The Top 5 Metabolism-Boosting Foods to Speed Up Weight Loss

Written by Tim Skwiat

Metabolism-Boosting Foods

“Boosting the metabolism” may very well be the “holy grail” of the fitness industry. Fortunately, there are several tried and true methods to accomplish this. Exercise, for instance, is arguably the most potent tool in the metabolism-boosting toolbox. Indeed, certain types of exercise can boost metabolism for hours after exercise. Even better, they can lead to long-term increases in resting metabolic rate by building calorie-burning muscle.

Increasing the amount of non-exercise activity (called NEAT)—such as walking, fidgeting, doing yard work, performing chores, dancing, taking the stairs, and moving throughout the day—is another effective way to increase daily energy expenditure.

Believe it or not, the food you eat—or don’t eat—can also have a significant impact on metabolism. For example, under-eating can lead to reduced metabolic rate. Meanwhile, certain metabolism-boosting foods and drinks help boost metabolic rate.

Here are five metabolism-boosting foods at the top of the list:

1. Protein-Rich Foods

All foods you eat require calories to be burned to digest, absorb, and assimilate their nutrients. This is referred to as dietary-induced thermogenesis (DIT), the thermic effect of feeding (TEF), or what we like to call thermogenic burn.

There is a general consensus that protein stimulates thermogenic burn to a significantly greater extent than other macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat).1 In fact, protein-rich foods are estimated to boost metabolism by as much as 30%, whereas as fats and carbs are typically estimated to be in the 5 – 10% range.2

This is what makes proteins one of the top metabolism-boosting foods. Protein-rich foods boost the metabolism THREE to SIX TIMES more than carbs or fats. This means you burn more calories each day when you consume a high-protein diet. It also means that protein-rich foods provide less metabolizable energy than carbs or fats. That is, your body is less likely to store calories from protein as fat.3

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So, it should come as no surprise that high-protein diets increase metabolic rate and help preserve metabolic rate after weight loss.4,5 For a list of our favorite protein-rich foods, check out the following free report: The Top 55 High-Protein Foods.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids are “essential” fatty acids. That is, the body needs them yet cannot produce them on its own, so they must be obtained through diet and/or supplementation. The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume at least 500mg/day of EPA and DHA. Yet, the average person consumes only about a quarter of that amount (~135mg/day).6,7

EPA and DHA are well-known for their beneficial effects on heart health, brain health, cognitive function, mood, eye health, and immune function. The benefits of EPA and DHA are far reaching, as they are integrated into the membranes of our cells.

Indeed, emerging research has shown their potential benefit as one of the key metabolism-boosting foods. Researchers from Gettysburg College found that supplementation with fish oils, which supply the same types of omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, for 6 weeks significantly increased fat-free mass and decreased fat mass.25 What’s more, the subjects also experienced increased metabolic rate and fat burning along with significantly decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone associated with increased abdominal fat storage.26

Several recent studies have shown an increase in resting metabolic rate after supplementation with EPA and DHA in both young and older healthy adults. In one randomized, controlled trial, researchers found older women supplementing with fish oils (3g/day EPA and DHA) for 12 weeks experienced significant increases in resting metabolic rate, calorie expenditure during exercise, and fat burning both at rest and during exercise.8

Even more, research has shown supplementation with fish oil may increase muscle mass, which is responsible for about 20% of resting metabolic rate and up to 80% of calorie expenditure during exercise.9,10 The best dietary sources of EPA and DHA are cold-water fatty fish such as:

  • • Anchovies
  • • Herring
  • • Sardines
  • • Salmon

Note that plant-based foods (e.g., flax, chia, walnuts) contain the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has a very poor conversion rate (<10%) to EPA and DHA.11

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3. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is principally made up of saturated fat (about 92%), with as much as 70% of that being a special type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). This makes coconut oil unique among dietary fats. You see, unlike the more common long-chain fats (LCFs), MCTs are easily burned for energy and are far less likely to be stored as fat.12

In fact, MCTs are viewed as “functional” fats that provide a host of health benefits. They’ve been shown to lower body weight, improve markers of metabolic health, reduce abdominal fat, and improve insulin sensitivity.13 Coconut oil is a very rich source of this unique, health-promoting saturated fat.

Research has also shown that the MCTs found in coconut oil have a significant metabolism-boosting effect. In one study, researchers found consuming MCTs increased metabolism significantly more than eating LCFs from other foods. As a matter of fact, participants who consumed MCTs lost significantly more weight and burned more fat than the group consuming LCFs.14

Researchers have also found consuming just 1 – 2 tablespoons daily of MCTs can elevate the metabolism by as much as 5%.15 The acute rise in calorie burning with MCTs results not only apply to short-term feeding studies. Research has shown this elevation in metabolism continues even over prolonged periods of time.16 What’s particularly interesting is that this increase in energy expenditure appears to be met by a subsequent increase in fat burning.

4. Resistant Starch

Resistant starch is so named because it is a non-digestible carbohydrate (i.e., fiber). The reason resistant starch have been long-considered one of the top metabolism-boosting foods is in its ability to increase satiety (feelings of fullness and satisfaction) and reduce food intake both short- and long-term.3,4 Research has also shown consumption of resistant starch increases fat burning, decreases fat storage, and improves insulin sensitivity.5,6

That’s not all. Researchers speculate that resistant starch may also increase calorie expenditure. In addition, it may also promote weight loss and preserve calorie-burning muscle.7 Not surprisingly, the resistant starch has been hyped by the popular press as a “weight loss wonder food.”

While resistant starch is not digestible by us, it is considered a “prebiotic” fiber that serves as “food” for our beneficial gut bacteria (e.g., probiotics). In other words, gut bacteria feed off resistant starch through the process of fermentation. This results in the production of key chemicals (i.e., short-chain fatty acids) that fuel our immune cells and stimulate the release of key hunger-suppressing hormones.

Several other health benefits have been associated with resistant starch in the GI tract, including enhanced laxation (that is, relaxing so it’s easier to “go”), increased uptake of minerals such as calcium, and reduced symptoms of diarrhea. As a prebiotic, resistant starch has been shown to positively influence the gut bacterial ecosystem, increasing levels of beneficial Bifidobacteria and reducing levels of pathogenic bacteria.

When resistant starches are fermented by healthy gut bacteria, a byproduct is the production of short-chain fatty acids (SFCA), which may help suppress appetite. 27,28 The content of resistant starch in food is highly influenced by preparation and processing techniques. Generally speaking, the following are good sources of resistant starch:

  • • Green, unripe bananas
  • • Uncooked, rolled oats
  • • Potatoes that have been cooked then cooled
  • • Rice that has been cooked then cooled
  • • White beans that have been cooked then cooled
  • • Lentils that have been cooked then cooled

5. Coffee and Tea

Coffee is one of the world’s most consumed drinks, trailing only water and tea. Of course, coffee is synonymous with caffeine, and there may be a host of benefits—including its place one of the top metabolism-boosting foods.

For instance, studies show coffee consumption significantly increases metabolic rate.17 In fact, consuming as little as 100mg of caffeine, which you can get from a single cup of coffee, is enough to boost metabolic rate. And it appears repeated ingestion and/or greater amounts lead to an even more pronounced effect.18 What’s particularly interesting is that this increase in resting metabolic rate is accompanied by greater oxidation of fat. Simply put, coffee and caffeine can help boost metabolic rate and increase fat burning.

While there are many health and metabolism benefits associated with regular, moderate coffee consumption (3 – 5 six-ounce cups per day), it’s important to assess and consider your tolerance to caffeine. Individual differences in caffeine metabolism apply, and genetically, some folks are “slow” caffeine metabolizers, which makes them more sensitive to the stimulatory effects (e.g., jitters, feeling wired) of the compound).

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If coffee isn’t your, well, cup of tea, then you may be able to reap similar metabolism-boosting benefits from tea. Studies consistently show that green tea, which contains the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), increases metabolic rate and the body’s use of fat for fuel. Effects that are independent of its caffeine content. EGCG appears to work by inhibiting enzymes that can shut down important fat-burning hormones (i.e., norepinephrine), thereby stoking the body’s fat-burning furnace.19

In one study measuring 24-hour calorie expenditure and fat burning, healthy men supplementing with a green tea extract providing 90mg EGCG three times daily experienced a 4% increase in metabolic rate and 3.4% decrease in respiratory exchange ratio (RER). In other words, they were burning more fat to meet the increased demand in calories.20

Researchers suggest consumption of 2 – 4 cups (i.e., 500mL – 1L) of green tea per day to reap these fat-burning and health-promoting benefits.23

The Best Metabolism-Boosting Foods

Metabolism is an encompassing term generally used to describe how many calories you expend on a daily basis. It is made up largely of resting metabolic rate, which is the number of calories your body requires to sustain vital functions at rest. However, physical activity can have a profound effect on metabolism, both in the short run and long-term. While the contribution of eating is less pronounced, certain metabolism-boosting foods can indeed have an impact. And for most, even the smallest changes can add up to make a noticeable difference.

These Fatty Foods Boost Metabolism:

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References

  • 1. Westerterp KR. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab. 2004;1(1):5. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-1-5.
  • 2. Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(5):373-385.
  • 3. Boirie Y, Dangin M, Gachon P, Vasson MP, Maubois JL, Beaufrère B. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997;94(26):14930-14935.
  • 4. Soenen S, Martens EAP, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Lemmens SGT, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass. J Nutr. 2013;143(5):591-596. doi:10.3945/jn.112.167593.
  • 5. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab. 2014;11(1):53. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-53.
  • 6. Kris-Etherton PM, Grieger JA, Etherton TD. Dietary reference intakes for DHA and EPA. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009;81(2-3):99-104. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2009.05.011.
  • 7. Harris WS, Mozaffarian D, Lefevre M, et al. Towards establishing Dietary Reference Intakes for Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Acids. J Nutr. 2009;139(4):804S-819S. doi:10.3945/jn.108.101329.
  • 8. Logan SL, Spriet LL. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for 12 weeks increases resting and exercise metabolic rate in healthy community-dwelling older females. PLOS ONE. 2015;10(12):e0144828. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144828.
  • 9. Zurlo F, Larson K, Bogardus C, Ravussin E. Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure. J Clin Invest. 1990;86(5):1423-1427. doi:10.1172/JCI114857.
  • 10. Smith GI, Julliand S, Reeds DN, Sinacore DR, Klein S, Mittendorfer B. Fish oil-derived n-3 PUFA therapy increases muscle mass and function in healthy older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(1):115-122. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.105833.
  • 11. Arterburn LM, Hall EB, Oken H. Distribution, interconversion, and dose response of n-3 fatty acids in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6 Suppl):1467S-1476S.
  • 12. St-Onge M-P. Dietary fats, teas, dairy, and nuts: potential functional foods for weight control? Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(1):7-15.
  • 13. Nagao K, Yanagita T. Medium-chain fatty acids: Functional lipids for the prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Pharmacol Res. 2010;61(3):208-212. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2009.11.007.
  • 14. St-Onge M-P, Jones PJH. Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord J Int Assoc Study Obes. 2003;27(12):1565-1571. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802467.
  • 15. Dulloo AG, Fathi M, Mensi N, Girardier L. Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1996;50(3):152-158.
  • 16. St-Onge M-P, Bourque C, Jones PJH, Ross R, Parsons WE. Medium- versus long-chain triglycerides for 27 days increases fat oxidation and energy expenditure without resulting in changes in body composition in overweight women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord J Int Assoc Study Obes. 2003;27(1):95-102. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802169.
  • 17. Acheson KJ, Zahorska-Markiewicz B, Pittet P, Anantharaman K, Jéquier E. Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. 1980;33(5):989-997.
  • 18. Dulloo AG, Geissler CA, Horton T, Collins A, Miller DS. Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989;49(1):44-50.
  • 19. Shixian Q, VanCrey B, Shi J, Kakuda Y, Jiang Y. Green tea extract thermogenesis-induced weight loss by epigallocatechin gallate inhibition of catechol-O-methyltransferase. J Med Food. 2006;9(4):451-458. doi:10.1089/jmf.2006.9.451.
  • 20. Dulloo AG, Duret C, Rohrer D, et al. Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(6):1040-1045.
  • 21. Roberts JD, Roberts MG, Tarpey MD, Weekes JC, Thomas CH. The effect of a decaffeinated green tea extract formula on fat oxidation, body composition and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1):1. doi:10.1186/s12970-014-0062-7.
  • 22. Chantre P, Lairon D. Recent findings of green tea extract AR25 (Exolise) and its activity for the treatment of obesity. Phytomedicine Int J Phytother Phytopharm. 2002;9(1):3-8. doi:10.1078/0944-7113-00078.
  • 23. Kao YH, Hiipakka RA, Liao S. Modulation of obesity by a green tea catechin. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(5):1232-1234.
  • Cristina

    Hi Betty. We are so grateful for your feedback.

    Studies have shown that drinking 0.5 liters of water increases resting metabolism by 10–30% for about an hour. While this may not seem like very much, it has been said that consuming cold water as opposed to room temperature water can improve the calorie-burning effect.

    If weight loss is one of your goals, increasing your water consumption is a healthy habit you would be wise to implement. You could also benefit from replacing sugary drinks with water, as this will reduce your caloric intake. Another suggestion is to drink water up to 30 minutes prior to a meal which will provide you with satiety.

    All in all, my general recommendations for optimal health and wellness are to consume 1 liter per 50 pounds of bodyweight. For example, a 150-pound individual would consume 3 liters (i.e., about 96 ounces per day). Alternatively, you could simply divide your bodyweight by two and drinking that amount of water in ounces per day. In the 150-pound example, this would equate to 75 ounces per day.

    We hope you give us the opportunity to connect with you again, Betty.

  • Humanitarian

    People with Diabetes Type 2 be careful to listen to your Doctor, if water retention is an issue. Drinking too much water can lead to weight increase and water retention that can only be removed by medical intervention. This also causes heart enlargement and high blood pressure. Ask your doctor before splurging on water intake! posted from experience as teacher.

  • Humanitarian

    Could you give me the references list? I found the Omega 3 from Algae for vegetarians is omitted, I read this is taken by NASA astronauts and the product is available in USA and Canada as meeting daily requirements. NO mention or comments made. This is relevant fo Vegetarians!

    • Cristina

      Hello Humanitarian. We appreciate you reaching out to us for additional information on Omega-3’s. I would be more than happy to address your questions and concerns.

      It is important to mention that at BioTRUST, we are a science-driven company, and we constantly review new published research to ensure that our products contain the best ingredients in the most effective forms in the amounts that research (on real folks just like yourself) has shown to be efficacious, all synergistically packaged and delivered.

      Like you, we only settle for the best products at BioTRUST, and the only way we can do that is to stay current with the latest research and continue to update our products accordingly.

      Most of the current research on Omega-3’s focus on fish and fish oil, which have been proven to be the best dietary sources of both EPA and DHA. As Coach Tim mentioned, plant-based foods (e.g., flax, chia, walnuts) contain the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has a very poor conversion rate (<10%) to EPA and DHA.

      With regards to the reference list for the above article, this can be found at the bottom of the article located directly under the orange and black arrows directing you to "Share or Comment Below". Simply click on the plus sign next to references and the list will be displayed.

      Please know we are hard at work to make our business the business of choice for those who appreciate superior quality and a passion for excellence.

      Please visit us again soon, Humanitarian.

  • Humanitarian

    While vegetarians are asmall minority, their health needs of Omega are not be forgotten. This need is filled up Ovega 3 or Omega 3 Algae product, each soft-gel is about three times the cost the fish oil based ones but seems to do the job as my friends are telling me reduced joint pain, improved joints functioning, good eye health. So, it is good to read a scientific study done. I too rely on science findings as myself a physical scientist, retired.

    • Hi Humanitarian,

      I hope this finds you doing well! Many thanks for stopping by and sharing your feedback; we greatly appreciate it. In fact, educated, informative insight like yours is incredibly well-received, and it plays an important role in helping us forge ahead as the trusted resource for nutrition information and premium, science-backed supplements.

      With that being said, you’re right on point that EPA and DHA microalgae is considered to be the same and have identical effects as these very same omega-3s from fish. In fact, unlike humans, fish, and other members of the animal kingdom, plants can synthesize omega-3s (e.g., DHA, EPA). In particular, algae are the primary producers of DHA and EPA in the ecosystem. Of course, zooplankton eat the algae, fish eat the zooplankton (or, fish eat the fish that eat the zooplankton), and we (should) eat the fish that ate the zooplankton (or, we (should) eat the fish that ate the fish that ate the zooplankton).

      In other words, microalgae are the foundation of the food-based sources of DHA and EPA, and along those lines, algal oil is a solid option for both plant-based eaters and omnivores alike to ensure they’re getting enough DHA and EPA daily.

      Having said all that, the purpose of this particular article was to highlight common food sources of these valuable, essential fats, and that’s why I chose to mention fatty fish that are high in omega-3 fats, low in mercury, and sustainably caught. Also, I wanted to specifically point out that most plant-based foods (e.g., flax, walnuts, etc.) that are regarded as good sources of omega-3s, contain ALA—not DHA or EPA. The body has to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, and it is very poor (<10%) at doing so. Microalage are the exception, as they synthesize and contain DHA and EPA. However, most people don't have access to algae as a food source. 🙂

      I hope that this provides some clarity as to why the article did not mention algae in the body of the article itself, and instead, I highlighted fatty fish. Perhaps in the future, we can discuss omega-3 supplements and cover this topic in more depth. Speaking of which, I do want you to know that we do consider algae oil a very viable omega-3 source, and it is something that we're considering for future product development to meet the needs and concerns of our trusty customers.

      Thanks so much for your contributions and commitment to science and education, Humanitarian. We appreciate you!