Which Foods Burn the Most Calories?

Foods rich in protein - like the fish pictured here - tend to burn more calories than carbohydrates.

Foods rich in protein – like the fish pictured here – tend to burn more calories than foods rich in carbohydrates or fats.

I get a lot of questions asking which foods burn the most calories. What these questions are really asking about is the thermic effect of food and how it can be manipulated to help achieve fat loss goals.

The thermic effect of food refers to the amount of energy (i.e. calories) that the body expends to process, use and store the foods we eat. In general, it’s estimated that most people will burn about 10% of their daily caloric intake through this process. In other words, a person eating 2,000 calories per day will probably burn off about 200 of them through the thermic effect of food.

But, as it turns out, this number can be manipulated simply by shifting the composition of the foods we eat.

For fats and carbohydrates, somewhere between 5% and 15% of the calories are burned off due to the thermic effect of food. For proteins, that number is somewhere between 20% and 35%. Using this math, you might expect to burn 25 – 75 calories from a hypothetical 500 calorie meal of pure fat or carbs. But for a pure protein meal of 500 calories, the number could be as high as 175.

Simply by shifting to foods richer in protein, dieters can expect to benefit from an increased calorie burn due to the thermic effect of food. Of course, the benefit is still relatively small – but every calorie counts!

In general, I’d encourage dieters to spend more time and energy on creating a calorie deficit (more calories out than in) through a smarter diet (more plants, less fatty meats, appropriate portions, whole grains, etc.) and increased physical activity… and not getting too caught up in consuming foods that burn more calories.

About Davey Wavey

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  1. Very interesting, i’ll keep it in mind.

  2. Hello, I thought this was a great article. Thank you for sharing.