Q: What can I eat to speed up my metabolism?
A: When it comes to metabolism and weight loss, first identify the foods that may be slowing down your metabolism.
What is metabolism?
Metabolism includes the digestion, or breaking down, of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, which are the three major nutrients in our foods.
Carbohydrates break down into glucose (aka sugar).
Protein breaks down into amino acids.
Fats break down into fatty acids.
After foods are digested in our digestive tract, the glucose, amino acids and fats enter our body.
These nutrients travel throughout the body to nourish our cells, muscles, and organs--basically all of our biological systems.
What do carbs, protein, and fat do for the body?
The cells of our body absorb glucose, amino acids and fats to use them for fuel or function.
Within our cells, the glucose from carbs is converted into energy. Glucose is the primary source of fuel for the body. It’s like the gas that runs the car. Our brains are especially reliant on glucose.
Amino acids from protein are the building blocks needed to build muscle, skin, hormones, and any substances and structural components in our bodies.
Our cells use fat for energy, and store it for energy reserves, insulation and cushioning to protect our vital organs. Fats also contribute to the production of cells, hormones, and other basic functions. The right balance of fats in our diet can help to keep cholesterol well managed and protect our hearts.
Metabolism slows down when your cells are less able to absorb and use these nutrients.
The hormone, insulin, helps our cells absorb glucose and fat to break them down and use them accordingly.
Foods high in saturated fat slow metabolism by causing insulin resistance.
Large amounts of saturated fat in your diet can block the insulin from working, causing insulin resistance.
With fats blocking the insulin, the cells are unable to absorb glucose from the blood. Thus, insulin resistance leads to high blood glucose, which can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.
Initially, insulin resistance and higher blood glucose levels will cause the body to produce extra insulin in an effort to metabolize the sugar, leading to high insulin levels.
Here’s the rub: Insulin is a growth hormone that tells your body to start producing and storing fat, especially in the abdominal area.
Thus, high insulin levels can lead to more belly fat.
Belly fat also causes insulin resistance
Here’s the other rub. The fat cells around our abdominal area produce other hormones that also block insulin from working. The more belly fat you store, the more insulin resistant you become.
A vicious cycle
The more insulin resistant you become, the more insulin your body produces to try to compensate. The higher your insulin levels, the more fat you will accumulate.
Over time, the pancreatic cells that produce insulin will wear out from overuse, leading to type 2 diabetes.
Limit foods high in saturated fat to help maintain a healthy metabolism.
Common sources of saturated fat are
high fat meats like ribeye steaks or ground chuck
processed meats like bacon and salami
high-fat dairy like whole milk, cheese, cream and butter
some deep fried foods.
Frequent intake and/or large portions of these foods can slow your metabolism by causing weight gain and insulin resistance.
Note: Healthy fats do not cause insulin resistance.
There are some types of fats that do not cause insulin resistance, such as the predominant fats found in nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and some fish. Moderate amounts of these healthy fats can help protect your heart.
The Metabolism Fix
Swap out high-fat meats with lean proteins like skinless poultry, fish, beans and lentils, and tofu or other soy proteins.
Choose low-fat or fat free milk and yogurt.
Cook with oils instead of butter or other solid fats. Olive oil is especially protective of your heart.
Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. The more variety you include, the more likely you will benefit from the different phytochemicals within the plant foods that can also help your metabolism.
Top your toast with avocado or nut butters instead of cheese or butter.
Choose whole grain foods like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and barley. These are higher in fiber compared to refined grains and simple sugars.
Eat more fiber from vegetables, fruits, beans and lentils, and whole grains. Fiber helps prevent blood sugar spikes after a meal, thus preventing high insulin levels.