Medical Mysteries

Stalking a diet

Written by Fred Hilton

Don’t diet—find a negative-calorie food

It’s a dieter’s dream: a food that burns more calories than it contains. Some people claim that the humble celery stalk meets that criteria. It’s called a negative-calorie food, one that requires more food energy to be digested than the food provides.

Celery once was used as a medicinal herb but today it’s found in kitchens worldwide. It may not be the tastiest food on the planet (detractors say it’s part of the plywood food family). Still, celery has a nice crunch to it and contains a minimal amount of calories (about six calories a stalk).

Sadly, it doesn’t meet the criteria for a negative-calorie food. It’s one of the most touted negative-calorie foods because much of its caloric content is bound up in cellulose, a fiber that humans can’t digest. However, it takes only a little more than one-half of a calorie’s worth of energy to digest that piece of celery. says, “the bottom line is that any kind of negative-calorie snacking, celery or otherwise, is purely wishful thinking. But celery stalks are still worth a chew: They’re obviously better for your caloric balance sheet than, say, a candy bar or a Slim Jim. Just don’t expect them to be green, fibrous magic bullets for your diet.” “While celery is a very low-calorie food, it likely doesn’t provide you with negative calories,” according to FitDay, an online diet journal.

“The Mayo Clinic suggests that while it’s theoretically possible for negative-calorie foods to exist, there are no reputable scientific studies that prove certain foods cause ‘negative calorie’ effects. In fact, protein is the macronutrient that causes your body to burn the most calories, according to a review published in 2008 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

” Most experts summarily reject the idea of a negative-calorie food. While a negative-calorie food is theoretically possible, “in actuality, there are no negative-calorie foods,” says Tim Garvey, chairman of the department of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Or, as nutritionist Marion Nestle put it in a one-line email to the BBC: “Total myth. Nothing else to be said.” Don’t throw away your celery, though. It’s a good source of fiber, vitamin K, vitamin A, potassium, and folate.

People who eat fiber-rich diets generally have healthier weights and a decreased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

The problem is that man cannot live on celery alone and “it’s more of a gateway to cream cheese or peanut butter,” says nutritionist David Grotto, the author of “The Best Things You Can Eat.”

“Myth or Fact: Celery Has Negative Calories,” by Erin Coleman, Fitday. “Who, What, Why: Can foods have negative calories?” by Kate Dailey, BBC News Magazine, BBC News Services, March 15, 2013. “Celery Negative Calories,” “Does Eating Celery Really Result in Negative Calories?” by Matt Soniak, Mental Floss, October 4, 2012. “Celery: Nutrition Facts” by Barbie Cervoni, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, reviewed by Dr. Richard N. Fogoros,, Oct. 8, 2017.

About the author

Fred Hilton

Fred Hilton spent thirty-six years as the chief public relations officer/spokesman for James Madison University in Virginia and ten years prior as a reporter and editor for The Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Virginia. He is now happily retired in The Villages with his interior designer wife, Leta, their Cadillac Escalade golf cart, and their dog, Paris. (Yes, that makes her Paris Hilton).

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