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First, we'll get the bad news over with: Few, if any, foods will actually boost your metabolism. According to Monica Auslander Moreno, RD, and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition, caffeine and cayenne pepper may have a slight boosting effect, "but more importantly (for caffeine), it can propel you to feel energized enough to exercise, which will actually have a significant effect on metabolism." However, if you suspect that your metabolism is slowing down (sure signs include weight gain, lethargy, craving sweets, and headaches), Ilana Muhlstein, RD, says that having a slow metabolism also means you will likely feel fuller and energized from fewer calories and should therefore focus on filling and satisfying low-calorie foods. Below, Muhlstein shares her picks for hunger-curbing whole foods that will be beneficial in the long run.
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"Cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, and cabbage are a great example," Muhlstein says. "They are very high in fiber, which can help absorb excess fat and calories and promote elimination." She explains that these vegetables also boast minerals like iron and calcium, which are essential for a healthy working metabolism.
"Whey protein, found in protein shake powders like Shakeology, is also great for boosting metabolism. Protein requires extra energy to break down, causing your body to burn excess calories and jolt your fat-burning potential," she says, explaining that lean protein also stimulates our hunger hormones to help us feel fuller and prevent overeating. And remember earlier how we mentioned that exercise is a factor that's proven to boost metabolism? Muhlstein says whey protein, in conjunction with working out, helps our bodies burn more calories. "Protein also contains leucine, an amino acid, that can help build muscle, which can improve our metabolic rate," she says.
Legumes are an excellent source of protein, another food group Muhlstein recommends for keeping your metabolism running at a high speed. "They are very rich in plant-based protein and iron, both essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism. Additionally, beans and legumes are rich sources of resistant starch. This starch is harder for the body to break down, meaning that it helps keep us fuller longer, can lower our blood sugar response, and encourages our body to burn more calories to break it down," she explains. The high fiber content in legumes can also help reduce fat storage in the body and improve bowel movements, which is actually helpful for enhancing a positive metabolic system.
"Research shows that starting your day with an egg-based breakfast can help you to feel full longer and consume less overall calories," nutritionist Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, of Real Nutrition told us. "Because eggs are made out of high-quality protein, the digestion can increase the metabolism as it requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates and fats."
When to Eat
Now that you know which foods will help boost muscle and keep you feeling full without the guilt, let's focus on timing. Says Muhlstein, "It has been studied and shown that your metabolism works about two times stronger in the first half of the day compared to the second half. You are eating food at the same time that you are engaged in your daily activities, which is ideal for burning more calories." In other words, more food should be eaten in the first half of the day and less heavy meals in the evening (no late-night snacks!) to help your metabolism work better.
Similarly, Moreno says that less eating at night could contribute to weight loss, though more research needs to be conducted. "There is some research that relegating (balanced, healthful) eating eight to 12 hours per day results in better cellular repair and potential weight loss for people, but more research is needed, and weight loss may simply occur because of the 'cutoff' time in the afternoon/evening. Most people tend to over-consume calories at night and the wrong types of calories."
This post was updated by Sarah Yang.