Have you been trying to lose weight, but it just won’t seem to shift?
Instead of trying yet another restrictive food plan, it might be time to see if you can revamp your metabolism using nutritious foods instead.
What is the metabolism?
People generally use the word metabolism only in relation to fat burning and weight loss.
In fact, your metabolism has a hand in all your body’s systems. ‘Metabolism’ is the overall term given to the huge range of chemical processes which take place in all living cells in the body. 1
A key element of the metabolism is to convert the food we eat into energy with which to fuel these chemical processes. This is why people commonly refer to the metabolism in terms of fat burning.
These processes, such as breathing, breaking down food, building living tissues, repairing damaged cells – all burn calories.2
Some people’s bodies burn more energy than others. This is called the metabolic rate. The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories you burn at rest.
How do you speed up weight loss?
You can try certain foods to increase metabolism. This is based on the idea that some foods require more energy to break them down than others.
This makes sense when you think about it – a sugary, refined carbohydrate-heavy food like a glazed doughnut is going to hit your bloodstream very quickly and disintegrate rapidly in the stomach. 3
A handful of nuts, on the other hand, which is rich in protein and fibre, is going to take more time and effort – and subsequently energy – for your body to digest.
And the more energy your body spends doing an activity, whether hiking a mountain or digesting a meal, the more calories you’ll burn. This is known as the ‘thermic effect of food’. 4
What should I eat to increase my metabolism?
Check out our list of foods that increase metabolism:
Nuts are among the foods with high thermic effect – meaning they take more energy to digest and be used by the body.
Full of unsaturated fat, protein and fibre, nuts are relatively slow to digest and can cause a temporary boost in your metabolic rate. One study found that there was an elevation of energy expenditure after eating them. 5
All food burns calories just by being digested – but protein is the top of this list. Protein can increase your metabolic rate by up to 30% for a few hours after you’ve eaten it. This is why it’s often touted as one of the best foods to eat to lose belly fat. 6
2. Chilli pepper
If you eat a super-hot chilli, your face can flush and you can even start sweating.
So, it’s no surprise that the spicy chilli is considered among the foods that speed up your metabolism. The active ingredient capsaicin found in hot peppers such as chilli and cayenne can potentially increase the rate of calorie burn as your body processes it. 7
Scientific studies have actually shown that chilli peppers enhance our diet-induced thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is the amount of energy you expend in the process of processing food – therefore more calories burned. 8
Much like chilli pepper, this popular condiment can also trigger diet-induced thermogenesis.
In one study, 22 young men were given an eye-watering 21g of mustard with a meal. Following the meal, their calorie-burning at rest was tested and found to be elevated for a short period. 9
You may have heard the thyroid being discussed in relation to metabolism and weight loss.
The thyroid gland, located in the neck, pumps out thyroid hormones to our cells. Each cell must contain thyroid hormones in order to create energy. When the thyroid is working efficiently, it regulates the metabolism and allows us to burn calories at a normal rate. 10 11
The mineral iodine is essential for proper thyroid function, so foods such as iodine-rich seaweed (such as kelp and kombu) should be on your shopping list. 12
A cup of coffee certainly gives you that get-up-and-go, but it can actually do the same for your metabolism.
In one study, 100mg caffeine increased the resting metabolic rate of the participants. Further, 100mg caffeine administered every 2 hours for a 12 hour period boosted the metabolism in fit people by up to 11%, resulting in an extra 150kcal burned that day. 13
Read more: Is caffeine good for you?
6. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is made up of fats called ‘medium chain triglycerides’.
One study found that after a month of eating a diet rich in medium chain triglycerides, such as coconut oil, study participants lost more fat than those eating a diet rich in long chain triglycerides such as olive oil. More importantly, their energy expenditure at rest – aka their metabolic rate- had increased, too. 14
Read more: 3 delicious coconut oil recipes
Fish is considered one of the foods that speed up metabolism thanks to its protein content. The amino acids in protein are the building blocks for muscle growth. Muscle cells require more energy to maintain than fat cells. 15
So, people with more muscle mass will generally have a higher metabolism.
8. Whole grains
A diet rich in whole grains, when eaten alongside plenty of fibre (20g – 30g daily), can lead to an extra 100kcals burned throughout the day.
This was the impressive finding of a study published in 2017 by Tufts University in the USA. After 8 weeks of replacing refined grains (such as white bread) with whole grains, participants displayed an increase in resting metabolic rate. 16
Read more: The health benefits of whole grains
Nutritional information for these fast metabolism foods
|Energy (kcals)||Fat||Saturated fat||Protein||Fibre||Carbohydrates||Sugar||Sodium|
|Nuts (24 almonds)||164kcal||14.2g||1.1g||6g||3.5g||6.1g||1.2g||0mg|
|Chilli pepper (1 pepper)||18kcal||0.14g||>0.1g||0.87g||0.7g||4.1g||2.3g||4mg|
|Mustard (1 tsp)||3kcal||0.16g||>0.1g||0.2g||0.2g||0.39g||0.14g||56mg|
|Caffeine (1 cup black coffee)||0kcal||0g||0g||0g||0g||0g||0g||0mg|
|Coconut oil (1tbsp)||117kcal||13.6g||11.7g||0g||0g||0g||0g||0mg|
|Fish (100g salmon)||146kcal||5.93g||1.26g||21.6g||0g||0g||0g||46mg|
|Whole grains (100g brown rice)||110kcal||0.89g||0.18g||2.56g||1.8g||22.8g||0.35g||301mg|
And 3 foods that slow metabolism
1. Artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners can interfere with thyroid function. 18 Remember, an under-performing thyroid isn’t as effective at regulating the metabolism, making you burn fewer calories at rest.
2. Refined carbohydrates
Think white rice, white pasta, white bread and floury white potatoes. These types of refined carbohydrates don’t cause a boost to your metabolic rate. Refined carbohydrates are simple for your body to break down, meaning you expend less energy doing so than with nuts, for example.
3. Fried foods
Full of saturated fat, too many fried foods are a notorious nutritional baddie. Compared with protein and complex carbohydrates, fat has a lower thermic effect, so we don’t burn many calories processing and digesting it. 19
Last Updated: 25th November 2020
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.