Everything You Need to Know About Metabolism



Metabolism. It’s a word many of us have heard for most of our adult lives, but so much of the information we’ve received about it is probably confusing at best and inaccurate (or plain false) at worst.

What is metabolism?

Metabolism is the bodily process of converting the food we eat and the beverages we drink into energy. Since our bodies require energy for everything from walking and talking to digestion and sleep, metabolism is a critical process that plays a huge role in how our bodies function.

Because our bodies are all different, some people have a more efficient metabolism than others. These differences in metabolism among individuals are how the concept of “fast” and “slow” metabolisms came about.

3 ways metabolism happens

Metabolism happens through three processes:

1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): BMR is the number of calories your body burns to keep it functioning while at rest. BMR actually accounts for the largest number (65-75 percent) of total calories your body burns throughout the day.

2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): TEF is the energy your body needs to digest, absorb, transport and store the food you eat. It accounts for approximately another 10 percent of the total calories your body burns in a day.

3. The Thermic Effect of Exercise (TEE): TEE is the energy you need to perform active movements like running, walking, biking, stretching, lifting, doing housework and so on. It accounts for the rest of the calories you burn in a day.

Foods that can boost metabolism 

Whether you have a “slow” or a “fast” metabolism, there are things you can do to help your body burn calories more efficiently. As you might be able to guess based on the descriptions of TEF and TEE above, the types of foods you eat and the amount of movement you do can help. Here we’ll focus on TEF by suggesting a few foods and drinks you can consume to boost your metabolism.

1. Water

Hydration plays a big role in maintaining an efficient metabolism. Drinking enough water each day is an easy way to help your body metabolize food for a short period of time. Researchers note that a majority of the increase in metabolism from drinking water is due to the additional calories needed to bring the water up to body temperature.

2. Coffee

Several studies have reported that the caffeine found in coffee can help increase metabolism. However, the effects appear to vary from person to person, based on characteristics like body weight and age.

3. Tea

Not a coffee drinker? Don’t worry — tea can also provide a metabolism boost! The combination of caffeine and catechins found in tea (specifically oolong and green tea) may work to increase metabolism. However, as with coffee, the effects may vary from person to person.

4. Protein-Rich Foods

Foods that are high in protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds, could help increase metabolism for a few hours since they require your body to use more energy to digest them. Research shows that protein-rich foods increase TEF the most.

5. Spicy Foods

Certain spices are thought to contain beneficial metabolism-boosting properties. Three specific spices that have been shown to increase metabolism in research studies include ginger, grains of paradise and cayenne pepper. Additionally, chili peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical that may slightly boost your metabolism by increasing the calories and fat you burn. It’s important to note, however, that many people can’t tolerate these spices at the doses required to have a significant effect on metabolism.

While the specific effects each of these will have on metabolism will typically vary based the amount consumed and by the individual, they’re worth giving a shot — especially since these foods and drinks can provide other health benefits to boot!

Do popular “fat-burning” foods actually aid weight loss?

fat burning foodsThe perennial weight loss dilemma is finding foods that burn fat while keeping you full. It’s tempting to seek that elusive quick fix: foods that are satisfying and burn unhealthy weight. But can eating certain foods really help you burn fat? Let’s look at the science behind the claims.

Many popular articles and fitness magazines claim that eating certain foods—like whole grains, hot peppers and green tea—can help boost the metabolism and burn fat. Some health experts suggest that less-processed foods, like whole grains, require the body to expend additional energy (in the form of calories) to digest and process, making them a better alternative than easily digested foods that require less energy. Hot peppers are also rumored to aid weight loss because they increase body temperature and therefore, the thinking goes, burn calories.

It’s one thing to read these claims in fitness magazines, but what are the professionals saying? While this may be disappointing news, Dr. Dirk, a Bariatric Surgeon in Dallas, TX,  does not believe that pouring hot sauce on your food or chugging green tea will melt body fat. Instead, he advocates for a scientifically sound, tried-and-true diet for his weight loss patients. Specifically, he says that protein-packed foods, like lean meats and low-fat dairy products, can help speed the metabolism.

“Your body works nine times harder to process high-protein food and get the nutrition you need than it does for high-carb and junk food,” Dr. Dirk says.

So what are some good high-protein choices? Lean chicken, turkey and fish are a great start and a far healthier alternative to fattier ground beef or pork. For a quick snack, low-fat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese can provide a whopping 28 grams of protein per serving, accounting for just under half of your daily needs. Protein can come from other sources, too, including nuts and nut butters, though these tend to have a higher fat content. Reach for these options in moderation.

But will an ultra-spicy dish or a raw habañero pepper help you achieve the results you’re working towards? Unless you’re running down the street with your mouth open to cool off, Dr. Dirk says, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll see any benefit. Stick to a balanced diet that includes plenty of protein to rev up your metabolism.