Top 5 Superfoods for Weight Loss
Lots of foods have been claimed to have beneficial effects for weight loss, but not all of these are supported by scientific evidence. We have examined the scientific research and chosen the top 5 superfoods for weight loss.
Certain foods regularly crop up as being ‘superfoods’ for weight loss, being advertised as having the potential to boost the body’s weight loss capabilities with little effort.
Though none have been definitively proven to aid weight loss, some scientific evidence is available in support of some of these superfoods for weight loss. Here, we have highlighted the top five weight loss superfoods for analyses.
We will look at five superfoods that are commonly touted for having weight loss properties. We will describe what each food is and how it is supposed to help with weight loss. We will then discuss any scientific evidence in support of these claims.
What is a Superfood?
The term ‘superfood’ is not an official one, and so there is no agreed upon definition. Generally speaking, foods that are claimed to be superfoods are those that have an association with, for example, treating a health condition or aiding weight loss. Many foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, are healthy and will be useful for weight loss and general health as part of a balanced diet.
Those described as ‘super’ however, have usually been shown in early clinical studies to help the body in some way. Very few of these foods have been definitively proven to have the claimed effects and some might need to be consumed in very large quantities even to have the slightest impact.
Weight loss is one of the main topics that people discuss ‘superfoods’ for. Many, many different types of food have been described as super and miraculous in the weight loss industry in the past, but most of these claims are not backed by evidence. We have highlighted the top five so-called ‘superfoods’ for weight loss and will discuss them individually below. It is always important that, should you choose to consume these foods, you do so as part of a healthy, balanced diet and exercise programme.
Chilli peppers include numerous species of pepper belonging to the plant genus Capsicum. The fruits of these plants contain a substance known as capsaicin, which is thought to be the active ingredient that makes chilli peppers ‘superfoods’.
Capsaicin is said to cause thermogenesis – a process that increases the internal body temperature. This increase in temperature is thought to increase the speed at which the body burns calories for energy, thus increasing the metabolism. Thermogenesis is also thought to boost the efficacy of the fat-burning process, potentially increasing the rate at which fat cells are broken down. Lastly, Capsicum has been associated with suppressing the appetite. How it is thought to achieve this is unclear, but it is commonly stated as an effect of peppers and a few preliminary clinical studies have been undertaken to test this potential effect.
A number of clinical studies have been performed on Capsicum and capsaicin to investigate any potential weight loss effects. A 2003 study looked at the impacts of capsaicin supplementation on weight maintenance following weight loss. For this trial, 91 overweight participants were divided to receive either capsaicin or a placebo following four weeks of a very-low-calorie diet. The amount of weight lost during the diet period was not significantly different between groups. Capsaicin consumption was reported to significantly sustain fat burning during the weight maintenance phase when compared to placebo.
A few studies have also looked at capsaicin’s effect on the appetite. A trial published in 2009 investigated any impacts of capsaicin consumption on satiety. To do this, 15 participants took part in a randomised, crossover study. Volunteers were subjected to control and capsaicin treatments with differing amounts of their daily energy requirements followed by a dinner where they could eat as much as they chose. The addition of capsaicin to a lunch was seen to increase feelings of satiety and fullness, reducing energy intake at dinner. Other studies however, have found no significant effect of capsaicin on appetite.
Ginger root is a commonly consumed plant that is often added to foods for its unique flavour. The spice is obtained from the root of a plant found most commonly in Asia. It is often associated with the treatment of gastrointestinal problems, but has also been said to aid weight loss in the past. As with chilli peppers, ginger is thought to contain compounds that induce thermogenesis – thus causing an increase in the metabolism and fat burning processes in the body.
Ginger has also been said to suppress the appetite; it is thought to achieve this by altering blood glucose levels. After a meal, particularly one high in carbs/sugar, the blood experiences an increase in sugar levels, which is said to cause hunger and a craving for sugary foods. Ginger has been claimed to help to regulate blood sugar levels, thus reducing the hunger-inducing effect of this spike.
Very few studies have been undertaken on ginger and weight loss, only a couple have been published and we can discuss these here. The first study, published in 2014, tested the potential effects of ginger consumption on a sample of rats fed a high-fat diet. Effects on body weight, blood glucose and insulin levels were tested, amongst other potential impacts. The results of this study indicated that gingerol, a key constituent of ginger, could suppress obesity caused by a high-fat diet.
Another study investigated any impacts of ginger on appetite suppression. The trial was a crossover design involving 10 male subjects. No significant effect of ginger was found on metabolic rate, but a significant impact was recorded for the reduction of feelings of hunger. It was concluded that ginger consumption might be useful for weight management.
White Kidney Beans
White kidney beans, also known as Phaseolus vulgaris, or the common bean, is a plant that is cultivated for its beans, which are consumed worldwide. White kidney beans are believed to aid weight loss in a different way to the foods mentioned above. Known as a carb-blocker, Phaseolus vulgaris is thought to have the ability to prevent carbohydrates from being absorbed by the body.
Compounds found in white kidney beans are understood to block the enzymes that are involved in the breakdown of carbohydrate molecules consumed in the diet. Carbohydrates are large, complex molecules that need to be broken down before they can be absorbed by the body. By preventing their breakdown, white kidney beans are therefore said to stop them from being absorbed by the body, instead leaving them to be passed through the digestive system and excreting without contributing any calories.
Several clinical trials are available that have tested the effects of white kidney beans on weight loss, though these have only looked at the impact on supplementation of the bean extract – not the substance as a whole food consumed as part of the diet.
A 2007 study was undertaken to test the effects of a supplement containing Phaseolus vulgaris extract on weight loss. Here, 60 slightly overweight subjects were randomly assigned to receive either a dietary supplement with 445mg Phaseolus vulgaris extract, or a placebo for a period of 30 days. The results of this trial indicated that white kidney bean extract could help to reduce carbohydrate absorption and as such, cause significant weight loss.
A review study was published in 2011. The authors searched the scientific literature for all relevant studies on white kidney bean and weight loss. They found 11 trials, six of which were included, though all were said to have serious methodological flaws. After performing statistical analyses on the results of all of these trials, it was found that Phaseolus vulgaris extract could reduce body fat when compared to placebo, but not overall weight loss. Nevertheless, the study concluded that the studies were too poor quality to draw any concrete conclusions, stating that high quality trials need to be undertaken in future.
Green tea is one of the most commonly cited superfoods for an array of reasons, one of which is weight loss. Green tea is made by steaming the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant – the same plant used to make most other common types of tea. The tea has been said to have a number of herbal properties. In terms of weight loss, green tea has been said to increase thermogenesis and therefore to improve the fat burning process and increase the resting metabolic rate. Green tea has also been suggested to suppress the appetite. Precisely how green tea causes these effects is not well understood, though the thermogenic quality might be attributed to the caffeine content.
Green tea and its active catechins have been studied for their potential weight loss effects in clinical trials. For one study, the effect of green tea on weight loss was tested using a sample of 60 obese Thai participants. The trial was randomised and controlled, and all subjects were eating a standardised Thai diet for 12 weeks. Throughout the trial, numerous measurements (such as body weight, BMI, energy expenditure) were taken. The results suggested that green tea consumption could help to increase weight loss within 12 weeks when compared to a placebo. Significant improvements were recorded for resting energy expenditure and fat oxidation – suggesting that the food can boost the metabolism and increase fat burning.
Not all studies on green tea have however had such positive results. A study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition in 2008 looked at the effects of green tea extract supplementation on obese women. This trial was randomised, double-bling, and placebo-controlled. Seventy-eight participants completed the study, which continued for 12 weeks. During this time, the subjects were divided to receive either a placebo or a 400mg green tea capsule three times a day. Measurements were taken throughout. The results of this study showed no significant difference in weight loss or BMI between the treatment and placebo groups. It was however noted that the consumption of green tea and its catechins was safe for 12 weeks.
Consuming grapefruit is regularly said to be a great way to lose weight. Grapefruit is commonly included in weight loss diets and does in fact have a whole diet created around its consumption (the grapefruit diet). Grapefruit is called a ‘superfruit’ by proponents and has been claimed in the past to hold a vast range of ‘special’ weight loss powers. An internet search reveals claims that grapefruit is particularly efficient for fat burning, though precisely how it achieves this is rarely described.
The grapefruit diet has been around for centuries and as such, some clinical trials have been performed to see if there is any basis for the weight loss claims relating to the fruit. In a study published in 2011, the weight loss effects of consuming solid grapefruit were compared to those of consuming grapefruit juice and water. Eight-five volunteers took part in this study, all of whom were obese. They were divided to receive one of the three aforementioned treatments for 12 weeks following a calorie-restricted two-week diet. The treatments were given to subjects before breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and caloric restriction was measured. At the end of the trial period, the authors reported that consuming grapefruit, grapefruit juice, or water before a meal could help to reduce energy intake. There was however no significant difference in weight loss parameters between the three different groups. An improvement in lipid levels was noted for the grapefruit and grapefruit juice groups, suggesting that the fruit might be beneficial for other areas of health.
In 2012, a study was published that looked at the effects of daily grapefruit consumption on body weight and blood pressure. Seventy-four overweight adult participants were involved in this trial. They all followed a diet low in bioactive-rich foods for three weeks prior to the trial period, when they were divided to receive either a standard diet or a diet with half a grapefruit with each meal for six weeks. Results indicated that consuming large portions of grapefruit every day for six weeks does not have any significant impact on body weight or blood pressure.
It is common for people to describe certain products as superfoods for weight loss, but there is not always any evidence in support of such claims. Many foods can be useful for different health reasons and should be included in the diet for healthy weight loss. Others have been associated with increased weight loss in early clinical trials, including the top five discussed here. It is important to remember however that, although the link is there, these foods have not been definitively proven to significantly boost weight loss and as such, they should always be consumed alongside a healthy diet and exercise regime.
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