How awesome would it be if the foods you ate could naturally help you burn fat and reach your weight loss goals?
Keep dreaming, right? Wrong.
Word around town is that specific foods can ramp up your metabolism and help you shed unwanted body fat while also helping to preserve lean body mass and improve other health markers.
How's that for some enticement?
It seems too good to be true, but there are things called thermogenic foods, which work to boost the internal temperature of your body, creating a cascade of events that leads to elevated metabolic rate, fat oxidation, and thus fat burn.
If you're not sure what exactly we mean, we've got you covered. We're going to outline everything you need to know about thermogenic foods—what is thermogenesis, how it happens, and what foods should be on your shopping list when you hit the grocery store to give your metabolism a little kick.
What Is Thermogenesis?
Before we dive too deep into thermogenesis and thermogenic foods, you must first understand what it is.
Thermogenesis is derived from the Greek word thermos, meaning heat. It is a word used to describe the process of heat generation as a primary product of metabolic processes 1.
In general, there are three classifications of thermogenesis:
- Exercise associated thermogenesis (EAT)
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)—not including sleeping, eating, or exercise
- Diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT)
The Thermic Effect Of Food (TEF)
Here's something you may not know: certain foods may possess a stimulatory effect on human energy expenditure and enhance satiety, thereby helping to burn more calories and reduce food, which ultimately leads to increased weight loss and fat burning.
Diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), also called the thermic effect of food (TEF), is an increase in energy expenditure above basal metabolic rate (BMR) after the consumption of foods and accounts for approximately 10% of total energy burned in a day 2.
BMR accounts for another 60% of daily energy use, physical exercise for another 0-10%, and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (daily activities, posture, etc.) accounts for the remaining 20% of total energy.
How Do Foods Stimulate Thermogenesis?
An increase in energy expenditure after food results from the stimulation of energy-requiring processes during the post-prandial period 3.
In order for food to affect energy output, it must be digested and absorbed, and its components (i.e. glucose, triglycerides, or amino acids) must enter cells for metabolization.
The initial steps involved in food metabolism and absorption all require the hydrolysis of ATP, and for that to proceed, there's a substantial amount of energy input required. The amount of energy needed to break down food is what can be used to calculate TEF.
Keep in mind that no one food inherently 'burns fat' or stimulates weight loss; it just kicks certain high-energy processes into top gear that make your body expend more energy through digestive processes.
Think of it more as an indirect method of helping you lose weight and belly fat that doesn't involve any direct action on your part.
Here's the kicker. While you may think that chowing down on some cookies might help with fat burning and boost metabolism, think again.
Different foods have different TEF values, which means some will expend more energy to process than others 4:
- Carbohydrates = 5-10% of energy consumed
- Protein = 20-30% of energy consumed
- Fat = 0-3% of energy consumed
However, it's also important to keep in mind that certain physiological functions can impair the thermic effect of food, such as insulin resistance, whereby glucose cannot easily enter muscle and liver cells, as well as abdominal adiposity but to a lesser extent 2.
When it comes to thermogenic foods, however, some mechanisms may be at play to raise metabolic rate and help with fat burning and weight loss.
Some studies suggest that certain foods can increase sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity by increasing noradrenaline (NA) levels, which helps to suppress hunger, enhance satiety, and increase calorie burn, covered in part by increased fat oxidation 5.
The Best Thermogenic Foods
Now it's time for the goods: which foods help with weight loss and reduce body fat.
#1 Green Tea
If you look at any fat burner or weight management supplement, chances are you'll see green tea extract. Studies show that the catechins in green tea, primarily EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate, and caffeine interact to suppress fat accumulation.
It's suggested that noradrenalin stimulation can decrease fat accumulation or promote fat loss by increasing thermogenesis and the release of fatty acids 5.
The more fatty acids released, the more substrate available to burn.
Like we mentioned earlier, green tea contains high amounts of EGCG and may increase SNS activity, thereby enhancing fat oxidation and energy expenditure for up to 24 hours.
What's more interesting is that some research suggests EGCG, but not other catechins, could significantly reduce serum concentrations of leptin, insulin, glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides in rodents 6, thereby providing further health benefits.
But it's not all flowers and roses with green tea—you need to look beyond the obvious benefits.
There are some questionable side effects you should be aware of when consuming large doses of green tea or concentrated green tea products that are related to liver function, so it may be best to stay clear of green tea altogether. Check them out here.
#2 MCT Oil
If you're trying to lose weight, don't fear fat—fat is not the enemy, and some fat can even help increase fat burning and help you burn more calories.
If you remember from earlier, we said that fats have minimal effect on TEF (only 1-3%), but MCT falls into its own category.
MCT has become a massive thing on the ketogenic diet because it's metabolized differently than other fats and rarely contributes to fat accumulation.
As the name suggests, MCT is pure medium-chain triglycerides. Unlike their long-chain counterparts, MCTs are absorbed directly from the gut and transported to the liver where they supply immediate energy.
It's why you often see MCT in something like "Bulletproof Coffee" or other ketogenic diet recipes. Once they reach the liver, they're used as a rapid energy substrate or used to produce ketones. Basically, they skip the entire digestive process in the GI tract.
And the beautiful thing here is that studies suggest that a 15-30g (1-2 tbsp.) serving of MCT containing C8 and C10 carbons (caprylic and capric acid, respectively) daily is enough to boost energy expenditure, which is likely the result of sympathetic nervous system activation 7, 8.
Want to make sure you're getting what you bargained for? Performance Lab MCT is the ultimate MCT oil upgrade, containing only C8+C10 MCTs sourced from 100% organic non-GMO coconuts, cold-extracted with hexane-free technology, and 3X distilled for purity. It's the best you can find.
#3 Chili Peppers
Oh, hot chili pepper! One of the best of the best when it comes to natural fat burn. Cayenne and other hot peppers are a staple in many cuisines, but it's more recently become a staple in fat loss and weight loss supplements because it's a great source of capsaicin.
Not only is cayenne pepper a completely safe and natural alternative to traditional fat-loss ingredients, but it's actually effective.
Cayenne pepper extract's efficacy is because of specific components called capsaicinoids, which also happen to be the compound responsible for the 'heat' associated with hot peppers.
Kind of ironic considering we're talking about thermogenic agents. While there are four main capsaicinoids in cayenne pepper, the one we pay special attention to is called capsaicin.
Capsaicinoids, specifically capsaicin, elicit favorable effects for weight management, lipolysis (fat breakdown), and inducing thermogenesis and increasing number of calories burned by activating receptors in both white and brown fat cells 9.
When consumed, they not only increase body temperature, but they have a similar mechanism of action to exercise.
Capsaicin and exercise both stimulate an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity, increasing the secretion of the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine 10.
High circulating catecholamines are a primary driving factor behind increased fat mobilization and lipolysis 11.
Studies have shown that just 30 mg of CAPS per meal can increase SNS activity and diet-induced thermogenesis 5.
And what's more, chili peppers and some other spicy foods may also have an anti-inflammatory effect, giving you even more reason to add them to your diet!
#4 Caffeine (Coffee)
As a potent nervous system stimulator and a frequent add to pretty much every fat burner you'll find on the market, caffeine has to be on our list—it's one of the staples when it comes to thermogenic agents and supplements that boost your metabolism.
Caffeine belongs to a class of compounds called methylxanthines and is present in many edibles from coffee and tea to chocolate and soft drinks, and more recently, supplements.
The mechanisms behind how caffeine stimulates its thermogenic effects aren't evident, but a possible mechanism by which caffeine may stimulate thermogenesis involves inhibiting the degradation of intracellular cyclic AMP (cAMP) and antagonizing adenosine receptors that decrease the release of norepinephrine (NE) 12, 13.
As a result, caffeine increases concentrations of cAMP, as well as levels of norepinephrine.
Other research suggests that the metabolic response to caffeine may result from affecting adipocyte phosphodiesterase and lipolysis, completely independent of catecholamine concentrations 14.
Not a fan of coffee and want to avoid all the crap in conventional fat burning supplements? Performance Lab Stim offers peak stim benefits with fewer side effects.
Say goodbye to mega-doses of caffeine that lead to short-term jitters and long-range exhaustion, not to mention the hefty dose of synthetic colors, preservatives, and flavors.
Performance Lab Stim is the smarter and cleaner way to reap caffeine's thermogenic effects and get rid of stubborn belly fat.
With Natural Caffeine 50 mg + Suntheanine® 100 mg, it delivers greater dosing precision, fewer side effects, and superior performance-tuned stimulation.
Ever tried eating a chunk of raw ginger? You know what we mean when we say that your throat not only starts to tingle and burn, but you probably notice your body sweating. That's the heat-producing, diaphoretic qualities of ginger.
Ginger is widely used as a herbal medicine to treat several health concerns ranging from digestive health and motion sickness to regulating blood sugar levels and improving cholesterol levels 15.
This is all thanks to compounds called gingerols, which give ginger its pungent taste. Studies have shown that gingerols may stimulate thermogenesis, perhaps by increasing catecholamine secretion from the adrenal medulla 14, which induces lipolysis.
However, despite turning up your internal body temperature after consumption, the thermogenic properties of ginger have not proven consistent across human studies.
#6 Lean Proteins
And finally, we save the most effective thermogenic foods for last—the proteins.
Whether it's eggs, fish and seafood, red meat, poultry, or even a vegan protein source like beans or tempeh, protein takes the crown for the thermogenic king.
Not only is a high-protein diet more satiating than a high-carb diet, but it also stimulates thermogenesis to a much greater extent 16.
As we mentioned earlier, the energy needed to metabolize protein is anywhere from 20 to 30%--a lot compared to the mere 0-3% for fat.
The high amount of energy needed to metabolize protein is because of the high costs of peptide bond synthesis (the bond that links an amino acid to another amino acid), in addition to the costs of ureogenesis (formation of urea) and gluconeogenesis (formation of glucose from non-carb starting materials) 17.
What's more, a high protein diet is also more satiating that one high in carbs, helping you feel fuller longer and reducing the total number of calories consumed.
So, if there's one food you want to eat to burn fat, make it protein. Here are some good options for both vegans and meat-eaters:
- Poultry (chicken, turkey)
- Red meat (beef, venison, elk, bison)
- Fish and shellfish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, scallops, mussels, oysters)
- Tempeh (or other fermented soy products)
- Beans and legumes
And if you want to take it a step further, something like Performance Lab Protein is an excellent choice.
Derived from organic brown rice protein containing all its natural enzymes, it's one of the cleanest, best-tasting, and most effective protein powders on the market to help you burn more calories while maintaining muscle mass.
A Final Word
Now you know our secrets to achieving your fat loss and weight loss goals. Incorporating thermogenic foods into your diet is a healthy and sustainable way of increasing calories burned without compromising muscle mass or risking your health with traditional weight loss supplements.
And if you want to take it to the max, check out Burn Lab Pro. It's a 100% vegan-friendly, all-natural fat burner that's also one of the cleanest, most effective fat loss supplements on the market.
- P Trayhurn. Thermogenesis. Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition). 2003; 5762-5767.
- M Calcagno, H Kahleova, J Alwarith, et al. The Thermic Effect of Food: A Review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2019; 38(6): 547-551.
- KR Westerterp. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004 Aug; 1: 5.
- L Tappy. Thermic effect of food and sympathetic nervous system activity in humans. Reprod Nutr Dev. 1996; 36(4): 391-397.
- A Belza, E Frandsen, J Kondrup. Body fat loss achieved by stimulation of thermogenesis by a combination of bioactive food ingredients: a placebo-controlled, double-blind 8-week intervention in obese subjects. Int J Obes (Lond). 2007; 31(1): 121-130.
- YH Kao, RA Hiipakka, S Liao. Modulation of endocrine systems and food intake by green tea epigallocatechin gallate. Endocrinology. 2000; 141: 980–987.
- AG Dulloo, M Fathi, N Mensi, L Girardier. Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1996 Mar; 50(3): 152-158.
- MP St-Onge, R Ross, WD Parsons, PJ Jones. Medium-chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure and decrease adiposity in overweight men. Obes Res. 2003 Mar; 11(3): 395-402.
- J Rogers, SL Urbina, LW Taylor, et al. Capsaicinoids supplementation decreases percent body fat and fat mass: adjustment using covariates in a post hoc analysis. BMC Obes. 2018; 5: 22.
- T Watanabe, T Kawada, M Yamamoto, K Iwai. Capsaicin, a pungent principle of hot red pepper, evokes catecholamine secretion from the adrenal medulla of anesthetized rats. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1987; 142(1): 259-264.
- J Deshpande, S Jeyakodi, V Juturu. Tolerability of Capsaicinoids from Capsicum Extract in a Beadlet Form: A Pilot Study. J Toxicol. 2016; 2016: 6584649.
- AG Dulloo, C Duret, D Rohrer, L Girardier, N Mensi, M Fathi, et al. Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin-polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 70: 1040–5.
- AG Dulloo, J Seydoux, L Girardier, P Chantre, J Vandermander. Green tea and thermogenesis: interactions between catechin-polyphenols, caffeine and sympathetic activity. Int J Obes. 2000; 24: 252–8.
- M Westerterp-Plantenga, K Diepvens, AM Joosen, S Bérubé-Parent, A Tremblay. Metabolic effects of spices, teas, and caffeine. Physiol Behav. 2006; 89(1): 85-91.
- N Maharlouei, R Tabrizi, KB Lankarani, et al. The effects of ginger intake on weight loss and metabolic profiles among overweight and obese subjects: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019; 59(11): 1753-1766.
- CS Johnston, CS Day, PD Swan. Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002; 21(1): 55-61.
- L de Jonge, GA Bray. The Thermic Effect of Food and Obesity: A Critical Review. Obesity Research. 1997 Nov; 5(6): 622-631.