The mass media has increasingly frequently suggested to the general population that specific foods or nutritional schemes are able to affect both human metabolism and energy expenditure, thus facilitating weight loss. This critical review is aimed at assessing available evidence on the roles of nutrients, food and dietary regimens in energy intake and energy expenditure. We queried the National Library of Medicine, the Cochrane Library, Excerpta Medica dataBASEand the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature database, and a search strategy was performed by using database-specific subject headings and keywords. We found that available scientific evidence on these topics is scarce, and that the limited number of available studies often have poor methodological quality. Only a few foods show beneficial effects on metabolism and energy expenditure, as the human energy balance is complex and multifactorial. Finally, microbiota may interfere with the intake, use and expenditure of energy in the human body. Conclusive evidence is still lacking, and, at present, it is not possible to identify a food or a diet with a significant impact on human energy expenditure.
Keywords: energy balance; energy expenditure; fat burners; obesity.