When we think of metabolism, we instantly think of how quickly we can burn fat and shed pounds. But our metabolism is so much more than that.
Metabolism includes everything the body does to keep us alive … such as breathing, circulating blood, controlling body temperature, eliminating waste, keeping our brain and nerves functioning and, of course, digesting food and nutrients.
Because every single function in our body depends on energy conversion, a poor metabolic function can lead to a host of nasty side effects like headaches, low energy, skin conditions, mood swings, poor sleeping patterns, weight gain, digestive issues, food sensitivities and a lot more besides.
With so many negative symptoms, you can see why it’s so important we keep our metabolism functioning efficiently.
Everything from stress and sleep deprivation to a lack of exercise and certain medications can negatively impact our metabolic function. Seeing as the foods we eat fuel our whole body, it makes sense that our meal choices can play a big role too.
Let’s take a look at some of the common ‘metabolism death foods’ in our pantries.
It’s hardly surprising that sugar is on this list given all the ways it can negatively impact the body. When we eat sugar, it quickly enters our bloodstream creating a spike in blood glucose levels and our bodies are triggered to store extra fat. This type of process eventually slows down our metabolism.
It has been shown that diets high in energy from fructose (sugar) can lead to an increased intake of calories or a decrease in burning off these calories, thereby contributing to weight gain and obesity.
Sugar is hiding in so many of our processed foods (including tomato sauces and salad dressings) and is listed under so many different names (high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, maltose) that it can be really difficult to avoid.
Try making your own sauces and dressings and check out this list of 10 Natural Sugar Alternatives.
Recommended Reading: How To Quit Sugar: 10 Tricks From A Former Sugar Addict
Eating ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat free’ is constantly marketed by big brands as the healthy way to satisfy cravings for typically high fat foods like yogurts, desserts and cheeses. However, these foods simply replace (often healthy) fats with artificial sweeteners that cause a sugar rush and soon see hunger levels rise again.
These zero-calorie artificial sweeteners actually trick your body into thinking calories are on the way, simply because they taste like sugar. When this sugar never arrives, you begin to crave sugary foods to make up for the calories your body never received. Animal subjects that consumed artificial sweeteners ate more, their metabolism slowed and they gained 14% more body fat – in just two weeks!
The same concept applies to ‘diet’ sodas. A study highlighted by the American Diabetes Association showed a link between diet soda drinkers and an increased waist size, versus non-drinkers. Those who consumed two or more diet sodas a day had a waistline of up to 500% greater than those who did not consume diet soda.
The bottom line is that artificial sweeteners, found in low fat, fat free and diet foods encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence and ultimately slow metabolism. You’re better off going for the full-fat version, and just consuming them less often.
Often seen as the ‘healthy choice’, fruit juices are little better than sodas when it comes to their impact on our metabolism.
Medical researchers from the University of Glasgow have warned that fruit juices are potentially just as bad for you as drinking sugar-sweetened drinks. They state that one cup of apple juice typically contains 110 kcal and 26g of sugar; while a cup of cola typically contains 105kcal and 26.5g of sugar. So you’re actually getting more calories from the juice, and the same amount of sugar…not looking so healthy now, is it?
Sure, the fruit juice does have certain vitamins and minerals that the soda doesn’t, but the researchers claim the nutritional content still may not be sufficient to offset the adverse effects on our metabolic function.
Save yourself the hassle of cleaning your juicer and eat the orange whole – you’ll take in less calories, less sugar and you’ll have the added advantage of fiber.
Salt is an essential nutrient which our bodies require for healthy nerve and muscle function, so we need to ensure we are getting enough salt in our diets.
However, according to the American Heart Association most people get twice as much as the recommended daily allowance of salt. And 75% of that comes from low-quality salt added to processed and restaurant foods.
Too much sodium causes your body to hold onto water, putting extra burden on your heart and blood vessels, as well as your kidneys. This can have the effect of raising blood pressure which can in turn affect your whole system, and of course your metabolism.
While you shouldn’t cut out salt completely, it’s recommended you limit the intake you get from processed foods and add a high-quality natural salt, such as Himalayan pink salt, to your diet instead.
Carbohydrates are necessary to fuel our bodies, give us energy and contribute to the healthy function of our brain, heart and muscles.
But be aware that not all carbs are created equal! A good rule of thumb is to avoid ‘white carbs’ – like white bread, white pasta, white rice and baked goods like pastries. These carbs break down in the body in the same way that sugar does – by causing insulin levels to spike and then drop, slowing down our metabolism.
Aim for complex carbs instead, which break down much slower and continue to provide energy for much longer. Include a healthy mix of whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, lentils and more.
These foods also boost your fiber intake, which studies show can help aid weight loss and weight maintenance. Research also shows that women who eat more fiber gain the least weight over time regardless of physical activity and dietary fat intake. Whole fruits and vegetables are also great metabolism-boosting sources of fiber.
It feels like you’re being healthy when you wake up to a low-fat breakfast cereal doesn’t it? But these are metabolism killers on many levels. Aside from the artificial sweeteners and other questionable additives, these cereals are basically simple carbohydrates.
Starting the day off with some of these cereals is a recipe for metabolic disaster. Many people’s insulin levels are highest in the morning, so if you eat a high-carb meal you’ll cause a further rise. You’ll crash well before lunchtime and often give into cravings for a sugary snack.
Start the day off right with a high protein meal, which keeps you fuller for longer. One study has shown that high-protein breakfast eaters (those who ate between 30 and 39 grams) reported feeling less hungry after their meal and even consumed 175 fewer calories at lunch, versus low-protein eaters (those who ate just 3 grams) – despite the calories of both groups’ meals being equal!
Try scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or a Greek Yogurt smoothie for a metabolism boosting breakfast.
Processed & Fast Foods
After a long day, it’s hard to face into the mammoth task of preparing a healthy balanced dinner. Take-out or a ready-meal seems like a much more appealing option. But these meals are chockfull of salt, sugars, white carbs and unhealthy fats and do nothing for your metabolism.
Professor Naveed Sattar, a Professor of Metabolic Medicine, states that people need to cut back on their excessive fat intake in order to reap major benefits including lessening obesity and the risk of heart attack. Of course, this will also have a positive impact on metabolic function.
In a study published in the journal ‘Obesity’ in 2015, it has been shown that people who ate a high fat diet for just five days changed their metabolism. This could have a knock-on effect on their risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. Five days is a pretty short time period – think of what you eat on vacations, Christmas and at other celebrations!
In addition, a 2010 study found that those who ate a meal consisting mainly of whole foods burned more calories during the day than those who ate a processed meal, even when the amount of calories was equal.
Even if it means throwing together a simple salad after work or freezing batches of home-cooked meals at weekends, that little extra effort will have a huge effect on your metabolism and overall health.
Just like we need quality salts and complex carbohydrates in our diet, we also need healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
But unhealthy fats, like certain vegetable oils, damage the endocrine system and thyroid. A slow metabolism and low energy often follow on from eating something containing, or cooked in, vegetable oils. An animal study exploring how various oils affect metabolism showed that the subjects fed with sunflower oil had the worst metabolic rate (when compared with palm and rapeseed oils).
Ditch the yellow cooking oils like soybean oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil and canola oil. Start looking at labels and you will see these oils are in everything – from cookies and pancake mixes to crackers and salad dressings.
Instead use coconut oil for cooking, enjoy extra virgin olive oil in dressings and make your own baked goods to cut down on these nasty additives.
Many of our bodily functions can be thrown out of sync by the chemicals in pesticides, and our metabolism is no different.
According to a Canadian study on mice, chemicals in common pesticides have been shown to slow down metabolic function, while increasing the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Choose organic whenever possible, making sure to check out the ‘Dirty Dozen’ (below) – a list of the 12 most pesticide laden fruits and vegetables. Similarly, the ‘Clean 15’ lists those products which tend to be exposed to the least amount of chemicals.
The Dirty Dozen
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Snap Peas
- Hot Peppers
- Kale / Collard Greens
The Clean 15
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas Frozen
- Sweet Potatoes
Wash and peel all produce that isn’t organic to minimize your exposure to pesticides and keep your metabolism running efficiently.
Alcohol is a toxin and so your body tries to get rid of it as fast as it can. As a result, your metabolic functions drop everything else they are doing and focus on eliminating the alcohol from your system.
Of course, this means that what you ate before you began drinking gets stored as fat. Research has even shown that alcohol especially decreases fat burn around the stomach … hence the term ‘beer belly’. A heavy intake will eventually lead to permanent weight gain and even obesity.
If you enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, don’t feel like you have to miss out. In fact, a study conducted over 13 years and over 19,000 women showed that those who enjoyed one or two alcoholic drinks daily were at least 30% less likely to gain weight during mid-life than those who completely abstained.
Just make sure to stick to one or two drinks and steer clear of cocktails – these fruit-juice based, syrupy concoctions are not good for the metabolism.
While it seems like you may have to cut out a whole load of food categories, just remember that there are so many delicious whole food alternatives out there. By making gradual changes, and enjoying your favorite foods in moderation, you won’t feel like you are missing out. Your metabolism – and your whole body – will thank you for it!
Continue Reading: 10 Science Backed Cheats That Rev Up Metabolism & Burn More Calories