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Seven Metabolism Boosting Foods

Written by: Tom Nikkola – Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

People often search for the latest pill to give their metabolism the boost they need to shed weight. Nothing impacts our ability to shed weight the way our food choices do. Even with food, there’s nothing magical that will help someone shed unwanted weight overnight. However, choosing the right foods day after day can help the weight come off faster over time.

The following foods have been shown to positively impact metabolism in a variety of ways. As you’ll see, their benefits don’t relate only to the number of calories you burn each day. Instead, the following seven foods can affect lipid profiles, inflammation, metabolic rate, blood-sugar management and even help stimulate more muscle tissue — all important for optimizing metabolism and maintaining a healthy weight.

Whey Protein

Protein in general has a more significant effect, calorie for calorie, than carbohydrate or fat. Whey protein also seems to provide some additional benefits to metabolism. A recent study showed the metabolic effect (thermic effect) of whey protein was greater than either casein, another dairy protein, or soy protein.[i] In addition, whey protein has a more significant effect on stimulating protein synthesis than other proteins.[ii] Increased protein synthesis can lead to an increase in muscle tissue development, important for maintaining metabolism and improving physical conditioning, both of which can lead to increases in overall energy expenditure.


When used in moderation, which is one to two cups a day for most people, coffee can provide a mild boost to the metabolism through caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that slightly raises the body’s metabolic rate and increases fat utilization, as well. In other words, it stimulates the body to use a higher percentage of fat for fuel over carbohydrate.

Unfortunately, when used in excess, caffeine can also wreak havoc on the metabolism. More is not always better in this case, so try to keep it to a couple of cups per day. And bear in mind, we’re talking about the benefits of a plain cup of Joe — not the sugar loaded, high-calorie flavored coffee drinks.

Green Tea

Like coffee, green tea contains caffeine as well, although usually not quite as much. Green tea also contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is an antioxidant that can help reduce the damage created by free radicals — byproducts of our metabolism that increase the aging process. EGCG may also reduce inflammation.[iii] Chronic inflammation disrupts a healthy metabolism in a variety of ways, including the development of insulin resistance.

Grass-Fed Beef

Again, protein in general, when compared to the same number of calories coming from carbohydrate or fat, has a more significant effect on metabolism. When possible, choose grass-fed beef over conventionally raised beef. Cows fed a natural diet of grass produce meat that is leaner and includes more omega-3 fats, which provide a variety of health benefits. One recently discovered benefit of omega 3 is its contributions to lean body mass.[iv] An increase in lean body mass can help raise metabolic rate. Omega-3 fatty acids also help to reduce inflammation, which (again) can support a more optimal metabolism.

Ask a butcher to identify grass-fed beef, if you’re unsure what to purchase. Look for labeling with descriptions to the effect of, “pasture fed; raised without antibiotics or hormones.” For even more omega 3 benefit, substitute salmon on occasion.


Though cinnamon is not a food you’ll eat or drink by itself, adding cinnamon to your diet as a spice provides positive benefits to your metabolism. In studies, cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood sugar, triglycerides and total cholesterol.[v] As blood glucose levels are better maintained, so are lower levels of insulin, which allows the body to burn more fat.

Studies have used one to six grams of cinnamon per day, which may be more than most people would be able to use. However, adding it to black coffee, tea, or some of your favorite dishes, you should be able to take in enough to achieve a positive effect.


The giant, tart citrus fruit we often pass up in favor of a sweeter orange may play an important role in optimizing your metabolism. Grapefruit and unsweetened grapefruit juice were recently shown to have a significant impact on raising protective HDL cholesterol.[vi] Nootkatone, a natural compound found in grapefruit, has been shown to have a metabolic-raising effect as well.[vii]

As another plus, grapefruit is loaded with vitamin C. Try not to negate its benefits by covering it with sugar. Try Stevia or another non-calorie alternative instead if you need to add a little sweetness.


Staying hydrated plays an important role in an optimal metabolism as well. Drinking a couple glasses of water prior to eating has been shown to reduce food intake,[viii] but there’s more to the story than just filling your stomach. Maintaining a proper level of hydration is also important in helping the body excrete toxins, get rid of extra body fat and support energy. Those who are dehydrated may be less motivated to exercise, and even if they do, they may not be able to exercise with the same level of intensity. Drinking ice-cold water can even lead to a few extra calories being burned as the body warms it up after drinking it — but it will likely be a minimal effect.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Share thoughts and post questions below.

[i] Acheson KJ, Blondel-Lubrano A, Oguey-Araymon S, et al. Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(3)525-534

[ii] Hulmi JJ, Lockwood CM, Stout JR. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nut & Metab. 2010;7:51

[iii] Peairs A, Dai R, Gan L, et al. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (ECGC) attenuates inflammation in MRL/lpr mouse mesangial cells. Cellular & Molecular Immunology. 2010;7:123-132

[iv] Noreen EE, Sass MJ, Crowe ML, Pabon VA, Brandauer J, Averill LK. Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults. J Int Soc Spo Nut. 2010 doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-31

[v] KhanA, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003;26(12):3215-3218

[vi] Silver HJ, Dietrich MS, Niswender ND. Effects of grapefruit, grapefruit juice and water preloads on energy balance, weight loss, body composition and cardiometabolic risk in free-living obese adults. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2011;8:8

[vii] Murase T, Misawa K, Haramizu S, Minegishi Y, Hase T. Nootkatone, a characteristic constituent of grapefruit, stimulates energy metabolism and prevents diet-induced obesity by activating AMPK. AJP – Endo 2010;299(2):E266-E275

[viii] American Chemical Society. 2010 National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Boston, Aug. 22-26, 2010

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Reader Comments (2)

Tom, you should note that grapefruit and statins do not make a good combination. Grapefruit juice inhibits a substance in your small intestine that helps break down dozens of medications, including Lipitor, Mevacor, and Zocor. If you drink grapefruit juice while taking any of these medications, too much of the drugs’ active ingredient may enter your blood stream. This could result in side effects such as a dangerous muscle disorder or liver damage. Since statins are one of the most often prescribed medicines in the country, with tens of millions of users, I would make a point of always mentioning this when you discuss grapefruit.

May 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

Carlos is correct about the scrips he mentioned, BUT grapefruit does NOT have the same issue with CRESTOR. It turns out that CRESTOR is one of the drugs that is controlled by a different mechanism and is not affected by grapefruit. While this is not a strong reason for choosing a chol lowering drug, it does show that interactions can be very complicated and detailed blood work plus complete understanding of all drugs and supplements being taken are essential to a sound individual plan.

June 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

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