backup og meta
Health Screening
Ask Doctor

Are Negative Calorie Foods Real And What Are They?

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jun 09, 2021

Are Negative Calorie Foods Real And What Are They?

Are negative calorie foods real? If you have ever gone on a diet, you have probably encountered this term before. Are negative calorie foods the secret to eating as much as you want while still losing weight? Continue reading to find out more.

What are negative calorie foods?

For starters, let’s discuss what negative calories means. Simply put, the concept of negative calories suggests that there are certain foods that have so few calories that it actually takes more energy to digest them. Consequently, this results in a negative energy balance.

One of the established keys to weight loss is to consume less calories than you need. Alternatively, you can burn any excess calories over your daily calorie allowance through physical exercise.

Certain food like celery and lettuce have a reputation of having “negative calories.’ This is one reason why salads are such a popular staple in many diets. However, the pitfall of these vegetables is that aside from having almost no calories, they barely have any nutritional value alone.

Are Low-Fat Foods Healthy? The Skinny on “Diet Food’

Are negative calorie foods real?

If you check any nutrition label at the store or in your own kitchen, you will notice the calorie count at the top of the label. Some products such as bottled water will show zero calories; however, you will be hard-pressed to find any label that shows negative calories.

This is because negative calories do not exist. The concept of negative calories comes from the fact that our bodies burn calories even while doing things such as breathing or eating. It is true that our bodies require energy to chew and digest food, as our body temperature typically rises while we are eating.

However, to label something as “negative calories’ is misleading. It can suggest that you will immediately lose calories after eating it. Theoretically, if a particular food had -100 calories per serving and you ate 5 servings, that would equal -1000 calories.

Unfortunately, it does not require that many calories to sit and eat. Even running on the treadmill for half an hour will not burn 1000 calories. This is why food cannot be labeled as having negative calories.

Low-calorie food options

While negative calorie foods are a myth, there are a variety of food products available that are low-calorie (or even zero-calorie). Food and beverages that are low in calories include the following:

Low-calorie (under 50 calories per serving) food

  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Cucumber
  • Malunggay
  • Celery
  • Infusion water
  • Vegetable broth
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Papaya
  • Watermelon
  • Citrus fruit
  • Pineapple

are negative calorie foods real

Zero-calorie food

  • Water
  • Black coffee (without sugar or cream)
  • Brewed tea (without sugar or milk)
  • Diet sodas
  • Shirataki (konjac) noodles and rice products

Drawbacks of low-calorie food

Lastly, it is important to clarify that while we should all watch our calorie consumption, we can’t just eat these extremely low-calorie foods. Firstly, we need to have a minimum amount of calories per day to fuel all of our bodily functions. This minimum value is called the basal metabolic rate.

Secondly, low-calorie food are not nutrient dense. Eating an entire head of lettuce may only provide 60 calories, however, there is zero fat and only minimal amounts of carbs and protein. This is not enough to maintain healthy muscles and tissues, especially if you are also working out.

Instead, use low-calorie food and drinks as accessories to your meals. Swap out heavy carbs such as rice or bread with a simple side salad with grilled chicken or steamed fish. This way, you can cut down on calories while still getting much-needed nutrition.

Key takeaways

In summary, there is technically no such thing as negative calorie foods. This sort of phrasing is simply misleading and can cause dieters to overeat or miss out on essential nutrients. Discuss your diet and fitness goals with your doctor before starting any new diet or exercise program.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.

[health_tool_article id=’123677″]


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Jun 09, 2021

ad iconadvertisement

Was this article helpful?

ad iconadvertisement
ad iconadvertisement