Diet, schmiet. Ditch your strict eating regimen and give your metabolism a boost by eating. Yes, eating. Just by consuming certain metabolism-boosting foods and drinks, you can give your body a kick-start in calorie burning, and speed up that seemingly slow metabolism of yours.
First, it’s important to know what your metabolism actually is and how it works. You might be under the impression that you already know, but Brad Davidson, author of "The Stark Naked 21-Day Metabolic Reset," fitness expert and nutritionist, bets you don’t.
“Most people, when asked what the metabolism is, believe it’s simply about the energy your body burns,” he says, explaining that many believe that metabolism boils down to being naturally fast or slow burning.
“Metabolism is so much more than that though,” says Davidson. He says that his favorite definition of metabolism comes from The Schwarzbein Principle by Dr. Dianna Schwarzbein, who writes, “Metabolism is the combined effects of all the varied biochemical processes that continually occur in your body on a cellular level. These processes enable every individual component of your body to function, making it possible for you to think, digest food, move and perform all the functions of a living, breathing being.”
In other words, metabolism isn’t just a concern for people who feel like they need to shed a few pounds – and that’s something all our experts agree on.
“Anyone can benefit from a boosted metabolism because your metabolism is literally the powerhouse to your body providing energy to keep you going,” says Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN, Funder & CEO of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of "Living Real Life with Real Food" (Skyhorse 2014). “A well-boosted metabolism helps ensure your body is functioning properly and has less risk of other diseases like diabetes, which is a sign of a metabolic disorder, or your metabolism not functioning properly.”
Denise Baron, a wellness educator and director of Ayurveda for Modern Living, says that low metabolism is linked to low immunity. “When it’s low, you will experience cold, flu, depression, headaches, belly problems, constipation and weight gain to name a few, besides acne and skin problems.”
Of course, one of the main jobs of the metabolism is breaking down food and converting it to energy – two steps that René Ficek, Registered Dietician and Lead Dietician Nutritionist at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, says are called anabolism and catabolism. “In a way, anabolism and catabolism exist in balance with each other and are the yin and yang of metabolism.”
Before getting started, however, it’s important not to look at boosting your metabolism as some kind of miracle that will quickly fix all your body woes. Dr. Caroline Cederquist, M.D., founder of bistroMD and author of "The MD Factor" explains what you can expect from a boosted metabolism. “Metabolism correction and increasing your metabolism means that if you lose weight while preserving needed muscle, you will be able to maintain your weight loss,” she says.
In addition to the normalizing effect a boosted metabolism has on your body's other functions, it's no surprise that this little weight-loss advantage might convince you that taking the plunge. Our experts agree that the key to boosting your metabolism lies in your stomach.
How to Change Your Metabolism with Diet
Once they wrap their minds around the power of their metabolism, many people are tempted to take the easy way out with artificial supplements and stimulants, something that Lori Kenyon Farley, a Certified Nutrition Consultant specializing in wellness, fitness and anti-aging and one of the experts behind Project Juice, warns against. “Natural metabolism boosters will not negatively impact your body’s metabolism centers like your thyroid, while artificial or pharmaceutical stimulants may,” she cautions.
Christina Major, A MS Holistic Nutritionist and Herbalist and the Health Recovery Expert of Crystal Holistic Health, agrees. “If you choose supplements, you’ll have energy now, but you will be more tired later on," she says. "Over time, this will just get worse until your body collapses.”
She also warns that you risk hurting yourself if you over-supplement. “Your brain could become deficient in B vitamins, making your thinking slow and foggy,” she says. “There is a large burden on your liver and kidneys with all supplements that could prove harmful.”
At the very worst, then, herbal supplements can do damage on your body. It’s just not worth it, particularly considering that a more natural solution is so much simpler and better for you.
That being said, boosting your metabolism is not quite as straightforward as just eating healthy, Farley explains. “While eating healthy will affect overall health, it has little effect on how your metabolic rate works,” she says. “However, there are certain foods that have been shown to change the rate of how much energy our bodies can produce, thus fat it can burn.”
What to Eat
First of all, drop the idea that eating slows your metabolism. Kristen Trukova, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, CSO, a Clinical Oncology Dietician, says that, “Eating any food causes an uptick in metabolic rate. This is called the ‘thermic effect of food.’ Thermogenesis from eating throughout the day burns about 10% of our daily calorie intake, which is about 180 calories for a diet of 1800 calories/day.”
In other words, don’t think that starving yourself or eating less is going to boost your metabolism; technically speaking, the opposite is true.
That being said, you can’t just eat anything. As Major explains, “For most people, processed foods, breads, pastas and grains are foods that block a properly functioning metabolism.”
Switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet is the first step; the second is including some (or all!) of these 21 metabolism-boosting foods in your daily diet.
Although high in calories (don’t overdo it), almonds contain fatty acids that raise your metabolism.
Protein and fiber are two of the building blocks of boosting your metabolism, so beans, rich in both, are a good choice.
“Dietary proteins take more calories to digest than any other macronutrient,” saysauthor of "Belly Fat for Dummies," Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE. “When you boost your intake of protein, you naturally begin to burn more calories each day.”
Trukova agrees. “Consuming 400 calories of protein will require about 80 calories to digest it, compared with only around 40 calories for carbohydrates and 12 calories required for fat digestion of the same amount of food,” she says.
But that’s not the only reason that beans are good for your metabolism. Farley highlights the importance of all foods rich in iron when it comes to boosting your metabolism. “Iron is an important mineral that helps transport oxygen to muscles, needed to burn fat. Iron helps our bodies make energy,” she says.
All fruits are a good idea due to their carb and fiber content, both of which are important tools for boosting metabolism. But Earthbound Farm’s Registered Dietician, Ashley Koff, highlights the powers of berries in particular, which she says are rich in “antioxidants, like vitamin C, which helps combat damaging free radicals generated during exercise.” Berries help you heal more quickly.
4. Bone Broth
Sara Vance, C.N., nutritionist and author of "The Perfect Metabolism Plan,"loves bone broth as a metabolism booster, due to its protein, mineral and collagen content. “Collagen supports the mucosal barrier in the gut, which means it is useful for supporting healthy/strong digestion and assimilation of nutrients – which is critical for a strong metabolism,” she says.
You might have heard the urban legend that celery is a “negative-calorie” food, and while we’re not sure we’re on board with that per se, Koff explains that this very low calorie food can be a big-time metabolism booster.
“When you chew on celery, you're stimulating digestion, adding water to hydrate (a key to better metabolism),” she says, suggesting that you use celery as dippers for guacamole, salsa, or peanut butter. You can spiced up your dip cinnamon, ginger or cayenne for an extra kick, both of flavor an of metabolism-boosting action.
6. Chia Seeds
Vance also loves chia seeds, calling them “the reason I became a nutritionist.”
“I decided if one food could do this much, I had to study more about the power of foods as medicine and fuel,” she says.
While chia seeds have lots of different characteristics, metabolism-wise, chia seeds offer a few specific benefits.
“Chia seeds are high in fiber, protein and healthy omega 3 fats,” says Vance. “When you have all three together, it is very powerful.”
This is probably good news for a lot of you out there – yes, according to Vance, dark chocolate (70% or higher cacao) can help boost your metabolism.
“Raw cacao is one of the best food sources of magnesium, and magnesium helps to support healthy glucose levels,” she says. “Magnesium also stimulates the fat-burning hormone adiponectin.”
As with all sweets, less is better, but a bit of dark chocolate won’t hurt your efforts towards a better metabolism and might even give you the boost -- emotional and physical -- that you need.
8. Apple Cider Vinegar
Cider vinegar is a great metabolism booster according to Baron, who suggests mixing it with some lemon juice, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne, and a drop of raw honey before drinking.
Palinski-Wade agrees that cider vinegar is a great way to boost your metabolism, working in quite a different way than many other foods on this list. According to Palinski-Wade, cider vinegar “helps to boost your stomach’s ability to produce hydrochloric acid (HCA).
"What does that mean? Once you are making more HCS, you can easily digest your food and better absorb nutrients.”
If that wasn’t enough, Palinski-Wade also cites cider vinegar’s role in leveling blood sugar levels, which helps to curb cravings.
Cinnamon is a fairly unanimous metabolism booster among our experts. Palinski-Wade says, “Cinnamon contains thermogenic properties, which means when you consume it, your body automatically starts to burn more calories throughout the day.” She recommends about ¼ teaspoon per day.
Vance agrees, citing not only cinnamon’s role in helping the body to effectively metabolize carbohydrates, but also its role in managing cravings for sweets as keys to its success.
10. Coconut Oil
Yes, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, there are some fats that help boost your metabolism. Vance loves coconut oil, calling it her “favorite fat.”
“It is high in medium chain fatty acids - which a more easily converted into energy than other kinds, so they help to boost the metabolism and are less likely to get stored as fat,” she says. “It is supportive of the thyroid gland too - which is essential to a healthy metabolism.”
Vance eats coconut oil plain, but you can also use it as a cooking fat. It doesn't add a coconut flavor to dishes, so there's no need to worry about your chicken tasting too tropical if cooked in coconut oil.
Caffeine gives your mind, body, and metabolism a boost, and a much healthier boost than sugar according to Sports Dietician Lindsay Langford, RD, MS, CSSD of St.Vincent Sports Performance. “The caffeine in (coffee, tea and espresso) gives a short-term jump to your metabolism, so if you need a pick-me-up, drink one of these instead of an energy drink loaded with sugar.”
According to Trukova, energy-boosting effects of caffeine have been proven to consistently increase metabolic rate. “Most studies with caffeine in doses of about 100mg per day (1 cup of coffee) showed an increased calorie burn of between 75 to 110 calories for the entire day,” says Trukova. This admittedly is not a ton – and it’s comparable with the other foods on this list – but in conjunction with exercise and other metabolism-boosting foods, it can make a big difference over a long period of time.
Many of our experts tout the short-term effects of caffeine on metabolism and energy boosting as well. “I love having clients drink green tea or caffeine before workouts to get better fat loss results,” says Davidson. “When your metabolism is charged by these substances your Central Nervous is more active and you can train harder.”
That being said, don’t overdo it on caffeine – try to limit yourself to 2-3 cups per day.
Curry has a few benefits for your metabolism wrapped up in a flavorful package. We'll get into spicy peppers and their effects in just a bit, but its heat is only one of the elements of curry that boosts your metabolism. Because curry combines so many different spices, from hot peppers to cinnamon to turmeric and ginger, which, according to Baron, are essential metabolism boosters, curry is a great choice.
Not just rich in protein, fish is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, allowing it to do double duty on your metabolism.
According to Dr. Prudence Hall, a Santa Monica, California gynecologist and founder of The Hall Center, “Omega-3 oils lower inflammation and blood sugar which helps raise the body’s metabolism.”
Palinski-Wade agrees about the importance of fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, and says that you should aim for three servings per week thanks to its richness in protein and omega 3s. “Omega-3 fatty acids help to fight against inflammation in the body as well as decrease circulating stress hormones,” she says. “When stress hormones are elevated in your body over a period of time, they begin to store fat and elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. However, foods rich in omega-3s can lower these circulating stress hormones and turn up your body’s ability to burn fat.”
Eat fat to burn fat? We can get on board with that.
Grapefruit has long been linked to weight loss because it has been proven to lower insulin levels. Its fiber contents are also helpful in boosting metabolism, and its vitamin C content helps your body stay healthy and your immune system work the way it should, both of which are essential to boosting your metabolism.
15. Green Tea
Epigallocatechin gallate is the form of catechin found in green tea and a substance that has been proven to enhance the fat burning process, according to Davidson.
Many of our experts agree. Cederquist cites a study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found that green tea-extract boosted the metabolism by 4 percent over a 24 hour period. To put that into perspective, “It has been stated that three to five cups a day can help you burn an extra 70 calories a day, which would add up to seven pounds a year, 35 pounds in a 5-year period and 70 pounds in 10 years,” she explains.
16. Hot Peppers and Jalapeños
Any chili pepper you like may help boost your metabolism, according to Farley. “Chili peppers contain chemicals called capsinoids that have been shown to increase energy expenditure,” she says.
Langford agrees. “It’s not the pepper itself, but the chemical that makes them hot – capsaicin – that does the work here. They alert your hormones and increase your heart rate, make you breathe faster and force your body burn more calories and fat.”
In addition, Ficek says that peppers “have been shown to help increase satiety and decrease appetite, another potential mechanism for weight loss.”
According to Palinski-Wade, one pepper a day is the right amount to make sure you're getting the full effects. “You can sprinkle sliced jalepeno on sandwiches or salads, sprinkle crushed red pepper onto soups, or use ground hot pepper in your favorite taco recipe,” she says.
17. Lean Turkey
We’ve already addressed the power of protein, but turkey and chicken are a particularly good source, since they are high in protein and low in fat, giving you the best bang for your buck.
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Protein builds muscle and helps to burn calories since your body is working harder to process it. According to Langford, “It will use 15-35% of the calories you consume in the process of breaking it down.” Since chicken and turkey are both low in calories already, the calorie-burning properties here are magnified.
Seaweed’s iodine content makes it a great metabolism booster, according to Hall. “If you eat seafood and seaweed, which is rich in iodine, your body will produce thyroid hormone more effectively,” she says. “Thyroid hormone is a huge metabolism booster.”
Just be careful not to over-consume seaweed and risk iodine poisoning. Three times a week is plenty.
Spinach, but also any leafy green, is a great metabolism booster. This is in part due to the high fiber content of leafy greens, according to Farley. “High fiber foods like leafy greens can increase your fat burn by 30%,” she says, recommending a minimum of 3 servings per day for maximum results.
But according to Koff, that’s not the only reason you should be considering including more leafy greens in your diet. “Organic dark leafy greens like spinach and kale provide iron to support healthy blood, which is key to optimal cellular metabolism energy, and calcium to support muscle performance,” she says. All the more reason to stock up on leafy greens.
While many warn against eating too much watermelon due to its high sugar content, Palinski-Wade says that adding a slice of watermelon to your meal might actually be a good idea. “Thanks to watermelon’s high concentration of the amino acid arginine, this delicious fruit just may help you shed more pounds,” she says.
“A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that when arginine was supplemented into the diet of animals over a twelve week period, a sixty percent reduction in fat occurred," she explains. "This is mostly due to arginine’s ability to speed fat loss while increasing muscle mass, a known metabolism booster.”
Last but really not least is water. In fact, Davidson calls it “the starting point for a boosted metabolism,” citing a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that found that drinking water increases metabolic rate by 30 percent.
Palinski-Wade agrees. “Increasing your fluid intake may help your body to more effectively break down fat. In addition, even slight dehydration can slow metabolism.”
Add to that its natural appetite suppression, and water may be your metabolism’s new best friend.
But how much water should you be drinking?
You’ve likely heard 8 glasses a day, but it’s never a good idea to trust a catch-all solution when it comes to your health, as the amount you should be consuming of anything depends largely on your weight and calorie expenditure. Any amount is a good idea; Palinski-Wade cites a German study that showed that even 2 extra glasses was helpful. But what should you be aiming for?
“We have found in our clinical experience at Stark that drinking ½ your bodyweight in ounces of water is the ideal amount of water intake,” says Davidson. In other words, for a 160-pound person, 80 ounces of water is a good base amount.
Of course, we don’t want to gorge ourselves on any of these items. Just as important as what you’re eating is how you eat it, and indeed, how you manage the rest of your lifestyle.
Lifestyle Solutions for Boosting Your Metabolism
There are a few things that you can do to make sure that the food choices you’re making are supported by your lifestyle choices.
- Make sure your calories come from a good source.
And this stands for metabolism-boosting foods and other foods alike. Vanessa Lee, ND, FABNO, a naturopathic oncology provider at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center says, “When choosing foods, it is important to remember that the source of your calories matters!
"For instance, ingesting 300 calories from a bowl of fruit will provide a boost of beneficial vitamins and antioxidants, while 300 calories from a sugary dessert can negatively impact blood sugar regulation and contribute to obesity.”
Hall agrees, offering this simple formula for composing your plate. “50% of your plate needs to be filled with green vegetables, 20-30% is protein, 10% is healthy oil and 10-20% should be nuts, seeds, beans, fruit, quinoa or sweet potato.”
In other words, take this food list and incorporate it into a generally healthy diet of whole plant foods and proteins.
- Focus on low-glycemic, high-protein foods.
Low-glycemic foods are foods that keep your blood sugar and insulin levels steady. When concentrating on your low-glycemic foods, you’ll naturally find yourself gravitating towards protein sources, something that’s very important for boosting your metabolism.
“Eating a meal high in protein (especially breakfast) can help your body with glycemic control throughout the day and can keep your body accelerated for several hours after your meal,” says Farley.
But Cederquist explains that short term advantages of protein are not the only ones you may receive. “Lean protein ensures the maintenance of muscle tissue,” she says. “If you skimp on protein, you are opening yourself up to lose muscle tissue; in return your resting metabolic rate will slow down.”
- Eat the recommended amount of calories (calculate it) for your body type and activity.
Eating too few, in addition to exercising, causes your body to go into starvation mode which slows down your metabolism.
- Eat the right number of meals.
There is a common misconception that eating 5-6 small meals every day is better for your metabolism, something that Davidson says just isn’t true. “Research has disproven that theory showing over and over that 3 meals a day is just as beneficial, if not more beneficial, to your metabolism,” he says.
That being said, something that can help is to eat smaller portions and add healthy snacks to your diet more often, so that you avoid getting overly hungry at meal times and risk overeating.
- Get the right supplements.
While all of our experts strongly disagree with the idea that metabolism-boosters are best in pill or powder form, there are a few supplements that can help you boost your metabolism in addition to eating the right foods.
Hall recommends rodiola and ashwaganda to help regulate the adrenal stress glands, which she says are important for ideal metabolic health. Major, meanwhile, recommends nettle tea. “It has most of the vitamins we need and it tastes good,” she says.
- See the sun.
It doesn’t just make you feel better, it’s better for you, according to Farley. “Getting exposure to sunlight in the morning can help boost metabolism,” she says. “Sunlight sets your body clock, which is important is regulating metabolism.”
Sleep is an important way for your body to recharge and repair itself. Lee cites one study in particular published by The Obesity Society that “noted a direct correlation with increased hours of sleep with lower waist circumferences and body mass indices.”
Farley agrees. “Chronic lack of sleep can slow metabolism, so aim to get 7-8 hours per night,” she suggests.
- Choose organic.
The benefits of organic foods just keep on coming. Koff says that the best way to make sure that the foods you choose are actually doing their job is to choose organic whenever possible.
“Our bodies need regular clean up of the dirt (free radicals) that accumulates every day from what we eat, from stress and from exposure to toxins,” she says. “Your body's clean-up team comes from all the different fruits and veggies (aim for a rainbow), but if those are ‘dirty’ (contain lots of pesticide residues), it makes the clean up team less efficient – it's like mopping your floor wearing dirty shoes.”
Keep your food clean, and your metabolism will be that much more efficiently boosted.
- Lower your stress.
Stress of any kind can actually hinder your metabolism according to our experts. Lee cites a study that showed that “Women with higher levels of perceived stress were more prone to obesity. Interestingly, this study also noted increased stress levels with increased television viewing times.” You know what that means – pick a more active activity to de-stress than vegging in front of the TV.
“Any activity that lowers stress, like meditation or yoga, will help regulate metabolism,” suggests Farley.
- Work out.
Not only is this an additional way to reduce your stress, but working out is key to boosting your metabolism.
“Foods and supplements cannot magically raise your metabolism enough to help you lose weight,” says Ficek. “If you want a quick metabolic boost, you're better off hitting the gym or going for a brisk walk. While some studies have shown that certain foods can increase metabolism, the boost won��t last and after about 30 minutes the rate of metabolism will be back where it started.”
Conversely, according to Farley, a vigorous workout can help your metabolism be boosted for several hours afterwards.
Lee suggests weight-bearing exercises, which she says “increase muscle mass, which in turn burn more calories and contribute to the overall numbers of burnt calories each day.”
Hall has a few more precise suggestions for your workouts. “One of the most effective ways to boost metabolism is to do 10 minutes of burst training 3 to 4 times a week,” she says. “Bursting consists of 30 seconds maximal exertion followed by 30 seconds on minimal exertion for a total of 10 minutes.”
- Take care of your liver.
You might not immediately think of your liver when it comes to your metabolism, but according to Davidson, that would be a mistake; he says that a congested liver is a common problem for metabolic issues. “This organ is a powerhouse in the metabolism world,” he says. “It alone is responsible for around 600 metabolic activities on a daily basis. If your liver isn’t working optimally your metabolism is not working optimally.”
He suggests starting the day with warm water and lemon juice to boost digestion and liver function.
Overall, it’s important to remember that every small step counts, but none of these steps is a magic formula. The journey towards healthy living is just that, a journey.
“Boosting your metabolism means increasing your total daily calorie burn. However, foods that boost metabolism, or building muscle, will not equal 100s-1000s or extra calories burned per day," says Palinski-Wade. "Instead, you can expect an increase of 10-100 calories per day (sometimes more), which will make an impact in weight loss over the course of a month and a year vs day to day.”
Warren agrees. “The misconception is that if you consume a single type of food or supplement, the one addition will ensure a boosted metabolism,” she says. “However, it is never about a single nutrient, food or supplement, but your diet and lifestyle as a whole.”
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