To a certain extent, your metabolism runs at a preset speed based on your genetics—thanks, Great Aunt Mildred. But by filling up on certain foods, you can give your body’s fat-burning skills a gentle nudge in the right direction. This is not a drill.
While it’s important to keep in mind that weight and metabolic rate are complicated, eating the right foods to stoke your metabolic furnace can have an impact on your overall calorie burn, says Edwina Clark, R.D., head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly.
As you fine-tune your overall strategy, here are 11 metabolism-boosters to get you started.
“Cells containing calcium actually burn off more fat than those that lack it,” says Caroline Apovian, M.D., director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Centre at the Boston Medical Centre. But since many calcium-rich foods are calorie-dense, be cautious of the grub you choose. Apovian recommends one cup of plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt, which provides about 18 percent of your daily calcium needs and contains only 100 calories.
Celery is low in calories and packed with fiber and water, so it takes quite a bit of effort to make its way through the body. And because celery acts as a diuretic, the energy that’s used by the body to increase urine production helps shift your metabolism into a higher gear, says New York-based registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood.
“Probiotic-rich fermented foods, like kimchi, are beneficial for gut health, promoting healthy digestion and less bloating,” says Rebecca Lewis, R.D., in-house dietitian at HelloFresh. This, in turn, can help your metabolism run more efficiently, since there’s not as much standing in the way of your body breaking down nutrients properly. And one small study of overweight and obese people, published in Nutrition Research, found that participants who ate fermented kimchi showed improvements in cholesterol and carbohydrate metabolism, along with increased weight loss.
This tasty green does your metabolism a solid by providing your body with a huge dose of iron. “Because iron helps carry the oxygen our muscles need to burn fat, our muscles are able to do so at a faster rate,” says Lockwood. If you’re not a big fan of spinach, don’t fret: lentils, swiss chard, and soybeans can also do the trick, she says.
“Even mild dehydration can slow your metabolism,” says Lewis. For brownie points (literally, more brownies): Drink cold water, which forces your body to use more calories to warm it up, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. It’s not a huge jump, but every little bit counts, right?
These are probably the most important foods for boosting metabolism since noshing on lean protein helps to build up your muscle mass. “This is critically important because the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate, which is the total calories your body burns at rest in 24 hours,” says Susan Bowerman, R.D., director of worldwide nutrition education and training at Herbalife. The best sources of lean protein include poultry (breast), shellfish, beans, edamame, and tempeh.
“Fish is an excellent source of both iodine and selenium, two minerals that support the function of the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism,” says Bowerman, so consider adding more salmon, tuna, mackerel, or trout to your repertoire.
Green tea contains a compound called EGCG, which slightly increases the body’s fat-burning process, says Apovian. Plus, the caffeine it contains can give your metabolism a (slight) boost. Opt for freshly brewed, unsweetened green tea for maximum impact, she suggests.
Whole eggs are packed with vitamin D, which helps rebuild and repair hard-working muscles, says Lockwood. The more muscle mass you have, the easier it is for your body to burn calories. Wild salmon and tofu are also excellent sources of vitamin D, she says.
Spices like cayenne, red or green chili peppers, and sriracha are known as warming spices, which heat up the inside of our bodies to aid in fat breakdown, says Lewis. Research suggests that eating thermogenic foods like these can increase metabolism by up to 5 percent and increase fat burning by up to 16 percent. “The hotter the variety, the greater the affect, but the exact magnitude of the benefit may vary from person to person,” says Clark.
Noshing on avocado is a great way to boost your metabolism, especially when eaten in the morning. “Breaking your fast with foods that contain healthy fats, like the omega-3s in avocado, gets your metabolism going while keeping blood sugar levels stable (since they’re burned at a slower rate by the body). And that’s super important for weight loss since it prevents energy crashes and cravings,” says Baltimore-based registered dietitian Courtney Ferreira.