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Myth: Iceberg lettuce and celery have negative calories

TRUTH:  Though lettuce and celery are about 95% water and not much else.  They’re great, low calorie options for salads and sandwiches; shredded iceberg lettuce has only 10 calories per cup while a large stalk of celery has about 20 calories.  However, the low calorie count doesn’t mean that your body burns more calories.

What we’re really talking about is a specific component of metabolism called the thermic effect of food. Basically, it refers to exactly what this myth is about – the energy spent digesting food and absorbing and storing nutrients.  Simply put, about 10% (but up to 20%) of calories in a food are used in these processes.  So, let’s do the math:

  • Iceberg has 10 calories per cup, 10% of that is 1 calorie.  So, to burn a cup of shredded lettuce, your body burns 1 calorie
  • Celery burns only 2 calories per stalk

Though the remaining 8 or 18 calories are negligible (overall), we haven’t reached negative numbers.


BOTTOM LINE:  Unfortunately, negative calorie foods have yet to be discovered.  Celery and lettuce have very few calories but they provide fiber and water which will help you feel full for longer periods of time.  They’re great for meals and snacks, though other types of lettuce (like spinach) contain more than 9 times the amount of vitamin K – so there are better choices.  Celery is great for salsa, dips, and hummus – the calories add up much less quickly than with crackers.



  1. Web MD article: this and other salad myths
  2. Mayo Clinic: Negative Calorie Diet Question

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