8 Natural Fat Burners

Let’s get one thing straight: foods and supplements that get labeled “fat burners” are not magic. Before-and-after photos that show keg bellies melting into six-packs shouldn’t be trusted — not if they’re saying the only change the person made was adding pills to their diet.

Fat burners should be used judiciously, alongside a healthy diet and exercise plan, and with the OK of your physician.

With all that said, there are indeed some compounds out there that may help with fat loss, be it indirectly (like appetite suppression or mood change) or directly (by increasing the amount of calories you burn).

It’s important to get the language right here because of all the supplements on the market, fat burners may be the most prone to unsubstantiated hype. But if you’re looking for a no-effort way to burn a few extra calories or curb your appetite, you might consider these products. Some of them are foods you might be able to buy and add to your meals, others are considered “natural” because they come from plants.

The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional.

coffee

1. Caffeine

The reason most fat burners fall into the categories of “with” or “without stimulants” is because many of them contain a hit of caffeine. Why? A big part of why caffeine wakes us up is that it blocks adenosine receptors. When the chemical adenosine fits into these receptors it makes you sleepy, if it’s blocked from doing so then it won’t. (There’s an argument to be made that caffeine doesn’t wake you up, it rather prevents you from being tired.)

Adenosine also appears to bind to fat cells and decrease the release of their fatty acids, plus caffeine also seems to increase adrenaline, which also helps to break down fats. Add all that to the fact that caffeine appears to slightly increase your caloric burn (though by less than a hundred calories per day) and it seems that consuming caffeine may help to reduce a little more of your body fat, so long as you’re in a caloric deficit.(1)

[Looking for a dedicated fat loss supplement? Here are our 5 favorite women’s fat burners on the market.]

sun sunshine athlete

2. Vitamin D

This nutrient is so important that we evolved to be able to get it from the sun, which is ironically why most people are deficient. Vitamin D has strong links with mood and bone health, but it may also help with fat loss.

Some research has correlated high body fat with lower levels of Vitamin D and one study that put two groups of women on a calorie-restricted diet found that those taking a Vitamin D supplement lost 7 more pounds than those who didn’t.(2)(3) This might be because Vitamin D prevents the formation of new fat cells, suppresses the storage of fat, helps testosterone production, or some other mechanism.(4)(5) In any case, it’s smart to supplement or consume plenty of Vitamin D-rich food — fatty fish is the richest “natural” source of the stuff but a lot of milk and cereals have been artificially fortified with it as well.

[Read more in our athlete’s guide to Vitamin D!]

white and black beans

3. Resistant starch

There are a lot more types of carbohydrates than just the sugar and fiber you see specified on a food’s nutrition label. Resistant starch is a carb that’s resistant to digestion — it doesn’t get fully broken down or absorbed (so it may technically provide fewer calories) and it digests so slowly that it’s a decent appetite suppressant.(6) In fact, it’s more filling, it’s better for insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, and it improves digestive health and gut bacteria.

Beans, particularly navy beans, are a great source, as are potatoes and plantains. Supplements are also available.

coleus forskohlii

4. Forskolin

Found in the Indian herb Coleus forskohlii, it’s been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat heart and respiratory issues but there’s pretty interesting research suggesting it could increase the amount of calories you burn. Supplementing it appears to signal to your cells to produce more ATP, the most basic form of cellular energy in the body. Therefore, taking forskolin seems to help the body burn through energy reserves.

This isn’t totally ironclad but there are human studies that have found 50 to 250mg per day can decrease body fat and maybe even increase testosterone.(7) Some research even found that topical forskoli cream may reduce body fat in certain areas.(8)

sauerkraut on table

5. Probiotic bacteria

Recent research is suggesting that the balance of bacteria we maintain in our digestive tract could contribute significantly to our insulin sensitivity, nutrient absorption, and other factors that contribute to fat loss.

Ingesting a wide variety of probiotic bacteria could potentially help with this. One study found, for example, that transferring the gut bacteria of an obese mouse to a lean mouse caused the lean mouse to gain body fat despite no change in diet.(9) More research is needed for the moment, but human studies have been been very promising. In addition to supplementing, consuming probiotic-rich foods and fiber has also been linked to benefits.

pills

6. Yohimbine

This alkaloid derived from the Central African yohimbe tree is often used for focus, as a stimulant, or as an appetite suppressant. But as far as direct fat loss goes, it appears as though it may increase your basal metabolic rate. People usually split about 5 to 20 milligrams of the stuff over a day and there’s pretty decent evidence to suggest this can lead to greater fat loss.(10)

One three-week study on soccer players, for example, administered two 10-milligram doses per day and found the yohimbine group lost about 2 more body fat percentage points more than the placebo group.(11) While no side effects were reported in that study, yohimbine does have a reputation for causing digestive upset and sleep issues, so start out with smaller doses after speaking to your doctor first.

chili pepper

7. Chili peppers

It’s very common to see chili peppers included in fat burners, particularly cayenne pepper. There’s some evidence it can suppress the appetite but most companies highlight the studies that have suggested it can increase a person’s metabolic rate.(12)

As is usually the case, the difference probably isn’t gigantic. A 2003 study found that consuming chili peppers elevated metabolic rate by roughly 12 percent for 30 minutes (that’s about 5 extra calories burned for the average person) and another concluded that patients taking a chili pepper extract burned about 50 more calories per day.(13)(14) Still, it’s not nothing.

raw steak

8. Protein

A lot of people don’t realize that a whole macronutrient can help you burn more fat. Protein takes more energy to digest than carbs or fat so when it comes to the thermal effect of food, a hit of 30 grams of protein will result in the body burning more calories than 30 grams of carbs. (Carbs and protein have the same amount of calories per gram, whereas fat has more than twice as many calories per gram.)

What’s the difference? Pretty sizable: the thermic effect of protein is 20 to 30 percent, carbs are 5 to 10 percent, and fat 0 to 3 percent.(15) That means the body burns roughly 3 times more calories digesting protein than carbs.

Wrapping Up

It’s critical to remember that weight loss is about calorie and nutrient balance and all the fat burners in the world are unlikely to make any difference to your physique if you aren’t properly managing your calories through diet. It’s also important to note that some fat burners can interfere with the absorption of medications, which just one reason why it’s important to check with your doctor before undertaking any new diet routine.

References

1. Dulloo AG, et al. Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 Jan;49(1):44-50.
2. Parikh SJ, et al. The relationship between obesity and serum 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D concentrations in healthy adults. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Mar;89(3):1196-9.
3. Mason C, et al. Vitamin D3 supplementation during weight loss: a double-blind randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 May;99(5):1015-25.
4. Wood RJ. Vitamin D and adipogenesis: new molecular insights. Nutr Rev. 2008 Jan;66(1):40-6.
5. Chang E, et al. Vitamin D decreases adipocyte lipid storage and increases NAD-SIRT1 pathway in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Nutrition. 2016 Jun;32(6):702-8.
6. Higgins JA. Resistant starch and energy balance: impact on weight loss and maintenance. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(9):1158-66.
7. Godard MP, et al. Body composition and hormonal adaptations associated with forskolin consumption in overweight and obese men. Obes Res. 2005 Aug;13(8):1335-43.
8. Greenway FL. et al. Regional fat loss from the thigh in obese women after adrenergic modulation. Clin Ther. 1987;9(6):663-9.
9. Kallus SJ, et al. The intestinal microbiota and obesity. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2012 Jan;46(1):16-24.
10. McCarty MF. Pre-exercise administration of yohimbine may enhance the efficacy of exercise training as a fat loss strategy by boosting lipolysis. Med Hypotheses. 2002 Jun;58(6):491-5.
11. Ostojic SM. Yohimbine: the effects on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players. Res Sports Med. 2006 Oct-Dec;14(4):289-99.
12. Janssens PL, et al. Capsaicin increases sensation of fullness in energy balance, and decreases desire to eat after dinner in negative energy balance. Appetite. 2014 Jun;77:44-9.
13. Chaiyata P, et al. Effect of chili pepper (Capsicum frutescens) ingestion on plasma glucose response and metabolic rate in Thai women. J Med Assoc Thai. 2003 Sep;86(9):854-60.
14. Galgani JE, et al. Effect of dihydrocapsiate on resting metabolic rate in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1089-93.
15. Westerterp KR. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004 Aug 18;1(1):5.

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Nick is a content producer and journalist with over seven years’ experience reporting on four continents. His first articles about health were on a cholera outbreak in rural Kenya while he was reporting for a French humanitarian organization. His next writing job was covering the nightlife scene in Shanghai. He’s written on a lot of different kinds of things, but his passion for health ultimately led him to cover it full time.Shanghai was where he managed to publish his first health related article (it was on managing diarrhea), he then went on to produce a radio documentary about bodybuilding in Australia before he finished his Master’s degrees in Journalism and International Relations and headed to New York City. Here, he’s been writing on health full time for more than five years for outlets like Men's Health, VICE, and Popular Science.Nick’s interest in health kind of comes from an existential angle: how are we meant to live? How do we reach our potential? Does the body influence the mind? (Believe it or not, his politics Master’s focused on religion.)Questions like these took him through a lot of different areas of health and fitness like gymnastics, vegetarianism, kettlebell training, fasting, CrossFit, Paleo, and so on, until he realized (or decided) that strength training fit best with the ideas of continuous, measurable self improvement.At BarBend his writing focuses a little more on nutrition and long-form content with a heaping dose of strength training. His underlying belief is in the middle path: you don’t have to count every calorie and complete every workout in order to benefit from a healthy lifestyle and a stronger body. Plus, big traps are cool.