Fact Or Fiction: Celery Has 'Negative Calories'

If you've heard that celery is a "negative calorie" food that helps you lose weight, consider it another "too good to be true" food recommendation, like the one about broken cookies having no calories. Quite simply, the math just doesn't add up.

Dr. Neal Barnard, author of Foods That Cause You to Lose Weight: The Negative Calorie Effect, is one of many weight-loss experts who talk up celery for being high in water content and rich in fiber. Because your body takes a longer time to burn off fibrous foods including celery, apples, carrots, and legumes, your metabolism revs for longer, contributing to weight loss, Barnard says (via Dr. Oz). 

That's why Barnard says celery has a "negative calorie effect" — but make no mistake, that doesn't mean that celery has "negative calories." No food or beverage goes into negative numbers on its calorie count, although some, such as water, reach zero (via Healthline). Celery actually does contain calories — about 15 for two medium stalks, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (via USDA).

Low-calorie celery is packed with fiber and antioxidants

Confusion over these "negative-calorie foods" arises because some diets theorize that your body expends more energy to digest certain low-calorie foods than to store their nutrients, explains Donald Hensrud, M.D., an associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. While that's "theoretically possible," Hensrud says, writing on the Mayo Clinic website, "there are no reputable scientific studies to prove that certain foods have this effect."

That's no reason to be negative toward celery altogether, though. This crunchy relative of carrots, parsley, and parsnips is bursting with antioxidants — at least a dozen, including vitamin C, flavonoids, and beta carotene (via Healthline). What's more, celery and celery seeds contain about 25 anti-inflammatory compounds that can protect against the chronic inflammation of arthritis and osteoporosis. 

Celery's high-water content and generous amounts of fiber also help regulate digestion — yet another reason to include celery as a low-calorie part of a balanced diet. Just don't expect it to make your calorie counter dip below zero. 

Keep celery packed with nutrients by eating it within five to seven days of purchase, nutritional experts say. Wait just before cooking or serving to chop it, though, so that it stays crisp longer. When you're ready to enjoy it, chop it into soup, toss it into a salad or stir-fry, blend it into a juice or smoothie, enjoy it plain, or add a smear of natural peanut butter.