You might want to think twice before ditching dairy if you’re trying to lose weight—despite what your Paleo-preaching CrossFit friends tell you. Cheese is a satisfying, portable, and inexpensive food that’s packed with calcium, vitamin D, and protein. “Calcium can also promote weight loss because it helps maintain muscle mass, which boosts and helps maintain metabolism, helping you burn calories more efficiently throughout the day,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories & Fat Disappear—With Fiber! That doesn’t mean you can help yourself to a cheese-drenched casserole, though. Work cheese into fiber-rich snacks to make them more satiating.
Don’t cave into that extra episode of Stranger Things: Getting a quality night’s is a critical component of a healthy metabolism. “Too little sleep appears to wreak havoc with leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite,” says nutritionist Elisa Zied. “When you don’t sleep well, you feel hungrier and you tend to eat more and choose more nutrient-poor foods.”
A striking new study published in the journal Diabetes suggests that simply turning on the AC may subtly transform a person’s stores of brown fat, the “good” fat stimulated by cold temperatures, that serves to keep us warm by burning through “bad” fat stores. Participants spent a few weeks sleeping in bedrooms with varying temperatures: a neutral 75 degrees, a cool 66 degrees, and a balmy 81 degrees. After four weeks of sleeping at 66 degrees, the men had almost doubled their volumes of brown fat. Cool!
When you're trying to ramp up your metabolism, eating fats might sound scary — but you just have to eat the right kind. Focus on a balanced diet of protein, carbs, and healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil to see a change. "I told my friend to start her day with high-fiber cereal, plain yogurt, and a handful of walnuts, or a hard-boiled egg and a slice of whole-grain toast topped with avocado. Then eat this same balance of protein, carbs, and fat for lunch and dinner," says Eugenia Gianos, M.D., co-director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at New York University Langone Medical Center. "She felt full between meals, had fewer cravings, and because good fats and fiber work in tandem to boost metabolism, she was able to drop the extra pounds and keep them off. It's a strategy I've seen work over and over again in my practice."
Whole foods contain an assortment of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that act as metabolic spark plugs, giving you the energy to get up and move around. That’s the theory behind increasingly popular diets like Paleo, which eschews processed foods in favor of lean meat and vegetables. Without preservatives and unnecessary crap in your food, your body will burn clean, and that translates to a faster-moving metabolic engine.
Research shows that getting plenty of protein can boost your metabolism, causing you to burn an extra 150 to 200 calories a day, says Jeff Hampl, Ph.D., R.D., a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. "Protein is made up mainly of amino acids, which are harder for your body to break down [than fat and carbs], so you burn more calories getting rid of them," he explains.
It's tempting to curl up on the couch the minute PMS mood swings and bloat strike, but you'll lose more weight if you exercise during those two weeks before your period, according to a recent study at the University of Adelaide in Australia. "Women burned about 30 percent more fat for the two weeks following ovulation to about two days before menstruating," says study coauthor Leanne Redman. Here's why: The reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone are at their peak then — and because they promote the body's use of fat as energy, more fat is burned off when you exercise during this time.
Capsaicin, present in spicy foods like chili and red pepper flakes, might boost metabolism by up to 8 percent. As always, don’t use this as an excuse to eat unhealthier foods like greasy takeout. “Sprinkle on red pepper flakes on eggs in the morning,” advises Gans. “You could even make fish, chicken, or lean beef a little spicier for dinner.” Look out for these common foods that are messing with your metabolism.
Most of us choose one time of day to get our exercise in—whether that’s first thing in the morning or right after work. Though having a routine is helpful, Katherine suggests incorporating physical activity into both morning and night. For example, if you typically only exercise in the morning, then do a little something in the afternoon or early evening to bring the heart rate back up for a bit. “Evening exercisers can do the same thing in the morning,” she says. “Ten to 15 minutes of some activity in the morning will jump-start your metabolism for the day and will do a world of good.”
If you're someone who loves being cold while they sleep, you might already be doing your metabolism some good. A small study looked at how lowering the temperature while you're catching some zzzs may increase your levels of "brown fat" — the "good" fat that keeps you warm in cold temps by burning calories to generate heat. When the participants in the study slept at 66 degrees opposed to warmer temperatures, their amount of brown fat increased, while the opposite occurred during the months their sleeping areas were warmer. Turns out blasting the AC can really do you some good.
It’s like butter that grows on trees. But instead of the cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fats in real butter, avocado contains metabolism-enhancing monounsaturated fat. And that’s not all. Each creamy fruit is also packed with fiber and free-radical-killing antioxidants. Free radicals are destructive rogue oxygen molecules—natural byproducts of metabolism—that trigger various chain reactions in the body that destroy cells and DNA, causing all kinds of health problems. Antioxidants in fresh fruits and vegetables can help neutralize some free radicals, but they can’t reach the mitochondria—the base camp for the free radical army—and that’s a problem. When your mitochondria aren’t working properly, your metabolism runs less efficiently. Enter: Avocado. A 2015 study found that monounsaturated-rich oil pressed from the fruit can help mitochondria become more resilient. Researchers say the results jive with low-disease rates in Mediterranean countries where olive oil—nutritionally similar to the avocado—is a diet staple.
Whenever possible, slice each of your workouts into two smaller sessions. For example, do a 15-minute weight-lifting session in the morning, then do your 30-minute walk on your lunch hour or at night. You'll burn an extra 100 to 200 calories that day, explains Kelly Tracy, M.A., fitness coordinator at Duke University Diet and Fitness Center. Don't have time? Just add in some stair climbing or short walks throughout the day. Even small bursts of activity are enough to get your metabolism revved, according to a study in the scientific journal Nature. "I call it the mini stoke: For five minutes out of every hour, get up and do something, even if it's just walking around your office," says professor of medicine Peeke. "You can end up burning a couple of hundred extra calories.
Recent studies have shown that garlic supports blood-sugar metabolism and helps control lipid levels in the blood. Adding garlic to foods that are rich in fats and carbohydrates may keep those substances from doing the damage they’re known to do. What’s more, eating garlic can help boost your immune system, help ward off heart disease, fight inflammation and lower blood pressure, to name a few.
To get why, you have to understand a bit of the science behind metabolism. Your metabolic rate is essentially the speed at which your body expends energy, and it depends on many different factors. Your age, weight, health history, organ function, oxygen capacity, and even your height can all influence how many calories you burn during exercise, but also (and more importantly) during sedentary times of day.
After a week or two, your body will adjust to a more active lifestyle. That's when it's time to add workouts that increase metabolism. If you are healthy enough for vigorous exercise add one HIIT or Tabata session per week. Then gradually add one or two more. You can also add up to 3 strength training workouts per week to increase your metabolism with lean muscle mass.
There are plenty of fish in the sea, but salmon may be the best one for your metabolism. That’s because most cases of underactive thyroid are due to inflammation of the gland, and salmon boasts significant anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its rich omega-3 fatty acid content. In fact, a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effects of weight loss and seafood consumption and showed salmon to be the most effective at reducing inflammation—better than cod, fish oil, and a fish-free diet.
Make sure you eat breakfast. Eating a nutrient-rich morning meal (like oatmeal with almonds and berries, or a spinach-and-feta omelet with a slice of whole-grain toast) shortly after getting out of bed literally wakes up your metabolism. "Eating breakfast gets the engine going and keeps it going," Hyman explains. It's hard to argue with these results: According to the National Weight Control Registry (an ongoing study that tracks 5,000 people who lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off more than five years), 78% of those who keep it off eat an a.m. meal every day.
"Protein burns more calories than carbs and fat,” says Bustillo. About 30 percent of the calories in protein will go towards digestion and absorption, whereas that number is only about 10 percent for carbs, and even less for fats. Fiber's another nutrient that costs a little more energy, says Bustillo—so, getting adequate protein and fiber can definitely help maximize your BMR.
Sure, losing weight involves cutting calories, but limiting your calorie intake too much can deliver a double whammy to your metabolism. When you eat less than you need for basic biological function (about 2,000 calories for most women), your body throws the brakes on your metabolism. It also begins to break down precious, calorie-burning muscle tissue for energy, says Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, an associate professor of nutrition and kinesiology at Georgia State University. "Eat just enough so you're not hungry—a 150-calorie snack midmorning and mid-afternoon between three meals (about 430 calories each) will keep your metabolism humming."
If you're cutting calories to lose weight, add 200-300 to your daily intake once in a while, says Amanda Bonfiglio Cunningham, a senior Yoga Medicine instructor. "The body will get used to a calorie deficit diet, adjusting by slowing the metabolic rate. By allowing yourself a day of indulgence (not overindulgence!), you're creating a healthy balance," she explains. "The extra calories raise leptin production, a hormone that regulates appetite and energy. This rise triggers thermogenesis, the body's natural tendency to create heat, which results in burning calories." Pass the dessert menu!
Iron deficiency affects more than 1 in 5 women in the U.S. Being deficient in essential minerals can show up in all kinds of ways, such as fatigue and anemia, but an iron deficiency can also be a blow for getting into your skinny jeans with relative ease. See, your body can’t work as efficiently to burn calories when it doesn’t have what it needs to work properly. A cup of lentils, it turns out, provides over a third of your daily iron needs. Legumes like lentils also have been shown to drive down bad cholesterol and blood pressure.
Noshing throughout the day is a proven strategy to help you curb hunger and eat fewer calories overall. Now, experts are promoting nibbling versus gorging as a way to keep metabolism running by holding blood sugar levels steady and preventing weight-gain-promoting insulin spikes. Enjoying six small meals a day should do the trick; keep them around 300 calories each, or divide your usual day's calories by six.
Incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your diet such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans and other legumes, will make you feel fuller longer and keep cravings for unhealthy foods at bay. Studies find that women who eat the most fiber in foods gain the least weight over time. Women should aim to get 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily, and men 30 to 38 grams. The vegetables and fruits with the most fiber include raspberries, pears, apples, green peas, broccoli, and turnip greens. Making sure you're getting a good balance of protein, fiber, and fat every day will keep your hormone levels in check and help prevent you from gaining belly fat.
Studies conducted at The Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee suggest that consuming dairy may help your body metabolize fat more efficiently. Other studies have shown that increased calcium intake from dairy products (though not from supplemental calcium carbonate) caused study participants to poop out more fat as opposed to it sticking around on the body.
Thinking about having a cocktail — or two — before dinner? Think again. Having a drink before a meal causes people to eat around 200 calories more, several studies show. Drinking with dinner isn't such a good idea either: Other research has found that the body burns off alcohol first, meaning that the calories in the rest of the meal are more likely to be stored as fat. If you do have a cocktail craving, stick to wine, which packs only 80 calories a glass — or minimize the calories by drinking a white-wine spritzer (two ounces of wine mixed with two ounces of seltzer).
Eating a sufficient quantity of protein at each meal is almost unanimously agreed upon as a critical component of maintaining a rapid metabolism. A recent study by the American Society of Nutrition attested to a higher protein diet making you feel more satiated after eating and maintaining lean muscle mass. But that doesn’t mean you should go to town on a juicy steak every night. “You can only absorb about 30 grams of protein at a time to utilize it for muscle group and repair,” says Pincus, who recommends that you spread protein consumption throughout the day, about 4 ounces with each serving. Not sure how to incorporate healthy lean protein into your mealtime routines? Stollman suggests 2 tablespoons of nuts or nut butter, 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt, either dairy or soy, 2 ounces of tune, 4 tablespoons of hummus, 4 ounces of tofu, or 1 egg, with each meal or snack.
Add mustard to your meal, and feel the burn—literally! Scientists at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute found that by eating just one teaspoon of mustard (about 5 calories) can boost the metabolism by up to 25 percent for several hours after eating. The benefits, researchers say, may be attributed to capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanates, phytochemicals that give the mustard its characteristic flavor.