Foods that boost metabolism

Many different factors can affect your metabolism — the process by which your body converts food and drink into energy. Diet itself is one factor. Certain foods and drinks take longer to break down than others, burning more calories in the process.

No one food will completely turbocharge your metabolism. But many simple foods can play a small role in encouraging metabolism. Combining some of these foods with other factors like exercise and sleep can help your metabolism.

“There are no magic bullet kinds of foods,” says Megan Klucinec, bariatric lifestyle program coordinator, UPMC. “We believe that foods can fit into a healthy meal plan, but it often comes down to moderation, portion sizing, and balance.”

What Is Metabolism?

Metabolism is the natural process by which our body turns our food and drink into the energy our body needs to run. That includes functions like our heartbeat and breathing. Metabolism is going on at all times, even when we’re sleeping.

Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body expends while at rest. Different people have different metabolic rates. Many different factors can cause a metabolic speed up or slow down, including:

  • Age
  • Biological sex
  • Body composition
  • Body size
  • Diet
  • Genetics
  • Health conditions
  • Muscle mass
  • Physical activity

Although some people link metabolism to weight gain and weight loss, slow metabolism is not usually to blame for weight gain. Your diet and physical activity play a larger role in that.

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10 Foods That Can Promote Metabolism

Diet can play a part in your metabolism. However, it’s not the only factor — and it’s far from the biggest. So, though some foods may promote metabolism more than others, they’re not going to magically make your metabolic rate faster.

“Sometimes we think there’s specific foods or beverages that can rev up your metabolism, and some foods really do take more time to digest than others,” Klucinec says. “That can slightly increase our metabolism, but not by much.

“The foods that I like to encourage or incorporate are more whole foods. They’re more recognizable by the body, they can break down, are not ultra-processed, and will fit into a multitude of healthy meal plans.”

The following are 10 foods or drinks that Klucinec recommends as part of a healthy metabolic diet.

1. Lean proteins (eggs or lean meats)

Your body expends much more energy breaking down proteins than it does carbohydrates and fats. Klucinec says studies have shown people with a higher intake of protein in their diet have a higher metabolic rate.

Consuming protein-rich foods can benefit metabolism. One large egg contains 7 grams of protein. Lean meats like chicken, fish, turkey, and even lean beef — 20% fat content or less — are also good choices.

“Really, having about 60 to 80 grams minimally of protein in a day is what’s recommended,” Klucinec says. “That helps us to feel fuller both when we finish a meal and in between our next meal or snack.”

2. Coffee

The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant, which can help your metabolism, Klucinec says. However, you should limit the number of additives like sugar and creamer, which can pack on the empty calories.

Additionally, increased caffeine intake may negatively impact sleep. Lack of quality sleep may also contribute to weight gain and/or slower weight loss.

3. Green tea/green tea extract

Like coffee, green tea contains caffeine. It also contains compounds known as catechins. Some studies have linked the consumption of catechins to a higher metabolic rate, especially when combined with exercise.

Green tea contains more catechins than other forms of tea. Green tea extract — a concentrated form of green tea that can take the form of a supplement — contains even more catechins.

Like coffee, you should avoid adding too much sugar to green tea because it contains empty calories.

4. Chili peppers

Chili peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, which provides their burning effect. Klucinec says studies have shown capsaicin in a supplemental form can help metabolism. When added to food, it can have the same metabolic benefit and also work as an appetite suppressant.

Klucinec suggests adding chili pepper to vegetables or lean meat to add flavor.

“Why not have your healthy food taste good?” she says.

5. Ginger

Ginger is another metabolism-encouraging food that you can use as a flavor additive to food and drink. Klucinec says adding ginger powder to a hot beverage like tea can increase your metabolic rate. It can also suppress your appetite.

In addition, ginger can affect metabolism by improving digestion. It may even help you feel fuller after meals.

6. Beans/lentils/legumes

Beans, lentils, and legumes are good sources of protein and fiber. The protein takes longer for your body to break down, and you’ll feel fuller for longer.

“Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but when we look at beans and foods like lentils or legumes, that’s a great choice for being a metabolism booster,” Klucinec says. “Having one-third of a cup of beans — you can put that in soup, you can put it in your salad, it could be a bit of a side dish for you. It will help you feel fuller for a longer period of time, so you may not grab for something else to eat.”

Klucinec says to avoid beans with sauces and other accompaniments, like baked beans. But most of these foods — navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and more — have value.

7. Flaxseed

Flaxseed provides proteins and vitamins, along with other health benefits, Klucinec says. Researchers are studying its effects on metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that can raise your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other problems. It also may help the bacterial profile of the gut, leading to better gut health.

You can add flaxseeds to oatmeal, soup, smoothies, yogurt, and many other foods you already eat.

8. Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts contain selenium, a mineral with many potential health benefits. Selenium can improve the health of your thyroid, which regulates metabolism, and can also boost your immune function. In addition, Brazil nuts are a good source of protein and healthy fats.

Just make sure to watch your portion sizes, Klucinec says.

“Sometimes we like that crunch, but having too many nuts isn’t great for the fat content,” she says. “Thinking about Brazil nuts, what would fill up a small shot glass might be a serving.”

9. Broccoli

Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family. Its health benefits include reducing blood fat levels like cholesterol and reducing the risk of some cancers and age-related diseases like dementia. It also contains a compound called glucoraphanin, which showed metabolic benefits in studies involving mice.

“(Glucoraphanin) is helpful for retuning metabolism in particular,” Klucinec says.

10. Spinach and kale

Many different green, leafy vegetables offer metabolic benefits. But you can prepare spinach and kale in many different ways — as kale chips, in smoothies, in side salads, and more. Their high iron content makes them good for growth, development, and metabolism, Klucinec says.

Klucinec suggests pairing green leafy vegetables with foods rich in vitamin C, such as lemons, tomatoes, squash, and more.

“When you have some of those high-iron foods and vitamin C foods together, they taste good, most importantly, but they are good for you,” she says. “It helps with absorption.”

Tips for a More Metabolic-Friendly Diet

You don’t have to completely change your diet right away and start eating solely metabolism-encouraging foods. You can incorporate many of these foods into your current diet. You can also opt for leaner meats for protein, eat beans as a side dish, add chili peppers or ginger for flavoring, or add flaxseeds to yogurt.

“That’s a way to get that in there without making it seem like you’re changing everything all at once,” Klucinec says. “Because making any of these small changes in the right direction is really impactful, and it will help get you on the right step for your journey.”

Klucinec says you should also watch your portion sizes and aim for balance in your diet. Half your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, while the other half should consist of a lean protein and a healthy carbohydrate. When snacking, have two bites of a protein per one bite of a carbohydrate.

Non-Dietary Metabolic Tips

Your metabolic rate depends on many factors out of your control. Diet is one factor you can control. Other simple things you can do to help your metabolism include:

  • Exercise. Do resistance exercises on two non-consecutive days per week. Examples include weightlifting, resistance bands, swimming, and more. “Just doing that at least two non-consecutive days in a week can help you burn more calories and even be a little more in tune to burn up calories when you’re done exercising for the next 48 hours,” Klucinec says.
  • Hydrate, especially before meals. Drinking water throughout the day can help you feel fuller and less inclined to grab a snack. Drinking an 8-ounce glass of water before a meal can help fill you up.
  • Sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours a night. When your body doesn’t get enough sleep, it releases more cortisol, a hormone that can lead to weight gain.

These factors are important not only for metabolism but for our overall health. Just know that it’s important to have patience — you may not see an impact right away, but you should stick with it. Set reasonable expectations and don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals.

“You’re asking yourself to change habits, and that’s one of the most difficult things you can ever do,” Klucinec says. “There aren’t any quick fixes to that. You might have to start by changing your mind, changing your focus, changing your expectations, being more patient, and giving yourself time.”

Alicia Arredondo Eve, Xiaoji Liu, Yanling Wang, et al, Nutrients, Biomarkers of Broccoli Consumption: Implications for Glutathione Metabolism and Liver Health. Link

Justyna Godos, Francesca Giampieri, Agnieszka Micek, et al, Antioxidants, Effect of Brazil Nuts on Selenium Status, Blood Lipids, and Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Link

Francesca Gorini, Laura Sabatino, Alessandro Pingitore, and Cristina Vassalle, Molecules, Selenium: An Element of Life Essential for Thyroid Function. Link

Fatemeh Haidari, Nasrin Banaei-Jahromi, Mehrnoosh Zakerkish, and Kambiz Ahmadi, Nutrition Journal, The Effects of Flaxseed Supplementation on Metabolic Status in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Open-Labeled Controlled Clinical Trial. Link

Jianxia Ma, Jianqin Sun, Huijing Bai, et al, Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Influence of Flax Seeds on the Gut Microbiota of Elderly Patients with Constipation. Link

About UPMC Nutrition Services

Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.