A lot of people are keen to boost their metabolisms because it helps to burn more calories when they are sedentary and therefore may contribute to weight loss. Our expert nutritionist, Lucy-Ann is on the case to explore more about this concept and check out some metabolism boosting foods!
What exactly is metabolism anyway?
There are often some misconceptions around the term ‘metabolism’, so before we dive in and talk about metabolism-boosting foods, let’s look at a definition and then put into context what it’s all about!
According to the British Dictionary, and somewhat refined for the purposes of this article, the metabolism is “…the sum total of the chemical processes that occur in living organisms, resulting in growth, production of energy, and elimination of waste material”.
So how can I give my metabolism a boost?
Ultimately, the term ‘boosting metabolism’ is all about optimising the ‘burning’ of energy or calories necessary for numerous chemical processes in the body’s cells. An efficient metabolic rate means we’re able to produce enough energy for the body to stay healthy, and for us to feel energised!
All about ATP
We derive energy from food, with the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins (amino acids) producing the body’s “key” energy substance, ATP (Adenosine Triphospate). To put it simply, think of ATP as the body’s “energy currency” where ATP is constantly being used (spent) and regenerated in cells. This amazing process is known as “cell respiration”, which is driven by numerous enzymes. What we can do as individuals, is support this process through good nutrition as disruption of ATP production causes fatigue, as well as chronic disease and illness.
All about ATP
There are very specific nutrients that are critical to the cellular energy-producing pathways. These nutrients support each biochemical step of “cell respiration” within the mitochondria, or the “power houses” of cells. Magnesium is one such nutrient, along with B vitamins, Coenzyme Q10. Numerous antioxidants such as vitamin C protect the membranes of structures within the cells (the mitochondria) where the production of ATP takes place. In addition getting the right fats in the diet is paramount to reducing stress-induced inflammation which can contribute to cell damage and long-term fatigue. Beneficial fats can be found in plenty of plant-based foods including coconut, flaxseeds, hempseeds, avocado, and raw, unroasted nuts and seeds.
Specific nutrients essential to producing energy
The B vitamins (i.e. B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 and folic acid) are commonly known as the energy vitamins, and are crucial cofactors in converting food into ATP. Optimum and balanced levels of all the B’s are needed to help support and maintain production of ATP. Remember that the B vitamins are like an orchestra – they work in concert with one another so all are needed, preferably in the balance that occurs naturally within food.
Magnesium is also a cofactor, supporting the ignition of over 300 different enzyme systems, including those that produce ATP. It is also key for the structure of ATP. Many average diets are sadly lacking in magnesium, but rarely is a good wholefood diet deficient! Magnesium is found in abundance in many of the plant-eaters favourite foods... yes you guessed it…. leafy greens, nuts, seeds and wholegrains! Magnesium deficiency is very often linked with chronic fatigue, as well as heart disease.
Coenzyme Q10 is not only a potent antioxidant, it is a vital component of the energy-production cycle. It supports aerobic metabolism, and helps to protect and keep the mitochondria healthy.
Top metabolism-boosting foods
Foods that are plentiful in ‘energy-supporting’ nutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fats, must surely come high on the list on metabolism-boosting foods. So, let’s apply this concept into food practise and get passionate about some great fresh, clean, nutrient-rich ‘metabolism-boosting’ wholefoods! Here are a few examples…
Watercress - Watercress may be low in calories, but don’t under-estimate this leafy green’s energy-giving power. Noted for being a great source of B vitamins (especially B6), these are the family of nutrients that help to efficiently run the cell’s metabolic engines, converting fat, protein and carbohydrate into energy. Watercress also provides a worthy dose of vitamin C to keep health and immunity strong.
Banana - This is perhaps the most popular energy-boosting food, and for good reason too! There aren’t many foods that are accessible, convenient, transportable, as well as provide the perfect spectrum of energy-giving nutrition (natural sugars, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium & potassium). In addition, the protein in bananas is largely in the form of the amino acid, tryptophan, which converts to serotonin, a hormone that lifts mood and promotes relaxation too! What more could you ask for from a food!
Coconut - Although coconuts are high in saturated fat, about half of this in the form of medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. These fatty acids are used as an immediate energy source, rather than being stored in the body as body fat. Organic coconut oil is a healthy choice for light stir-frying or you could make a delicious salad dressing with coconut oil, or add a teaspoon to your favourite smoothie.
Almonds - One of the keys to ensuring high energy is maintaining stable blood sugar levels. In practise that means eating healthy protein-containing snacks and meals. A protein rich food such as almonds can do wonders for boosting flagging energy levels mid meals, or pre-workout with a fruit such as banana or apple.
Quinoa or wholegrain rice – These are both fantastic low GI carbohydrate-rich energy foods, rich in B vitamins, and the all-important energy mineral – magnesium. Foods that come low on the glycaemic index means a steadier release of energy-giving carbohydrates, and more sustained energy.
Check back soon for Part 2 of our look into food and energy for some simple tips on how to boost your energy levels and lose body fat!