Thermic Aftereffect of Food – Is really a Calorie Only a Calorie


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You’ve heard it before a calorie is just a calorie. And to some extent that is true. If you consume more calories than you burn (regardless of what types of calories those are protein, carb, or fat), you will gain weight.

But, saying all calories are equal is a gross oversimplification of nutrition. When you really start to dial down into the specifics, you realize that not all calories are the same. A recent YouTube debate between two prominent personalities sparked my interest in the subject.

One popular personality fired a shot for the “a calorie is just a calorie” side, and James Tiny Vest returned an intelligent volley that discussed why the thermic effect of food matters. We all know how the “calorie is just a calorie” side of the debate goes. This is known as the Thermic Effect Of Food – or TEF for short. As a general rule of thumb, it is often said that the TEF of the food we eat is about 10%. That is to say, it requires 10% of the energy contained within the food itself, in the form of calories, for our body to store and process it.

One dietary calorie contains 4,184 Joules of energy. So in that sense, yes, a calorie is a calorie. BUT, when it comes to how your body actually processes these calories, it’s not that simple. So let’s dive into the first reason why all calories are NOT equal. Keep in mind that the thermic effect of food is one of the three components of daily caloric expenditure.

You have TEF and you also have the thermic effect of exercise as well as your basal metabolic rate. You use all of these components to figure out how many calories you burn each day, although getting an accurate number is tough with the formulas we use to calculate these things. Anywhere from zero to 10% of calories burned are the result of intentional activity (exercise). That leaves 10% of your total calories burned, called “the thermic effect of food” or TEF. So, about 80% of the calories your body burns are pretty much out of your control.

Around 10–15% of the calories you eat is used to power digestion. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) and varies based on the foods you eat (2, 3). Physical activity. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the increase in metabolic rate — the rate at which your body burns calories or energy — that occurs after ingestion, Valerie Agyeman, RD at Flourish Heights, tells the calorie cost of the thermic effect of food is_ of energy consumed.

5-10% _ increases energy expenditure above basal energy needs by about 25% to 40%. physical activity. The expenditure of energy to produce heat in response to a cold environment and as a result of overfeeding is called _ It is true that your overall caloric balance during a given day will determine whether or not your weight changes.

On the other hand, food choices can influence that caloric balance by influencing metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food (TEF), and satiety.

List of related literature:

One calorie is close to the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C. Because the magnitude of the numbers is more convenient, the heat in chemical changes is usually expressed in kilocalories (kcal).

“Chemistry: With Inorganic Qualitative Analysis” by Therald Moeller
from Chemistry: With Inorganic Qualitative Analysis
by Therald Moeller
Elsevier Science, 2012

These components include the resting metabolic rate (RMR), the thermic effect of food (TEF), and the thermic effect of activity (TEA).

“Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition” by Heather Hedrick Fink, Lisa A. Burgoon, Alan E. Mikesky
from Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition
by Heather Hedrick Fink, Lisa A. Burgoon, Alan E. Mikesky
Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2006

The energy costs associated with digestion and transport of food (i.e., the thermic effect of food) make up a relatively small proportion of daily energy expenditure and are influenced by the amount consumed and the composition of the diet (e.g., high-protein meals elevate dietary thermogenesis).

“Human Biology: An Evolutionary and Biocultural Perspective” by Sara Stinson, Barry Bogin, Dennis H. O'Rourke
from Human Biology: An Evolutionary and Biocultural Perspective
by Sara Stinson, Barry Bogin, Dennis H. O’Rourke
Wiley, 2012

However, the calories in a food determined by direct calorimetry exceed the caloric yield in the body because not all food constituents are oxidized by the body to carbon dioxide and water.

“The Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Good Health” by Robert A. Ronzio
from The Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Good Health
by Robert A. Ronzio
Facts On File, 2003

The unit of heat energy is the calorie, and a single calorie is defined as the amount of heat necessary to raise 1 g of water by 1°C. In common usage in the United States, the calorie associated with food and dieting is actually the kilocalorie (kcal; 1000 calories).

“Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals” by Bernd Würsig, William F. Perrin, J.G.M. Thewissen
from Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals
by Bernd Würsig, William F. Perrin, J.G.M. Thewissen
Elsevier Science, 2009

What is true is that if energy (measured in joules or kilocalories where 1 kcal 4.2J) consumed over a representative period of time exceeds energy expenditure (metabolism, muscular effort, etc.) over the same time then most or all of the excess calories will end up stored as fat.

“Beer in Health and Disease Prevention” by Victor R. Preedy
from Beer in Health and Disease Prevention
by Victor R. Preedy
Elsevier Science, 2011

The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the increase in energy expenditure associated with the consumption, digestion, and absorption of food.

“Krause's Food & the Nutrition Care Process, Mea Edition E-Book” by L. Kathleen Mahan, Janice L. Raymond
from Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process, Mea Edition E-Book
by L. Kathleen Mahan, Janice L. Raymond
Elsevier Health Sciences, 2016

Calorie needs are also affected by energy expenditure.

“Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Food Systems” by Neal K. Van Alfen
from Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Food Systems
by Neal K. Van Alfen
Elsevier Science, 2014

Energy is expended in three ways: resting (basal) metabolism, physical activity, and the generation of heat after eating (called postprandial thermogenesis or the “thermic effect of food”).

“Way to Eat: A Six-step Path to Lifelong Weight Control” by Maura Harrigan Gonzalez
from Way to Eat: A Six-step Path to Lifelong Weight Control
by Maura Harrigan Gonzalez
Ebsco Publishing, 2002

The unit of heat used in the early studies was the calorie—the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 g of water by 1°C. The calorie is still used to some extent in nutrition; in biological systems the kilocalorie, kcal (sometimes written as ‘Calorie’, with a capital C) is used.

“Introduction To Nutrition And Metabolism, Fourth Edition” by David A. Bender
from Introduction To Nutrition And Metabolism, Fourth Edition
by David A. Bender
Taylor & Francis, 1997

Alexia Lewis RD

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Heath Coach who believes life is better with science, humor, and beautiful, delicious, healthy food.

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  • Hello there, have you considered Custokebon Secrets yet? Simply do a search engine search. On there you will find a great tips about how you can lost tons of fat. Why don’t you give it a shot? maybe it can work for you too.

  • I’m not too good at science but don’t overweight people lose more calories than healthy people doing day to day things so as they used healthy females in the experiment shouldn’t an overweight dude like me actually be able to eat celery to burn calories

  • I’ve been doing 20:4 for 10 days now and definitely noticing some weightloss/inches lost. But most of the time my 20:4 turns into OMAD because I find it difficult to eat over the course of the full 4 hours. Always love your content!! Thank you! ������

  • This is a reason people are getting fat. Just listened to a Low Carb MD podcast with Dr Agnes Ayton, and her findings are consistent with processed food making the western world fat. They’re also messing with our brains, making is less psychologically healthy.

  • I m doing omad but so many doubts like if my metabolism will get affected due to omad…..i am doing from 18 days now i lost only 2 kg….but i cant see fat loss but yes feeling light n active…..n i m in calorie deficit also��…am i on right or wrong track i dont know…plz tell me

  • I just love his passion for this! Thanks for all your info! I’m down 26 pounds and counting! Thx in a large part to your info! Here’s to 25 more to go!

  • Sorry dude, as long as you are talking of calories in context of using studies, I cannot take you seriously. Because when you are making a common mistake that every Nancy and Mary are making by forgetting a factor of 1000 for the kilocalories the question is how deep did you really dig into that topic?

  • 2.22 Who you having a pop at Gab?? �� i hate those silly food challenge videos. Kinda defeats the purpose of having a fitness channel

  • Also preservatives that can suppress guts bacteria. Guts bacteria normally burn a lot of food calorie which is equivalent to a rabbit metabolism. Just imaging when you eat, you are actually feeding yourself and a rabbit at the same time. With antibiotic action of food preservatives, the rabbit stops eating.

  • This doesn’t make sense from a survival standpoint. Well maybe it does but it seems to be in cavemen days we should hope for lower energy consumption eating our natural foods. Logically fake foods requiring modern civilization to produce should be foreign to the body and take more energy to process because it’s foreign. So I wonder if natural food burns more calories simply because there are more vitamins and minerals that are processed.

  • It’s not as much the number of calories as it is what you’re eating. Your body’s hormonal and physiological response to different foods differs dramatically. I don’t believe that’s true that 2000 calories a day will give you the same net weight gain or loss no matter the source of the calories. Biohackers have done tests where they’ve eaten over 5000 calories a day eating a standard American diet, and over 5000 calories a day eating healthy keto. One guy gained 16 pounds and several waist sizes eating the standard American diet. He gained no fat and even gained muscle eating over 5000 calories a day of meat and low carb fibrous vegetables. It’s the processed foods, the insulin and the inflammation that are the primary problem, not the calories. Do you seriously think that if someone ate just 2000 calories of sugar per day that that would have the same effect on weight as 2000 calories of salmon and broccoli?

  • Dr. Robert Lustig has been pushing this for many years. Dr. Jason fung as well! I’m glad you did a video on this! Fructose is killing us, we metabolize it like Alcohol. Metabolic syndrome and obesity is over half the USA population. And people are worried about Covid. Pharma and food are killing us for profit.

  • So a calorie… IS still just a calorie.. but eating healthier (more protein/less processed foods) can help you burn a little more due to a thermic effect. That basically sums up this entire video and debunks the title lol

  • Thank you for that �� My family accuses me of being too strict regarding food.. You just scientifically backed my reasoning. Thank you ����

  • Guess Iĺl stop being vegetarian for the first time in five years. I almost only eat homemade bread products or spaghetti so using meat as a replacement seems more logical to me now.

  • Just curious about this. Keto is heavy on fat intake. Full fat foods are very calorie dense. So using your line of thought here, most of the calories in fat would not be processed 0-3%, so how does keto work for weight loss if that’s the case? I’m probably just overthinking this, math was never my strong suit.

  • Edward, I need these videos, man. Seven weeks hard IF on OMAD and I’m 43lbs down. Watching your stuff twice a week gives my brain a refocusing on what I’m working for while adding a little more to my knowledge base each time. You and a few other sources are literally changing my life for the better. God bless.

  • big up for MD ROBERT LUSTIG thank you very very very much Thomas I am so appreciative this is NOT just about fintess this is also about the innocent children who get methabolic syndrome out of processed food tricked onto them. God bless you, for real!! I took the liberty to notify this video on MD ROBERT LUSTIG page, again, may God Bless you!

  • Edward V, nobody wants to hear that CICO isn’t the end all be all. People want to believe that 200 calories of cookies will have the same effect in the body as 200 calories of clean green foods. Even though it is not a logical conclusion to come to that these two items are the same because they burn similarly. People are going to be up in arms over this video!

  • Basically, prepare your own foods with real ingredients. Even when it comes to indulgent foods. Still much better option than processed foods.

  • AGREED ��!!! All calories aren’t made EQUAL!! Another example why a calorie from highly processed foods vs that from a whole food aren’t the same is looking even past the digestive phase. Vegetable oils which are highly processed and tend to result in high contents of trans fats with cooking, will take much longer to be metabolized in the body, hence more fat storage, than an equal caloric intake of say, unrefined virgin coconut oil ����‍♂️����‍♀️

  • First of all, thank you for your content and all your videos. You’re helping many people!

    Secondly, I’ve been hearing about consuming avocado pits for nutrition. Seems the common practice is drying them at a low temp in the oven or food dehydrator then grinding em down into a powder to then add to a smoothie.

    Some say this is dangerous, others say its very healthy as the pit contains up to 70% of the nutrients of the fruit. Idk if this is your style, but a lot of people would like some light shed on this subject. Perhaps a short video would do the trick!

    Thank you, again, for helping me along with many others in their health! You are a great person!