Using foods to boost our metabolism is definitely an idea we can all get behind. I mean, we'd much rather add some things into our diet to burn fat as opposed to taking things out, right? The theory that certain foods can raise our metabolic rate, however, still seems a little too good to be true.
But then again, at a 2015 medical conference, University of Wyoming scientists shared how dietary capsaicin peppers may stimulate thermogenesis and energy burning. Researchers claim that the supplement could boost metabolism and convert white fat into brown fat — something they hope could prevent obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Cool beans… er, I mean, peppers. But is this chili thing the real deal? Clinical trials are still in the works, so it's too soon to tell for sure.
The notion of spicy ingredients for weight loss is nothing new, but I think it is an opportune time for a refresher in metabolism boosters that some experts swear by to rev up your body's ability to burn, baby, burn.
The claim: Many people rave about coconut oil, though this product has been around far longer than its recent sting as a trendy superfood. Not only that, but recent studies have shown that it may not be the miracle oil people think it is.
Its fatty acids are shorter and more water-soluble than those in olive or canola oils. They are more readily burned for fuel and have a less common chance to be deposited as fat. On the flip side, coconut oil is high in saturated fats (that may not be a bad thing, according to current debates). It does, however, contain 2.6 percent fewer calories in each gram than other fats.
The bottom line: Cassie Bjork, a registered licensed dietitian with Healthy Simple Life, says healthy fats are a good metabolism booster.
"This is because fat acts as a buffer for the carbohydrates and sugar we consume, which, on their own, slash metabolism by spiking your blood sugar levels too high," Bjork explains. "When you consume fat with carbohydrates, they slow the assimilation of the sugar into your bloodstream, promoting stable blood sugar levels and boosting metabolism!"
The claim: Your friendly avocado is a must-have if you want to boost your body's natural fat-fighting superpowers. In a study that compared diets high in palmitic acid (saturated fat) to eating regimens high in oleic acid (monounsaturated fats), researchers found that physical activity was 13.5 percent higher in those on the high-oleic-acid diet, and post-meal metabolism was 4.5 percent higher.
The bottom line: Snag these healthy monounsaturated fats from the avocado itself, or try avocado oil (it also has a higher smoke point than other oils, so it can stand up to sautéing!).
The claim: In addition to diet, exercise can fire up your metabolism. Andy Bellatti, a nutritionist from Las Vegas, says high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves engaging in short spurts of very high-intensity activity during your workouts, can naturally increase metabolism by stimulating human growth hormone (HGH) production.
Bjork also advocates short bursts of resistance or strength training and high-intensity intervals to accelerate your heart rate. She says long periods of endurance activity on a regular basis can actually slow down your metabolism because it generates an inflammatory response.
"Inflammation drains your metabolism as your body focuses on healing it," she explains.
The bottom line: HIIT has been known to boost HGH naturally by up to 450 percent for the 24-hour span after workouts. HGH revs up your metabolism and battles the aging process.
The claim: Your daily cup of coffee does wonders to rev up your metabolism. "Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, making coffee a metabolism booster," Bellatti says.
The bottom line: Not all coffee beverages are healthy for your metabolism, Bellatti warns. "The research [on coffee being a metabolism booster] applies to coffee, not venti Frappuccinos or coffee with four packs of sugar added in."
The claim: Using natural sweeteners — not artificial ones — enhances your metabolism.
The bottom line: I remember when Splenda came out and I was so happy to find a calorie-free sweetener that tasted like it. After doing my own research, I've switched to stevia and raw sugar when I want them. Bjork says artificial sweeteners slash your metabolism because the body does not recognize them and tries to process them.
"This is why current research shows that consuming artificial sweeteners actually leads to weight gain," Bellatti says. "Stick with pure stevia, a plant-based sweetener, to add flavor while keeping your metabolism revved up."
The claim: If you listen to the news, it seems like vitamin D solves all. Does it, though? In recent years, plenty of research has emerged touting it for all sorts of health benefits — and showing that many of us are deficient in this nutrient.
The bottom line: Supplement with vitamin D, Bjork advises. "We now know that vitamin D is much more than calcium's wingman — it supports metabolism too!"
She says that when vitamin D levels are below normal (50-80 nanograms/milliliter), you're more likely to have a slow metabolism. "Most people can benefit from supplementing with 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 every day."
The claim: Eat breakfast and snacks throughout the day to turn your body into a lean, mean, fat-fighting machine.
The bottom line: Bjork says it's good to snack throughout the day for stable blood sugar levels. That means that glucagon — a fat-burning hormone — is released, and your body is on to healthy metabolizing. And please, don't skip breakfast, she adds.
"After sleeping for hours, eating breakfast is a tried-and-true way to 'jump-start' your metabolism first thing in the morning, because breakfast brings your blood sugar levels back into the stable range," Bjork says.
So, pass the eggs. Maybe, perhaps, with a papaya and a cup of coffee.
Originally published February 2015. Updated July 2017.
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