Metabolism-Boosting Foods: A Closer Look

If I were to make a top-10 list of questions I’m asked as a dietitian, this would absolutely make the cut:

"What foods can I eat to boost my metabolism?"

I don’t blame people for asking the question. After all, a quick Google search offers a myriad of solutions to “rev up” your metabolism, but do these foods really do what these articles claim they do?

Some of the more common suggestions in these lists include green tea, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon. Let’s take a closer look at the metabolic effects of green tea. A 500 milligram “dose” of green tea extract (this is quite a bit of green tea extract) does increase metabolism – about seven calories’ worth over a four-hour period, or approximately one almond.

Results from foods like hot peppers and cinnamon are similar. In other words, it’s not a lie to say that these foods do increase metabolic rate – it is very misleading, however, to suggest that the increase in metabolism is meaningful at all.

You may also notice many articles listing caffeine as a metabolism booster. Caffeine, most commonly consumed in coffee, has a similarly minor effect on boosting metabolism (a few calories at most in a normal “dose”). It does, however, have the dual effect of reducing appetite levels as most stimulants do. It’s important to keep in mind that coffee consumption has shown no meaningful connection to lower body weights or lasting weight loss.

Don’t buy the hype about low-calorie foods like celery boosting your metabolism, either. Your metabolism isn’t being changed in any way, you’re just eating fewer calories when you eat celery compared to, say, a banana.

If you want to increase your metabolism, there are two real things you can do:

  1. Make sure you eat enough protein. It takes energy for our body to digest food, known as the thermic effect of food. Each of the three macronutrients – protein, carbs, and fat – are processed differently. Compared to carbs and fat, it takes our body three to six times more energy to digest protein. Protein digestion also tends to take longer, meaning we are full for longer and burning more energy during digestion with protein compared to the other “macros.” Don’t take this as direction to eat huge amounts of protein, however. Excess protein can still be stored as fat, and overemphasizing protein at the expense of other vital nutrients found in other food groups will backfire over time.

  2. Move your body more. Good, old-fashioned physical activity – in any form – burns energy. This is the most efficient and direct way to increase energy used in the body and happens with something as simple as walking.

If you enjoy foods like green tea, cinnamon, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper, then by all means include them with your meals! Even though they won’t boost your metabolism by more than a few calories, they certainly have nutrition value and can add diverse flavors to your daily palate.

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