What is the thermic effect of food?

Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Apart from resting metabolism and activity energy expenditure, the body also burns calories every time you eat. This is referred to as the thermic effects of food or the thermogenic effects of food. In order for you to use the calories from your food, digestion and processing of nutrients has a certain cost in the form of calories. As well, it is vital that your body maintain itself in a narrow temperature range so it has to spend a certain amount of calories on producing heat.

The thermic effect of food can vary quite substantially. Protein is actually the hardest food for your body to process and utilize. Therefore, your body wastes 20 to 30 percent of the calories in protein in its processing and the release of heat. This is one of the best reasons to eat sufficient protein with each meal. On the other hand, carbohydrates are utilized more efficiently by the body so that 5 to 10 percent of the calories in carbohydrates are wasted in processing and heat. Fat is the most efficient source of energy for your body, because only zero to 3 percent of the calories in fat are used in processing and heat. This is why fat in excess tends to go right onto your waistline.

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