13 High-Thermic Effect Foods To Boost Your Metabolism

high-thermic effect foods to boost your metabolism

When trying to boost your metabolism, it’s important to pay attention to the quality of the food you eat. 

Eating specific high-thermic foods can give you a leg up on increasing your metabolism to boost the number of calories you burn daily and further help promote fat loss.

In this guide, I’ll explain why 13 foods are considered high-thermic and review the research detailing how they can boost your metabolism.

I’ll also discuss the results you can expect from adding more high-thermic foods into your diet and who can benefit the most from consuming them.

Key Takeaways

  • Eating high-thermic foods will require your body to use more energy, which has a positive effect on your metabolic rate.
  • The benefits of consuming high-thermic foods go beyond boosting the metabolism and include improving sleep and digestion, lowering the risk of disease, and maintaining muscle mass.
  • Incorporating high-thermic foods into your diet coupled with a customized workout plan from Fitbod can help you achieve weight loss results.

What Is a “High-Thermic” Food?

A high-thermic food requires your body to use more energy to digest than it takes to eat. 

Through a process called diet-induced thermogenesis, high-thermic foods cause an increase in metabolic rate, the rate at which your body burns calories.

Here’s a list of 13 high-thermic foods to help boost your metabolism:

Certain food groups have higher thermic effects than others. 

Protein has the highest thermic effect and can increase your metabolic rate by 15-30%. Carbohydrates increase your metabolic rate by 5-10%, and fats increase it by just 0-3%.

While high-thermic foods increase your metabolic rate, the effects are temporary. 

There are better ways to increase your metabolism for the long term, such as increasing your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and lifting weights

The Fitbod app automatically progresses as your fitness level evolves, which helps you increase and maintain muscle mass, lose fat mass, and get the greatest benefit from your workout.

Furthermore, the thermic effect of food is different in every individual. Factors such as age, activity levels, overall meal size, the breakdown of macronutrients at each meal, and meal frequency can all influence the thermic effect of food.

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What Foods Have The Highest Thermic Effect?

Here’s a list of 13 high-thermic foods to incorporate into your diet.

1. Lean meats

protein-rich foods help keep your blood sugar levels stable in between meals

In addition to having the highest thermic effect of the three main macronutrients, protein has a high degree of satiety. Protein-rich foods help keep your blood sugar levels stable in between meals and help you feel fuller for longer.

Paul Kriegler, RD, Director of Nutritional Product Development at Life Time told Parade:

“Studies have found that protein exerts an ‘increased thermic’ or calorie-burning, effect when compared with carbs and fats. This means that our bodies use more energy to digest and burn protein than carbs or fat.”Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, pork, lean cuts of steak, and 90% or leaner ground meat are all excellent sources of lean protein. For example, ground turkey is very versatile and easy to prepare.

2. Low-fat dairy

low-fat dairy

Studies show low-fat dairy foods help support healthy body composition. If you don’t like to eat a lot of meat, you can swap out your chicken or pork for low-fat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese.

However, be sure to look for products that aren’t laden with sweeteners. Greek yogurt cups with fruit on the bottom, for example, tend to have higher amounts of carbs due to all of the added sugars.

3. Eggs

eggs are healthy sources of both dietary fat and protein

Eggs are another great substitute for lean meat. They’re healthy sources of both dietary fat and protein, and they’re rich in iodine, a mineral that helps promote normal thyroid function.

Eggs also contain all of the essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. They’re also high in vitamin D, vitamin E, choline, and iron, all of which are necessary for metabolic health.

4. High-Quality Fish

fatty fish help lower your bad cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke

Fatty fish such as salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). This helps lower your bad cholesterol and reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke.

People who regularly consume fish oils exhibit higher activity levels of hepatic mitochondrial glycerophosphate dehydrogenase, an enzyme that’s involved in thermogenesis.

5. Nuts and Seeds

nuts and seeds contain a lot of vitamins and nutrients that support metabolic health

Nuts and seeds contain a lot of vitamins and nutrients that support metabolic health. They’re also high in soluble fiber, which slows the absorption of food and keeps you satiated.

While all types of nuts and seeds are considered high-thermic foods, flaxseeds and Brazil nuts are the best choices you can make.

A study published in 2019 showed that flaxseeds helped improve the gut’s microbiome and increased energy expenditure in mice. 

While these effects weren’t tested in humans, the results from this study suggest that flaxseeds are a metabolically beneficial food.

Brazil nuts are high in selenium, a mineral that plays a vital role in thyroid function and the regulation of your metabolism.

6. Avocados

avocados are high-fat food containing about 16 grams of fat

Avocados are another high-fat food, with half an avocado containing about 16 grams of fat. 

However, one thing that makes avocados a high thermic food is their high magnesium content. 

Magnesium is essential in absorbing other nutrients and helps regulate digestion and blood glucose levels. 

It also activates enzymes that synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a compound that provides energy to the cells in your body.

Avocado consumption is also linked to a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.

7. Green Tea

green tea can increase energy expenditure by 4-5%

There are conflicting reports on the health benefits of green tea, but some studies suggest that it plays a positive role in fat metabolism during exercise and while you’re at rest. 

Researchers believe this is due to the presence of catechins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Researchers have also discovered that green tea can increase energy expenditure by 4-5%.

If you don’t like green tea, you can try oolong tea instead, as it boasts many of the same health benefits.

8. Dark Chocolate

dark chocolate is rich in catechins and contains a high amount of monounsaturated fats

Like green tea, dark chocolate is rich in catechins. It also contains a high amount of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and is rich in fiber and minerals such as magnesium, iron, and zinc.

Researchers at Louisiana State University found that after ingesting dark chocolate, the gut microbes in our stomachs ferment the chocolate and encourage the production of polyphenolic compounds. One of those compounds is butyrate, which has been shown to increase thermogenesis in mice with obesity.

However, this doesn’t mean you should fill up on any candy that claims it has dark chocolate. You should look for dark chocolate that isn’t overly processed and contains at least 70% cocoa.

9. Coffee

coffee contains compounds called chlorogenic acids that aid in the regulation of glucose

Coffee contains compounds called chlorogenic acids that aid in the regulation of glucose. In addition, the caffeine found in coffee stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and increases lipolysis, which helps the body break down fat.

Coffee also acts as an appetite suppressant. You still need to eat enough calories to support your activity levels, but drinking a cup of coffee when you feel hungry can help prevent you from overeating.

10. Chili peppers

chili peppers can help you burn an extra 50 calories per day

Not all researchers agree on chili peppers’ metabolism-boosting effects, but some studies show that they can help you burn an extra 50 calories per day. This is due to the presence of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes peppers spicy. Capsaicin may also play a role in fat oxidation and appetite suppression.

Jalapeño, serrano, cayenne, and Thai chili peppers are some of the most common peppers that contain capsaicin. 

You don’t need much for them to take effect — consuming just 9-10 mg of capsaicin is enough to boost your metabolism. 

That’s about one jalapeño a day.

If you don’t like spicy foods, you can also take capsaicin supplements, which are available over the counter.

11. Beans and Legumes

legumes such as lentils, peanuts, black beans, chickpeas, and green peas are excellent sources of plant-based protein

Legumes such as lentils, peanuts, black beans, chickpeas, and green peas are excellent sources of plant-based protein. 

They also have a high fiber content, which reduces insulin spikes by keeping your blood sugar levels consistent throughout the day.

The fiber in beans and legumes also slows digestion and promotes beneficial prebiotic effects in the large intestine

12. Whole Grains

high dietary fiber intake prevents a significant increase in blood glucose levels after a meal

Complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa require more energy to digest than simple carbs like white bread or pasta. A study done in 2010 showed that the post-meal energy expenditure in subjects who ate a cheese sandwich on multi-grain bread was significantly higher than in those who ate a cheese sandwich on white bread.

Sheri Berger, Registered Dietitian and Nutritional Consultant for Health Insiders, advises:

“Choose whole grains versus refined grains. For example, choose brown

rice, whole wheat bread, or farro instead of white rice, white bread, or white


Complex carb sources also have more fiber than their less nutritious counterparts. High dietary fiber intake prevents a significant increase in blood glucose levels after a meal. It can also improve insulin sensitivity, aid in losing or maintaining body weight, and positively affect the gut microbiome.

13. Sweet Potatoes

sweet potatoes are excellent source of soluble fiber, which slows down digestion and helps you feel fuller longer

Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index, meaning they don’t significantly raise your glucose levels when you eat them. They also can prevent the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream.

They’re also another excellent source of soluble fiber, which slows down digestion and helps you feel fuller longer.

Results From Eating High-Thermic Foods

High-thermic foods do more than just provide a temporary boost to your metabolism. Consuming a diet that’s high in these types of foods has a whole host of other benefits.

1. You stay fuller longer.

Foods with high-thermic effects are satiating, so not only will you feel fuller from eating smaller portions but you’ll also stay fuller longer. You won’t feel the need to overeat, which helps ensure your overall caloric intake remains in check.

2. Your risk of disease is decreased.

The vitamins and minerals found in high-thermic foods have benefits that go beyond boosting your metabolism. Many of them also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

According to Doctor of Natural Medicine, Dr. Livingood, thermic foods decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. 

3. You have more energy throughout the day.

High-thermic foods help regulate your blood sugar levels so you don’t have as many insulin spikes throughout the day. The vitamins and nutrients in these foods help you feel energized, which prevents the crashes you experience after eating less nutritious, sugary foods.

4. Your quality of sleep improves.

Building off the previous point, when you eat nutritious foods that give your body energy, you’re less likely to reach for caffeinated energy drinks when you get tired, especially in the afternoon when you typically experience a midday slump. This makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night.

As I spoke about earlier, the caffeine in coffee can have positive effects on your metabolism, so you don’t have to cut it out from your diet completely. But when your diet consists of other high-thermic foods that boost your energy levels, you’ll be less likely to reach for a cup of coffee in the late afternoon.

Drinking too much caffeine late in the day can have negative impacts on your sleep schedule, so you should try to limit your caffeine consumption in the afternoon, and use low- or no-sugar creamers to avoid insulin spikes.

5. Your digestion improves.

A lot of high-thermic foods are high in fiber. As I’ve discussed, fiber increases satiety and helps keep you full. Increasing the amount of soluble fiber you consume also allows your digestive system to function properly.

High thermic foods also tend to have high contents of other vitamins and minerals that allow the good bacteria in your gut to thrive. 

6. You can build or maintain muscle mass.

Protein is necessary for muscle growth, but it’s also important if you simply want to maintain the muscle mass you already have. Even if you’re trying to lose or maintain, eating an adequate amount of protein is essential to avoid losing too much muscle.

But what is enough protein to maintain muscle when you’re reducing your calorie intake to reduce your body fat percentage? 

According to Sophie Edwards from Protein Package, there’s not one set amount to fit all. It depends on various factors such as the levels of intense daily exercise, age, and your starting body fat. For the majority of people based on various studies, between 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (0.6-0.9 grams per pound of body weight) should be a good range to aim forWhen you switch to a diet of primarily high-thermic foods, it’s likely that your protein intake will naturally increase. This will allow you to preserve your lean muscle mass or increase it if you’re in a bulking phase.

Fitbod provides ultra-personalized workout plans that help you make long-term progress. Fitbod’s workouts have helped hundreds of thousands of people get stronger, lose fat, gain muscle mass, and generally get (and stay) fit. With Fitbod, every workout is calibrated to your goals, ability, and preferences–so all you need to do is open the app and get to work.

Who Should Eat High-Thermic Foods?

who should eat high thermic foods

Everyone can benefit from including more high-thermic foods in their diets. However, there are a few groups of people in particular whose lifestyles can be better supported by eating a diet that consists primarily of high-thermic foods.

1. Athletes and anyone who lifts weights or does high-intensity exercise

Intense workouts put a strain on your body. In order to get through your training session and recover properly afterward, you need to eat enough total calories as well as plenty of protein and carbs.

Nutritious, high-thermic foods can give you more energy for your workouts and aid in the post-workout recovery process. Protein helps repair the damage that occurs in your muscle fibers from working out, while carbs act as a fuel source during your workout and help replenish glycogen stores once your workout is done.

2. Adults over the age of 40

The thermic effect of food decreases as you get older, but that doesn’t mean you should stop eating high thermic foods once you reach a certain age.

In fact, eating enough protein becomes more important the older you get. Adequate protein consumption keeps your bones and muscles strong. It can prevent osteoporosis, make you less prone to bone fractures, and keep your immune system functioning properly.

3. People who are overweight or obese

Several factors contribute to obesity, but poor nutrition and overeating are some of them.

Consuming foods with little nutritional value doesn’t do much to fill you up. You’ll get hungry again a short while later, and without even realizing it, you’re consuming more energy than you’re burning. Excess calories then get stored as fat if you don’t engage in physical activity to burn them off.

Eating a balanced diet that consists of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats is one way to prevent overeating. High-thermic foods that fall into these categories are more satiating and provide steady amounts of energy throughout the day. You won’t feel as hungry and you won’t be tempted to reach for calorie-dense, sugary snacks whenever you feel tired. 

About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.