Before we get started, let’s just clarify what we mean when we talk about best thermogenic foods and thermogenesis in general.
Thermo means heat and Genesis mean creation. So generally speaking, we are talking about the impact food have on heat creation in the body.
So what’s the point with the heat creation?
In order to digest food, the body will need heat. A good way to picture it is that, it needs fire to burn the food, and some foods need a bigger fire.
Ok, so more heat but what is the point with that?
Very easy, heat is energy, and with food, we calculate energy in calories. Therefore when we talk about the best thermogenic foods we are referring to the food that need the most energy to be digested. Or most calories if you want.
Let’s dig a little bit into that.
Our body needs energy to function, and roughly you can say that the daily energy expenditure consists of three components:
Basal metabolic rate
Energy cost of physical activity
Basal metabolic rate:
The first one is the one that we need in order to stay alive. It’s something that basically just happens. What impacts the basal metabolic rate is age, gender, genes, body composition and also factors like stress, sickness, and temperature around us.
Some of these we can change, some we can’t and some we probably don’t want to change.
Body composition is a catch 24, as more fat and less muscles means low metabolic rate and more muscles and less fat means higher metabolic rate. This is the biggest reason why you should become stronger if you want to lose weight.
I believe nobody wants to become sick nor stressed in order to lose weight, so we leave this one out.
For the temperature around us, most people have a wrong perception of the reality.
A lot of people believe that high temperatures like in a sauna will make you lose weight, which is really not the truth. Actually, coldness is much more efficient if you want to raise your metabolism. You can read more about that in my article, “Sauna weight loss, myth or truth?”.
Energy cost of physical activity:
The more active we are, the more energy the body will need. So this fact is one of the biggest reason why people are spending hours doing aerobic training like spinning, body combat, running, etc.
Finally, we have reached the one that we are interested in – sorry for the sideshow.
Digesting and breaking down foods requires energy as we learned above, but not all foods require the same amount of energy.
On average, we use 5-15% of the food’s energy just to digest it. Meaning less energy is released to other processes like fat storage etc.
However as we will see in this list of best thermogenic foods, some foods need a lot more energy.
Ok, now for the list of best thermogenic foods:
There is no doubt that the absolute number one thermogenic food is proteins.
If you remember, the average energy usage for digestion is around 5-15% but when it comes proteins we are around 30% 🙂
So let’s say you have a daily intake of 100g protein which equals around 400 calories, then you will spend 120 of them on digestion only.
Some of the additional benefits of proteins are that they make you feel full. You will get the feeling of eating 100g of protein and 400 calories, but only 280 calories will end up in your system.
Finally, I just want to mention that proteins are also very good at keeping your blood sugar levels stable. Beside from weight control, this has a lot of other benefits which you can read about here.
As you probably know, proteins come from different sources. Animal-based such as, meat, eggs, and dairy. And then we have the planted based.
When we talk about the thermic effect, it seems like the animal sources are a bit better than the plant based products. What we talk about is around 5% better. Anyhow, 25-30% still leaves proteins on the top of the list of best thermogenic foods.
You probably also understand why the high protein diets are very efficient.
Did you see that one coming 🙂
Alcohol is actually number two on the list when it comes to best thermogenic foods – if you label alcohol as food 🙂
With 20%, it’s the second best on our list. So a standard beer with 150 calories takes 30 calories to digest or the same amount of energy as half a banana.
Now we all, of course, know that there are other site effects with alcohol so even if it has a high thermic effect we probably still want to limit the intake.
Carbohydrates is somewhere in the middle and therefore difficult to be labeled as a good thermogenic food. Carbs uses around 5-15% of their energy for digestion, which means the same as our average usage for digestion – maybe because we mostly eat carbs 🙂
It seems like the ones with highest thermic effect are what we call complex carbs like vegetables and whole grains. So if we want to be on the safe side, it’s better to focus on these carbs and leave the simple ones such as sugar out of our diet. Again, changing to a diet with more complex carbs has a lot of other benefits which you can read about here.
And that’s it – sorry, but when we only talk about best thermogenic foods, the list is no longer than that.
So no green tea, no chili pepper, ginger, cold water, etc.?
The reason for this is that no matter how many people would like you to believe that by eating chili, ginger, mustard and drinking vinegar, cold water and green tea you will boost your metabolism, that is not the truth. Did I shock you there?
Well, I’m not saying that it doesn’t have any effect on your metabolism, it actually has, but the truth is that you need to consume a lot, and again the impact is limited.
In a test with green tea and capsaicin (The hot part in chili peppers), it showed around 50 calories usage a day when consumed in bigger portions. And that is a general rule with these magic foods that everybody claims will boost your metabolism – you need a lot in order to see any effect.
However, if you love spicy foods, green tea or any other food, great! – Don’t hold yourself back. These kinds of food have a lot of other great benefits which we will not talk about in this article. But when it comes to the thermic effect – or boosting metabolism, as a lot of people like to call it – don’t expect any magic to happen.
I just want to touch upon fat as the world have finally come to an understanding that fat is not that dangerous – at least not the right kind of fat.
Unfortunately, fat is really bad when it comes to the thermic effect. Around 3% – so don’t eat fat for that reason but do it for other reasons.
How to use this information?
Now, what is important and what might be obvious is that we don’t want to eat normal and then put in an additional portion of the high thermogenic foods.This will just add additional calories even though a big percentage will be used to digest. What we want to do, is to replace some of the low thermogenic foods with the ones that have a higher thermic effect – guess you figured out that one 🙂
So more protein and more complex carbs.
If you read this article with the goal of finding an efficient way to lose weight you might want to consider additional initiatives in order to reach your goal.
If you calculate a little bit you will soon see that to only concentrate on the thermic effect will not cut many calories and even if you did it all right, a single donut could quickly offset the entire math.
What you should consider are two things:
A diet focusing on keeping your blood sugar stable and thereby avoid big peaks of insulin productions. The reason for this is that insulin is what tells the body to store fat. A good diet with complex carbs, good proteins and fats are what you should look for. Se an example here.
Right kind of exercise:
We talked about the basal metabolic rate. The one that goes on all the time no matter what we do. This we can change with exercises but not any kind of exercise.
Jogging for an hour will for sure raise your metabolic during the workout but again a simple donut could ruin the whole thing.
What we want to do is build muscles.
Imagine and engine. The small engine needs little fuel, and the big engine needs a lot of fuel.
Muscles are our engine and the more you have, the more energy the body will require 24 hours around the clock, just to keep it going.
There is another way of exercising that also helps us to boost our metabolism. You probably heard of it. High-Intensity Interval Training. This is where we workout in intervals with a very very very high pulse – actually above 90% of our max heart rate.
This kind of workout has shown to leave a kind of energy debt or an afterburner as some like to call it. In simple words, our metabolism stays higher than normal and can last up to more than 24 hours.