You have been out this weekend, consumed a lot of calories and now scared of expanding your waistline? Well, what if we tell you that you have a way out? If you plan the source of these calories right, it can help the body burn some extra calories while processing the food you eat. Let’s see how-

In order to use the calories from your food, processing of nutrients has a certain cost in the form of calories. This energy required (thus calories spent) in digestion, absorption, and disposal of nutrients consumed via food is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) which increases the metabolic rate (calories burned) after digesting food.

On an average, a person uses about 10 % of his daily energy expenditure in digesting and absorbing food depending on the type of food he consumes. The thumb rule  is to multiply the total calories you eat by 10 %. So, if you eat 2000 calories a day, you’ll burn about 200 calories digesting that food. However, there’s no one standard method for figuring out how many calories does your body burns while digesting food.

Each macronutrient needs different amounts of energy for digestion. Protein needs the most energy to digest, around 20-30% of total calories in protein consumed go towards digesting it as compared to carbohydrates that use 5-10% and fats which use 0-3 %. Now you know why the fat you consume in excess tends to add right onto your waistline!.

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E.g.If you eat 100 calories from protein, your body uses 20-30 calories to process (digest) it leaving you with 70-80 net calories, which is available for absorption. This is one of the reasons why eating protein helps you shed weight. Pure carbohydrate leaves you with net 90-95 calories and fat would give you net 97-100 calories. Thus the statement that ‘a calorie is a calorie’ seems inaccurate.

Other factors to consider

The calories required to digest food also depends on the composition, form and structure of the food consumed in addition to just the type of nutrient. For example, raw celery often requires more energy to digest than recovered from the food. This is due to the high fibre content in raw celery that must be broken down first to access the carbohydrates from the food. Therefore increasing the thermic effect of food.

Processing of food also makes a big difference on the calories required to digest food. Processed foods are simpler to digest vs. whole foods that retain the complex structure making the body work hard to break it to be able to absorb nutrients from food. The Functional Food Centre at Oxford Brookes University conducted a study on the effects of chilli and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), fats found in foods such as coconut and dairy products on TEF. They concluded that adding chilli and MCT to meals increases TEF by over 50% which over time may accumulate to help induce weight loss and prevent weight gain or regain.

Increasing Your TEF

Your TEF is actually a small part of your overall calorie expenditure, but you can nudge it in the right direction with a few tricks:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day
  • Eat spicy foods like chilli peppers or sprinkle some hot pepper flakes in some of your meals if it suits your digestive system
  • Eat enough protein in all your meals from milk and milk products, lean cuts of chicken (chicken breast), eggs, beans, and whey.
  • Include medium chain triglyceride (MCT), fats found in foods such as coconut and dairy products in your diet
  • Choose whole foods over their processed versions that retains fibre thus body has to work in order to assimilate the food
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