Balanced and Healthy Eating Part Two

A Calorie Is Not Just A Calorie: Thermic Effect Of Food


Perhaps one of the most significant flaws with the calorie counting system is that the essence of every calorie is the same for a particular macronutrient. Macronutrients consist of protein, fat, and carbohydrate and they each yield specific calories per gram (Glickman, Mitchell, 1948) (refer to chart below).




Calories per gram


Thermic effect of macronutrient (%)




4 kcal/g 5-15%


9 kcal/g 5-15%


4 kcal/g 20-35%


100kcal of carbohydrate vs 100kcal of protein

100kcal CHO X 15% (thermic effect) = 15kcal,      15kcal – 100kcal = 85kcal of usable calories

100kcal PRO X 35% (thermic effect)  = 35kcal,      35kcal – 100kcal = 65kcal of usable calories


The calculations above are an example of how using the thermic effect of specific macronutrients, one can view the actual calories they are ingesting and how they affect metabolic work. As shown above, protein has a higher thermic effect and leads to less calories of usable energy. With this knowledge one can manipulate their macro nutrients to reach their fitness goals.


With this in mind, advocates for this diet argue that a calorie from a simple processed food or simple carbohydrate is the same as a complex carbohydrate; in simple terms “a calorie is a calorie”. Although this is true, this does not account for the thermic effect. The thermic effect of food is how much energy ones body requires in order to digest and burn the food ingested (Halton & Hu 2004). In other words, the amount of calories spent digesting your food. The thermic effect of that food is altered with the type of carbohydrate ingested (Glickman, Mitchell, 1948). Likewise it is altered with the type of fat and type of protein ingested. Protein has the highest thermic effect thus high protein diets have proven most efficient in losing weight because the amount of energy it takes for your body to digest the food (Halton & Hu 2004). With this in mind one can alter their nutrition to have high thermic effect foods and nutrient dense foods to further facilitate healthy body composition and overall health and wellness.


When eating more nutrient dense foods (natural foods) versus more processed foods, the thermic effect of the food is increased (Halton & Hu 2004). In addition to this, there are crucial micronutrients (vitamins and mineral) that are included in natural food that are essential for the body to function. These micronutrients are overlooked sometimes when one is purely focused on caloric intake and thus may result in negative health effects.  From a performance standpoint, it is essential to have an overall well rounded diet that includes micronutrient dense foods for one to function optimally and maintain one’s health.


For additional information regarding calculating caloric intake, macronutrient breakdown and individualized nutrition for performance contact InsideOut @ the links below.


InsideOut Health + Fitness

T: 416-849-4768




Halton, T. L., & Hu, F. B. (2004). The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: A critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(5), 373-385. doi:10.1080/07315724.2004.10719381


Glickman, N; Mitchell, HH (Jul 10, 1948). “The total specific dynamic action of high-protein and high-carbohydrate diets on human subjects.”  The Journal of Nutrition. 36 (1): 41–57. PMID 18868796.

Fad diets are nothing new and have existed as long as health and fitness have been in the spotlight.
Nikolaou, C. K., Hankey, C. R., & Lean, M. E. J. (2016). Effects of calorie labelling on macro- and micro-nutrients in main-meal choices made by young adults. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(3), 386-392.