In the world of nutrition, many foods and beverages are believed to increase metabolism, the reactions in the body that provide energy. Here’s how our diet affects our metabolism and whether certain foods and drinks really have a significant impact on metabolic rate.
Metabolism is the sum of reactions in our cells that provide energy for functions such as movement, growth and development. Many factors can affect metabolism, including age, diet, biological sex, physical activity, and health status.
Basal metabolic rate is the energy required to maintain essential bodily functions, such as breathing, at rest. This is the main contributor to daily calories burned, also known as total energy expenditure. The digestion and processing of food, including carbohydrates, proteins and fats, also requires energy. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF). Some foods require more energy than others to break down, which can slightly increase metabolism. For example, fats require less energy to digest than proteins and carbohydrates. Protein has the highest TEF of the three macronutrients.
Can certain foods speed up the metabolism?
You may think that certain foods and beverages can “jumpstart” your metabolism, but that’s not necessarily true. Some foods require more energy than others to digest, and some foods may increase basal metabolism slightly, but not much.
It is the total food intake that matters most.
For example, TEF, the energy needed to digest food, differs depending on the macronutrient content of the meal. Here is the energy required to digest macronutrients:
Proteins: 10 to 30% of the energy content of ingested proteins.
Carbohydrates: 5-10% of the amount of carbohydrates ingested.
Fats: 0-3% of ingested fats.
The body uses the most energy to break down and store proteins, which is why they have the highest TEF.
TEF accounts for about 10% of total daily energy expenditure. That’s why a high-protein diet can help us burn more calories overall. Furthermore, studies show that highly processed meals require less energy to digest than whole foods. This is likely due to the lower amounts of fiber and protein in highly refined foods.
Research has also shown that high-protein diets can increase resting metabolic rate (RMR), or calories burned at rest.
In people on a high-calorie diet, consuming a high amount of protein significantly increases energy expenditure at rest over 24 hours, compared to a low amount of protein. A high-protein diet, consisting of 40% protein, produced higher total energy expenditure and increased fat burning, compared to a control diet containing 15% protein. Finally, other studies have also shown that high-protein diets increase daily energy expenditure, compared to low-protein diets.
Do specific foods increase metabolism?
It’s clear that high-protein diets can help people burn more calories on a daily basis, but what about specific foods?
Compounds in chili peppers, green tea, and coffee boost metabolism.
Caffeine can increase energy expenditure, so consuming caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and green tea, can boost metabolism.
Studies show that consuming green tea catechin extracts can increase daily calorie expenditure by 260 calories when combined with resistance exercise. It’s important to note that most of the research in this area looks at high doses of green tea extract supplements, and the results may not apply to people who simply drink green tea.
Some studies indicate that EGCG, a catechin found in green tea, has the potential to increase energy expenditure in doses of 300 milligrams (mg). For reference, green tea contains about 71 mg of EGCG per 100 milliliter serving.
On the other hand, the capsaicin in chili peppers can increase the metabolic rate when taken in the form of concentrated supplements. But the amount of this compound in a typical dish containing chili peppers is unlikely to have a significant effect on metabolism.
Along the same lines, one study showed that consuming a hot beverage containing ginger powder with meals can slightly increase TEF by about 43 calories per day.
How to promote a healthy metabolism and body weight?
To promote and maintain a healthy body weight, it is essential to focus on the overall quality and macronutrient content of the diet, rather than incorporating or eliminating specific foods. Research shows that diets high in protein and whole foods likely increase energy expenditure, compared to diets low in protein and high in ultra-processed foods.
Engaging in sufficient physical activity and maintaining healthy muscle mass can also help improve overall energy expenditure. Resistance training can be particularly effective. A 2015 study showed that resistance training for 9 months could increase RMR by 5% in healthy adults. And a 2020 analysis found that resistance exercise increased RMR, leading to an average increase in calories of about 96 caloriesTrusted Source per day, compared to a control group.