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Q: Are there any diet changes that I can make that will actually boost my metabolism, or is that just hype?

A: Generally the claim of “fat-burning foods” is technically incorrect, as most foods don’t proactively elicit increases in calorie burning but instead create a physiological environment in which fat burning is more easily accomplished. Broccoli, for example, doesn’t increase your metabolic rate, but it is a low-calorie food that contains slow digesting carbohydrates, fiber, and phytochemicals that may help clear excess estrogen. All of these things can make weight loss more efficient.

There are, however, a small handful of actual fat-melting foods, foods that when eaten increase your body’s calorie- and fat-burning ability. The two most popular and well known are green tea and hot peppers.

EGCG, an antioxidant in green tea, can boost fat burn and weight loss when combined with caffeine—which just happens to naturally be the case with green tea.  

Hot peppers contain the antioxidant capsaicin, which can increase fat oxidation (i.e. fat burning). The only disadvantage to capsaicin is that you need to take it in supplement form to reap its benefits.

And, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, monounsaturated fats—such as those found in olive oil and avocados—should be added to the list of foods that help you burn more calories.

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Researchers compared a diet high in monounsaturated fat to a diet high in saturated fat and found that the monounsaturated fat-rich diet yielded a greater increase (up to 4.3 percent) in study participants’ resting energy expenditure (that’s science for the base number of calories you burn each day independent of your activity level). The study authors think that the fats make our mitochondria, the calorie-burning engines of our cells, burn off more energy as heat.

My favorite sources of monounsaturated fats include:

  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Peanuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Avocados

You might remember back to a previous “Ask the Diet Doctor” where we looked at a study that showed decreases in stomach fat when study participants reduced the saturated and increased the monounsaturated fat in their diets. These two studies combined show that it is good move to eat more monos.

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