Whether you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, foods with a high thermic effect can be of great benefit. There’s a lot of confusion on the internet about the best foods to eat for weight management.
Of course, you already know that processed foods are bad for you. But what about the rest of the options? Are all the other foods equal? And if not, which ones can help you achieve your weight goals or optimal health?
To answer these questions, you need to understand something known as the thermic effect of food. In this post, we’ll simplify the science behind how food influences fat burning and give you a few tips on how to choose the right foods.
What Is the Thermic Effect of Food?
The thermic effect of food (TEF), also known as dietary-induced thermogenesis, is the number of calories that your body burns to break down, absorb, and store food energy.
When you eat food, your body uses energy to break it down and absorb the nutrients from the food. The more complicated a food molecule is, the more energy your body uses in processing it.
TEF is one of the things that contributes to your body’s daily total energy expenditure. Eating foods with high thermic effects can help you lose weight because your body is spending extra calories to metabolize those foods.
What Types of Food Have the Highest Thermic Effect?
Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats make up what is known as macronutrients. Macronutrients are the body’s main source of energy and the components that make up the cells.
The thermic effect of each macronutrient is different. Generally, proteins have a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates and fats. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Amino acids are more complex compounds compared to starches and fatty acids, which make up carbs and fats respectively. Therefore, digesting proteins uses up more calories. Fats have the lowest thermic effect, meaning digesting them burns the least amount of calories.
The thermic effect of each food is expressed as a percentage. Here are the thermic effects of the three macronutrients:
- Proteins: 20-30%
- Carbohydrates: 5-10%
- Fats: 0-3%
So, what are the foods with high thermic effects? Let’s explore some foods that may help you reach your body weight goals.
Foods With a High Thermic Effect
Eating foods with high thermic effects can help you lose weight because your body uses more calories to process those foods. Here are some high-thermic-effect foods that may be beneficial for your weight management.
1. High-Protein Foods: Lean Red Meat, Eggs, Chicken, Fish
As we’ve mentioned, protein foods have the highest thermic effect among the different macronutrients. Consuming high-protein foods, such as lean meat, eggs, and chicken, boosts your metabolic rate and helps you burn body fat.
Apart from boosting your metabolic rate, protein foods also induce satiety hormones and keep you feeling full for longer.
2. Chili Pepper
Chili pepper contains a compound called capsaicin, which boosts metabolism. Research shows that as little as 2.5 milligrams (mg) of capsaicin can supercharge fat oxidation, which is the process by which your body burns fat. Capsaicin also helps with appetite regulation, making you consume less food.
So, hot spicy meals are not a bad idea. Don’t forget to include chili pepper in your diet plan for weight management, especially if you want to torch that cumbersome belly fat.
3. Leafy Greens: Spinach, Broccoli, Kale
Spinach, kale, collards, and other green vegetables are rich in minerals, such as iron and magnesium. These minerals play a role in various metabolic processes that are vital in fat burning.
For instance, iron takes part in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones regulate your body’s metabolism rate. Low levels of iron can result in deficiency of thyroid hormones, which will cause weight gain. Thyroid hormone deficiency is one of the causes of unexplained obesity.
Ginger is one of the foods that will fire up your metabolic rate. Adding ginger to your meal increases the thermic effect of the food, helping your body burn fat.
Other health benefits of ginger include blood pressure control and reduction of inflammation.
5. Legumes: Lentils, Beans, Peas
Legumes are the best sources of plant-based proteins. If you’re looking for a high-protein, low-fat diet, legumes are a great option.
In addition to proteins, legumes are a rich source of dietary fiber. Since fiber takes longer to digest, eating a fiber-rich diet will help you feel fuller for longer. In the long run, you’ll consume fewer calories.
5. Whole Grains: Oatmeal, Millet
No, we haven’t forgotten about breakfast. Instead of processed foods like bread, whole grains such as oatmeal and millet are a healthier, high-thermic-effect breakfast option. If you want to fire up your metabolic rate early in the morning, whole grains are your best choice.
Whole grains are not only rich in proteins but also contain sufficient carbs and fiber. Carbs will take care of your energy needs for the long day ahead, while fiber makes you feel fuller for longer. Whole grains also have low-fat content, which adds to their benefit as effective weight management food options.
Although carbs can be healthy, it’s recommended that you see if carbs work for you by using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
6. Olive Oil
Fats have the lowest thermic effect. There aren’t a lot of healthy fat options that can help with weight loss. However, research shows that olive oil is effective in weight loss. Adding olive oil to your diet may help you lose more weight than following a standard low-fat diet.
Olive oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs in olive oil have a higher thermic effect than long-chain triglycerides found in other oils.
You may need to reconsider your relationship with coconut oil. Studies on the thermic effect and general health benefits of coconut oil have shown conflicting results. Some studies suggest that coconut oil increases low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the bad cholesterol.
7. Green Tea
Green tea is a healthy addition to your weight management diet plan. Green tea contains caffeine, which boosts your body’s metabolism and helps with burning body fat. Another green tea extract called catechin is also effective in helping your body burn fats.
In addition to its fat-burning components, green tea is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants get rid of toxic products produced from normal cellular processes.
Similar to green tea, coffee contains caffeine, which fires up the body’s metabolism. However, don’t take too much sugar with your coffee as glucose promotes fat storage. Remember, a rapid spike in blood sugar levels stimulates the release of insulin, a hormone that converts glucose into fatty acids.
9. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a popular ingredient used in many weight-loss diets. The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar is responsible for its fat-burning effects. Acetic acid stimulates fat oxidation, a process that reduces body fat levels.
Acetic acid dissolves enamel, the mineral component of teeth, so take care not to consume it undiluted or use too much.
Most people forget to take enough water as part of a healthy diet plan. All the metabolic processes that occur in your body need water.
Studies have shown that drinking at least 500 milliliters (ml) of water every day increases your body’s metabolic rate by 30%. Therefore, ensure you take enough water to realize the full thermic effect of the fat-burning foods we’ve discussed.
Choose Thermogenic Foods for Sustainable Weight Management
The thermic effect of food is the number of calories it takes to process that food into energy that the body can use. Foods with high thermic effects boost metabolism and keep you feeling full for longer, making them better for weight loss.
High-protein foods have the highest thermic effect followed by carbohydrates and fats. A meal plan with the right portions of macronutrients may help you maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re ready to optimize your health, connect your wearables, track your progress, and challenge your friends, join Vital today.