Foods that boost metabolism: What does the science say?

In the nutrition world, many foods and beverages supposedly increase metabolism — the reactions within the body that provide energy. In this Honest Nutrition feature, we investigate how our diet impacts our metabolism and whether certain foods and beverages really have a significant impact on metabolic rate.

Illustration by Diego Sabogal

MetabolismTrusted Source is the sum of the reactions in our cells that provide the necessary energy for functions such as movement, growth, and development.

Many factors can affect metabolism, including age, diet, biological sex, physical activity, and health conditions.

Basal metabolic rateTrusted Source is the energy required for the maintenance of critical body functions, such as breathing, while at rest. This is the largest contributor to the calories burned on a daily basis — also known as total energy expenditure.

The digestion and processing of food, including carbs, proteins, and fats, also require energy. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF)Trusted Source. Some foods take more energy to break down than others, and this can slightly increase metabolism.

For example, fat takes less energyTrusted Source to digest than proteins and carbs. Proteins have the highest TEF out of the three macronutrients.

Can certain foods speed up your metabolism?

A person may think that specific foods and beverages can “rev up” the metabolism, but this is not necessarily true. Some foods take more energy to digest than others, and some foods may slightly increase the basal metabolic rate, but not much.

It is the total dietary intake that matters most.

For example, the TEF, the energy required to digest food, differs depending on the macronutrient content of the meal.

Here is the energy requiredTrusted Source to digest macronutrients:

  • Protein: 10–30% of the energy content of the ingested protein
  • Carbs: 5–10% of the ingested carbohydrates
  • Fat: 0–3% of the ingested fat

The body uses the most energy to break down and store proteins, which is why it has the highest TEF.

TEF accounts for about 10%Trusted Source of total daily energy expenditure. For this reason, consuming a high protein diet may help us burn more calories overall.

Also, studiesTrusted Source show that highly processed meals take 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 the resting metabolic rate (RMR), the calories burned while at rest.

2015 studyTrusted Source found that in people with a high calorie diet, consuming a high amount of protein significantly increased 24-hour resting energy expenditure, compared with a low amount of protein.

2021 studyTrusted Source determined that a high protein diet, consisting of 40% protein, produced higher total energy expenditure and increased fat burning, compared with a control diet that contained 15% protein.

Other studiesTrusted Source have also shown that high protein diets increase daily energy expenditure, compared with low protein diets.

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