It seems like there is no shortage of powders and drinks on the market today claiming to burn fat and boost your metabolism. But the true potency of any of these magical products leaves us a little skeptical. When it comes to making a lasting impact on your metabolic rate through your diet, nothing leaves as permanent of a mark as eating fresh.
After all, you can try all the adventurous diets you want, but at the end of the day, eating good, real food is the simplest way to maintain a healthy weight. Instead of a lengthy diet, we found foods packed with nutrients, promote satiety, and are simple lifestyle adjustments to make room for in your shopping cart. We spoke to nutritionists, Elissa Goodman and Dana James to learn about the foods that keep your metabolism at its peak. Ahead, check out some of the top metabolism-boosting foods to add to your grocery list ASAP.
Meet the Expert
- Elissa Goodman is a holistic nutritionist and lifestyle cleanse expert based in California. She is the creator of the cleanse, "S.O.U.P. – Superfoods. Organic. Uniquely designed. Prepared with Love." Goodman is also the author of Cancer Hacks, a best-selling story about her journey with cancer.
- Dana James is a nutritionist and author of the best-seller, The Archetype Diet, where she helps clients find eating patterns, uncover emotional triggers, and helps to improve their body composition. James is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and is the founder of Food Coach NYC.
Your body needs iron to carry out its calorie-burning processes effectively. Iron facilitates the flow of oxygen throughout the body, which helps increase energy and metabolism. "One of the absolute best foods on the planet for you in terms of nutrient quality is lentils. They have the highest protein, by weight, of any plant-based food, they are an easy substitute for animal protein in any recipe, and they are loaded with fiber," says Goodman. Just one cup of lentils provides 35 percent of your daily iron needs, plus protein and fiber, which aid in digestion.
"Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts contain three essential nutrients that power your metabolism: B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin C. They also contain a nutrient called sulforaphane that supports the detoxification of toxins and estrogen. When both of those are active, it stalls fat loss," James shares. They also have high water and fiber content, a combination that increases your body’s ability to burn fat.
Beans (think red and black, not refried) are a metabolism-boosting food loaded with fiber, which lowers insulin levels after eating and improves insulin sensitivity over time. The result? Your body stores less fat.
An excellent source of proteins and vitamins, beans also help you feel satiated. "The primary way in which most of these foods aid in weight loss is due to the fact that if you consume them, it is less likely that you will consume another food that is ultra-processed, high in calories, or high in unhealthy fats like trans fat and saturated fat," Goodman shares.
Citrus fruits, especially lemons and grapefruits, are great for digestion. They’re low in sugar and contain an antioxidant that can help lower your blood sugar response after meals—and the vitamin C helps your body metabolize fat faster.
"Lemons contain a nutrient called 'limonin.' It helps support phase one and phase two of liver detoxification. As you support the body's ability to detoxify chemicals, then you support fat loss," says James.
"Gluten-free oats are an incredibly healthy whole grain, providing several vitamins and minerals along with fiber—making them a great breakfast food," Goodman explains. Oats not only keep your insulin levels low after you eat them, preventing blood sugar spikes that signal your body to store fat, but they also have plenty of fiber. As your body breaks down that fiber, it burns calories.
Spicy foods have natural chemicals in them that fire up your metabolism. "Chili peppers are particularly impressive. They contain the bioactive ‘capsaicin’, which has the power to activate the immune system against cancer cells," says Goodman. Capsaicin, also helps your body burn more energy. Can’t handle red peppers? Even just a pinch of cayenne may boost metabolism and curb hunger.
"If you add cinnamon to your coffee, it will help mute the adrenaline and noradrenaline response, which will have a slowing effect on the glucose. If you are eating fruit that has a more direct glycemic response, it will help negate that response," James explains. "When glucose levels are too elevated, the body overproduces insulin. What cinnamon may do is limit the insulin response to support fat loss."
Similar to cayenne pepper, many spices are known to rev up metabolism, but cinnamon also curbs your sweet tooth, helps balance your blood sugar, and improves insulin sensitivity. Add it to your dessert to help thwart post-meal blood sugar spikes.
"Berries are a powerful, nutrient-dense food. They reduce lung cancer risk, slow cancer progression, increase stem cell levels, protect stem cells against stress, boost angiogenesis defenses, protect DNA, enhance immune response, and more," Goodman says. Eating berries have also shown to have beneficial effects on metabolism, stabilizing glucose levels, and decreasing body fat content.
Hemp seeds and flaxseeds are a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to your muscles to kick your metabolism into high gear. "The way that the body functions is through hormones (thyroid hormone, insulin, testosterone, growth hormones to name a few). They work through a cellular response. That fat in the seeds helps support the integrity of the cells so they can hear the hormonal response," James explains.
Garlic supports balanced blood sugar and a healthy metabolism. Studies suggest that eating garlic may increase the number of calories burned while decreasing the body’s production of fat. Goodman shares, "The sulfuric acid compounds in garlic are strong enough to eliminate bacteria and infections and studies show that garlic consumption may reduce the risk of developing several types of cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract."
"Two specific forms of omega-3: EPA and DHA, found almost exclusively in fish, are likely responsible for its superior health benefits. They have been found to drastically decrease inflammation, increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind that scavenges excess cholesterol in the blood), and help maintain brain function. In fact, up to 50 percent of fatty acids in the brain are made up of DHA. Just be sure not to eat fish too often because of the high levels of toxins," Goodman says. Oily fish like salmon, herring, and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
The short-chain fatty acids in whole grains trigger the release of leptin, which is also the satiety hormone, helping you eat less. The high levels of fiber also slow down the blood sugar release and even out insulin spikes, all of which means extra energy is used for digestion.
Some nutritionists and dietitians would not consider whole grains food that supports weight loss because it is processed. James suggests potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams because they contain resistant starch that will slow the glycemic response.
Both anti-viral and antibacterial, coconut oil works to keep a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut, which is necessary for efficient digestion. "Despite the fact that coconut oil is primarily saturated fat, it is a fantastic choice for cooking oil. It is made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which, counterintuitively, have been known to reduce cholesterol and obesity," Goodman says.
And its high-fat content (good fats) works to give your metabolism a boost. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fats, a type of fat that speeds up your metabolism more than the long-chain fats found in substances like butter.
The high protein content of nuts makes your body burn more fat in order to digest them. They’re also a low-glycemic food, which means eating them keeps your blood sugar very stable.
While small in size, nuts must be eaten in moderation. James explains, "Nuts will not be a weight-loss supporting food if they are eaten in excess, particularly nut butter. It's important to make sure the nuts are raw. As soon as nuts are roasted it destroys the oil."