How to Use the Thermic Effect of Food to Increase Metabolism and Weight Loss

How to Use the Thermic Effect of Food to Increase Metabolism and Weight Loss

8 min read


30 Jun 2019

The thermic effect of food isn’t something many people have heard of before – but once they realize what it is, the effect on their diet can be pretty dramatic. So, what is the thermic effect of food, and why should you care about it? Read on to find out more…

What is the Thermic Effect of Food?

The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the effect which happens when you eat food – in other words, it’s the rate at which your body burns calories after eating food. The great thing? It counts towards at least 10% of your daily energy expenditure.

Every food you eat causes you to burn calories as part of the digestive process, but not all food groups are created equally when it comes to the thermic effect of food. Some types of food will lead to your body burning more calories than others, and some will quite simply encourage your body to store more fat.

Eating foods which raise your thermic effect of food can be life-changing, and the most important thing to note here is that not many people realize that TEF exists, let alone how to utilize it to their advantage. Quite simply, this means that you can increase your caloric burn per day, without exercise, simply by eating the right foods. Yes, that is as amazing as it sounds!

How Does the Thermic Effect of Food Relate to Your Metabolism?

bathroom scales with veg and fruit on top of it

As we all know, the body performs several activities even at rest which require the burning of calories for that to happen. Everything from breathing to thinking, and even your heart beating ‘costs’ your body calories. Eating is no exception. Digesting any food at all requires your body to burn calories – as the digestive process is an activity the body must perform. The thing is, some foods ‘cost’ more calories to burn than others.

The thermic effect of food is an important consideration if you’re looking to increase your body’s metabolism, and that’s because eating the right kind of food, in particular, more protein and fiber-rich foods, will help to boost your body’s basal metabolic rate compared to eating lots of fats, sugars and processed carbohydrates.

For those who prefer scientific terminology, the thermic effect of food is known as a process called ‘diet-induced thermogenesis’. Now, all you need to know is how to boost yours.

What Affects Your TEF

Contrary to what you’re probably thinking right now, your TEF is affected by several things – not just the food you eat.

You should also consider:

  • How many calories are in that food – obviously, the more it contains, the harder it’s going to be to burn it off
  • Your level of exercise – Your metabolism will naturally run faster the more often you exercise, and with that, your TEF will increase too. Similarly, the less you exercise, the lower your TEF will be
  • Your age – sadly, aging lowers our TEF, which is why it’s important to keep on top of the diet and exercise routine to counteract the issue.


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How to increase your Thermic effect of Food

Without a doubt, the most important thing you can do to increase your TEF is to eat the right foods in the first place, but you don’t have to stop there.

In addition, increase your exercise levels – try to aim for 30 minutes at least 5 times per week, and even on your days off, you should at least move around a little more. Simple things like taking the stairs, walking to the store and taking the dog out for an extra walk all contribute towards raising your TEF.

The more exercise you do, the closer you’re going to get to ensuring that your body burns up the maximum percentage of calories it can when you eat thermogenic foods. However, it’s also important that you fill your diet with these foods, rather than the alternative, as the results can be quite different.

So for instance, if you ate a 100 calorie apple, your body would net around 75 of those calories. But if you replaced that apple with a cookie (of 100 calories in total), your body would net closer to 95 – 97 of those calories. That may not seem like a big deal, but imagine if every meal you ate focused on foods which raised your TEF rather than lowered it – that could make a pretty big difference in a relatively short space of time.

Benefits of a highly thermogenic diet

The benefits you’re going to gain from eating a highly thermogenic diet are plain to see. Your metabolism is going to be running sky-high on a daily basis, you’re going to find it much easier to eat to a calorie deficit (mainly because you’ll be eating much more protein and fiber which is extremely filling), and your stored body fat is going to become essential for your body to maintain your basic bodily functions – thanks to the fact that you’re going to be holding on to a lot fewer calories overall.

What is TEF of different foods?

As I mentioned before, not all foods are the same when it comes to TEF. And that’s a good thing. Because once you realise what you should be eating more of (and less of) to raise your TEF, you’re going to start losing excess fat pretty fast.

Thermic Effect of fats

Fats are the worst kind of food to eat when it comes to raising your TEF. Only 0 – 5% of the calories you eat will be burnt off by the digestive process when you consume fat. This is a double-whammy for fat gain – as fat also carries the highest number of calories per gram out of all of the macronutrients. The moral of the story? Replace most of the fat you consume with protein.

Thermic Effect of carbohydrates

Fibrous carbohydrates have a thermic effect of up to 25% – the same as that of protein – so fitting as much fresh fruit and vegetables into your daily diet is a brilliant way of boosting your TEF easily.

Non-fibrous carbohydrates, on the other hand, are a whole different ball-game. Eating things like pop-tarts, cookies, or cake will only give you a TEF of around 3 – 5%. Not very impressive, I think you’ll agree!

Thermic Effect of Protein

Protein not only has a TEF of up to 25%, but it’s also the most filling type of food there is in existence. Ever tried eating 4 boiled eggs in one sitting? It’s not easy!

Thermic Effect of mixed meals

In an ideal world, we’d be able to get by on just eating high-TEF foods, right? But this is the real world, and unless you want malnutrition anytime soon, that’s just not going to be possible.

Granted, you’re going to have to mix your macros together to make a meal – but that doesn’t mean you can’t focus on veggies and protein as your main source of nutrition. Simply add in a fist-sized portion of carbs, and a match-box sized portion of fat with each meal, and the balance should work out.

Remember too, when eating carbs, don’t go for the processed, sugar-laden variety. Opt instead for wholegrain – it’s TEF will be higher due to its high-fiber content. And when it comes to fats, avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oils are much better for you than piles of cheese!

It can be difficult to measure the exact TEF of a mixed meal, but so long as you stick to the methods here, you should be able to keep your overall TEF reasonable high throughout the day.

Are there Thermogenic Foods you should eat to lose weight?

When looking for thermogenic foods, you should really focus on 2 things – macronutrients and eliminating anything which doesn’t fit within those 3 food groups as much as possible. Think refined sugar, table salt, additives, colourings, preservatives etc. None of these have any benefit or even purpose in any diet whatsoever – they simply make food taste or look different, and they don’t contribute towards raising your metabolism (or the thermic affect of your food) in any way.

When it comes to macronutrients, in the world of thermogenic foods, protein is your friend, carbs comes second (only when it’s wholesome, fibrous carbs though), and fat comes firmly last.

As you can see, the key to increasing your thermogenic effect of food is to increase the amount of quality protein, fruits and vegetables you eat. Aside from that, always opt for wholegrain when buying carbs, and skip the sugar – it’s full of empty calories, does nothing for your TEF and is lethal for your waistline.

How to compose your meals in order to effectively use TEF for weight loss

When composing your meals, if you want to raise your TEF, you should use the following proportions when filling your plate:

  • 50% fresh vegetables
  • 40% protein
  • 5% healthy fat
  • 5% wholegrain carbs

So for instance, if you want a pizza, make your own. Go for a very thin wholegrain base, (or even better, a cauliflower base), use minimal cheese (or go vegan) and pile on the meat, eggs and veggies high!


Now that you know about the thermic effect of food, you’re part of a rare group of people who realize exactly why diets like Slimming world work without counting calories. They focus on reducing fats and processed carbs, while increasing protein and vegetables. It’s as simple as that. Often, we just need the science explained to us to fully appreciate why something works and instill in us the reason to stick to the plan and lose weight.