The Relationship Between Eating And Metabolism Depends On This

By Alex Frost

You may have heard the old saying that you will burn more calories eating celery or cucumber than you actually ingest. The truth is, these so-called “negative calorie” foods aren’t actually creating a deficit

While it’s debatable and sometimes controversial in the nutrition community, there is a thermic effect to food (TEF). Eating food is one of the ways we use up energy and burn calories throughout the day (with the other two components being your basal metabolic rate, and energy expended through physical activity). We also do this through exercise, fidgeting around at our desks, and a variety of other movements. TEF plays a minor role in how many calories we actually burn throughout the day, and shouldn’t be relied upon as a significant form of weight loss or control.

One review of TEF studies suggests that increasing your meal size may be more beneficial instead of snacking on smaller meals throughout the day. It also concludes that carbs and proteins, along with plant-based diets, increase TEF as well. However, age, physical activity, the timing of your meals, and other factors are at play, making TEF an unreliable method for losing weight or truly boosting your metabolism in a significant way. The research reveals that TEF is 31% to 45% higher in physically active people compared to those who move less. This reassures what we already know about how integrated diet and exercise are for our physical fitness and weight management.

Multiple studies conclude that protein sources have a higher TEF, therefore, the easiest way you can increase your metabolism through your food choices (raising TEF) is by increasing protein in your diet. Another study showed strong and conclusive results that TEF was significantly raised by higher protein diets. Here was the breakdown:

  • High protein diets: 15.4% TEF

  • Normal protein diets: 5.6%

It didn’t matter in the study if you’d had a long-term relationship with a high protein diet–it’s a short-term, acute effect. That means you can start at your very next meal to eat more protein, boosting your TEF.

There are also individual foods known to have higher TEF. Some of these include:

  • Eggs

  • Flaxseeds

  • Almonds

  • Lentils

  • Chili Peppers

  • Broccoli

  • Dark leafy green vegetables

  • Ginger

  • Coffee

  • Green Tea

There are many factors that play into one’s metabolism. Nutrition and choosing whole, real foods while practicing blood sugar balance is one thing you can do to set yourself up for success. Other healthy habits to support metabolic health include prioritizing good sleep, staying hydrated, and incorporating strength training into your fitness routine.