When we hear the word metabolism, we instantly think of weight loss. But human metabolism has to do with so much more than how fat or thin we are. Metabolism is actually an umbrella term that describes myriad chemical reactions and processes in our bodies that happen to keep us alive and healthy.
Because energy formation is one of the most vital components of metabolism, it stands to reason that nutrition is the key to metabolism. Our metabolism relies upon nutrient breakdown for energy facilitation. This energy is what allows the body to synthesize new building blocks such as proteins, DNA, and RNA.
Here is a breakdown of where and how this energy is used throughout the body:
- 60-70% of metabolic energy is for vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, and body temperature.
- 15-30% typically goes towards daily activities such as housework, errands, exercising, etc.
- 10-15% of this energy goes toward your digestion and the processes of breaking down food into compounds the body can use to repair, rejuvenate and function optimally.
So the nutrients we take in supply calories, or units of energy, that are then utilized to maintain and heal the entire body. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, didn’t say, “Let food be thy medicine” for nothing. He knew that the foods we eat determine how well our metabolism, and therefore our bodies, work.
What Slows our Metabolism?
Before I talk about foods that can help rev up your metabolism, let’s first look at some of the most common reasons the metabolism becomes sluggish:
Estrogen Levels Drop
Many people blame their weight problems on hormonal issues, and the truth is, some of these people have a legitimate claim. A sluggish metabolism is common for women as they age because there are diminished estrogen receptors in the brain. In fact, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that aging mice, with the same lack of estrogen receptors in the brain, gained weight without consuming more calories.
Low estrogen levels are why many women gain 10% weight per decade past a certain age. Women concerned about estrogen levels should speak to their doctor.
Testosterone Drops as Well
Testosterone is another hormone that decreases as we age, and it decreases in both men and women. One of the biggest functions of this hormone is that it regulates muscle mass, and the more muscle on your body, the more calories you will burn, even when your body is at rest. A recent study published in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research found this hormone loss could be prevented by upping vitamin D, and I’ll discuss a great source of vitamin D in a little bit.
Too Much Stress – Not Enough Sleep
In keeping with the theme of how hormones dictate metabolism, let’s talk about the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is one of the fight or flight hormones that are released when we are under prolonged stress. It causes us to overeat – our ancestors’ way of fueling up for the next battle – and when we overeat we gain weight. This weight gain causes our metabolism to slow.
When we’re stressed we don’t get as much quality sleep and this lack of sleep can also negatively affect our metabolism. When our bodies lack necessary sleep, they have a difficult time metabolizing carbohydrates. This in turn causes our blood sugar levels to rise, which causes insulin levels to spike, which signals our body to store fat, which slows our metabolism.
In a perfect world, none of us would ever have to deal with stress. Since that is not a reality, we can all do the next best thing, which is to find easy and even fun ways to counteract the effects of stress. Find out how you can reverse the physical effects of stress on your body permanently in as little as 10 – 15 minutes a day.
As we age, it becomes even more important for us to keep our metabolism and all of the processes in our bodies running smoothly. To do this we must ensure we’re giving our bodies fuel sources that will give it the energy it needs.
Here are 7 metabolism-boosting foods:
Remember that vitamin D I mentioned a little while ago? Well eggs are an excellent source of vitamin D. They are also loaded with amino acids and protein, which will help build muscle mass. The beauty with eggs is they are so completely versatile as well as delicious. Try making an omelet for dinner and some nice egg salad for lunch.
Studies have shown an iron deficiency can slow metabolism, which is why it’s important to get enough iron into your diet. Eating three to four daily servings of iron-rich foods per week, such as chicken and turkey, will give your metabolism the nutrients it needs to function. Why not throw some chicken into that omelet you’re making for dinner, or have a “make your own taco” night with the family using ground turkey instead of ground beef?
Dehydration wreaks havoc on our bodies. Without the proper amount of water, our systems cannot function the way they were intended. Even slight dehydration can slow your metabolism so be sure to drink water every day. Adding fruit slices or fresh mint to a pitcher of water will help you refill your glass!
Capsaicin is the chemical in peppers and other foods that makes them hot, and this chemical can have a revving effect on our metabolism. As an added bonus, these little hot peppers are loaded with vitamin C. Add just a tablespoon a day to your diet for big results. Add some to that omelet (we are building quite a healthy omelet!), or add some peppers to a stir fry.
A study published in Physiology & Behavior found people who drank coffee had a higher metabolic rate than people who either drank no coffee or drank decaf. So, if you’ve been drinking decaf because you think caffeine is bad for you, think again. Having said this, no need to go crazy and start having 4 giant cups of coffee a day, just one or two will assist your metabolism.
A study from the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee suggests that calcium may play a key role in fat metabolism, so be sure to have a little dairy every day. Perhaps some yogurt for breakfast, or throw in some shredded cheese to that omelet.
Lentils are rich in iron, so if you are not a meat eater but want to be sure you’re getting enough iron in your diet, reach for some lentils. If it’s winter where you are, there’s nothing more soothing than a bowl of lentil soup. Lentils are also delicious added to a salad.
A healthy metabolism is essential for a healthy life. To make sure yours is up to speed, reach for these 7 beneficial foods. And if you know of any more metabolism-boosting foods or methods, please share with the rest of your friends and drop a comment below!