6 myths about your metabolism



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


19 December 2018

1 – Skipping meals will help to give your metabolism a boost

Thanks to popular diets such as intermittent fasting, skipping meals almost seems to be trendy and the go-to way to lose some weight and kick-start your metabolism. However, the reality is very different as, if you’re eating less than 1000 calories a day, your metabolism will actually slow down. This is because your body is being plunged into starvation mode and anything you do eat, is more likely to be stored as fat to increase your chances of survival. Not ideal if you’re attempting to speed your metabolism up! 

My advice: If you’re trying to boost your metabolism, the last thing you should be doing is skipping meals however, as I will explore later, you also don’t want to be eating about six different dishes a day. The old and trusty model of ‘breakfast, lunch and dinner’ should work just fine provided that the food you’re eating is full of nourishing nutrients!

2 – Cutting out fat helps!

It’s no secret that fat can take longer to be metabolised by your body, effectively slowing it down quite considerably. That’s probably one of the reasons why low fat diets have such an appeal – after all, if you’re trying to reduce your weight, it just makes sense to exclude the most troublesome food group, doesn’t it? The only problem with jettisoning fat from your diet is that you’re overlooking the fact that not all fats are created equal.

Healthy fats that you can find in foods like oily fish, avocados and some nuts are actually extremely beneficial for your body and your metabolism is no exception. Your metabolism relies on getting a sufficient supply of energy to function properly and fats can provide just this. Ironically, if you want to burn fat, you have to make sure you’re eating just the right amount! It also helps that most sources of healthy fats also contain additional nutrients such as selenium, zinc and thyroid-boosting iodine which can help to support crucial areas of your body such as your thyroid, which is very important when it comes to your metabolism! 

In addition to all the good that can come from healthy fats, it’s worth noting that most ‘low fat’ options are rarely as good as they pretend to be. Sure, they might not contain as much fat but you can be sure that they’re loaded with artificial sweeteners and sugars instead which definitely won’t do your blood sugar levels any good and, consequently, may upset your metabolism! 

My advice: There’s nothing wrong with going for the full fat option and in some cases, it can be far healthier than the alternative. Instead of cutting out fat completely, instead look at reducing your intake of unhealthy trans-fats (often found in processed or fried foods!) and include more sources of healthy fats. Oily fish, avocados, nuts such as walnuts and cashews, chia seeds and olive oil are all good places to start and can be incorporated into a range of delicious recipes, as demonstrated below!

Cashew & Banana Smoothie

Spicy Guacamole Dip

3 – Spicy foods are the secret to a tip-top metabolism

This myth is particularly interesting as it may just have a very small grain of truth to it. Spices that contain compounds such as capsaicin (think chilli peppers) can, temporarily at least, increase your body temperature which can give your metabolism a small boost – around 8% according to some studies.1 How long this effect lasts is debatable and most experts agree that it’s unlikely to bring any meaningful change so I’d hold out on the chilli sauce for now. 

My advice: Spicy foods can be useful in many different ways but, unfortunately, I wouldn’t rely on them as a metabolism booster. However, as I explore in my blog, ’15 foods to increase your metabolism’, there are plenty of foods out there that can help so I’d really recommend checking this list if you’re looking for somewhere to start.

4 – Your metabolism will inevitably slow down and there’s nothing you can do about it

You’ve probably been told that, as you age, your metabolism will inevitably slow down and, while this is true for many of us, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. The two biggest things that contribute to a slow metabolism later on in life are a more sedentary lifestyle and a decline in muscle mass.2 While the latter factor cannot be helped (although there’s plenty you can do to slow it down!), the lifestyle you choose to lead is certainly within the realms of your control.

My advice: Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is just as important at 60 as it was at 40, and it could play a big role in keeping your metabolism in good working order. Now, please bear in mind that the types of exercise you choose to do may change – nobody is suggesting that you should be running a half marathon at 80 (though if you are, more power to you!). Instead, sensible exercise such as a brisk 20 minute walk or something low-impact such as swimming or yoga, might be the best option.

5 – A good detox can help to ‘reset’ your metabolism

Detoxes are a popular way to repent for any overindulgences but, as I discuss in my blog, ‘Should you really be starting your New Year with a detox?’ they’re not always as good for you as you’re first led to believe and can often result in digestive problems and poor nutritional intake. It also doesn’t help that most detoxes are difficult to sustain long-term so they’re unlikely to have a lasting impact. 

When it comes to your metabolism, I certainly wouldn’t hold out hope for the boost you’re expecting. Instead, much like fasting, surviving on juices and smoothies alone is definitely going to make your body go into panic mode which means fat is going to get stored. You also have to consider that all those fresh fruit juices and smoothies are teaming with sugar which can also get stored as fat!

My advice: Instead of juicing your fruit and veg, I’d really recommend eating them in their natural form – this way, not only do they retain their inherent goodness, they also maintain their content of fibre which keeps your gut ticking along nicely. This is important when you realise that a happy gut often equals a happy metabolism!

6 – Eating late at night slows down your metabolism

If you’ve ever participated in a diet regime then you’ve probably been told to avoid eating after your evening meal as any food consumed after this time could slow down your metabolism and contribute to weight gain. This is a controversial issue and there’s no denying that your metabolism does slow down at night, mostly due to the fact that this is when you sleep. However, most of the time it’s not so much when you’re eating as what you’re eating as eating in the evening can contribute to unhealthy habits such as munching on crisps in front of the television or indulging your sweet tooth. These types of food won’t only impact your metabolism; they can also negatively affect your sleep patterns and digestion at night

My advice: If you are going to be eating later on at night my advice would be to focus on making sensible decisions. Avoid foods that are high in sugar or fat and instead opt for snacks that are going to help to support your metabolism – nuts like walnuts or almonds, or fruits such as bananas are nice choices here. If you want to read more about the types of foods you don’t have to avoid at night I’d check out our Sleep Advisor Marianna’s blog, ‘8 snacks you don’t have to avoid before bedtime.’

1https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/28/health/nutrition/28real.html

2https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/metabolism-and-age#section5

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