Some food bioactives potentially exert anti-obesity effects. Anthocyanins (ACN), catechins, β-glucan (BG) and n-3 long chain PUFA (LCPUFA) are among the most promising candidates and have been considered as a strategy for the development of functional foods counteracting body weight gain. At present, clinical trials, reviews and meta-analyses addressing anti-obesity effects of various bioactives or bioactive-rich foods show contradictory results. Abdominal obesity is an important criterion for metabolic syndrome (MetS) diagnosis along with glucose intolerance, dyslipidaemia and hypertension. Food bioactives are supposed to exert beneficial effects on these parameters, therefore representing alternative therapy approaches for the treatment of MetS. This review summarises outcomes on MetS biomarkers in recent clinical trials supplementing ACN, catechins, BG and n-3 LCPUFA, focusing mainly on anti-obesity effects. Overall, it is clear that the level of evidence for the effectiveness varies not only among the different bioactives but also among the different putative health benefits suggested for the same bioactive. Limited evidence may be due to the low number of controlled intervention trials or to inconsistencies in trial design, i.e. duration, dose and/or the method of bioactive supplementation (extracts, supplements, rich or enriched food). At present, the question ‘Are bioactives effective in weight management and prevention of metabolic syndrome?’ remains inconclusive. Thus, a common effort to harmonise the study design of intervention trials focusing on the most promising bioactive molecules is urgently needed to strengthen the evidence of their potential in the treatment of obesity, MetS and related diseases.