Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fact or fiction: Negative calorie foods

Image via The Daily Green

After hosting several get togethers over the holidays, I've found myself with an abundance of cut up vegetables in the fridge without any leftover dip.  I generally view crudites as vessels on which to carry tasty dairy-based spreads from bowl to mouth, so a look in the veggie drawer left me with an empty feeling not unlike visiting the Tall Ships only to find them filled with chubby tourists instead of, you know, sailors.

But thinking of chubby tourists, I was curious whether I could use the bags of celery, broccoli, and cauliflower to my advantage to counteract some of the bacon-wrapped glory of the past few weeks.  Some reports indicate that the energy expended while digesting (not just chewing) cruciferous foods may actually be greater than the caloric value of the vegetable itself. 

At around 9 calories per stalk, celery is made up of 95% water with the remaining 5%  being mostly undigestible cellulose instead of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that can be absorbed and used by the body.  So if you eat an entire bunch of celery, you might absorb 100 calories worth of energy, but would end up burning 120 from all the work your digestive tract is doing to process the bulk - resulting in negative 20 total calories. 

Lest we go thinking that this is a cure all for cookie season, there is not really any hard evidence for this, though I can't imagine the celery lobby is very powerful at getting their studies funded.  Even if the calorie deficit business is true, by my imaginary baseless math you would have to eat 5 bunches of celery to counteract a small cookie and 175 total bunches of celery to lose a single pound.  And that's a best case scenario for all negative calorie foods since celery contains the highest ratio of cellulose/absorbable energy.

Some ways to burn 20 calories that are easier than eating a bunch of celery:
  • Sit still for 12 minutes
  • Walk one block
  • Prepare a snack for 10 minutes (do not eat snack until time is up)
  • Play with silly putty until bored
  • Do one lap of a shoe store
  • Check and update facebook twice
For those of us (okay, just me) with chronic "need to constantly snack in cubicle" syndrome, at the very least these veggies can have some benefits in keeping those chew muscles busy.  Potential downsides to this include driving your coworkers crazy with crunching and high levels of, um, indigestible cellulose.


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