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Weigh Loss

Top 10 High Thermic Effect Foods To Include In Your Weight Loss Diet

- Written By

DR Maheen Sohail , BDS

Updated on

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts. Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument. This article contains scientific references. Read more about our process.

high thermic effect foods

Thermic effect of food is a natural metabolic process that takes place whenever we eat. Each macronutrient (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) requires a different amount of energy to be broken down and utilized by the body. Proteins, being the most thermogenic of the three, demand the highest energy expenditure during digestion, contributing significantly to the high thermic effect foods. Carbohydrates come next, while fats have the lowest thermic effect.

On average, Thermic effect of food accounts for about 5% to 10% of our daily energy expenditure. However, it can vary depending on factors such as the composition of the meal, individual metabolic rate, and the specific foods consumed. Interestingly, TEF is higher after a protein-rich meal compared to a high-carbohydrate or high-fat meal.

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What are High Thermic Effect Foods?

High Thermic effect foods are those that require a significant amount of energy to be broken down and utilized by the body during the digestion and absorption process. These foods are rich in certain nutrients and can increase the body’s energy expenditure compared to low TEF foods. Among the macronutrients, protein-rich foods have the highest thermic effect, requiring the most energy for digestion and metabolism.

When we consume high thermic effect foods, our body expends more energy to break down and process these nutrients. This increased energy expenditure leads to a temporary boost in the metabolic rate. In other words, the body burns more calories during the digestion of high thermic effect foods compared to low thermic effect foods. This can have beneficial implications for weight management and overall energy balance.

The Difference between High and Low TEF Foods

The classification of foods into high and low TEF categories is based on their thermic effect, which is expressed as a percentage of the calories consumed. High thermic effect foods have a thermic effect that is relatively high compared to the total calories they provide, typically ranging from 20% to 30%. This means that for every 100 calories consumed from high thermic effect foods, the body might expend 20 to 30 calories during digestion and metabolism.

On the other hand, low TEF foods have a lower thermic effect, usually ranging from 5% to 10% or even lower. For every 100 calories consumed from low TEF foods, the body may only expend around 5 to 10 calories during the digestion process.

The Mechanisms Behind Thermic effect of food

TEF is the energy expended by the body to digest, absorb, and process the nutrients from the foods we eat. The process of TEF involves several stages:

Digestion: As we consume food, the body’s digestive system breaks down complex molecules into simpler forms for absorption. Digestive enzymes and stomach acid play a crucial role in this phase.

Absorption: The broken-down nutrients, including amino acids from proteins, glucose from carbohydrates, and fatty acids from fats, are absorbed through the small intestine walls into the bloodstream.

Metabolism: Once absorbed, these nutrients are transported to various cells and tissues throughout the body, where they undergo further chemical reactions to produce energy or are used for building and repairing tissues.

Each of these stages requires energy, and the total energy expenditure during the entire process of digestion and metabolism makes up the TEF.

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Macronutrient Contributions to TEF

The thermic effect of food varies depending on the composition of the meal, with different macronutrients requiring different amounts of energy for digestion and metabolism. Here’s how each macronutrient contributes to TEF:

1) Proteins

Proteins have the highest thermic effect among the three macronutrients. Approximately 20% to 30% of the calories in protein are expended during digestion and metabolism. This means that if you consume 100 calories of protein, your body may burn around 20 to 30 calories during the process of breaking down and utilizing the protein.

The high thermic effect of proteins is due to their complex structure and the energy-demanding process of converting dietary protein into its constituent amino acids, which are then used for various bodily functions, including muscle repair and growth.

2) Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates have a moderate thermic effect compared to proteins. Around 5% to 10% of the calories in carbohydrates are used during digestion and metabolism. Similar to proteins, the complexity of carbohydrate molecules influences their thermic effect.

Simple carbohydrates, such as sugars, are easier to break down and have a lower thermic effect than complex carbohydrates, like those found in whole grains and fibrous vegetables. Fiber, which is a type of carbohydrate that humans cannot fully digest, also contributes to the thermic effect of carbohydrates.

3) Fats

Fats have the lowest thermic effect of the three macronutrients, accounting for approximately 0% to 3% of the calories in fats expended during digestion and metabolism. This relatively low thermic effect is because dietary fats are relatively simple in structure and easily absorbed by the body.

However, it’s essential to note that fats play other crucial roles in the body, such as providing a concentrated source of energy, supporting the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and contributing to cell membrane structure.

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Top 10 High Thermic Effect Foods to Boost Metabolism and Aid Weight Loss

When it comes to supporting weight loss efforts and enhancing metabolic rate, incorporating high thermic effect foods into your diet can make a significant difference. These foods require more energy for digestion and metabolism, leading to a temporary boost in calorie expenditure.

Below is a countdown-style list of the top 10 high thermic effect foods, along with their nutritional profiles, thermic effect percentages, specific weight loss benefits, and ideas for incorporating them into your diet:

1) Spinach

Spinach is leafy green vegetable rich in vitamins A, C, K, and folate, as well as minerals like iron and calcium. It is also a good source of dietary fiber. It`s TEF Percentage is Approximately 5% to 10%. The fiber in spinach aids in digestion and supports satiety, helping you feel full with fewer calories. Add spinach to salads, omelets, smoothies, or sauté it with garlic and olive oil for a nutritious side dish.

2) Lentils

Lentils are a protein powerhouse and is one of the most important high thermic effect food. It contains essential amino acids, iron, folate, and dietary fiber. It contains Approximately 20% to 30% of TEF content. Lentils’ high protein and fiber content promote satiety and steady blood sugar levels, curbing hunger and reducing overall calorie intake. Make hearty lentil soups, add them to salads, or create flavorful lentil-based curries.

 3) Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is rich in protein, calcium, and probiotics, which makes it a good high thermic effect food. Its TEF percentage is Approximately 20% to 30%. Protein in Greek yogurt aids in muscle maintenance and may help control appetite, making it an excellent snack choice. Enjoy Greek yogurt with berries and a drizzle of honey, or use it as a creamy base for dips and dressings.

4) Chili Peppers

Chili peppers are packed with vitamins A, C, and potassium, and contain capsaicin, a compound that gives them their spicy kick. Its TEF Percentage is Approximately 20% to 30%. Capsaicin can slightly elevate metabolism and reduce appetite, potentially supporting weight loss efforts. Spice up your meals by adding sliced chili peppers to stir-fries, soups, or homemade salsa.

5) Quinoa

Quinoa is an important high thermic effect food because it is a complete protein, providing all essential amino acids, along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Its TEF Percentage Approximately 15% to 20%. The combination of protein and fiber in quinoa promotes satiety and helps regulate blood sugar levels. Use quinoa as a base for salads, serve it as a side dish, or use it to stuff bell peppers.

6) Chicken Breast

Chicken breast is a lean source of protein, low in fat, and rich in vitamins and minerals. Approximately 20% to 30% of TEF content is present in it. Protein in chicken breast supports muscle maintenance and can help control appetite when included in a balanced diet. Grill or bake chicken breast with herbs and spices for a flavorful and protein-packed main course.

7) Almonds

Almonds are a nutrient-dense source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamin E, and magnesium. Its TEF Percentage is Approximately 20% to 30%. The combination of protein, fiber, and healthy fats in almonds promotes satiety and may help regulate hunger. Enjoy almonds as a convenient and satisfying snack or sprinkle chopped almonds on salads and yogurt.

8) Tofu

Tofu is a plant-based protein source and an essential high thermic effect food. It contains all essential amino acids, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Its TEF Percentage is Approximately 20% to 30%. Tofu’s high protein content can support satiety and contribute to a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet. Add tofu to stir-fries, use it in vegan scrambles, or blend it into creamy tofu-based dressings.

9) Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in vitamins A, C, K, and folate, as well as dietary fiber and antioxidants. Approximately 20% to 30% of TEF content is present in it. Fiber in broccoli aids in digestion and supports satiety, making it a beneficial addition to weight loss diets. Steam broccoli as a side dish, add it to pasta dishes, or roast it with olive oil and garlic for a tasty snack.

10) Salmon

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, vitamin D, and B vitamins. Its TEF Percentage is Approximately 20% to 30%. The combination of protein and healthy fats in salmon supports satiety and provides numerous health benefits. Grill or bake salmon with lemon and herbs, or make flavorful salmon salads and sandwiches.

Incorporating these top 10 high thermic effect foods into your diet can enhance your metabolic rate, promote satiety, and support weight loss goals. Remember to enjoy them as part of a balanced and varied eating plan, combining them with other nutrient-rich foods to achieve overall health and wellness.

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Sample Meal Plan for Weight Loss with High Thermic Effect Foods

1) Breakfast

  • Greek yogurt with sliced almonds, berries, and a drizzle of honey.
  • A side of spinach omelet with cherry tomatoes.

2) Mid-Morning Snack

  • A small handful of almonds and a chili pepper hummus dip with carrot sticks.

3) Lunch

  • Grilled chicken breast salad with quinoa, mixed greens, cucumber, and a light vinaigrette dressing.
  • Broccoli and lentil soup.

4) Afternoon Snack

  • Sliced bell peppers with spicy tofu dip.

5) Dinner

  • Baked salmon fillet with a side of quinoa and sautéed spinach.
  • A small bowl of mixed fruit salad for dessert.

The Role of Exercise in Complementing High Thermic Effect Foods for Weight Loss

Regular physical activity plays a crucial role in complementing the effects of high thermic effect (TEF) foods in weight loss efforts. While high Thermic effect foods can boost metabolism and calorie expenditure during digestion, exercise further enhances the calorie-burning process. Engaging in aerobic activities like jogging, cycling, or swimming, as well as strength training exercises, helps increase energy expenditure, build lean muscle mass, and improve overall metabolic rate.

Combining a healthy diet rich in high thermic effect foods with an active lifestyle creates a synergistic effect on weight loss. The combination of increased metabolism from high thermic effect foods and additional calorie burn from exercise creates a more significant calorie deficit, leading to more effective weight loss results.

Moreover, regular physical activity has numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, increased energy levels, and reduced risk of chronic diseases.


Vitamin B12 alone is not directly linked to weight loss. However, a deficiency in vitamin B12 may affect metabolism and energy levels, which could indirectly impact weight management. A balanced diet, including sufficient nutrients like B12, combined with a healthy lifestyle, supports weight loss goals.

Yes, eggs have a relatively high thermic effect. About 20-30% of the calories from eggs are burned during digestion, absorption, and metabolism, making them a good choice for promoting a feeling of fullness and supporting weight management.

Yes, protein has the highest thermic effect of all macronutrients. Approximately 20-30% of the calories from protein are expended during digestion, absorption, and metabolism. Comparatively, carbohydrates have a thermic effect of around 5-10%, while dietary fats have a thermic effect of about 0-3%. Including protein-rich foods in the diet can boost metabolism and support weight management by increasing energy expenditure during digestion and processing.

To improve thermogenesis, focus on the following strategies:

  1. Regular exercise: Engage in both cardiovascular and strength training exercises to boost your metabolism.
  2. Increase protein intake: Protein-rich foods have a higher thermic effect and can promote greater energy expenditure during digestion.
  3. Eat smaller, frequent meals: This can help keep your metabolism active throughout the day.
  4. Stay hydrated: Dehydration can reduce thermogenesis, so drink enough water.
  5. Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can negatively impact metabolism and thermogenesis.
  6. Manage stress: Chronic stress can affect metabolic rate, so practice stress-reducing techniques.
  7. Consider green tea or caffeine: These can temporarily increase thermogenesis.

While no single food targets belly fat exclusively, some foods can aid in overall weight loss and fat reduction. Foods like avocados, green tea, lean proteins, leafy greens, and berries are nutrient-dense options that may support weight loss efforts, leading to a reduction in belly fat when combined with a balanced diet and regular exercise.

the bottom line

Incorporating high thermic effect (TEF) foods in a weight loss diet can significantly support your efforts to shed pounds and improve metabolic rate. High Thermic effect foods require more energy for digestion and metabolism, leading to increased calorie expenditure and a temporary boost in metabolism. Protein-rich foods, fiber-rich vegetables, and certain spices are examples of high Thermic effect foods that offer additional weight loss benefits

While high Thermic effect foods can be beneficial, it’s crucial to make informed choices and ensure overall dietary balance. Consider consulting with healthcare professionals or nutritionists to design a personalized weight loss plan that suits your unique needs and goals. They can provide expert advice, monitor your progress, and ensure you are getting all the essential nutrients your body needs while on your weight loss journey. Remember that successful weight loss is a combination of healthy eating, regular physical activity, and sustainable lifestyle changes.

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