favorite milk or cream, put some on top of your morning oatmeal or add it to a protein shake or smoothie. Cinnamon tastes great on top of coffee, too. It’s rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals and has been linked to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people who have diabetes as well as decreased inflammation and a reduced risk of cancers and neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Apple cider vinegar. In 2009, researchers found that acetic acid, the main ingredient in apple cider vinegar, promotes the production of fat-burning enzymes in the livers of mice. Don’t drink it straight, because it is very acidic and can damage your tooth enamel and esophagus. It always has to be diluted in something, so use it to make salad dressing or dilute a teaspoon in a cup of water and, boom, down the hatch!
- Coconut oil. This cooking oil’s molecular structure makes it uniquely able to bypass the digestive process (where its calories would be stored as fat). It can move straight to the liver where it can be used for fuel. So coconut oil isn’t thermogenic because it increases calorie-burning, per se, but because it doesn’t as easily convert to fat. It can also be used to replace “bad” fats in your diet and has been associated with decreased belly fat in obese women.
- Green tea. Drinking green tea, even once or twice daily (iced or hot) can — even with an unchanged diet — help you lose as much as 2.9 pounds in three months, according to a 2013 article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers theorize that it’s a combination of the caffeine content and the polyphenols present in green tea that produce a thermogenic effect. Drinking organic teas; the flavor doesn’t matter, but if you put sugar in it, you might be defeating the purpose.
- Hot peppers. Mmm, spicy food! It helps you burn calories due to the heat-forming compound called capsaicin. So next time you eat hot chili or salsa, or green curry — and feel yourself starting to get hot under the collar — remind yourself that you’re not being socially awkward, you’re being metabolically upregulated!