How to use the thermic effect of food to inform your food choices

Every time you eat, your body expends energy as it works to digest, absorb and store the nutrients in the food you’ve just consumed.

That increase in your body’s metabolic rate – the level at which your body burns calories – is known as TEF or the Thermic Effect of Food. And, the good news is, some foods have a greater TEF than others and can actually assist with weight loss.

Naturopath Dr David Jivan says the thermic effect of food accounts for roughly five to to 10 per cent of the energy content of what we eat.

“This means, for example, if we eat a 400-calorie meal, we can reasonably expect somewhere between 20 to 40 calories to be burned in the process of digesting, absorbing and storing nutrients from the meal,” he says.

“Or, as another example, if we eat 2000 calories per day, roughly 100 to 200 calories will be burned each day as a result of the thermic effect of our food.”

Which foods have the best thermic effect?

It’s the question on everybody’s lips and Dr Jivan says the answer is fairly simple.

“Proteins have a TEF of 25 per cent and fats and carbohydrates about five per cent,” he explains. “So when you consume 1000 calories of protein, around 250 calories of that will be used digesting it.”

“If you eat the same amount in carbohydrate or fat, then only 50 calories will be used. So you’ve got 950 calories versus 750 calories as a result at the end of the day.”

Dr Jivan says processed foods have only half the TEF of wholegrains and wholesome foods. “Basically a processed carbohyrdate creates a low thermic effect because it doesn’t take much work to digest.”

Interestingly, raw celery and grapefruit are believed to have a negative caloric balance – requiring more energy to digest than they supply, so it might be time to stock up on those staples.

Dr Jivan’s top tips for getting the best thermic effect out of food:

1. Consume raw and fibre rich foods, such as raw celery and pink grapefruit.

2. Ensure your complete protein intake is kept up daily.

3. Avoid refined sugars and carbohydrates (and add some chilli to your food, it’s said to increase TEF by up to 50 per cent!)

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.