Metabolic health: Definition, diet, supplements, tests, markers

Understanding metabolic health is essential, not just for fitness enthusiasts or those with medical conditions, but for everyone aiming for a vibrant life. It’s the linchpin that holds our well-being together, influencing how we feel day-to-day and our long-term health prospects. 

This guide will guide you through metabolic health, including its definition and ways to enhance it through diet, supplements, and lifestyle.

Expect clear, actionable advice that can be applied to daily life, ensuring you have the tools to support your body’s energy needs and functions effectively.

What is metabolic health?

Metabolic health is where your body effectively regulates chemical processes, especially those that convert food into energy. 

When your metabolism is in good shape, you have the right balance of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference [1]. 

Each of these factors is crucial:

  • Stable blood sugar prevents diabetes.
  • Healthy triglyceride levels ward off heart disease.
  • Optimal HDL cholesterol keeps blood vessels clear.
  • Well-managed blood pressure reduces strain on your heart, and a healthy waistline decreases the risk of chronic illness. 

It’s not just about the absence of disease; it’s about feeling energetic, maintaining a healthy weight, and having the stamina to power through your day. 

Understanding how these elements interact and influence each other gives you a blueprint for living and thriving.

What does metabolically healthy mean?

Being metabolically healthy means your body can handle the ebb and flow of life’s demands without falling out of balance. 

It’s about how well your body manages its essential functions without any hitches. Here’s what it looks like in real, everyday terms:

Stable blood sugar levels

After eating, a metabolically healthy person’s blood sugar levels rise but quickly return to normal. This stability helps to fend off diabetes and keeps energy levels steady.

Healthy triglycerides

These fats in your blood must stay within a certain range. Too high, and your risk of heart disease goes up. The goal is to keep them low enough to promote cardiovascular health.

Optimal HDL cholesterol

Often referred to as ‘good cholesterol’, a healthy level helps to clear the ‘bad’ types from your bloodstream, protecting against heart attack and stroke.

Healthy blood pressure

This is the force of your blood pushing against your artery walls. Within the right range, it means your heart isn’t overworking, which lowers the risk of heart issues.

Appropriate waist circumference

Carrying too much weight around your middle is a warning sign of potential health risks, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease [2]. A waistline within the recommended range is a strong indicator of good metabolic health.

If these markers are on target, you’ll likely feel more vibrant and have a better chance at a healthier, more active life. 

What happens if you have poor metabolic health?

What happens if you have poor metabolic health?

If your metabolic health falters, it’s like a domino effect on your overall well-being. Poor metabolic health is a precursor to a variety of health issues that can affect your quality of life significantly.

To start, it can lead to weight gain, especially when excess fat accumulates around the waist. This isn’t just a matter of appearance; it’s about the health risks associated with obesity, like joint pain and diminished mobility.

There’s also a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as poor metabolic health often means your body struggles to regulate blood sugar levels effectively. 

Over time, this can damage blood vessels and nerves, leading to complications such as vision loss, kidney disease, and even heart problems.

Your heart health can suffer when the body’s metabolism malfunctions, leading to elevated bad cholesterol levels and blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Another concern is the development of metabolic syndrome. This is a cluster of conditions including abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, increased blood pressure, and excess body fat around the waist. Together, these increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Finally, let’s not forget about energy levels and mental health. Poor metabolic health often translates into fatigue and can even affect your mood and cognitive function, as your brain isn’t receiving the energy it needs.

What lifestyle choices impact metabolic health?

Your day-to-day choices play a critical role in your metabolic health. It’s not just about what you eat; how you live is just as influential.

Physical activity

Regular movement is a key player. Exercise helps control weight, uses glucose as energy, and makes cells more responsive to insulin. Aim for a mix of:

  • Aerobic activities like walking, cycling, or swimming.
  • Strength training builds muscle, burns more calories than fat, and improves health.

Sleep quality

Good sleep isn’t a luxury; it’s a must for metabolic health. Poor sleep disrupts hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism, leading to weight gain and sluggishness [3].

Stress management

Chronic stress disrupts hormonal balance, increasing cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods, and greater visceral fat accumulation.

Meal timing

Eating at consistent times can help regulate your body’s internal clock. Skipping meals or eating late can disrupt your metabolism, while regular, balanced meals can keep it running smoothly.

Hydration

Drinking enough water is essential for your metabolism to function at its best. Dehydration can slow down metabolic processes and affect energy levels.

Alcohol consumption

Moderate your intake, as excessive alcohol can interfere with your liver’s ability to manage blood sugar and fat metabolism.

Smoking

Smoking can affect insulin action and is associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, among other health issues.

Remember, small, sustainable shifts in lifestyle can make a significant difference to your metabolic health. It’s less about perfection and more about making better choices more often.

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Are you at risk for metabolic health issues?

Assessing your risk for metabolic health issues is a proactive step toward maintaining long-term wellness. Certain factors can elevate your risk [4]:

Family history

If close relatives have diabetes, heart disease, or other metabolic conditions, your own risk increases.

Weight and body composition

Excess abdominal fat can cause insulin resistance and metabolic issues.

Diet

A diet high in processed foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can contribute to poor metabolic health.

Activity level

A sedentary lifestyle can slow metabolism and lead to weight gain, tipping the scales toward metabolic issues.

Age

Metabolism naturally slows as you age, and the risk of metabolic diseases increases, especially after the age of 40.

Ethnicity

Some ethnic groups are more prone to metabolic conditions than others.

Hormonal imbalances

Conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can increase the risk of metabolic issues.

High blood pressure and cholesterol levels

These are indicators of cardiovascular health that, when unbalanced, can signal metabolic problems.

It’s important to understand that risk factors do not guarantee you’ll face metabolic health issues, but they suggest that paying attention to your metabolic health is wise. 

Regular check-ups and simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in reducing these risks. Speak with your healthcare professional for personalized advice based on your risk profile.

How do I know if I have poor metabolic health?

Understanding the signs of a metabolic disorder is crucial for early detection and intervention. These disorders often develop gradually and can have symptoms that might be easy to dismiss initially. Here are some common signs:

1. Unusual weight gain or loss

Sudden changes in weight without obvious changes in diet or activity levels can signal metabolic issues.

2. Fatigue

Persistent tiredness, despite adequate rest, might indicate that your body isn’t efficiently converting food into energy.

3. High blood sugar symptoms

Increased thirst, frequent urination, and blurry vision may suggest diabetes, a common metabolic disorder.

4. Irregular cholesterol levels

Metabolic issues can cause an imbalance in cholesterol levels, often without any direct symptoms but detectable through blood tests.

5. High blood pressure

Often without symptoms, high blood pressure can be a silent indicator of a metabolic disorder.

6. Skin changes

Dark patches known as acanthosis nigricans may develop in skin folds and creases and are associated with insulin resistance.

7. Abdominal obesity

Carrying excess weight around the abdomen is a key sign of metabolic syndrome.

8. Elevated blood triglycerides

Like cholesterol imbalance, this may not cause overt symptoms but is a critical marker in blood tests.

9. Gout or kidney stones

These can be related to the body’s handling of certain waste products and can indicate underlying metabolic issues.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider. They can perform appropriate tests to diagnose underlying conditions and help you manage your metabolic health effectively.

How do you test for metabolic health?

Understanding your metabolic health is key to maintaining overall wellness, and there are several tests available to help:

At-home metabolism tests

These convenient tests, using blood or saliva samples, can give you initial insights into your hormone levels and other metabolic markers.

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) test

It calculates how many calories you burn while at rest, reflecting your baseline metabolic rate [5].

Exercise metabolism test

This measures your calorie burn during different levels of physical activity, helping tailor your exercise routine for optimal fat burning.

Metabolic health: Definition, diet, supplements, tests, markers

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP)

The CMP tests for blood sugar levels to screen for diabetes. It assesses kidney and liver health. This test includes 14 different substance measures to gauge overall metabolism [6].

Hormonal tests

These can identify issues like insulin resistance that might be impacting your metabolic rate.

When more precise analysis is needed:

Clinical metabolic testing

This test is performed under a doctor’s supervision and often with a blood draw in a hospital or lab setting. This test can provide a detailed assessment of your metabolic health.

Each of these tests offers valuable information. Your healthcare provider can recommend the most appropriate tests based on your health profile and concerns, ensuring you get a clear picture of your metabolic health and actionable steps to improve it.

What are the challenges in achieving metabolic health?

Achieving metabolic health can be a complex task, influenced by various challenges:

Genetic predispositions

Some individuals are genetically more susceptible to metabolic issues, making vigilance and proactive management even more crucial.

Modern diet and lifestyle

High-calorie diets, sedentary lifestyles, and stress can all negatively impact metabolic health. Resisting these norms can be difficult.

Misinformation

With a surplus of health information available, discerning evidence-based advice from myths or marketing tactics is challenging.

Economic and social factors

Access to healthy foods, safe spaces for exercise, and healthcare can be limited by socioeconomic status, posing significant barriers.

Chronic conditions

Existing health issues like thyroid disorders or hormonal imbalances can complicate the management of metabolic health.

Age

Metabolic function naturally declines with age, requiring more effort to maintain health and balance.

Medications

Certain medications can affect weight, insulin sensitivity, and lipid profiles, complicating metabolic health management.

These challenges necessitate a personalized and flexible approach to metabolic health, with strategies tailored to individual needs and circumstances. 

It often requires a commitment to lifestyle changes and possibly professional guidance to navigate these hurdles successfully.

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How can you improve and protect your metabolic health?

Improving and safeguarding your metabolic health is achievable through practical and sustained lifestyle adjustments. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Balanced nutrition

Focus on a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains. Minimize the intake of processed foods, added sugars, and trans fats to maintain healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

2. Regular physical activity

Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, complemented by strength training twice a week. This can help regulate weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

3. Healthy weight management

Aim to maintain a body weight within the recommended BMI range. Losing even a small percentage of body weight can significantly improve metabolic markers if you’re overweight.

4. Adequate sleep

Ensure 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Poor sleep can disrupt hormonal balance, impacting hunger signals and insulin sensitivity.

5. Reduces stress 

Chronic stress can adversely affect metabolic health. Techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, and deep breathing can help manage stress effectively.

6. Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can negatively impact metabolic health. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol can have profound health benefits.

7. Regular check-ups

Stay on top of your health with regular medical check-ups to monitor metabolic markers and make informed decisions about your health.

Implementing these measures can not only improve metabolic health but also enhance overall quality of life. Remember, small, consistent changes can lead to significant health benefits over time.

What foods are good for metabolic health?

Eating with metabolic health in mind isn’t about strict diets or trendy eating patterns. It’s about choosing foods that nourish your body and support its metabolic processes. Here’s what to focus on for a metabolism-friendly diet:

Balanced macronutrients

  • Proteins: Lean meats, fish, legumes, and tofu are excellent for repairing tissue and maintaining muscle mass.
  • Carbohydrates: Opt for complex carbs like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits that provide energy and fiber.
  • Fats: Healthy fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are crucial for hormone production and cell health.

Micro nutrient-rich foods

Include a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits. Each color represents different vitamins and antioxidants your body needs to function well.

Hydration

Water is vital for metabolic reactions. Aim to drink enough so that your urine is a pale yellow color throughout the day.

What to limit

  • Sugary foods and beverages: These can cause spikes in blood sugar levels and can lead to weight gain.
  • Refined carbohydrates: White bread, pastries, and other processed foods lack nutrients and fiber.
  • Trans fats: Often found in fried foods and baked goods, trans fats can negatively affect heart health.

Meal planning tips

  • Consistency is key: Regular meal times help regulate your body’s metabolic rhythms.
  • Portion control: Listen to your hunger cues and avoid overeating.
  • Preparation: Cooking at home lets you control ingredients and cooking methods.

Remember, the goal is to create a sustainable way of eating that supports your metabolism without making you feel restricted. It’s about making informed choices that benefit your body’s metabolic functions and contribute to overall well-being.

Metabolic health: Definition, diet, supplements, tests, markers

Which supplements can enhance your metabolic health?

Navigating the world of dietary supplements can be challenging. With the promise of boosting metabolic health, it’s important to know which supplements have scientific support behind their benefits:

Magnesium

This mineral is crucial for energy production and insulin function. It can help regulate blood sugar levels, vital for metabolic health.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Found in fish oil supplements, omega-3s support heart health and may improve metabolic markers. They can reduce inflammation, which often accompanies and exacerbates metabolic issues.

Probiotics

These beneficial bacteria help maintain gut health, linked to a healthy metabolism. They may improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients from your food.

Vitamin D

This vitamin is often linked to metabolic syndrome when in deficiency, vitamin D supports immune function and may help regulate insulin.

Green tea extract

Contains antioxidants that can aid in fat burning and boost metabolic rate.

Berberine

This compound, found in several plants, is shown to help with blood sugar control and cholesterol levels.

Fiber supplements

Psyllium husk and other fiber supplements can promote a feeling of fullness and improve glycemic control.

Quality and safety

Always opt for supplements that have been third-party tested for purity and potency. Look for brands with a good reputation and transparency in their ingredient sourcing.

Remember, supplements should complement, not replace, a healthy diet. It’s essential to talk with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, especially if you have health conditions or take medications. 

They can interact with medications and might not be suitable for everyone. Supplements can be a helpful tool in your metabolic health toolkit when used correctly and with professional guidance.

Key metabolic health markers: What should you aim for?

Maintaining optimal metabolic health hinges on several key markers you should be aware of and aim to achieve. Here’s a concise overview:

Blood sugar levels

Aim for a fasting blood glucose level under 100 mg/dL [7]. Consistently higher levels may indicate prediabetes or diabetes.

Cholesterol levels

For a healthy metabolism, your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol should be low, HDL (“good”) cholesterol high, and total cholesterol within recommended ranges, generally below 200 mg/dL for total cholesterol [8].

Triglycerides

These should ideally be under 150 mg/dL [9]. Elevated triglycerides can increase the risk of heart disease and are often associated with other metabolic issues.

Blood pressure

Strive for a blood pressure reading below 120/80 mmHg [10]. High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart conditions and is closely linked to metabolic health.

Waist circumference

Men should aim for a waist measurement below 40 inches and women below 35 inches [11]. Excess abdominal fat is a predictor of metabolic syndrome and related health issues.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy [12]. High BMIs often indicate excess body fat, which can lead to or worsen metabolic conditions.

Regularly monitoring these markers can help you maintain a healthy metabolism and reduce the risk of associated diseases. 

It’s essential to combine these target numbers with a balanced diet and regular exercise for overall well-being.

Closing thoughts

Metabolic health is a critical factor in your overall well-being, influencing everything from energy levels to longevity. 

While numerous challenges exist, understanding and aiming for optimal metabolic markers can guide you toward a healthier lifestyle. 

Embrace a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and mindful lifestyle choices to enhance your metabolic health. Stay informed, seek regular health check-ups, and make adjustments that fit your unique life circumstances. 

Remember, every positive change, no matter how small, can lead to significant improvements in your metabolic well-being and quality of life.

FAQs

What are the five measures of metabolic health?

The five measures of metabolic health include waist circumference, fasting blood glucose levels, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure. Each of these markers reflects critical aspects of metabolic function and overall health risk profiles.

How do you treat metabolic health?

Treating metabolic health typically involves diet modification, regular exercise, weight control, stress management, and adequate sleep, supplemented by medical advice and potential pharmacological support as prescribed by a healthcare professional.

What causes poor metabolic health?

Poor metabolic health is often caused by a combination of factors, including an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, genetic predisposition, hormonal imbalances, and lifestyle choices such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Chronic stress and inadequate sleep can also contribute to its development.

What are the 2 most common metabolic diseases?

The two most common metabolic diseases are diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

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[1] https://www.january.ai/blog/what-is-metabolic-health 
[2] https://www.restorationwellness.com/health-dangers-of-carrying-extra-weight-in-midsection/ 
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9031614/ 
[4] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/metabolic-syndrome 
[5] https://www.sjchs.org/living-smart-blog/blog-details/blog/2020/01/23/what-is-an-rmr-test 
[6] https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/comprehensive-metabolic-panel-cmp/ 
[7] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/12363-blood-glucose-test 
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279318/ 
[9] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17583-triglycerides–heart-health 
[10] https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings 
[11] https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/measuring-your-waist 
[12] https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html

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