7 ways to improve your metabolic health, from a nutrition expert

Metabolic health is one of the best indicators of an individual’s overall health. 

The focus of modern healthcare research and medical science is more on improving metabolic health than weight loss or calorie counting alone. You can stay in shape and fit by maintaining good metabolic health. Nevertheless, metabolism has a number of other effects on the body as well. 

Metabolism explained

Metabolism pertains to the rate at which your body consumes calories for energy. It is not only fat that is burned by metabolism, according to the US National Library of Medicine.

Additionally, it assists in respiration, blood pumping, regulating body temperature and absorption of nutrients. 

Several factors affect metabolism, including age, sex, body fat, muscle mass, exercise level and heredity. Even though genetics contribute a major role in our metabolism, there are several ways to help our bodies burn calories faster. 

Delving deeper into metabolism and metabolic health

People frequently use the phrases metabolism and metabolic health interchangeably. However, they differ quite a bit in their meaning. 

Metabolism refers to chemical activities in the body required for survival. 

It includes the processes of transforming food and drink into energy. Metabolism and weight are indeed connected. However, contrary to common assumptions, slow metabolism is rarely the cause of weight gain. 

In reality, the amount of calories you consume, how much energy you need and how active you are determine your weight. Your basal metabolic rate or amount of calories you burn at rest are often described as “metabolism”. 

Your body’s resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the amount of calories it requires to function. A variety of things can be affected, such as your waist circumference and strength level. A study shows that a higher metabolic rate burns more calories at rest [1]. 

Metabolic health depends on the levels of five markers: blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure and waist circumference. Having these indicators at the proper levels is considered perfect metabolic health [2].

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It involves the chemical reactions required for living, such as converting food and drinks into energy. There exists a close relationship between metabolism and weight management. 

Contrary to popular belief, slow metabolism and low-calorie intake can give you perfect weight. Therefore, poor metabolism is not always responsible for weight gain. 

On the other hand, obesity is most often a sign of poor metabolic health. Also, poor metabolic health results from an imbalance in blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and blood pressure.

A bigger waist circumference is also an indicator of poor metabolic health. Therefore it is imperative to look after your metabolic health before it leads to a grave health concern.

The impact of poor metabolic health

We all know the feeling. You start a workout, you feel full of energy – as if you could go on forever. Gradually, though, that feeling starts to wane. Your muscles start to ache and the dreaded muscle fatigue sets in.

Poor metabolic health seems both overt and subtle. Obesity, insulin resistance, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s are all functions of poor metabolic health. 

In addition, poor metabolic health leads to fatigue, depression, infertility, baldness and other modern-day lifestyle diseases. However, you can improve your metabolic health by changing your diet and lifestyle. Here are a few easy tips [3]:

Protein, movement and more are key to building muscle

One of the smartest methods for a long, healthy life is to keep your muscles (and thus your strength and physical function) on a pedestal. In this endeavor, sufficient (rather than adequate) protein intake is crucial, as is physical activity.

Physician and nutrition expert Ann Kulze emphasises the importance of whole foods and regular exercise in her book Eat Right for Life and in her Healthy Living School® [4].

Plant-based nutrition and physical activity that fuel an active metabolism and nurture long-term cardiometabolic health are foundational.

In addition to protein and fat, metabolic scientist Ben Bikman, PhD, practises a relatively low-carb diet for himself and his family. All forms of physical activity are welcome, but muscles-building/preserving activities should be prioritised. 

Princeton-trained expert on metabolic health, Alexis Cowan, PhD explains the importance of resistance training for building muscle mass. Metabolic heat is produced by muscle. The more muscle one possesses, the more heat will be dissipated by the body.

Make sure your gut-metabolism axis is nourished by eating right

A healthy gut is a cornerstone of most health considerations. You’ll get better metabolic health when you eat for the gut-metabolism axis. A healthy gut even supports energy expenditure.

Brain fog isn't a medical diagnosis. Rather, a general term to describe the feeling of being mentally spaced out.
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The Gut Health Doctor, Megan Rossi, PhD, RD and creator of How To Eat More Plants, explains how calories don’t reflect the importance of the gut microbiome for regulating metabolism.

Instead, she recommends to indulge in an array of healthful foods and the incredible nutrition they extract. 

For gut-metabolism recommendations, hydrate (water), plant (fibre), color (phytonutrients and anti-oxidants), with high-quality protein and healthy fats (mainly omega-3s and omega-9s).

Cowan concurs, recommending a diet high in protein to maintain and build muscle and polyphenols to reduce inflammation and optimise the gut microbiome.

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Fasting gives your cells (and body) a rest

One of the greatest predictors of a good night’s sleep is an empty stomach,” shares metabolic researcher Bikman after dinner.

It’s an evidence-based longevity nutrition approach to plan food intake into a designated time window, whether it’s intermittent fasting or circadian fasting.

According to Harvard psychiatrist and author of Brain Energy Chris Palmer, MD, working at the intersection of metabolic and mental health.

If you are not underweight or malnourished, you can significantly improve your metabolism by going sans food for a length of time, or at least to make your body believe that you are.

Putting this into practice, he notes, “This can be achieved through fasting, intermittent fasting, or a fasting-mimicking diet, like the ketogenic diet.” It forces your body to burn fat, increase autophagy and improve mitochondrial function.

Balance hormones based on your unique needs

One of the most effective ways for me to stay in tune with my metabolism has been to partner with integrative-minded healthcare practitioners who specialise in hormone health, such as endocrinologist Brittany Henderson, MD.

Numerous hormones are directly linked to metabolism (thyroid, sex, insulin, cortisol, for example). Metabolic optimisation presents huge opportunities. 

While some applicable at-home kits exist for certain hormones and labs, they will only include some lab you might need, much less the personalised expert interpretation and game plan. Again, you’ll want to partner with a healthcare provider specialising in hormonal health whenever possible.

Keep an eye out for toxins that disrupt metabolism

The modern world exposes us to some level of toxins (like plastics and pollution). Our liver and metabolic health can be negatively affected by these endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

Fortunately, our bodies have detoxification pathways active all the time, but we should try to minimise the burden of toxic substances in our bodies. 

Perhaps alcohol is a toxin that’s less discussed than BPA and glyphosate, but is incredibly pervasive. Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, founder of Functional Sobriety and functional medicine nutritionist, shares that cutting out (or cutting back) on alcohol use supports metabolic health [5].

A few drinks per week can impact our metabolism through hormone imbalances, gut changes and even altering stress hormones [6].

It has been suggested in the past to drink clear beverages, lower calorie beverages, or even cut out sugar from our alcoholic drinks, but that’s a pointless approach since the alcohol itself causes imbalances that may affect how our body releases hormones, supports blood sugar regulation and contributes to inflammation pathways [7].

Leverage metabolism-energising nutrition

Depending on your dietary pattern, you can include key foods, beverages and even functional plant bioactives that energise your metabolism at a cellular level, positively impacting your metabolic rate.

These include coffee, caffeine, capsaicin from chilli peppers, veld grape and the catechin EGCG from green tea.

OmniActive Health Technologies’ vice president of global scientific and regulatory affairs, Deshanie Rai, PhD FACN, shares, “The role of plant-based bioactives in increasing energy expenditure and metabolic rate has become an area of interest for academic scientists and consumers alike, effectively supporting weight wellness goals.”

Just look at the chilli (cayenne) pepper to provide a practical example. Rai explains that “we can lean into the intrinsic power of capsaicinoids from chilli peppers, as a metabolism-energising approach,” with science to boot: “There is ample evidence via human research showing that capsaicinoid ingestion can boost metabolic rate, as well as emerging evidence for a role of capsaicinoids in supporting lipolysis (fat breakdown), satiety and positively influencing body composition [8]

Brown fat (BAT) should be activated

Burning calories can be accomplished in a few different ways. ATP energy is created by converting calories from our food into calorie-burning energy for all of our cells.

Another type of physical activity involves burning calories and brown adipose tissue (BAT), in which thermogenic energy dissipates (heat is given off) [9].

Brown fat is a unique type of fat. As Michael Lelah, PhD, chief science officer of NutriScience Innovations, explains BAT is an organ in your body accountable for the conversion of energy from food into heat. BAT burns large amounts of fats and sugars.

Some ways to activate BAT include cold therapy and certain botanicals, such as grains of paradise. If you don’t know what grains of paradise is, it is a West African spice related to ginger.

Extracts from this ancient spice contain several unique phytonutrients, including 6-paradol, which activates BAT and thermogenesis while reducing visceral fat. This is a targeted and natural way to support your metabolism.” [10]

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[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31536296/
[2] https://www.healthifyme.com/blog/efficient-ways-to-improve-your-metabolic-health/
[3] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-improve-your-metabolic-health
[4] https://school.drannwellness.com/
[5] https://brookescheller.com/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3767933/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32630717/
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2912905/
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8616549/
[10] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33952741/

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