Monday, August 2, 2010

Guest Poster: Dishing the Dirt on Negative Calories

Do “negative calorie” foods actually use more calories than they provide?

If you’ve been around in weight loss circles for long, you’ve probably come across the term. Free food. Negative-calorie food. Zero-calorie food. Fat-burning food.

The claim is not that the foods have zero calories – all foods have calories! The idea behind this is that with these foods, it takes your body more energy to chew and process the food than the item has in calories. In other words, you could eat these all day long and not gain a pound. They in essence become “negative-calorie foods.”

What are these miracle foods, you might ask? Grapefruit and celery usually top the list, along with tangerines, carrots, and lettuce. There’s a lot more on this list here: In fact, any healthy-food can be put on this list! Amazing!

Let’s look at celery first. At 6 calories per 8-inch stalk, it’s a dieter’s staple. It’s loaded with nutrition, vitamins, and goodness. Plus, because of its composition, it takes more energy for our bodies to digest the sucker than it gives us in 6 measly calories. By its composition, I’m referring to the amount of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in the food, as well as cellulose and the link. (Fun fact: High-calorie, fatty foods typically have large numbers of carbon and hydrogen relative to oxygen atoms. But I digress.)

There’s some logic to this thinking. Some experiments have shown that digesting a salad burns around 50 to 60 calories just in the digestion process alone, which would make that salad “negative calories” if it was only 30 calories worth of lettuce and cucumbers.

Unfortunately, calculating your food in that method really doesn’t work that way. You see, when specialists (nutritionists, dieticians, doctors) estimate how many calories you should eat, they already take into consideration how many calories you burn chewing and digesting your food. That means that you’re subtracting the same calories twice, which will make you bounce your check at the Calorie Bank at the end of the day.

Furthermore, it would take an enormous amount of celery and grapefruit consumed in order to see a drop in the scale. It takes 3,500 calories to work off a single pound of fat, so you’d have to eat a truckload of celery to see a one-pound drop just relying on the negative-calorie theory to work.

On the other hand, opting for healthy, so-called “negative-calorie” foods are usually a healthy choice. They are often are a much healthier choice than chowing down on brownies and candy bars. Replacing your high-calorie foods with low-calorie foods is a great idea for losing weight, but don’t do so at the cost of nutritionally-devoid foods. For instance, rice cakes offer a low calorie value at 35 calories, but they are relatively high in carbs and offer zero vitamins and minerals that will help to make you strong. For the same calorie-price tag, you can choose a whole cucumber and get much more for your buck.

Instead, I prefer a different way of thinking. Some days, especially Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, none of the calories I consume count. Special occasions, such as birthdays, wedding, christenings, New Years Eve, Christmas, Thanksgiving…they are all contain negative calorie foods. Also, occasions when my mother cooks for me, food that is stolen from the communal food, given away as a sample at the grocery store…those are also occasions when foods turn magically into negative calories.


Christine writes and maintains her website, Phoenix Revolution. More than just a blog, Phoenix Revolution provides a safe haven for women and men all over the world to come together to discuss real-life weight loss and wellness strategies. Visit her website at: and receive updates on Facebook at: