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Supporting metabolism as we age

by Tanya Kwiez |

Metabolic rate is an umbrella term that is used to describe the chemical reactions and processes in the body that turns the food we eat into energy. Metabolism is different for every individual with some people’s metabolism rate being slower or faster than others. Ageing naturally causes the metabolism to slow down its pace. Ageing also triggers a shift in the bodies hormones which induces the loss of muscle and increases the storage of fat.

The importance of preserving muscle mass

Research shows us that we begin losing muscle mass when we are close to forty years old and then continue to lose roughly 3% to 8% each decade. The term used to describe this loss of muscle mass is called sarcopenia. When muscle mass is decreased, metabolism also decreases. 

Some keyways to support and boost metabolism include:

Diet: optimal daily nutrition including protein rich foods, essential micronutrients and adequate daily water are crucial to support the body’s metabolism. Studies have shown some specific foods that can help to boost metabolism. Drinking water not only keeps the body hydrated but research shows that drinking 0.5 litres of water increases resting metabolism by 10–30% for about an hour afterwards (14). 

Exercise: resistance training (also called strength training) and lifting weights can help to balance hormone levels. It’s been shown that this form of exercise can increase the ability of the body to turn protein into energy in older people. 

Top foods to support metabolism:

Certain foods have been studied for their potential ability to increase metabolic rate, or how many calories the body burns.

    1. Protein-rich foods: can raise the metabolism for a few hours after a meal because the body uses more energy when digesting protein rich foods. This is a term called thermic effect of food (TEF). Studies have shown that it is protein rich foods that raise that increase the TEF the most, in fact they increase the bodies metabolic rate by 15-30%, compared to carbohydrates (5-10%) and fats (0-3%) (1).

      Furthermore, protein-rich diets lessen the drop in metabolism that is often observed during weight loss by helping the body to maintain its muscle mass (2).

    2. Mineral-rich foods: all essential minerals play varying but equally important roles in making sure the body is functioning properly. Iron and selenium are two key minerals that are needed for the functioning of the thyroid gland, which regulates the body’s metabolism (3).

      Studies demonstrate that when a diet is lacking in iron or selenium, this may decrease the ability of the thyroid gland to make adequate amounts of hormones, which in turn can slow the rate of metabolism. Foods rich in iron and selenium include legumes, seeds, and nuts.

    3. Chili peppers: contain a chemical called capsaicin which has been shown to help boost metabolism by enhancing the rate at which the body burns calories. A review of 20 research studies showed that capsaicin (whether from peppers or supplements) can help the body burn roughly 50 extra calories per day (4). Cayenne pepper may also increase the amount of fat the body burns for energy and may also assist in supporting the metabolic rate (5).

    4. Coffee: the caffeine in coffee may also assist in boosting metabolism. Several studies have shown that when people ingest 270 mg of caffeine daily (about 3 cups of coffee), they burn up to 100 extra calories per day. Caffeine has also shown effective in enhancing workout performance when exercising (6.)

    5. Tea: contains catechins, compounds with health enhancing effects that can work synergistically with caffeine to increase the metabolic rate. Matcha green tea and oolong have shown to effect fat oxidation and enhance calorie burning when used in conjunction with exercise (7). They may also help the body to use stored fat for energy, increasing the fat-burning ability of the body by up to 17% (7, 8).

    6. Beans and legumes: this is mainly due to the rich levels of protein that beans and legumes contain (eg: lentils, peas, chickpeas, black beans, and peanuts.) Studies indicate that their high protein content places higher demand on the body to burn more calories to digest them, compared to lower-protein foods. This is due to their TEF (9).

    7. Ginger: ginger and similar spices are known for having beneficial metabolism-boosting activity. Studies show that dissolving and consuming 2 grams of powdered ginger in hot water alongside a meal can help to burn roughly 43 more calories than drinking only hot water (10, 12).

    8. Cacao: some research has indicated that cocoa and cocoa extracts may promote the expression of genes that promote fat burning (13). When consuming cacao, raw versions are considered optimal as processing will decrease levels of beneficial compounds as well as adding unwanted calories and sugar. 

    9. Maca Root: boasts an array of nutrients, and it has high levels of iron and iodine which help to keep the metabolism on track.

    10. Spirulina: It has been shown that spirulina can help to boost metabolism. In research conducted in 2014, participants who took 6 grams of spirulina daily experienced beneficial metabolic effects as well as weight loss and better health-related quality life (11). 


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1. Pesta, D. H., & Samuel, V. T. (2014). A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr & Metab, 11(1), 53. 
2. Wycherley TP, Moran LJ, Clifton PM, Noakes M, Brinkworth GD, (2012). Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr;96(6):1281-98

3. Mullur, R., Liu, Y. Y., & Brent, G. A. (2014). Thyroid hormone regulation of metabolism. Physiological reviews94(2), 355–382. 
4. Whiting S, Derbyshire E, Tiwari BK, (2012). Capsaicinoids and capsinoids, A potential role for weight management? A systematic review of the evidence, Appetite; 59, 341-348.

5. Ludy, M. J., & Mattes, R. D, (2011). The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Physiology & behavior102(3-4), 251–258. 
6. Hursel R et al, (2011). The effects of catechin rich teas and caffeine on energy expenditure and fat oxidation: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev;12(7):e573-81.

7. Willems MET, Şahin MA, Cook MD, (2018). Matcha Green Tea Drinks Enhance Fat Oxidation During Brisk Walking in Females. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab;28(5):536-541.
8. Hursel R, Westerterp-Plantenga MS, (2010). Thermogenic ingredients and body weight regulation. Int J Obes (Lond);34(4):659-69.
9. Kitabchi AE et al, (2013). Effects of high-protein versus high-carbohydrate diets on markers of β-cell function, oxidative stress, lipid peroxidation, proinflammatory cytokines, and adipokines in obese, premenopausal women without diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care;36(7):1919-25. 
10. Mansour MS, Ni YM, Roberts AL, Kelleman M, Roychoudhury A, St-Onge MP, (2012). Ginger consumption enhances the thermic effect of food and promotes feelings of satiety without affecting metabolic and hormonal parameters in overweight men: a pilot study. Metabolism;61(10):1347-52. 
11. Mazokopakis et al, (2014). The hepatoprotective and hypolipidemic effects of Spirulina (athrospira platenis) supplementation in a Cretan population with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a prospective pilot study, Ann Gastroenterol; 27;4;387-394.

12. Sugita J, Yoneshiro T, Hatano T, Aita S, Ikemoto T, Uchiwa H, Iwanaga T, Kameya T, Kawai Y, Saito M, (2013). Grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) extract activates brown adipose tissue and increases whole-body energy expenditure in men. Br J Nutr;110(4):733-8.
13. Griselda Rabadan-Chávez et al, (2016). Cocoa powder, cocoa extract and epicatechin attenuate hypercaloric diet-induced obesity through enhanced β-oxidation and energy expenditure in white adipose tissue, Jour of Func Foods; 20, 54-67.
14. Dubnov-Raz G, Constantini NW, Yariv H, Nice S, Shapira N, (2011). Influence of water drinking on resting energy expenditure in overweight children. Int J Obes (Lond), 35(10):1295-300.