The thermic effect of food (TEF), also known as dietary-induced thermogenesis (DIT) refers to the energy expenditure associated with the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of nutrients from the food we consume. In simpler terms, it's the amount of energy the body uses to process and utilize the nutrients in the food we eat.

Through this article, let’s explore the list of the best foods with high thermic effects, and how they work to burn stubborn fat.

Key Takeways:

  • The thermic effect of food refers to the amount of energy (calories) that the body needs to process and digest food.
  • Foods with a high thermic effect have a significant impact on metabolism and can help with weight loss and weight management.
  • Foods with a low thermic effect require less energy to digest and metabolize, resulting in lower overall calorie expenditure compared to foods with a higher thermic effect.
  • High thermogenic food can help increase calorie burn, as the body needs to expend more energy to digest and process these foods.
  • Green tea, whole grains, eggs, lean meat, nuts, and seeds, are some of the best foods with high thermogenic effects.
  • Too much consumption of foods with a low thermic effect can slow down metabolism over time, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight and overall metabolic health.

How do thermogenic foods work?

Thermogenic foods are often referred to as foods that have the ability to increase thermogenesis, which is the production of heat in the body. These foods are believed to slightly increase metabolic rate, leading to a higher calorie expenditure and potentially aiding in weight loss or weight management efforts. Here's how thermogenic foods work:

  1. Increased Metabolic Rate:

    Thermogenic foods contain compounds that can temporarily increase the metabolic rate, which is the rate at which the body burns calories to produce energy. These compounds may stimulate the nervous system or affect specific hormones involved in metabolism, such as adrenal or thyroid hormones.
  2. Thermic Effect of Food:

    As mentioned earlier, all foods have a certain thermic effect, which is the energy expended during digestion, absorption, and metabolism of nutrients. Some thermogenic foods, particularly those high in protein, can have a greater thermic effect compared to others, leading to a higher overall calorie expenditure during digestion.
  3. Activation of Brown Fat:

    Brown adipose tissue (BAT), also known as brown fat, is a type of fat tissue that generates heat by burning calories. Certain compounds found in thermogenic foods may activate brown fat, increasing calorie expenditure through heat production.
  4. Enhanced Fat Oxidation:

    Some thermogenic foods contain compounds that may enhance fat oxidation, which is the process of breaking down stored fat to be used as energy. By promoting fat oxidation, these foods can potentially increase calorie expenditure and aid in weight loss.
  5. Appetite Regulation:

    Thermogenic foods may also have effects on appetite regulation and satiety, helping to control food intake and reduce overall calorie consumption. For example, foods high in fiber or protein can increase feelings of fullness and reduce hunger, leading to fewer calories consumed overall.

15 best foods with a high thermic effect

Here are the top 15 thermogenic foods:

  • Lean Protein:

    One essential macronutrient that the body uses for many different purposes is protein. Experts believe that protein has the highest thermic effect. This is because approximately 35% of the energy used in food digestion and metabolism is attributed to the thermic action of protein. Foods such as chicken breast, turkey, fish (like salmon or tuna), lean cuts of beef or pork, and eggs are generously high in protein and have a significant thermic effect.
  • Chili Peppers:

    Spicy peppers like chili peppers contain capsaicin, which can increase metabolism and calorie expenditure.
  • Green Tea:

    Green tea contains catechins and caffeine, which can boost metabolism and increase fat oxidation.
  • Whole Grains:

    Foods like oats, quinoa, brown rice, and barley require more energy to digest compared to refined grains due to their higher fiber and nutrient content.
  • Cruciferous Vegetables:

    Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale are rich in fiber and nutrients, requiring more energy for digestion.
  • Berries:

    Berries like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in fiber and antioxidants, contributing to a higher thermic effect.
  • Lean Dairy Products:

    Low-fat dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese, and skim milk are high in protein and can increase metabolism.
  • Coffee:

    Coffee contains caffeine, which can boost metabolism and increase calorie expenditure.
  • Nuts and Seeds:

    Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, and flaxseeds, are high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber, requiring more energy for digestion.
  • Legumes:

    Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are rich in protein and fiber, contributing to a higher thermic effect.
  • Lean Meats:

    Lean cuts of meat, such as lean beef, pork loin, and skinless poultry, have a high protein content and require more energy to digest.
  • Leafy Greens:

    Vegetables like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens are low in calories but high in fiber and nutrients, increasing the thermic effect.
  • Ginger:

    Ginger contains compounds that can boost metabolism and aid in digestion, leading to a higher thermic effect.
  • Eggs:

    Eggs are a good source of protein and contain essential amino acids, contributing to a higher thermic effect.
  • Coconut Oil:

    Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which can increase metabolism and calorie expenditure compared to other types of fats.

Incorporating these foods into your diet can help increase your overall calorie expenditure and support weight management goals when combined with a balanced diet and regular physical activity.

What are metabolism killing foods to avoid?

While there's no such thing as "metabolism-killing" foods per se, some foods can contribute to weight gain or slow down metabolism when consumed in excess or as part of an imbalanced diet. Here are some examples:

  • Highly Processed Foods:

    Processed foods, especially those high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and refined carbohydrates, can lead to weight gain and negatively impact metabolism over time. Examples include sugary snacks, processed meats, sugary drinks, and packaged baked goods.
  • Sugar-Sweetened Beverages:

    Beverages like soda, fruit juices, energy drinks, and sweetened teas are high in added sugars and calories but provide little to no nutritional value. Consuming these beverages regularly can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, which can slow down metabolism.
  • Trans Fats:

    Trans fats are artificial fats found in many processed foods, fried foods, margarine, and some packaged snacks. These fats can increase inflammation, raise bad cholesterol levels, and impair metabolism.
  • Excessive Alcohol:

    While moderate alcohol consumption may not significantly affect metabolism, excessive alcohol intake can lead to weight gain and interfere with the body's ability to burn fat efficiently. Alcohol also contains empty calories that can contribute to overall caloric intake.
  • Highly Refined Carbohydrates:

    Foods made with refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, and sugary cereals, can spike blood sugar levels and lead to insulin resistance over time, which can impair metabolism and contribute to weight gain.
  • Artificial Sweeteners:

    While artificial sweeteners are low in calories, some studies suggest they may disrupt metabolic processes and lead to weight gain by affecting appetite regulation and gut bacteria composition.
  • Highly Restrictive Diets:

    Extremely low-calorie diets or diets that severely restrict certain food groups can slow down metabolism as the body adapts to conserve energy. This can lead to a decrease in muscle mass and a slower metabolic rate over time.
  • Unhealthy Fats:

    Saturated fats and excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids found in processed foods, fried foods, and fatty cuts of meat can contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance, potentially slowing down metabolism.
  • Highly Caffeinated Beverages:

    While moderate caffeine consumption may slightly boost metabolism, excessive intake of highly caffeinated beverages like energy drinks can lead to adrenal fatigue and disrupt normal metabolic function.

It's important to note that each person responds to food differently, hence, following moderation is crucial. A balanced diet consisting of whole, nutrient-dense foods, regular physical activity, and adequate sleep are essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism and overall well-being.

Tips to include thermogenic foods easily in your diet

Incorporating thermogenic foods into your diet can be relatively simple with a few strategic tips. Here are some suggestions to help you include thermogenic foods easily:

  1. Plan Your Meals:

    Plan your meals in advance and include thermogenic foods as ingredients. Choose recipes that feature lean proteins, spicy ingredients like chili peppers, green tea-based dishes, or meals rich in fiber from vegetables and whole grains.
  2. Start Your Day with Protein:

    Begin your day with a protein-rich breakfast. Incorporate foods like eggs, Greek yogurt, or lean meats to kickstart your metabolism and keep you feeling full throughout the morning.
  3. Add Spices and Herbs:

    Use plant-based protein shakes or spices and herbs like chili peppers, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper to add flavor and thermogenic properties to your meals. Sprinkle them on salads, soups, stir-fries, or roasted vegetables.
  4. Snack Wisely:

    Choose thermogenic foods for snacks to keep your metabolism active between meals. Snack on almonds, Greek yogurt, berries, or carrot sticks with hummus for a nutrient-rich and metabolism-boosting treat.
  5. Stay Hydrated with Green Tea:

    Swap sugary beverages for green tea throughout the day. Caffeine and catechins present in green tea naturally speed up metabolism and promote fat oxidation. Enjoy it hot or cold as a refreshing drink.
  6. Include Lean Protein at Every Meal:

    Incorporate lean protein sources like chicken breast, turkey, fish, tofu, or legumes into each meal. Protein has a high thermic effect and can help keep you feeling satisfied while supporting muscle maintenance and repair.
  7. Choose Whole Grains:

    Opt for whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and barley instead of refined grains. Whole grains are rich in fiber and nutrients, requiring more energy to digest and boosting your metabolic rate.
  8. Build Balanced Meals:

    Aim to build balanced meals that include a combination of protein, healthy fats, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and vegetables. By doing this, you can maintain a healthy metabolism and maximize the thermic effect of your meals.
  9. Prepare Thermogenic Snacks:

    Keep pre-prepared thermogenic snacks on hand for convenience. Prepare snack packs with nuts and seeds, slice up vegetables with spicy hummus, or make homemade energy balls with ingredients like oats, almond butter, and cinnamon.
  10. Experiment with Recipes:

    Get creative in the kitchen and experiment with recipes that feature thermogenic ingredients. Try new spices, cooking methods, and flavor combinations to keep your meals exciting and metabolism-boosting.

By incorporating thermogenic foods into your daily diet in a variety of ways, you can support your metabolism, enhance calorie expenditure, and promote overall health and well-being.

Other ways to increase your thermogenesis

In addition to incorporating thermogenic foods into your diet, there are several other lifestyle factors and strategies that can help increase thermogenesis and support a healthy metabolism:

  1. Regular Exercise:

    Engage in regular physical activity, including both cardiovascular exercises (such as walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming) and strength training. Exercise not only burns calories during the activity but also increases metabolic rate and promotes fat burning even at rest.
  2. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):

    Incorporate HIIT workouts into your exercise routine. A brief time of rest or lower-intensity activity is interspersed with short bursts of intensive exercise or HIIT. This type of training has been shown to increase metabolic rate and improve fat oxidation.
  3. Strength Training:

    Include resistance training exercises such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises to build and maintain lean muscle mass. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, so increasing muscle mass can help boost your basal metabolic rate.
  4. Stay Active Throughout the Day:

    Incorporate more movement into your daily routine by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking or biking instead of driving for short distances. These small bursts of activity can add up and contribute to increased calorie expenditure.
  5. Stay Hydrated:

    To stay hydrated, sip lots of water throughout the day. Cold water, in particular, may slightly increase metabolic rate as the body works to warm it up to body temperature.
  6. Get Enough Sleep:

    Prioritize quality sleep to support a healthy metabolism. Lack of sleep can disrupt hormonal balance, increase appetite and cravings, and negatively impact metabolic function.
  7. Manage Stress:

    Practice stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga. Chronic stress can lead to hormonal imbalances that may affect metabolism and promote weight gain.
  8. Optimize Thyroid Health:

    Ensure your thyroid gland is functioning optimally, as thyroid hormones play a key role in regulating metabolism. Consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect thyroid issues.
  9. Cold Exposure:

    Expose yourself to cold temperatures occasionally, such as by taking cold showers or spending time in a cold environment. Cold exposure can activate brown fat, which burns calories to generate heat and may increase metabolic rate.
  10. Intermittent Fasting:

    Experiment with intermittent fasting protocols, such as time-restricted feeding or alternate-day fasting. Some research suggests that intermittent fasting can increase metabolic rate and improve metabolic flexibility.

By incorporating these lifestyle strategies along with thermogenic foods, you can effectively increase thermogenesis, support a healthy metabolism, and promote overall well-being. As always, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet or exercise routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.


The thermic effect of food refers to the amount of energy the body uses to digest, absorb, and metabolize nutrients from food. Foods with a high thermic effect require more energy to process, leading to an increase in calorie expenditure. This can be beneficial for weight management as it helps to boost metabolism and burn more calories.

Increasing protein intake, for example, can boost metabolism due to the higher thermic effect, which can be beneficial for weight management or metabolic health goals.

Overall, understanding and incorporating high-thermic effect foods into your diet can have a positive impact on weight management, metabolism, and overall health. By choosing nutrient-dense, high-thermic effect foods, you can support your body's natural processes and promote a healthy lifestyle.

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