Foods and Recipes that Boost Metabolism

Thermogenic Foods!

Is it true that some foods and nutrients, when combined with a healthy diet and active lifestyle, can give us an extra edge with our weight loss goals?

I already discussed teas that boost metabolism in a previous blog. Now let’s examine foods (referred to as thermogenic foods) that may help boost our metabolism and calorie burning.

What is thermogenesis?  
Thermogenesis refers to a process in which your body burns calories to utilize the foods you have just eaten, converting these calories to heat. So in theory, if you eat a thermogenic food, your core temperature will increase and also cause your metabolism to speed up. And as we already know, a faster metabolism translates into more calories being burned. According to the Mayo Clinic, a mere 10% of calories are burned through diet-induced thermogenesis (a.k.a the Thermic Effect of Food). This means diet-induced thermogenesis only constitutes a small part of your daily energy expenditure. Do not expect a profound effect on your weight loss by consuming thermogenic foods. But then again, every little thing helps!

Foods that may enhance thermogenesis:

1.  Herbs & Spices
According to a review published in the August 2006 Journal of Physiology & Behaviour by Dr. Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga and colleagues, it was established that “consuming foods with spices increases thermogenesis and may affect feelings of satiety and fat oxidation.”

a) Hot Chili Peppers (habanerno, cayenne, and jalapeno).
According to the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the heat in chili peppers is produced by the chemical capsaicin, which can generate heat (energy), increase your body temperature and boost your metabolic rate. Consuming a tablespoon of chopped chili pepper can temporarily increase your metabolism; however, frequent consumption of spicy foods may offer a more consistent thermogenic effect. Try adding red-pepper flakes to your meals. Another spicy option you can add to your dishes is salsa (but purchase low-sodium salsa). If you do not like chili peppers or salsa, then try mustard, which has many of the same properties.

b) Black Pepper:
Black pepper contains piperine, which has been shown to influence thermogenesis by stimulating the nervous system.

c) Turmeric:
This thermogenic peppery spice is typically found in Hot Indian and Southeast Asian dishes. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. A study conducted by researchers at Tufts University, demonstrated curcumin’s ability to hinder the growth of fat tissue and prevent obesity.

d) Cinnamon:
This thermogenic spice may also help regulate blood sugar levels. In a study published in the December  2003 issue of Diabetes Care, daily consumption of 1 g of cinnamon in people with type 2 diabetes was found to reduce blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL “bad” cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. So be sure to sprinkle cinnamon onto high glycemic carbohydrates to lessen their impact on your blood sugar levels.

e) And here is a list of a few other herbs and spices that are purported to boost metabolism:

2. Apple Cider Vinegar:
The main ingredient in apple cider vinegar is acetic acid, which is responsible for its bitter taste.  You may have noticed apple cider vinegar in the weight loss supplement aisle. Vinegar has been purported to enable weight loss for thousands of years. One possible theory is that it prolongs the sensation of satiety after eating. A 2009 study on mice showed that acetic acid (the main ingredient in apple cider vinegar) increases the rate of gene expression for fatty acid oxidation enzymes in the liver, which suppresses body fat accumulation.  Other theories suggest that apple cider vinegar prevents weight gain by facilitating digestion, increasing the rate of gastric emptying and aiding in energy release.

Pure apple cider vinegar is highly acidic (its main ingredient is acetic acid) and can damage tooth enamel and burn the tissues in your mouth, throat and esophagus. Always dilute it with water before consuming it (2 teaspoons a day mixed in a cup of water). I enjoy consuming it as a salad dressing.

3. Ice Water:
Did you know that calorie-free ice-cold water will cause your body to burn more calories? Why? Because your metabolic rate will increase in order to warm the ice water to your body’s natural temperature. Research suggests that drinking 5-6 glasses of ice water daily can burn an extra 10 calories a day, which adds up to a pound of weight loss a year. Other weight loss benefits of frequently drinking ice water include suppressing your cravings by filling you up and helping your body rid itself of toxins.

4. Grapefruit:
You have likely heard of the grapefruit diet which claims that eating grapefruit helps to curb appetite, promote satiety, burn extra calories during its digestion and may even prevent you from storing fat by lowering your insulin levels. Researchers at the Nutrition Research Center performed a 12-week study on grapefruit consumption and its impact on weight loss in overweight individuals. There were 3 groups who were given either: 1/2 grapefruit, 8oz of grapefruit juice or no grapefruit with each meal. Both grapefruit groups demonstrated greater fat loss compared to the control group.

Grapefruit provides an abundant source of pectin. Pectin, which is a type of fibre, helps curb your appetite by making you feel fuller, longer.

5. Celery:
Not only is celery high in filling fibre, but it is also low in calories and extremely portable. Celery is frequently touted as a “negative calorie food”, which would mean you would burn more calories than the celery actually contains just by chewing, swallowing, digesting and eliminating it. According to Nancy Snyderman, MD (medical editor of NBC News), the calories burned in the total digestion process of celery are negligible.

Regardless of what you believe about celery, there is no denying it is a very filling and nutrient-packed low-calorie vegetable!

6. Cruciferous vegetables:
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are low in calories, high in fibre and are potent cancer-fighters capable of boosting your metabolism.

7. Protein:
According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, protein burns more calories during digestion compared to fat or carbohydrates. This is one reason high protein diets are helpful for fat loss. Another study by Paddon-Jones et. al. published in the May 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals whose diets contained more protein not only increased thermogenesis (ie. their metabolism), but also increased their satiety and facilitated maintenance of an overall leaner body mass.

Ensure you eat a balanced diet consisting of all 3 macronutrients (complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats), but always include lean protein sources such as fish, skinless chicken breast, eggs, beans, lean beef, turkey or whey!

8. Coconut Oil:
Coconut oil is unique in that it is a fat that is more thermogenic than protein. Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids, which have been shown to inhibit fat deposition through increased thermogenesis, according to a review by Dr. Koji Nagoa and colleagues published in the Journal of Pharmocological Research in March 2010. Unlike most edible oils, which comprise long chain fatty acids, coconut oil’s medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) are quickly absorbed and directed to the liver where they are burned for fuel, making them less likely to be converted into body fat compared to other fats. A 1986 study by Seaton et al published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that when MCFAs were given over a 6-day period, diet induced thermogenesis increased by 50%. The thermogenic effect of medium-chain fatty acids lasts for 24 hours, so adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil to your daily diet may help keep your metabolism humming along.

Time to get creative and combine as many of the above mentioned ingredients as possible into the ultimate thermogenic snack!

Sara’s Thermogenic Chocolate Cacao Nib Fudge Pudding
Place the following thermogenic ingredients into a single serving container or a small glass dessert dish:

  • 1 scoop chocolate flavoured whey isolate  (i.e. BSN Isoburn)
  • 1 TBSP extra virgin coconut oil
  • A dash (1/2 tsp) of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of raw cacao nibs
    • Raw cacao nibs: cacao beans are the source for all cocoa and chocolate products.  Unlike processed dark chocolate, the antioxidants are preserved in raw cacao, which is why they have more antioxidant flavonoids than blueberries, red wine and green tea.  They are also high in  fibre. Cacao also contains magnesium, theobromine (natural stimulant) and anandamide (endorphin) which stimulate your metabolism.

Moisten the above with a small amount of cold water (or unsweetened chocolate almond milk) until a pudding consistency is achieved when mixing.

Place the container in the freezer for 15 minutes.

You can eat it as:
1.  it’s own entity (it’s like fudge when removed from the freezer)
2.  as a dip for your berries and sliced apples
3.  or spread over 2 pieces of wholegrain rye crisp bread or GG Scandinavian Crisbread.

I prefer to use GG Scandinavian crispbread in place of rice cakes because they are high in fibre, low in calories and they have a low GI and only 3.5g net carbs. High-fiber foods take longer to digest and therefore produce a slower rise in blood glucose levels.

Nutritional info (for the pudding made with water):
Calories: 232, Fat: 15.8g, Saturated Fat: 13.8g, Cholesterol: 0, Sodium: 50mg, Carbohydrates: 3.3g, Fiber: 2.1g, Sugars: 0.5g, Protein: 20.2g


Thermogenic foods should not be used as a panacea for weight loss, but rather as a sensible adjunct to an existing healthy metabolism-boosting lifestyle consisting of good sleep, a balanced and portioned-controlled diet, and exercise.

Please understand that no food is going to “facilitate fat loss”. If you want to burn fat, then you have to stop eating! Don’t freak out! Let me explain. Food is a mixture of protein, carbs and fat (and as we all know, protein and carbs will spike insulin levels). Therefore, whenever you eat food, your insulin levels go up. Insulin suppresses fat oxidation (i.e. fat burning). So as long as you are eating, then you are storing energy (as glycogen and fat). If you are not eating (i.e. you are fasting), then your insulin levels will go down and you will finally start burning your stored glycogen and fat for energy.

Key Points: You burn fat when you are fasting. You burn your food when you are eating. In order to burn body fat, your insulin levels must be very low. This can be achieved through short-term fasting. Click here to subscribe to my Free Intermittent Fasting Tutorials!

For your better metabolic health,

Dr. Sara Solomon

Dr. Sara Solomon is the creator of the Fat Loss Fast System about Intermittent Fasting and Flexible Dieting. She has degrees from McGill University in dentistry (DMD) and physical therapy (B.Sc. PT). She is also a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ACE personal trainer, NASM fitness nutrition specialist, Mad Dogg Spinning Instructor, Certified Level 2 Buddy Lee Jump Rope Trainer and Ambassador, a Team and BSN athlete, and a retired PRO Fitness Model. Her passion is teaching others how to fuel and move well.

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