Our metabolism is like a car. We need to give it the best fuel possible in order for it to run optimally. As a foundation, that means feeding it clean, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Throw out the sugar, preservatives, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, refined grains and give your body nutrient rich foods such as grass-fed, wild caught proteins (salmon, poultry, beef, bison), smart starches (root vegetables, sprouted, gluten-free grains), antioxidant-rich veggies (peppers, carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes), low sugar fruits (strawberries, raspberries, cherries, green apples, pears), fulfilling fats
(avocado, olives, olive oil, coconut, coconut oil, 80% dark chocolate, nuts and seeds). This should provide the majority of nutrients with which you fuel your body on a daily basis.
However, there are a few well-studied "superfoods" that have documented benefits for our metabolism including the ability to quench inflammation, reduce belly fat, shrink fat cells, balance blood sugar and inhibit the creation of new fat cells.
What are these amazing foods you ask? Check them out:
Broccoli sprouts are 3 to 5 day old broccoli plants just starting to grow out of their seeds. These sprouts contain a very potent and important compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane has been studied for its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and metabolism-boosting properties. While sulforaphane has been found to provide some amazing health benefits including reducing vascular inflammation (1), improving cognition and helping prevent dementia (2), cancer prevention (3), reduced oxidative stress (4), and improved lipid profiles (5), I want to highlight its benefits to our fat-burning metabolism as motivation for you to include it in your nutrition plan on a regular basis.
Broccoli sprouts have been shown to turn fat storage cells (termed white adipose tissue) into metabolically active fat (brown adipose tissue) that actually burns body fat by generating heat and increasing fat usage for energy (6). If that wasn't good enough, sulforaphane has also been shown to cause fat cells to die (7) and prevent new fat cells from forming (8) which has potent therapeutic potential for treating and peventing obesity. It's clear that the addition of broccoli sprouts to an already clean eating program can provide some impressive metabolism-boosting properties.
Here is one broccoli sprout recipe that I love courtesy of Cultures For Health. But you can also simply sprinkle them on salads, blend them into protein shakes or lightly saute them in grassfed butter or coconut oil.
Broccoli Sprout Salsa
2 cups broccoli sprouts
2 cups chopped tomato
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup minced red onions
1/2 seeded chopped jalapeno
Sea salt to taste
Combine, mix well and enjoy atop grilled chicken or as a dip. It would go great on top of our next superfood as well...
Much like broccoli sprouts, the health benefits of salmon extend beyond our metabolism to include reducing the risk of coronary artery disease (9), reduced neurocognitive impairment (10), and improved lipid profile (11). Salmon contains anti-inflammatory and extremely beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids (along with omega-6 fatty acids) are types of fat that our body cannot produce and thus we need to get these fats from the foods we eat. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are very important in our bodies and are used to balance out the anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory processes that are essential to our bodies healing processes. However, we need to eat an appropriate ratio of these fatty acids or else we can create a pro-inflammatory environment in our bodies. This happens when we over-consume omega-6's and under-consume omega-3's. And this happens all the time. Omega-6's are vegetable oils. Omega-3's are fish oils. Omega-6's are prolific in processed foods. Omega-3's are in salmon and other cold water fatty fish. How much processed foods do you eat compared to salmon? The correct ratio of omega-6's to omega-3's is approximately 2:1. For every two processed foods you eat (like crackers, chips, cookies, cereal, protein bars, etc) are you eating a piece of salmon? Unfortunately, most of us are not. In fact, we can test an individual's omega-6 to omega-3 ratio via blood work. When this is done, I commonly see ratios of 20:1, 30:1 or even higher. The further we get from a 2:1 ratio, the more inflamed we become and the more we predispose our bodies to inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease among others.
Ok, so we know omega-3's are good for us but just how do they benefit our metabolism? Research as shown that lower levels of omega-3's are associated with having a higher body weight and more dangerous belly fat that can be detrimental to our organs (12). That means that the less salmon we eat, the more likely we are to have thicker waistlines. Supplementation with fish oil has been shown to promote fat loss and reduced waist circumference and the addition of salmon to one's diet has been shown to enhance the body's ability to lose weight (13). It appears that omega-3's have the potential to increase our metabolism and enhance fat burning, during both exercise and at rest, which leads to greater weight loss and improved body composition over time (14). If this is the case, then it shouldn't be too difficult to include salmon a few times per week in order to reap the metabolism-enhancing properties of omega-3's. Check out this recipe that also includes our third metabolism-boosting superfood courtesy of Epicurious.
Pan-Roasted Salmon with Ginger and Curry
2 t minced ginger
1 t curry powder
2 (6oz) salmon filets
1 T coconut oil
3 chopped scallions
Stir together ginger and curry and season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Pat mixture onto salmon. Heat pan with coconut oil to moderate heat but not smoking. Cook salmon skin sides down, covered, for 5 minutes. Turn salmon over and cook covered for 2 more minutes. Add scallions and cook for 30 seconds. Serve and enjoy!
Curry, also known as the golden spice, has been around for centuries. Its health benefits date back that long as well. Curry has been used extensively in India as a healing spice for things such as GI distress and joint pain. Within the past 20 years, significant research is starting to back up the health claims of curry. Curry, like our two other superfoods, has health benefits that extend beyond metabolism including tumor prevention (15), anti-inflammation (16), and joint pain reduction (17), especially in those with osteoarthritis. These benefits alone make curry a staple in any diet.
Curry contains turmeric and turmeric contains curcumin. Curcumin is the bioactive compound in curry responsible for the many amazing health benefits. These health benefits also include ones that can improve our metabolism and body composition. One study found the addition of curcumin to diet and lifestyle modifications lead to better weight loss, waist circumference reduction, hip circumference reduction and lower BMI, (18) even in participants whose bodies seemed resistant to weight loss via diet and lifestyle changes. Curcumin was able to facilitate improved body composition. This may be due to the fact that curcumin, like broccoli sprouts, can cause fat cells to become metabolically active--converting energy from food into heat. This has been shown to lead to reduced body weight without alterations in appetite (19) which is
great since hunger is a huge turn-off of traditional dieting. Curcumin can also stop the formation of new fat cells (20), allowing the current number of fat cells to shrink in size in response to improved nutritional changes and exercise. Shrinking of fat cell size may be due to the fact that curcumin can induce lipolysis (fat breakdown) so that body fat can be burned for fuel more easily (21). And for those of you going through the frustrating weight changes that can accompany menopause, curcumin improved fat burning and oxidative inflammation in a hormone-deprived state such as occurs during menopause. That may be very good news for post-menopausal women looking to regain their waistlines and feel better (22).
While these superfoods are not magic weight loss pills, adding them to an already-clean diet may provide enhanced fat-burning and a healthier body composition.
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