We all have a few lucky friends who can eat whatever they want, even pizza and seconds of chocolate cake, and never seem to gain an ounce. And they don’t even exercise. Argh!
These lucky few were probably born with a higher basal metabolic rate (BMR) than the rest of us. Your BMR, also called your rest Metabolic rate is the energy your body needs for your heart to pump blood throughout your body, to breathe, to maintain tissues like muscle, and to regulate temperature. BMR accounts for about 60-70% of your energy expenditure. But there are two other parts to the metabolism picture: your daily physical activity or exercise, called thermogenesis activityand the thermal effect of food (TEF), i.e. the calories used to digest food and transform it into energy.
Research published in 2021 found that our BMR remains relatively constant from age 20 to 60, then begins to slow as we age. So there’s not much you can do to change your BMR (although adding muscle through strength training can help because muscle mass burns more calories than fat).
Although our BMR is pretty much a constant, you box Temporarily affect your food metabolism thermic effect based on the type of food you eat, as some foods require more calories to turn into energy than other foods. Protein-rich foods, for example, have a high thermic effect, which means your body has to work harder to digest them, which speeds up your metabolism. At the same time, there are foods that don’t trigger that fat burning furnace and can actually hurt your metabolism. And those worst foods to eat if you want a faster metabolism are simple sugars without any fiber, like white bread.
How Foods High in Simple Sugars Affect Your Metabolism
The best foods for boosting your metabolism are those that take longer to digest and keep you feeling full, while the worst foods for your metabolism are those that break down into glucose quickly.
The tool you can use to measure how long it takes for a food containing carbohydrates to digest and turn into glucose is called the glycemic index. A food with a high glycemic index takes less time to digest, which quickly increases the level of glucose in your bloodstream.
These simple carbs, like candy, soda, and sugary desserts, give your body a quick burst of energy because they break down quickly, but then, just as quickly, you’ll feel sluggish and hungry. They tend to make you hungry and can encourage overeating, so high GI foods are associated with weight gain. In contrast, complex carbs like whole grains that have a low GI tend to aid weight loss because they take longer to digest and require more calories to do so.
A 2010 study in the journal Food and nutrition research illustrated the difference by measuring post-meal energy expenditure for six hours after subjects ate either a meal of processed foods (a processed cheese sandwich on white bread) or a “whole food” sandwich made from cheddar cheese on multigrain bread.
By comparing the measurements of the two meals, the researchers found that the subjects took significantly more energy to digest the whole food sandwich than the processed food sandwich and concluded that the processed ingredients, particularly the white flour, reduced metabolism by 50%. Another study, this one in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that following a diet with a high glycemic index promoted overeating, increased body weight and body fat, and larger waist circumference in a sample of 191 Danish women.
White bread is particularly bad for your metabolism
“White flour has all the healthiest parts of wheat, like fiber and nutrients, stripped out,” says a registered dietitian Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, the CEO of NY Nutrition Group. Eliminating fiber makes white bread easy and quick to digest, so your metabolism doesn’t have to run at a higher rate and burn more calories to break it down, she says.
So, arguably, the worst foods to eat if you want a faster metabolism are those made up of simple sugars without any fiber. White bread is perhaps the star child of these metabolism-slowing foods, with a glycemic index of around 75, simply because we Americans eat a lot of it. Foods are ranked on the GI on a scale of 0 to 100, with pure glucose being 100. Some cold cereals rank even higher than white bread at around 81 on the scale. Other metabolism-slowing high GI foods include granola, white rice, spaghetti, cookies, cakes, pastries, soda, just about anything refined and highly processed.
Raising your resting metabolic rate is hard to do, but in the short term, you can increase your fat-burning metabolism by getting more exercise, especially high-intensity efforts broken up into short intervals.
An even easier way is to avoid the worst foods for your metabolism and choose the best: foods high in protein (lean meats, fish, and Greek yogurt) and high in fiber like beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
Load up on fiber with these 17 delicious recipes featuring a simple can of beans.
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for publishing Galvanized Media books and magazines and advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Bethlehem Moravian University, in Pennsylvania. Read more
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