Posted by Ramneek S. Bhogal, DC, DABCI on Jan 24, 2020 10:00:00 AM
The word metabolism is shrouded in confusion and mystery. Mainstream nutrition advice touts seemingly endless ways to boost your metabolism, yet many of these strategies are not based on science and might even cause metabolic harm.
Certain whole foods from nature, on the other hand, have been used throughout history to provide energy, nourishment, and an optimally functioning metabolism. They are safe, effective, and can be easily incorporated into your daily diet to boost metabolism and support optimal health.
Let’s first take a look at what metabolism is, exactly, then move onto the metabolism-boosting foods that can help improve your metabolic rate.
While the explanation of metabolism can get pretty complicated, it can be more simply thought of as a set of chemical reactions and systems. For example, we have the cardiovascular system, digestive system, hormonal system, and others, all of which work together.
The most important role of the metabolism is to create and use energy. The rate at which this happens determines your metabolic rate, which differs from person to person.
The systems that comprise metabolism are either anabolic or catabolic. Anabolic processes are how we make energy, typically via fuel sources that provide macro and micronutrients. These nutrients are taken in, absorbed, and converted to usable energy in the body. Catabolic processes are how you then take those macro and micronutrients, assimilate them, and break them down for use.
Signs of an upregulated metabolism (faster metabolic rate) can include weight loss and an increase in body temperature, hunger, and energy. It can also potentially lead to excess irritability or trouble sleeping. Signs of a downregulated (slowed) metabolism include fatigue, feeling cold, weight gain, hair loss, apathy, depression, or a low sex drive.
Alongside certain lifestyle factors like sleep, stress management, and exercise, whole foods truly are the most powerful way to boost metabolism. The following foods are proven to support a healthy metabolism and provide many other health benefits in the form of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Protein is the macronutrient with the highest thermic effect, compared to fats and carbohydrates. The thermic effect of food (TEF) refers to the number of calories your body needs to digest, absorb, and process nutrients. Research shows that protein-rich foods boost your metabolic rate by 15-30%, compared to 5-10% for carbohydrates and 0-3% for fats.1
Another metabolic-boosting property of protein is the fact that it helps build muscle mass, and muscle mass requires far more energy to maintain. Protein also has a high satiety factor, meaning it helps you stay full for longer, potentially controlling appetite and curbing cravings. Eggs and lean meats are great sources of protein for supporting a healthy metabolism.
Spice has been used throughout history for its medicinal properties, and supporting the metabolism is just one of the benefits of chili peppers. While various theories exist as to why and how chili peppers boost metabolism, it is a well-known fact that spice increases circulation. Chili also increases body temperature and might even change the way the body biochemically converts fat. Another benefit is that chili peppers help the actual process of thermogenesis, which increases metabolism and fat burn. It also doesn’t hurt that chili peppers are loaded with vitamin C!
Legumes and Lentils
Certain minerals are used as co-factors in metabolic chemical processes, and legumes and lentils are quite high in these particular nutrients. These foods are rich in zinc and selenium, making them especially potent for fueling metabolic functions. Legumes and lentils also contain slightly more protein than most other vegetarian protein sources, so if you are a vegan or vegetarian, including these foods as mainstays can help to support a faster metabolism.
Green Tea and Coffee
Green tea extract has been shown to increase the rate at which you burn fat and is a thermogenic type of compound.2 Both green tea and coffee have an appetite-suppressing effect, which is helpful for weight management and avoiding foods that cause metabolic damage, like sugar. Highly beneficial compounds called catechins and polyphenols in coffee and certain teas have also been studied for their metabolism-boosting effects.3 That said, caffeinated beverages such as coffee should be used in moderation.
Healthy fats offer a great level of satiety, meaning they will keep you full and satisfied for longer. While a variety of clean fats can be included in a healthy diet, avocado is a quick fuel source that the body breaks down easily, and it goes a long way in supporting fullness and a healthy metabolism. Avocado is also rich in nutrients and fiber.
Ginger’s health benefits are vast, but it is especially known for supporting digestion and alleviating nausea. It has a cleansing effect in the body and can also support healthy immune function. Similar to green tea, coffee, and chili, ginger enhances the thermic effect of food and boosts metabolism.4
Dark Green Vegetables
You can never go wrong with dark green vegetables. These foods are especially high in iron, which plays a major role in a healthy metabolism by ensuring efficient transport of oxygen. Low iron can leave you with a slow metabolism and feeling fatigued. Dark green vegetables like kale, spinach, collards, bok choy, and swiss chard, among many others, are important for everyone—but especially for those who don’t eat meat, as iron levels tend to be low for vegans and vegetarians.
Including these seven metabolism-boosting foods in your diet will help to regulate metabolic function. But it’s only one part of the picture. Ensuring adequate sleep, along with physical activity, and finding ways to support the reduction of stress is a recipe for boosting metabolism and feeling your best each and every day.
1 Pesta, D.H. & Samuel, V.T. (2014). A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: Mechanisms and possible caveats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258944/. Accessed January 17, 2020.
2 Hodgson, A.B., Randell, R.K., & Jeukendrup, A.E. (2013). The effect of green tea extract on fat oxidation at rest and during exercise: Evidence of efficacy and proposed mechanisms. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649093/. Accessed January 17, 2020.
3 Higdon, J.V. & Frei, B. (2003). Tea catechins and polyphenols: Health effects, metabolism, and antioxidant functions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12587987. Accessed January 17, 2020.
4 Mansour, M.S., Ni, Y.M., Roberts, A.L., Kelleman, M., RoyChoudhury, A., & St-Onge, M.P. (2012). Ginger consumption enhances the thermic effect of food and promotes feelings of satiety without affecting metabolic and hormonal parameters in overweight men: A pilot study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408800/. Accessed January 17, 2020.
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