You might have heard that certain foods help with weight loss. Once the news gets around, everyone jumps on board and starts adding these foods to their diet, only to be disappointed when their weight stays the same or even goes up! Some of these foods are over-hyped while others offer some health benefits, although they usually fall short in helping you lose weight. Let’s look at some of the most overrated foods for weight loss and why they don’t merit the hype they get.
Grapefruit and Grapefruit Juice
At one time, grapefruit was a white-hot weight loss food. Diets featuring grapefruit and grapefruit juice skyrocketed in popularity as everyone jumped on the grapefruit bandwagon. But did eating grapefruit every day solve the obesity epidemic? It’s clear that it didn’t.
On the plus side, one study suggests eating grapefruit could have some value. In one study, subjects who ate half of a grapefruit with a meal lost 3.6 pounds more than those who didn’t. However, you shouldn’t count on grapefruit or grapefruit juice to melt away the pounds with no effort. Any weight loss you experience by adding grapefruit to your diet will be modest.
How did grapefruit land on the list of foods that help you lose weight? Eating grapefruit increases the rate at which your body burns fat by activating key fat-burning enzymes. Unfortunately, grapefruit also affects enzymes that break down medications and toxins you’re exposed to from the air you breathe and the food you eat.
You should never drink grapefruit juice if you take certain medications, such as statins. If you do the levels of these medications can build up in your bloodstream to a toxic level. All in all, eating grapefruit alone has minimal impact on weight control.
Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet. Plus, research suggests that drinking coffee may lower the risk of some health problems including type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, gallbladder disease, liver cancer, heart failure, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, most of these studies aren’t designed to show cause and effect, only an association. Drinking as little as 2-3 cups per day may reduce the risk of these health problems, although we need more research to confirm this.
Could coffee help with weight control too? Coffee activates the sympathetic nervous system and that may boost metabolism short term. There’s also some evidence that coffee suppresses the appetite and that may reduce calorie intake. However, if you drink coffee most days, you adapt to some of the activating effects of caffeine. If you don’t drink more coffee, the effects will be subdued.
Coffee also contains chlorogenic acid, a chemical most abundant in green coffee beans. Some small studies suggest that green coffee bean extract may help with weight loss and blood sugar control by reducing glucose absorption, although you’d have to drink a fair amount of coffee to get enough chlorogenic acid to make a difference. Plus, studies are inconsistent.
In one study, participants consumed either instant coffee or instant coffee with green coffee bean extract added. Both groups lost weight, but the group who drank the coffee with green coffee bean extract lost more. (11.9 pounds vs 3.7 pounds). Other small studies show some benefits too, but drinking coffee alone is unlikely to lead to dramatic weight loss.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is cheap and readily available. Some sources tout apple cider vinegar as a weight-loss miracle. The theory is that the acetic acid in vinegar blocks enzymes that break down carbohydrates, so you absorb less. This may have benefits for blood glucose control in diabetics.
Whether adding apple cider vinegar to meals helps with weight loss is still unclear. Yet some small studies show modest weight loss benefits. For example, in one study, subjects ate a low-calorie diet with and without apple cider vinegar for 12 weeks. The group that had vinegar in their diet lost more weight, however, the study was small and lasted only 12 weeks.
There are also downsides to including vinegar in your diet. Even diluted, it can damage the enamel on your teeth permanently. It can also worsen a low potassium level. Be cautious of using it if you take a diuretic.
One reason people drink diet soda is they think it will help them lose weight. It makes sense since diet soda contains negligible calories. However, studies don’t always support the weight loss benefits of diet soda. Some suggest that the artificial sweeteners in these drinks disrupt the gut microbiome. This disruption isn’t healthy and may even contribute to metabolic health issues.
Plus, when you consume diet sodas, your brain gets a mismatch between the taste of sweet and the lack of calories. Your brain expects calories to be paired with something sweet. When the calories don’t follow, you still feel hungry and crave sugar.
There are other reasons not to drink soft drinks. The Framingham study found that people who drank one diet soda daily had double the risk of developing a stroke over the subsequent decade relative to those who drank fewer than one per week.
Green tea, with its abundance of catechins, has potential health benefits. However, it is over-hyped as a weight-loss food. Studies show that you may get a slight bump up in resting metabolic rate after consuming a substantial amount of green tea, but the effects are short-lived and not enough to affect weight control.
For example, a study published in Clinical Nutrition found that taking green tea extract in a quantity equivalent to drinking 15 cups of green tea didn’t substantially boost weight loss. The group that took the green tea extract lost 4.4 pounds vs. 2.4 pounds in those who didn’t consume green tea.
Although it’s not a miracle weight loss beverage, sipping green tea may have other health benefits, and staying well hydrated may reign in the desire to snack. So, if you enjoy it, drink it in moderation, but combine it with a healthy diet to lose weight.
The Bottom Line
The best way to lose weight and do it sustainably is to eat a nutrient-rich, whole food diet and reduce the quantity of sugar and refined carbohydrates in your diet. Don’t fall for the fads!
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- Harvard Health Publishing. “Does drinking diet soda raise the risk of a stroke?”
- Medical News Today. “How green coffee bean extract works”
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- Harvard Health Publishing. “Apple cider vinegar diet: Does it really work?”
- Adv Nutr. 2019 Jan; 10(Suppl 1): S31–S48. Published online 2019 Feb 5. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmy037.
- Consumer Reports. “The Truth About Green Tea for Weight Loss”
- Medical News Today. “Grapefruit and weight loss”