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. ↩
Good article ! Keep up the good work!
Thanks, Seb! I’m excited to be working with the BuiltLean team!
Great information! It is so interesting how little most people know about how food is metabolized. People became so paranoid about certain foods, without the knowledge to back it up, that they actually have deprived themselves of things that are truly very healthy. I look forward to more articles from you!
Thanks! Yeah, it seems like with everything else in our society, nutrition get sensationalized and we lose track of the important information. Kind of like crusade against fats for the last 30 years…we throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Super interesting. My friend eats avocado on his sandwich all the time and he is in real good shape. Good info!
Thanks, Larry! Do you ever watch Alton Brown on Food Network? He did an episode a while back on avocado and did some really interesting stuff with them…he even made ice cream! I guess the consistency and fat content of avocados makes them a good substitute for eggs and butter in a lot of recipes.
What do you recommend vegetarians do to still get the same effect as eating the lean meats?
@John – That’s a great question and one that deserves a separate post for sure. I would look into foods like Quinoa and legumes that have higher protein content. If you have a lot of trouble getting enough protein, you can also consider Sun Warrior Protein as a veggie protein powder.
Finally, vegetarians are often deficient in the following vitamins, so you can explore supplementation with some talks with your doctor:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This is the first article that I’ve read about metabolic foods that actually warned against just eating to lose weight! Bravo on insisting in integrating a healthy diet and an exercise regimen!
Did you actually read the 2011 grapefruit study that you are quoting??? It says that there was NO statistically significant difference in weightloss between a preload of grapefruit versus water. The conclusion actually says that the weightloss had nothing to do with the grapefruit itself, just that “low energy dense dietary preload in a caloric restricted diet is a highly effective weight loss strategy”…. The only statistically significant change was that serum HDL levels were significantly improved in the grapefruit groups. I’d recommend looking up any sources that you’re going to quote if you want to try and gain any credibility.
@Helen – First, let me thank you for being astute and pointing out this mistake. Second, I will not approve a comment exactly as your wrote it in the future. I will request that you rewrite the comment in a way that is positive and constructive. The overtly negative and mean spirited tone of your comment simply doesn’t belong on this website. I love contructive criticism, but I do not like overtly negative, or nasty comments.
Me, our editors, and contributors work VERY hard on these articles that are free for anyone in the world with an internet connection to read. We are not perfect. We make mistakes and we even acknowledge this in our corrections policy. Anyone can also fill out our contact form to email us with any technical errors on the site (just choose the “other” option as the reason for contacting us).
The grapefruit paragraph was changed from:
“Tangy and sweet, grapefruit can help you burn fat and lose weight: A 2011 study by Vanderbilt University showed that participants lost an average of 7.1% of their body weight after a 12-week diet that included grapefruit. In 2006, Scripps Clinic noted similar results, but 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.”
“Tangy and sweet, grapefruit may 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.”
I also added links to the two research papers quoted.
I want to thank Nate again for writing this article and creating the important message that it’s not a particular food that “burns fat” but a well-rounded fitness and nutrition program. My favorite quote is, “Without proper exercise and nutrition, eating them [metabolism-boosting foods] would only be like throwing a match on a pile of wet leaves.” Not sure how much you’ve looked around the internet for similar articles, but my guess is very few articles capture this very positive, honest, and important message.
Thanks again for pointing this out and I hope that in the future you will be able to use more of a positive and constructive tone.
I am on a surplus trying to gain mass weight, I am 45 y/o male, 154 lbs, 5’7″ working out 4 days a week and the scale not moving up, I was wondering if the two cups of green tea I am drinking in the am have something to do with it? Any thoughts would be appreciated.
@Carlos – My guess is no, it’s not. Gaining muscle is very tough and it requires eating quite a significant calorie surplus, ample protein, and a progressive exercise program. A couple cups of green tea virtually no impact.