Metabolism is the process of how the body converts what you eat and drink into energy. Even at rest, the body needs energy provided by calories to handle necessary functions like breathing and circulating blood. The number of calories that the body needs varies based on age, gender and body composition.
The best way to increase metabolism is to increase muscle mass through strength training. Muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat tissue, so by converting some fat to muscle or increasing the amount of muscle, overall metabolism increases to burn more calories throughout the day.
While dietary intervention to boost metabolism is not widely proven, there are some foods that may temporarily increase the amount of calories burned:
- Green tea: Green tea has the best evidence that it may raise metabolic rate. Studies have shown that drinking several cups of green tea per day, which contains caffeine and catechins, can help the body use more energy. A specific antioxidant, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has been contributed to a small rise in calorie burn.
- Water: Your body needs water to process food and convert calories into usable energy. Therefore, dehydration leaves the body at a disadvantage and causes this process to slow down.
- Capsaicin: This is a compound that gives spicy peppers their burning sensation, and can crank up your metabolism. Try spicier foods by adding some chili peppers to stir fry, sauce or soup.
- Caffeine: This stimulant found in coffee and tea can increase the amount of calories your body burns, but most studies have proven this effect with very high intake (8-10 cups per day). For some people, caffeine can cause heartburn, high blood pressure, or sleep problems, so don't increase your caffeine intake if you experience these side effects.
- Lean protein: Protein-rich foods increase satiety, which can prevent overeating. While protein foods won't specifically increase the body's metabolism, lean protein like chicken or eggs can help you feel fuller for longer.
- Whole grains: Whole grains, like oats or barley, are high in fiber and take longer to digest, which means your metabolism works for longer to convert this food into usable energy.
Avoid crash diets or diets that are very low in calories. Eating too few calories (below 1,800/day for men or below 1,200/day for women) can cause the body to enter into starvation mode, where metabolism slows down to avoid burning through food too quickly, and you may even lose muscle mass. This makes weight loss very hard.
In the long run, adding these foods may help increase your body's resting metabolism. However, it will not provide a quick fix for losing weight. Increasing exercise will burn more calories than these foods; if your goal is weight loss, aim to eat healthy and increase exercise at the same time.
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Carolyn McAnlis, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has a special interest in preventing chronic disease through nutrition. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Science & Dietetics and a minor in Psychology. After completing a full-time dietetic internship at the University of Virginia Health System, she has developed a passion for convincing others that healthy food can be delicious through her blog A Dietitian in the Kitchen.