HITS & MYTHS
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Health: true or false?

How some foods aid metabolism, but won’t help you lose weight

Garlic, turmeric, chilli and green tea are great for your metabolism and overall health, but they’re no magic bullet for reducing your waist measurements

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2017, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 5:31pm

Does eating some foods directly increase your metabolism?

The answer: No

The facts: What do foods such as green tea, chilli, spices, garlic, and lean protein have in common? They’re on every weight watcher’s must-eat list, but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, they are packed with nutrients and are relatively low in calories, making them smart additions to any weight-loss programme, but there’s also a common belief that these foods can increase your metabolism, speeding up weight loss.

If only burning calories was that effortless. While these foods are certainly healthy, consuming them will not raise your metabolism enough to make you lose weight.

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“Your metabolism is not as one-dimensional as it sounds,” says Monica Xu, a naturopathic physician at the Integrated Medicine Institute. “Imagine your body as a busy train station, with trains coming and going. In any given amount of time, depending on how fast the passengers get on and off the trains, the transit rate will vary. If there are too many passengers boarding the train at once or the trains aren’t running, the transit rate will slow down.”

In this context, the passengers are the nutrients your cells need to function, while the trains are the transporters, helping to move these nutrients in and out of your cells. How do you increase the transit rate? You have to achieve a balance between the amount of nutrients entering your body and the speed at which they are transported to – and utilised by – your cells. In other words, ensure that your metabolism is well-supported.

But first, it’s important to understand what metabolism is, says Xu. By definition, metabolism is a series of chemical processes occurring within the body that are necessary for the maintenance of life. Two main pathways, catabolism and anabolism, are involved in our metabolism. The first one, catabolism, produces or utilises energy through the breaking down of stored or readily available forms of energy (nutrients). The second, anabolism, refers to the chemical pathways often involved in the making, repairing and supporting of the growth of cells that utilise energy from stored or readily available nutrients.

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“A healthy metabolism, then, is when there’s a balance between these two pathways,” Xu continues. “If there is too much catabolism your health will suffer; you may experience problems such as weak muscles, brittle bones, malnourishment and an inability to gain weight. Too much anabolism can lead to diabetes, heart disease or other diseases caused by the overburdening or slowing down of the body.”

With this in mind, it’s good to know that some foods can keep your metabolism running more effectively, though not necessarily boost it. According to Xu, green tea, for example, contains catechin, an antioxidant that stimulates cellular fat usage and elimination, and L-threonine, an amino acid that helps calm the nerves. Chilli, also known as cayenne, acts as a blood sugar regulator, stimulates digestion and is rich in micronutrients, which help to regulate cellular metabolism. Spices such as garlic, turmeric, coriander and nutmeg regulate blood sugar, activate the production of detoxification enzymes in the liver and stimulate the elimination of toxins. And finally, lean protein provides essential amino acids that are crucial for maintaining muscle mass and keeping your nervous and immune systems healthy.

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By consuming these foods you can, indirectly, keep your metabolism in check, says Xu. For instance, when your blood sugar levels are stable you are more likely to feel calm and this reduces the likelihood of binge eating or overloading on junk food, which is typically associated with high stress levels. Other foods that are useful in supporting your metabolism are dark green leafy vegetables, which Xu says contain B vitamins to help your cells release energy; and almonds, walnuts, coconuts and fish – these are rich in essential fatty acids, which are an immediate energy source for the brain and adrenal glands.