The thermogenic response induced by ethanol ingestion in humans has not been extensively studied. This study was designed to determine the thermic effect of ethanol added to a normal diet in healthy nonalcoholic subjects, using indirect calorimetry measurements over a 24-h period in a respiration chamber. The thermic effect of ethanol was also measured when ethanol was ingested in the fasting state, using a ventilated hood system during a 5-h period. Six subjects ingested 95.6 +/- 1.8 (SE) g ethanol in 1 day partitioned over three meals; there was a 5.5 +/- 1.2% increase in 24-h energy expenditure compared with a control day in which all conditions were identical except that no ethanol was consumed. The calculated ethanol-induced thermogenesis (EIT) was 22.5 +/- 4.7% of the ethanol energy ingested. Ingestion of 31.9 +/- 0.6 g ethanol in the fasting state led to a 7.4 +/- 0.6% increase in energy expenditure over baseline values, and the calculated EIT was 17.1 +/- 2.2%. It is concluded that in healthy nonalcoholic adults ethanol elicits a thermogenic response equal to approximately 20% of the ethanol energy. Thus the concept of the apparently inefficient utilization of ethanol energy is supported by these results which show that only approximately 80% of the ethanol energy is used as metabolizable energy for biochemical processes in healthy nonalcoholic moderate ethanol consumers.