Do you have a friend who seems to be able to eat what she wants when she wants? She chows down on her fettuccini alfredo while you nibble at your grilled chicken breast and broccoli. While your friend may possess a fast metabolism (a calorie counter's dream!) she's the exception. In fact, most of us have to work hard at keeping our energy-producing systems running efficiently. Whether your metabolism has always been sluggish or is slowing down with age, you can give it a boost by eating the right foods-create an abundance of fuel for energy and prevent weight gain. Here's how.
POWER UP WITH PROTEIN
Getting plenty of protein can fuel your metabolism, causing you to burn an extra 150 to 200 calories a day, says Jeff Hampl, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at Arizona State University. "Protein is made up mainly of amino acids, which our bodies don't store and are harder to break down (than fat and carbs), so you burn more calories getting rid of them," he explains. But you needn't adopt a protein-only diet. According to the National Academy of Sciences, optimum metabolic function occurs when the body gets 10 percent to 35 percent of total daily calories from lean protein, including chicken, legumes, and soy foods. "Keep in mind, we get protein from some surprising sources, too; even green beans and carrots provide some," Hampl says.
Low-fat dairy products are another good protein pick. Research shows that people who drink milk or eat yogurt or cheese 3-4 times a day lose 70% more body weight than those who consume less dairy. Calcium, along with other substances in dairy, tells your body to burn excess fat faster, according to study author Michael Zemel, PhD, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. "Calcium supplements alone won't work," he says. It's the bioactive compounds in milk, yogurt, and cheese that work with calcium to produce the fat-burning effects." Vegetarian calcium sources include broccoli and dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale and chard.
CHOOSE COMPLEX CARBS
Carbohydrates get a bad rap from many weight watchers, but they're important for a healthy metabolism. The key is to choose natural, complex carbohydrates, including whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which take longer for your body to digest and absorb than refined carbs. This prevents rapid changes in blood sugar and keeps hunger at bay. In contrast, refined starches - think white breads, rice, and pastas - are more likely to create an insulin surge that promotes fat storage and may drive down your metabolic rate, says Susan Roberts, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University.
And try spicing up your food. Research studies have shown that good-carb chili peppers can temporarily boost your resting metabolic rate. Here's why: Capsaicin, the fiery component found in chili peppers, temporarily stimulates your body to release more stress hormones (such as adrenaline), speeding metabolism.
KNOW YOUR FATS
For an efficient metabolism, the amount of fat you eat is less important than the type. Avoid trans fats, contained in fried foods, margarine, and commercially baked goods made with partially hydrogenated oils, which slow metabolism and cause your body to store fat cells instead of burning them. Seek out good fats, especially omega-3s found in cold-water fish (including salmon, mackerel and sardines), flaxseed oil, walnuts, and hempseed. Omega-3 fatty acids improve insulin action and glucose metabolism in fat and muscle cells, thereby burning more calories.
Foods rich in omega-3 oils also can reduce resistance to leptin, a protein hormone that slows fat-tissue-producing enzymes. Several studies suggest leptin levels directly influence metabolism, including one that found leptin-deficient mice tended toward obesity, while those with high leptin levels had faster metabolism and burned fat more quickly.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A well-balanced diet is the key to an internal engine that burns calories efficiently. To create a healthy metabolism, choose whole grains, vegetables, and fruits; select lean meat and low-fat dairy for protein. Always opt for healthy fats.
If all that sounds simple, it can be. The key to success is making the right ingredients taste good.
My June 13th post includes recipes for three very flavorful salsas that taste great on chicken, salads, baked potatoes, burgers or any white fish.
What is your favorite recipe that has great flavor and includes the healthy foods above?