“You can dramatically affect the expression of your metabolism and your biochemistry by the way you eat and the way you live.”
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Even if you generally understand that the foods you eat directly affect your well-being, have you ever wondered why that is? It comes down to metabolism, which refers to all of the chemical reactions that occur in your body, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. These reactions, which take place within your cells, are necessary to produce energy. The term “metabolic health” refers to how well your body generates this energy, says Casey Kelley, MD, ABoIM, founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health. Meanwhile, the term “metabolic rate” describes how many calories (i.e., energy) your body needs to perform life-sustaining functions like breathing, she adds.
And while “healthy metabolism” is often discussed in terms of weight, it’s not just about the number on the scale. Having a healthy metabolism is critical for your well-being, and ultimately, longevity. If someone has a healthy metabolism, it means they can digest food and absorb nutrients without experiencing issues like inflammation or high blood pressure, Dr. Kelley explains, which is vital for staving off metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, she says.
Fruits are some of the best foods for metabolic health because they’re teeming with antioxidants, the beneficial molecules that neutralize free radicals. An antioxidant-rich diet is key because free radicals are harmful compounds that—when present in high levels—cause oxidative stress, increase the risk of chronic disease, and shorten overall longevity. Most notably, “certain fruits like oranges, grapefruits, kiwis, strawberries, pineapple, mango, guava, and papaya are rich in [the] powerful antioxidant vitamin C,” Ehsani says. And, as mentioned above, vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron that’s important for healthy metabolism.
Here’s the tea: Whether you prefer earthy matcha, earl grey, or spiced chai, drinking tea is an excellent way to aid your metabolism. According to Dr. Kelley, teas contain antioxidants called catechins. In addition to quelling oxidative stress and cellular damage, catechins, she says, help regulate blood pressure, boost your metabolism, and break down fats. “Additionally, the caffeine in many teas will boost your energy, enabling you to burn more calories throughout the day. Green tea, in particular, is a great metabolism-boosting option,” she adds.
If you love spice, your metabolism is in luck. Chili peppers—which are widely used to add heat to recipes—contain a compound called capsaicin that gives them their fiery taste and makes them quite good for you, too, Ehsani says. According to a 2019 study, capsaicin boasts beneficial effects for heart function and overall inflammation. In fact, the same study found that eating chili peppers at least four times a week can help protect against disease and heart-related death.
We already mentioned fruits that boost metabolism, but other high-fiber picks in the veggie, bean, and nut families are also beneficial. According to Dr. Kelley, increasing your overall intake of fiber can bolster metabolic health. “High-fiber foods such as broccoli, apples, and nuts take longer to chew and keep you full for longer,” she says. This helps prevent overeating, which can stress out the system, cause inflammation, and make it hard to maintain a healthy weight for your body. Similarly, fiber takes a long time to digest, meaning your body needs to work harder to break it down, says Dr. Kelley. But that’s not all: Fiber is also essential for managing inflammation, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and gut health—all of which can support your metabolism.
Call it cheating, but yes, water is absolutely on this list. As it turns out, you don’t need pricey specialty drinks or grocery items to jumpstart your metabolism. Simply drinking enough water can do wonders, and for good reason. The body is composed of 60 percent water, Ehsani says, and H2O is essential for myriad functions, including carrying oxygen to cells, removing waste, regulating body temperature, and more. Thus, the body needs proper hydration every day in order to function optimally and aid healthy metabolism. Aim for eight eight-ounce glasses a day or try infused water recipes to keep things interesting.