The Best Foods to Burn Calories

Boost your weight loss results with smart diet choices

Updated September 09, 2016

You already know that a good workout can burn calories. And you might even boost your step count during the day to burn calories and slim down. But did you know that you can choose certain foods to burn calories?

Everything that you do during the day burns calories, including eating. But eating some foods can burn more calories than others. And the best calorie-burning foods provide other nutritional and weight-loss benefits as well.

 How Food Burns Calories

When you eat food, you consume calories or energy.  But you also need energy to carry out the eating process. Chewing, digesting and storing food require your body to burn calories. Scientists call it the thermic effect of food or TEF.  Your TEF is a primary component of your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE.  That’s the total number of calories that you burn throughout the day. 

So how much more can you burn with the best calorie-burning foods? Unfortunately, not many. The calories you burn from eating and digesting food make up only 5 -10 percent of your daily calorie expenditure.  That means that if you burn 2000 calories per day, you burn about 100-200 of those calories from eating food, roughly 30-75 calories per meal, regardless of the foods you choose. You might be able to boost the number a little bit with better food choices.

The Best Foods to Burn Calories

While you burn calories digesting any food, there are some foods that burn more calories than others.

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When you eat a meal that is high in protein, you burn more calories from TEF than when you eat a meal that is high in carbohydrates or high in fat.  Simply put, your body has to work harder to break down and store protein than it does to break down and store carbohydrates and fat.

Foods with protein can also help your body burn more calories by helping you to build and maintain muscle.

If you participate in strength training activities, you’ll build muscle more effectively if you eat the right amount of protein. If your body carries more muscle, you burn more calories all day long.

So which protein foods are best for your diet? A single-serving (about 3 ounces) of these lean protein foods can provide a calorie-burning boost and other nutritional benefits:

  • Chicken
  • Tuna
  • Lean cuts of beef
  • Turkey
  • Salmon
  • Lean Pork

Your body also has to work harder to chew and digest fiber. Also known as “roughage,” foods with fiber can relieve indigestion and promote good digestive health. When you choose a side dish to serve with your protein, consider adding foods that are full of fiber. Radishes, celery, hearts of palm and white beans are great examples. And spicy vegetables might help to burn more calories, too. Some evidence suggests that eating spicy food can (slightly) boost your body temperature to burn more calories.

When you combine protein foods with fiber-rich food, you help to curb hunger cravings for hours after you eat.

So not only do these foods burn calories but they also help you to eat less and consume fewer calories throughout the day.

Choosing Foods to Lose Weight

Choosing foods to burn calories can make a small difference in your weight loss plan, but it won’t make or break your diet. The thermic effect of food is an important part of your total caloric expenditure, but trying to change it is not the most effective way to lose weight.

However, if the increased TEF of protein serves as a reminder to build healthy meals around lean protein, then your weight loss program may benefit in the long run. Choose weight loss foods and plan meals that help to keep you energized and satisfied. A nutritious, calorie-controlled diet will provide the best results.


Bryant, Cedric, Ph.D., FACSM, Daniel J Green, Sabrena Merrill, M.S. “Thermic Effect of Food” American Council on Exercise Health Coach Manual, 2013 pgs. 228-229


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