Have you ever heard these statements, “Oh I can’t lose weight, I have a slow metabolism.” Or “She’s so slim, she must have a fast metabolism.”  When it comes to discussions about energy and body weight, the word ‘metabolism’ comes up a lot. However, few understand exactly what it is, how it works, and just how crucial the metabolism is when it comes to optimal physical health.

 

According to the British Dictionary, and somewhat refined for the purposes of this article, the metabolism is “…the sum total of the chemical processes that occur in living organisms, resulting in growth, production of energy, and elimination of waste material”.

Let's be a little more descriptive...

Our metabolism (or metabolic rate) is the rate or speed at which the body burns energy or calories. The metabolism “turns” food into energy and regulates our weight. However, the metabolism also determines health or illness.... and, determines to a large degree, our rate or speed of ageing. So, the metabolism is not all about burning calories.

Hormones and other molecules control the intricate chemical processes of the metabolism. In addition, other factors also influence our metabolism, and include our eating behaviours, changes in our environment, stress levels and physical activity. All these factors influence the way in which our metabolism processes food, burns calories, regulates our weight, and regulates important health indicators such as cholesterol levels, blood fats, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure.  

Metabolic health is measured and is best defined by the following factors - waist circumference/size, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, blood triglyceride levels, and blood cholesterol. The two most effective ways to improve metabolic health (and slow down the ageing process) are getting the right nutrition (and in turn losing excess fat), and exercise. Both nutrition and exercise are critical in keeping our mitochondria (the energy producing structures within our cells) in tip-top shape. 

How can we support metabolic health, or “boost” the metabolism?

“Boosting” metabolism is all about optimising the “burning” of energy or calories necessary for numerous chemical processes in the body’s cells. An efficient metabolic rate means we’re able to produce enough energy for the body to stay healthy, and for us to feel “energised”. Getting the right nutrition is crucial to efficient energy production, healthy mitochondria, and good metabolic health.

We derive energy from food, with the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (amino acids). Within the mitochondria of the cells, ATP (the body’s “key” energy substance), is produced. The body’s store or bank of ATP is constantly being used, and then regenerated. This amazing process is known as “cell respiration”, which is driven by numerous enzymes. What we can do as individuals, is support this process through good nutrition. Disruption of ATP production causes fatigue, as well as chronic disease and illness, and of course, faster ageing.

There are very specific nutrients that are critical to the cellular energy-producing pathways. These nutrients support each biochemical step of “cell respiration” within the mitochondria, or the “power houses” of cells. Magnesium is one such nutrient, along with B vitamins, and Coenzyme Q10. Numerous antioxidants such as vitamin C protect the membranes of structures within the cells (the mitochondria) where the production of ATP takes place.  In addition, getting the right fats in the diet is paramount to reducing stress-induced inflammation which can contribute to cell damage and long-term fatigue.

Beneficial fats can be found in oily fish and seafood, as well as plenty of plant-based foods such as flaxseeds, hempseeds, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, seaweeds and sea vegetables.

B-vitamin rich foods include green vegetables, leafy greens, wholegrains, seeds and nuts, fish, and meat. These foods also happen to be great sources of magnesium and other minerals necessary for optimal health, and a healthy metabolism.

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