Healthy Eating: Burn calories, burn

Find out which five foods will speed up the metabolism and a few that will unfortunately slow it down.

By KATHRYN RUBIN
July 27, 2011 11:08
Green tea

Green tea. (photo credit: courtesy)

Wouldn’t it be nice to eat food to burn calories? While “negative calories” unfortunately top the list of health food myths, certain foods may boost the metabolism, thereby helping burn more calories faster.

The metabolism, in simple terms, is the process by which the body converts calories from food into energy. Now while many people choose to blame their “slow” metabolism for unwanted weight gain or difficulty losing weight, metabolism alone does not determine one’s weight. Instead gaining/losing weight, in most cases, is directly related to the difference between calories consumed and those that are burned. In short, eat more calories than you need/use, and your body will gain weight; while the opposite will result in weight loss.

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Nonetheless, the metabolism is the body’s engine that burns calories, and therefore giving it a boost will help the body use up more calories at a quicker rate. Now, while the only way to alter one’s resting metabolism permanently is to gain or lose weight, or to build extra muscle, the following health foods may provide a temporary boost.

Fiber One

So what does this food have that will help boost our metabolism? As the name suggests, this cereal is loaded with fiber! Fiber’s health benefits have been well publicized – from maintaining the digestive tract, to reducing the risk of cancer and diabetes, to even lowering cholesterol. But did you also know that it can help speed up your metabolism? Foods that are high in fiber, do not cause insulin levels to spike. High insulin levels prompt the body to store fat, and as a result slow the metabolism. So not only will your body be storing more fat, but it will also be burning calories at a slower rate. So the next time you want to start your morning with a bowl of cereal, opt for some Fiber One over high sugar cereals.  Sprinkle on some fresh fruit, such as blueberries or raspberries which are also loaded with fiber, as well as vitamins and antioxidants. On a side note – one of the worst mistakes someone can make is to skip breakfast. Many people believe that they can cut a few hundred calories from their day by skipping this meal; however, as our mother always told us “breakfast is the most important meal of the day," and it really is! Studies have shown that people who miss this meal actually slow their metabolism throughout the day.

Green Tea

Touted as the number one superfood, green tea is jam packed with catechines, a powerful antioxidant that destroys harmful free radicals that harm the body at the cellular level. This damage not only leaves the body more susceptible to cancers but also to heart disease. Catechins also provide protection against viral infections, such as the flu, as well as fight off bacteria in the stomach that can cause food poisoning (one of the reasons that sushi bars often serve green tea after the meal). Now apart from providing protection against an array of illnesses, consuming green tea may boost the metabolism. A study (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) showed a 4 percent increase in the metabolic rate from regular green tea consumption.

Salmon

More and more studies have shown what this fish can do for you – from decreasing the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure, to boosting brain function, reducing joint pain, inflammation and of course the risk of cancer. But what gives salmon its superfood powers? The answer: omega-3 fatty acid. A polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 has become infamous for its heart health benefits as well as its role in proper brain function; but now new research has shown that this “good” fat may help to speed up one’s metabolism! Studies have shown that regular consumption of omega-3 may reduce one’s risk of becoming obese as well as stimulating the secretion of leptin, a hormone that helps to regulate the metabolism. Now if salmon isn’t your favorite cold water fish, tuna, halibut, and sardines are also rich in omega-3 fatty acid; while many vegetarian sources, such as walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and even tofu are also abundant in this health beneficial fat.

Skim Milk

As we all know, foods rich in calcium are important for proper bone growth and maintenance; but what else does this mineral do? Apart from being needed for proper blood clotting, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, regulation of enzyme activity, cell membrane function and blood pressure regulation, calcium has been shown to trigger the body’s metabolism, thereby helping it to burn calories faster. In fact, various studies have shown that those who include 3 to 4 servings of (low-fat) dairy products in their diet regime lost significantly more weight than those who didn’t.

However, make sure that your calcium source, whether it be a glass of milk, a yogurt or a slice of cheese, is the low fat kind, as most full-fat dairy products are rich in the artery clogging saturated fat (and will therefore do more harm than good). A common health myth is that “low fat” milk and other dairy products contain less calcium that then the full-fat versions. This rumor is not only false, but skim (and 1%) milk actually contain more calcium than their full-fat counterparts.

Water

Topping the list as the number one metabolism booster is none other than plain old H2O. The most important element for survival after oxygen, water is needed for the proper function of every single organ, tissue and cell in our body. Its role in the body extends from flushing out harmful toxins, to regulating the body’s internal temperature, to maintaining a normal PH balance. Moreover, mild as well as chronic dehydration are one of the main causes of headaches, arthritis, lower back pain, gastritis, urinary tract infections as well as high blood pressure. While it has long been known that drinking adequate amounts of water a day is needed to maintain a normal metabolism, studies have now found that drinking a pint (about half a litter) of water, boosted the subject’s metabolism by as much as 30 percent for approximately 30 minutes. Research has also indicated that drinking hot water with lemon first thing in the morning can help jump start one’s metabolism while another study found that drinking ice cold water (instead of room temperature) may help burn more calories. On another note, feeling thirsty and hungry often go hand-in-hand, so many times when you think you are hungry, you’re body is really just craving some H2O. You might accidentally start eating instead of drinking (a calorie free) glass of water. The next time you are feeling hungry, drink a big glass of water and then wait 10-15 minutes. If you are still feeling hungry, then you know your body needs food; but if you’re not, then you were just thirsty and have saved you’re body some unnecessary calories. 

Now, while these five foods provide a quick boost to the metabolism, some foods may cause the opposite (unwanted) effect - slowing the metabolism down. So what are these enemies of the metabolism? Topping the list is sugar, sugar and oh, sugar! Sweets (and other treats), such as cakes, doughnuts, cookies and candy are not only packed with calories and saturated fat, but their high sugar content causes blood sugar levels to spike; this in turn triggers the body to burn less calories and store more fat. Fried foods, such as potato chips and French fries, are no friend of the metabolism either as their trans-fat (partially hydrogenated oil) content will raise LDL “bad” cholesterol levels while slowing the metabolic rate down to a crawl. And then there is alcohol. In addition to being high in calories, alcoholic beverages reduce the amount of fat the body will burn for energy. They also dehydrate the body, which in turn, can slow the metabolic rate.


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