Today I read “10 Essential Facts About Your Metabolism and Weight Loss” on Yahoo Health. The article explains the scientifically proven relationship between metabolism and weight loss. Specifically, raising one’s resting metabolic rate (RMR) makes it easier to lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight. Intermingled among the ten facts about metabolism outlined in the article are hints regarding what one can do to boost her metabolism.
As I read, I realized there are a number of current fitness and diet fads that run contrary to what we know about boosting metabolism and its relationship to achieving weight loss goals. Five in particular:
- Fact: Studies have shown that consuming protein boosts metabolism.
Opposing Trend: The Vegan Diet
Some people go on a vegan diet (consuming only plant-based products) believing it is healthier and will help them lose weight. While there are plant-based proteins, very few of them have all the essential amino acids necessary to qualify as a complete protein. And, even then, it’s extremely difficult to consume enough of these proteins to equal complete proteins from meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs consumed in the average Western diet. Which means Vegans are likely slowing their resting metabolic rates through their diets.
There are reasons besides weight loss for people to choose this diet. Some believe it’s healthier to be on a mainly plant-based diet, reducing risks to certain diseases. However, there are no conclusive clinical studies that bear this out. Others avoid animal-based food for ethical reasons. But, if you’re choosing plant-centric diets to lose weight, you probably are sabotaging your efforts by doing so.
2. Fact: Simple carbohydrates slow metabolism.
Opposing Trend: The Gluten-free Diet
Though food allergies and intolerances have become more prevalent in the United States in the last few decades, no food allergen has crept into the consciousness of the American diet quite like gluten has. Somehow, even though a very small percentage of the population has a clinical intolerance to gluten, it has become a nutrient to be avoided by many in our society. And, as such, as much as 30% of the population have self reported following a gluten-free diet for better health and weight loss.
Gluten is the protein that exists in several grains, including wheat. Processed enriched wheat flour, and the gluten contained in it, is in nearly every processed food you can find on grocery store shelves. Often, when people first give up gluten, they report feeling better because, by default, they are avoiding eating processed food and refined sugars. So, what’s the problem?
The problem is gluten is also in many healthy, complex carbohydrate, nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods. Giving up gluten means also giving up a major source of complex carbohydrates and the unique set of vitamins and minerals they contain.
To make matters worse, those who have chosen the gluten-free diet but don’t want to give up bread, pasta and other baked products completely, are consuming gluten-free versions of these foods. Companies are substituting highly-processed items like rice flour, tapioca starch, corn flour and potato starch, not to mention other sugar-based additives, to mimic the taste and texture of the wheat-based versions. These substitutes are all simple carbohydrates that slow metabolism.
It is far healthier to have a slice of 100% whole wheat bread than a slice of gluten-free bread. And, while the whole wheat bread won’t slow your metabolism, the gluten-free one will. Instead of avoiding gluten, choose to avoid highly processed, simple carbohydrate foods whether or not they contain gluten.
3. Fact: Recent studies indicate vitamin D is important for metabolism.
Opposing Trend: The Dairy-free Diet
Much like gluten-free, but to a lesser extent, dairy free has become a popular “healthy” weight-loss diet. Like gluten, there is a small percentage of the population that is allergic to milk proteins such as whey and casein. Still others are sensitive to the natural sugar in milk, known as lactose-intolerance. But, unless one has such an intolerance or allergy specific to milk, it doesn’t make much sense to avoid it for health or weight loss.
The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun. In reality, vitamin D is not really consumed as much as it is made by the body when exposed to sunlight. But, with real concerns about the growing incidents of skin cancer, we aren’t getting significant doses of sunlight in order for our bodies to manufacture our own vitamin D.
The second way to get vitamin D is absorbtion through foods containing the nutrient. But the body needs calcium to absorb the vitamin D supplement. Cow’s milk, which naturally contains high amounts of calcium, has vitamin D added to it. Drinking milk fortified with vitamin D remains the best dietary way to get the necessary amount of this vital nutrient for general health and to regulate metabolism.
4. Fact: Eating moderately and regularly throughout the day keeps the metabolic rate in check.
Opposing Trends: Fasting, Cleansing, Juicing and Meal-Replacements
The science is clear, going for long periods of time without consuming food greatly slows the metabolic rate. Plus, fasting for long periods at a time or substituting a meal with juiced produce or processed shakes or bars leads to over-consumption later on. The overall increased calorie intake plus a slower metabolism is a formula for weight gain – the complete opposite of the goal.
Three moderate meals and one or two snacks per day is a much better strategy to keep your metabolism revving. Choose wisely – be sure each meal and snack includes a complete protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber and fats. Yes, fats along with fiber help you feel satiated and stay that way until the next meal. Most proteins contain some natural fats, so pick a protein that hasn’t had the fat removed.
5. Fact: Build muscle to boost metabolism.
Opposing Trends: Cardio-centric Workouts and Endurance Training
Cardio is great. You won’t find me discouraging anyone from Zumba or Spin classes. And I think it’s fantastic that more people than ever are entering endurance events like road races, marathons and triathlons. Yet all of these things strengthen only one muscle in the body – the heart. A worthy target, no doubt.
But if weight loss is your goal, cardio is not enough. Strength training is what is needed to build muscle. Build muscle and you’ll boost your metabolism. Raise your metabolism and you’ll burn more calories even while you’re standing still.
When it comes to reaching and staying at a healthy weight, metabolism is king. Before diving into the latest fitness or diet trend, ask yourself how it will affect metabolism. If you’re not sure, do a little homework to find out. The last thing you want to do is put a lot of pain, money and effort into something that can only sabotage your goals in the end.