Can Certain Foods Boost Your Metabolism?
I don’t know about you, but to me, the “good old days” refers to a time when I could polish off several slices of pizza and follow them with a handful of Girl Scout cookies—without gaining any weight.
Unfortunately, the metabolism we had at 13 years old doesn’t stick around for life. As we get older, high-calorie foods we once enjoyed with reckless abandon cause us to pack on pounds and generally feel pretty icky. The good news is, there are some foods that both taste good and promote a healthy metabolism. Keep in mind: None of these foods will cause you to shed major pounds. But the science shows that they do have some benefits. And when paired with a sensible nutrition plan, they can help stave off those extra pounds.
So, what is metabolism anyway?
Technically speaking, metabolism is defined as all the chemical reactions that happen in your body that are necessary for keeping you alive. These reactions include breathing, heart rate, muscle contraction, brain function, and more. To perform all these functions, your body needs energy in the form of calories, which we get from food. How your body uses, or burns, these calories is called your metabolic rate. Each person’s metabolic rate is different based on factors such as age, gender, and activity level.
In general, all foods raise your metabolism for a bit. That’s because your body uses energy to break them down. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF). However, some research shows that eating certain foods can more greatly affect the speed of your metabolism. The effects aren’t life-changing, (in fact, you likely won’t even notice them), but even the small impacts these foods have are a reason to include them in your daily or weekly nutrition planning.
As in: oatmeal, barley, whole-wheat bread, and whole-wheat pasta
Here’s a good reason to make half your grains whole: A study at Tufts University split 81 people into two groups. One ate mostly whole grains while the other ate refined breads and pastas. After six weeks, researchers found that the participants in the whole-grain group burned an additional 100 calories per day. (Karl) That’s the equivalent of a brisk walk—or enough to justify seconds of a whole-wheat spaghetti dinner or a double serving of oatmeal to start your day.
Such as: jalapeños and cayenne
Spicy food fans, rejoice! Some evidence shows that capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot, may slightly boost your metabolism. In a randomized control study, participants were fed a dish containing ½ teaspoon of cayenne. Researchers found that this amount of spice was enough to burn 10 extra calories after the meal. (Reinbach) Another study found that eating less than ¼ teaspoon of cayenne per meal can slightly increase fat oxidation. (Janssens) So while you won’t feel the burn per se, you can afford to eat one or two extra chips with your spicy salsa.
Think: black coffee and green tea
Turns out, your morning cuppa joe does more than give you energy—it burns energy, too. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who drank 100mg of caffeine per day (the amount in one cup of coffee) burned an additional 79 to 150 calories daily. (Dulloo) Remember: If you’re eating around 2,000 calories each day, this rounds out to less than 10 percent of that. Also, caffeinated drinks high in added sugar, milk, and cream contain can contain a lot of calories, which cancel out this benefit. But science does show one cup of black coffee gives both your mood and your metabolism a healthy morning boost.
Can’t get enough on food and metabolism? Check out the journal articles I referenced for more in-depth info:
Dulloo, A. G., Geissler, C. A., Horton, T., Collins, A., & Miller, D. S. (1989). Normal caffeine consumption: Influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers. [Abstract]. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 49(1), 44-50. doi:10.1093/ajcn/49.1.44
Janssens, P. L. H. R., Hursel, R., Martens, E. A. P., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. Acute effects of capsaicin on expenditure and fat oxidation in negative energy balance. [Abstract]. PLoS One, 8(7). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067786
Reinbach, H. C., Smeets, A., Martinussen, T., Møller, P., Westerterp-Plantenga, M.S., Effects of capsaicin, green tea and CH-19 sweet peppers on appetite and energy intake in humans in negative and positive energy balance. [Abstract]. Clinical Nutrition, 28(3), 260-5. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2009.01.010.
Roberts, S. B., Karl, J. P., Meydani, M., Junaidah B. B., Vanegas, S. M., Goldin, B., Kane, A., Rasmussen, H., Saltzman, E., Vangay, P., Knights, D., Chen, C-Y. O., Das, S.K., Jonnalagadda, S.S., Meydani, S.N.. (2017). Substituting whole grains for refined grains in 6-week randomized trial favorably affects energy balance parameters in healthy men and post-menopausal women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Advance online publication, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.139683.