“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” they say. These words may have been more accurate than you know! Recent research indicates that besides the usual health benefits of getting your daily intake of fruit and vegetables, these metabolism boosting foods may have psychological benefits as well.
Over the last several years, many studies have focused on the physical health benefits associated with the consumption of fruit and vegetables. It has been proven that people who eat more fruits and vegetables regularly have:
More recent research is also indicating that people who have a diet high in fruits and vegetables experience better mental health than those who do not. One of the most recent studies took place over a period of a few weeks and considered the effects of a higher fruit and vegetable intake in young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. All aspects of the participants’ physiology and psychology were taken into account, including:
The results of the study gave significant insights into the effects of a diet that includes a large percentage of fruit and vegetables. The results indicated that participants showed improvements in their vitality and motivation, and they seemed to flourish on a psychological level. This indicates that fruit and vegetable consumption has a definite influence on the metabolism.
Before taking a look at metabolism boosting foods, one first needs to understand what is meant by the term ‘metabolism’. Many people think of metabolism as how fast or slow their digestive system works.
However, while the digestive system is part of the metabolic process, metabolism is not the sole responsibility of your stomach and gut. The term ‘metabolism’, in fact, refers to an entire set of chemical processes that help maintain the living state of every cell in your body.
In the first part of the metabolic process, molecules are broken down in order to get energy, a process known as catabolism. Secondly, the cells synthesize compounds they need for continued good health, a process known as anabolism. Together, catabolism and anabolism define the metabolic process.
Metabolism does not affect only your physical body. It affects all aspects of your life: body, mind, and emotions. It plays a role in not only your physical well-being but in your mental well-being as well. When excited about something, your metabolism gets a rush, while feeling sad about something may result in depression and the possibility of your metabolism slowing down. Thus, to a large extent, your internal life can play an important role in your metabolism.
Stress seems to be a sign of the times we live in. People are increasingly feeling pressure to perform better at work, to look better, to have a nicer home, to buy a better car…the list goes on. Our bodies are also stressed by our environment, from the gasses emitted by cars, factories, or radiation given off by seemingly harmless home appliances. The symptoms of stress are also becoming increasingly common, and some require the help of healthcare practitioners. These include anxiety, depression, headaches, problems with sleeping, heart disease, weight gain, and memory impairment.
But why does the stress we experience as psychological have such a profound effect on our physical well-being?
Your body’s reaction to stress is instantaneous and uncontrollable. The hypothalamus in the brain, on encountering a stressful situation, sends chemical messengers to the pituitary gland, that in turn alert the adrenals of a perceived danger. These three components make up what is known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and, between them, they control your body’s reaction to stress.
The adrenal glands, as the first call to action, increase their cortisol production to ready the body for what is known as the flight or fight response. This increased cortisol production is accompanied by an increase in glucose to give your body the necessary energy to handle the situation. Other bodily functions may decrease or even be put on hold during this time. As soon as the situation has passed, however, messages are sent via the same channels to stop the increased cortisol production, and all bodily functions return to normal.
Prolonged stress, on the other hand, results in a continuous demand for cortisol from the hypothalamus. The result, if this condition goes on for a long period of time, is adrenal fatigue, and this can have devastating consequences.
Because of the increase in blood sugar levels, your pancreas needs to increase its insulin production to cope with chronic stress, and eventually, it may not be able to keep up with the demand, resulting in insulin resistance and diabetes. Symptoms of insulin resistance include a lower metabolic rate and obesity. This is why obesity and diabetes seem to go hand in hand for many.
The release of cortisol and subsequent release of stored energy burns calories and increases metabolism. Cortisol is also a catabolic hormone, one that breaks down muscle in order to release energy. Thus, one of the results of additional cortisol production is often weight loss. But this doesn’t last.
While an initial increase in cortisol production may speed up your metabolism, prolonged stress may result in a decrease in metabolism as the body goes through the different stages of adrenal fatigue. The last stages of adrenal fatigue, in fact, see a marked decrease in cortisol production as the adrenals can no longer produce the cortisol demanded of them.
During the initial stages of adrenal fatigue, not only cortisol but also epinephrine production is increased. Epinephrine tends to initially suppress hunger. Ever increasing cortisol production, however, tends to increase appetite and stimulate cravings for comfort foods, which often have a relatively high sugar and fat content. Consuming these foods gives you a short term feeling of wellness, as they provide relief to areas of the brain processing stress and emotion. The result of giving into these cravings is weight gain.
In addition, both an initial increase in cortisol and a much lower production of it result in hormonal imbalance. This is because the constant need for cortisol reduces the production of other hormones, which are required for the body’s normal function. This has negative consequences for the thyroid gland as well, as it plays a major role in your body’s metabolic regulation.
One of the positive aspects of increased cortisol production in the body is that it reduces inflammation. However, constant, elevated cortisol levels suppress the body’s immune function. This can result in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also referred to as leaky gut.
If stress continues, eventually it may reach a point where the adrenals start failing. Once the final stages of adrenal fatigue are reached, it is possible to end up bedridden, unable to cope, and depressed with a range of other symptoms that may not even appear to be related.
Broadly, the causes of stress in the modern age in include lifestyle factors, environmental factors, psychological factors, and diet.
While we may not always be able to do too much about where we work, live, the gases we breathe, or the stress we get from work, we can incorporate exercise into our lifestyle as well as some stress-relieving activities such as yoga or meditation.
Another major source of stress that you can change is your diet. There are many metabolism boosting foods that can help, not only by enhancing metabolism on a cellular level but also by improving your body’s ability to deal with the effects of stress.
Through changing your diet and considering other ways to naturally boost metabolism, you can have a healthy metabolism that is better able to deal with stress.
The next time your body starts craving sugary foods, consider fruits and starchy vegetables (such as carrots and winter squashes) as a quick fix. They contain natural sugars and vitamins, plus a host of other benefits, that may not only curb cravings but boost metabolism as well. Besides boosting your metabolism, fruits and vegetables may help protect you against certain types of cancer and other diseases, while the antioxidants in them may help to protect cells against damage.
While fruits and vegetables certainly are great metabolism boosting foods, you will not necessarily lose any weight unless you pair your diet with exercise.
Several fruits and vegetables are considered metabolism boosting foods. As a rule of thumb, the best metabolism boosting fruits and veggies contain the following key nutrients:
Chromium enhances your insulin action, which is necessary for metabolism as well as the storage of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Good sources of chromium include broccoli, sweet potato, and corn.
Iodine is necessary for the normal metabolism of all cells. It also helps with thyroid hormone production which is necessary for energy regulation in all cells. Sources of iodine include cranberries, navy beans, strawberries, and potatoes.
Fiber aids the body in ridding itself of cholesterol, reduces the rate of digestion, and helps to control blood glucose levels. In so doing, it plays a role in reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Fiber also induces a feeling of satiety, resulting in less food consumption and weight loss. Additionally, it is of great benefit for those who are constipated. Make sure you pair fiber with adequate water intake though. Metabolism boosting foods rich in fiber include split peas, lentils, black beans, Lima beans, raspberries, blackberries, Brussel sprouts, pears, and avocados.
Capsaicin is commonly found in hot peppers. It not only helps to boost your metabolism, but the fact that it heats up your body means more calories are burnt as fuel. Besides boosting your metabolism, these foods also help with the oxidation of fat, thereby allowing the body to use fat as a means of fuel. Hot peppers thus may also aid in weight loss.
Vitamin C, an antioxidant, is directly involved in cortisol production, boosts your immune system, protects you from free radicals, and plays a role in adrenal recovery. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruit (lemons, oranges, and grapefruit), guavas, kale, broccoli, strawberries, kiwifruit, and red and green peppers.
Magnesium plays a role in energy metabolism, the release of neurotransmitters, blood sugar control, blood pressure regulation, and protein synthesis. Foods that contain significant amounts of magnesium include dark leafy greens, chard, kale, soybeans, lentils, avocados, and bananas.
The B vitamins play an important role in cell metabolism, as they improve your metabolic pathways and boost your energy levels. They also help with cell repair and the maintenance of red blood cells. Foods rich in B vitamins include bananas, leafy green vegetables, potatoes, and soybeans.
A diet including metabolism boosting foods may well help reduce the effects of stress as well as improving your entire body’s metabolic process. Fruits and vegetables are foods that may very well aid in weight loss and have other important health benefits as well.
However, in order to lose weight, you cannot only rely on certain foods. It is important to look at your complete diet, cut out empty calories from unhealthy snacks, watch your carbohydrate consumption, and make sure you are getting enough protein. Additionally, low-key aerobic exercises are essential. This does not imply running a marathon. Rather, focus on gentle exercise that ups your heartbeat and quickens your breathing while being gentle on your body.
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
While metabolism boosting foods may help with weight loss, other factors are also involved, such as getting sufficient exercise, consuming the recommended number of calories, and cutting out foods that contribute to weight gain.