Across the internet are thousands of “Super Food” articles that claim to turn your body into a high-performance, fat-burning machine. Is there anything to these claims of metabolism-boosting foods that help you burn fat faster? Will these foods increase your metabolism, help you lose weight, and get lean?
Yes. And no.
Let’s make this clear: all foods increase your metabolism through digestion, which requires energy. There are, however, some foods that will help boost your metabolism incrementally. Without proper exercise and nutrition, eating them would only be like throwing a match on a pile of wet leaves. That said, adding the right foods to a smart diet and exercise plan gives you that extra edge to run your body at peak performance.
What Are Metabolism-Boosting Foods?
At a very basic level, the metabolic process is how your body turns food into energy. There are a few ways in which a high-quality diet can increase your metabolism1:
- Building Muscle – Your body composition is a major factor when it comes to metabolism – you expend a lot of energy just maintaining lean body mass. Organs, bones and muscle are much more metabolically active than fat, burning more calories throughout the day. If you want to boost your metabolism, since you can’t really build organs, foods that build muscle are key.
- Stabilizing Blood Sugar – When your blood sugar spikes, insulin floods your bloodstream, which allows your body to use glucose, rather than fat, as energy. Keep those glucose levels stable with nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods and your metabolism will be more inclined to burn fat.2
- Burning Longer and Hotter – Like throwing a log on a fire, certain foods require more energy to break down than others, causing more of a thermogenic (heat-creating) response in the body.3 Protein4, for example, burns up to 30% of calories consumed during digestion to help with things like tissue growth and repair. Fat and carbohydrates, on the other hand, are more readily used for fuel and only burn about 5% and 10%, respectively.
5 Metabolism-Boosting Foods With Health Benefits
Ready to make your diet a metabolism-boosting machine? As promised, here are your five metabolism-boosting superstars:
Metabolism-Boosting Food #1: Fish
Not only is fish a great source of lean protein, but like other meats, it’s packed with B vitamins that are essential for converting food into energy. Things like chicken and pork are great choices, too, but it’s the abundance of omega-3s that makes fish stand out.
Plenty of studies have shown the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (like improving heart function and preventing stroke), but a recent study published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism shows that a diet high in omega-3 also increases carbohydrate and fat metabolism.5 Include fish in your nutritional game plan to build muscle, burn fat, and help your heart!
Metabolism-Boosting Food #2: Spices
Hot peppers like cayenne, jalapeño and habanero are well known for giving your metabolism (and taste buds) a little extra kick, but they’re not alone in the spice arena. Other common spices like black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, curry, ginger, and turmeric have similar effects, though for slightly different reasons.6
Whereas chili peppers, black pepper and ginger raise your body temperature and cause you to burn more calories, cinnamon lets your metabolism work more efficiently by improving circulation and increasing insulin sensitivity, which helps you metabolize fat. If Indian cuisine is more your style, though, you won’t go wrong with cumin and turmeric, which both promote healthy digestion, and curry, another thermogenic heavyweight.
Metabolism-Boosting Food #3: Avocado
Although high in calories, avocados are a great source of L-carnitine, an amino acid that plays a key role in fat metabolism. Shown to promote weight loss, improve cardiovascular health, and regulate blood sugar when eaten in moderation, they’re also packed with omega-3s and other anti-inflammatory nutrients to help prevent osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. So…who wants some guacamole?
Metabolism-Boosting Food #4: Grapefruit
Tangy and sweet, grapefruit 7may help with weight loss, insulin control, and increase HDL levels. A 2011 study by Vanderbilt University showed that participants who ate either grapefruit, or grapefruit juice prior to eating meals increased HDL cholesterol levels “significantly” more than the placebo group who had just water. There was no statistically significant weight loss difference, however, among the groups. In 2006, the Scripps Clinic found that the control group eating half a fresh grapefruit lost significantly” more weight over 12 weeks vs. the placebo drinking water (1.6kg vs. 0.3kg). The study also found that the insulin levels of those who consumed the fruit were much lower than those who did not, resulting in more stable blood sugar for up to 2 hours after each meal.
Metabolism-Boosting Food #5: Cacao
Recently hailed as one of the world’s healthiest foods, cacao is rich in vitamins and minerals, and has been shown to promote blood circulation, stimulate digestive enzymes, suppress appetite, and regulate blood sugar. It is also high in magnesium 8, which aids in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including metabolism.
If you’re thinking of breaking out that Hershey bar right now, remember that while chocolate has some of raw chocolate’s health benefits, it’s also loaded with extra fat and sugar. Try to stick to the raw stuff – cacao nibs and powder make a great addition to smoothies.
Before you run out and make yourself a fish, avocado and cacao smoothie, let me reiterate that these foods will not magically help you start shedding fat – these are only a few of the metabolism-boosting foods and should be part of a well-balanced diet and active lifestyle. Take care of your body and it will take care of you.
- Kovacs, J. Increase Your Metabolism — And Start Losing Fat . WebMd. 2012. ↩
- Insulin Helps Fat Storage: Insulin Effects on Lipid Metabolism. Suite101: Anatomy & Physiology. 2010. ↩
- Adams, G. Hot Peppers & Metabolism . Livestrong. 2011. ↩
- Smith, C. Calories Burned Digesting Protein . Livestrong. 2011. ↩
- Huber, K. Metabolic responses to high-fat diets rich in n-3 or n-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in mice selected for either high body weight or leanness explain different health outcomes . BioMed. 2012. ↩
- Czarnecki, S. 8 Hot Ingredients to Rev Up Your Metabolism . QualityHealth. 2008. ↩
- Fujioka K, Greenway F, Sheard J, Ying Y. The effects of grapefruit on weight and insulin resistance: relationship to the metabolic syndrome . J Med Food. 2006 Spring;9(1):49-54. ↩
- Magnesium . NIH: Dietary Supplements. 2012. ↩