According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 74 percent of American men age 20 and older and 64 percent of women the same age are either overweight or obese. Those numbers have been creeping up for decades, and it looks like they’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future. As Americans’ waistlines get bigger, so do the number of products, recipes, miraculous discoveries, and “weird tricks” that promise to melt away those extra pounds with little or no work.
From time to time weight loss hucksters cite a study (including “luminaries” such as Dr. Oz, who recently appeared in front of a Senate subcommittee and admitted that some of the amazing weight loss drinks he promotes on his show don’t pass “scientific muster”). But for the most part, there’s little or no evidence to back up their claims (and most of those studies turn out to be flawed or simply made up).
That said, there are a handful (actually, not quite a handful) of drinks that may indeed accelerate weight loss. Let’s take a look at the ones with the most science behind them.
Coffee (preferably black)
Given that many fancy coffee drinks clock in at 500–1,200 calories, simply switching to plain old black coffee could put a real dent in your calorie consumption, which will undoubtedly result in some weight loss (as long as you don’t replace those calories). Black coffee—especially the caffeinated kind—has been shown to increase metabolism and fat burning. A type of antioxidant in coffee called chlorogenic acid appears to slow down the production of glucose, resulting in fewer fat cells being produced and a metabolism that burns more fat. Bottom line? Weight loss.
Green tea (either in liquid form or as a supplement) contains small amounts of caffeine along with a compound called catechin. Caffeine alone speeds up the metabolism. In combination with catechins, it increases fat burning—especially around the belly—and helps with weight maintenance.
Vegetable juices and soups
Americans don’t get anywhere near enough fiber. And that by itself plays a role in our obesity problem. Fiber bulks up whatever we’re eating, slows down digestion, and makes us feel full. That, in turn, reduces the amount of food we eat. Study after study has found that a high fiber diet is associated with weight loss and better weight management.
What does this have to do with vegetable juice and soups? Simple: Many vegetables, including carrots, beets, spinach, and broccoli, are high in fiber and so is the juice that’s made from them. Vegetable soups are great too, for the same reason. Soups made from beans and legumes, including lentils and peas, are even better.
Water is, hands down, the closest thing there is to a miracle weight loss drink—but there’s nothing magical about it. Here’s how it works. According to the NIH, 75 percent of Americans are dehydrated. But many of us confuse feelings of thirst for hunger and we end up eating when all we really need is a drink. Drinking more water during the day and starting every meal with a big glass of water will go a long way toward reducing our appetite. Smaller appetite leads to less food intake, which means fewer calories, which translates to weight loss (or at least less weight gain).
Water helps in other ways too. Your liver metabolizes fat, meaning that it turns fat into usable energy for your body to burn. Meanwhile, your kidneys are filtering toxins out of your body. But if the kidneys don’t get enough water they can’t do their job, so they bring in the liver to help. If the liver is doing the kidneys’ job, it can’t do its own. When that happens, fat that the liver would have otherwise metabolized ends up getting stored by the body, leading to weight gain.
Some people claim that ice water is better for weight loss because your body has to burn a few extra calories to heat the water to your body temperature. If that’s true, the difference is tiny. But it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.
Finally, if you’re not excited about drinking large amounts of a (hopefully) colorless and tasteless liquid, drop in some fruits or veggies and let them soak for 15–20 minutes. The resulting “infused” water will taste better but won’t have any calories. Beware, however, of claims about infused waters. No matter what anyone says, the reason they help with weight loss has less to do with the lemons, parsley, apples, cinnamon, watermelon, honey, cayenne pepper, or anything else you’ve thrown in than the water itself.