When you break it down to its most basic definition, metabolism is the system that powers everything in your body.
But what are the fundamentals when it comes to what you eat and how it affects your metabolic health? Here are the five essentials you should know about retraining your metabolism – starting at the table.
Protein is a hard-working macronutrient in the body. It plays a key role in many body processes. However, in the United States alone, adults – especially older adults – might not be including enough protein in their diets. According to a 2019 study, up to 46% of the oldest study participants didn’t consume enough protein daily.
Keeping up with protein intake is important as we age to protect our lean body mass, which is the weight of the body without body fat, and to optimize our wellbeing. Proteins minimally impact glucose levels and could potentially help with controlling metabolism when the right amount is consumed each day.
Protecting lean body mass by consuming protein is also connected to muscle maintenance, so you can continue to do physical activities. Muscles are a major consumer of glucose, especially during exercise, and they’re the main tissue that helps provide insulin sensitivity. Protein builds up your muscles, and it’s the muscles that help keep you metabolically healthy.
So, how does glucose play a role? When you eat a meal, your glucose levels will spike, or increase. What you eat can determine how large the spike is, so being intentional about your diet can help you control your glucose levels, which in turn can give you more control over your metabolic health. And when it comes to muscles, the more you have, the more efficient glucose utilization becomes in your body.
Those glucose spikes are one reason why prioritizing protein is important. Protein doesn’t usually cause a large increase in glucose, and it helps you feel full for longer while also providing the body with the amino acids it needs to build and repair body tissue.
Don’t Fear Fats
Fat is important for the body and your metabolism because it’s an energy source. From improving absorption of essential nutrients to protecting organs, fats play a basic role in keeping the body functional and also provide important fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. Their integral nature means that adjusting your fat intake can also help with adjusting your metabolism.
Foods with healthy fats are easy to find on grocery store shelves. Think avocados, natural peanut butter, walnuts, cheese, eggs and salmon, for example. Like protein, these kinds of fats can also help you feel full for a longer period of time while also not causing a large glucose spike when optimally paired with other foods on your plate (which should include more protein, healthy fats and fiber).
Go With Green
Cabbage. Lettuce. Green beans. Adding green or non-starchy vegetables into your meals means you’ll have less room for carbohydrates and sugars, which ultimately means better-controlled glucose levels and metabolism.
The order you eat your food in can also make a difference. When you start with non-starchy vegetables, there is a decreased chance that your glucose levels will spike after your meal. That’s because these fiber-rich foods can slow down the digestion process. Pair these with protein and fat over time, and you’ll begin to see changes in your metabolic health as you eat plates that encourage the body to stay satiated for a longer period.
Think Savory, Not Sweet
When you think through your meal choices, savory is a better option than sweet when you’re looking for something higher in protein, healthy fat, and fiber and lower in carbs and added sugars.
You don’t have to cut out all desserts as you work on changing your metabolism. If you’re used to including sweet treats after meals, think about making the portion sizes smaller or eating them right before you get moving.
“The goal is to make sustainable changes so you can improve your metabolic health over time,” says Pam Bede, MS, RD, nutritionist and senior manager of medical affairs, Abbott.
Add More Movement
Instead of falling into a post-lunch energy slump, consider adding some movement before and after you eat. Going for a 10- to 20-minute walk after a meal can help prevent glucose spikes since active muscles rapidly remove glucose from circulating in the body to provide energy. This healthy habit can gradually improve the steadiness of your glucose levels throughout the day as you build it into your routine.
The body releases insulin as it works to digest food, so taking a walk can be beneficial since it helps with digestion and encourages your glucose to be used as the body’s energy source — which certainly comes in handy right after you consume a plate of energy-packed foods.
Change, Measure, Repeat
Adjusting what and how you eat and adding more exercise: these are the fundamentals that can help you improve your metabolic health.
When it comes to tracking those adjustments, biowearables such as Lingo — which is currently available in the U.K. only — can help. They provide a visual guide and personalized advice built around your everyday habits so you can watch your glucose levels and better measure this key aspect of your metabolism.
“As you rebalance your meals and determine the best ways to incorporate more movement into your day, especially after eating, biowearables can help by giving you real-time insights to understand how your body is reacting to your food choices, your exercise habits, and other changes you make,” Bede says.
Ultimately, making long-term lifestyle changes can show you the way to better metabolic health. Taking action in the five areas mentioned above should pay off over time.
DiNicolantonio, J.J., & O’Keefe, J.H. (2022). Monounsaturated fat vs saturated fat: effects on cardio-metabolic health and obesity. Missouri Medicine, 119(1), 69-73. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9312452/
Imai, S., Kajiyama, S., Kitta, K., Miyawaki, T., Matsumoto, S., Ozasa, N., Kajiyama, S., Hashimoto, Y., & Fukui, M. (2023). Eating vegetables first regardless of eating speed has a significant reducing effect on postprandial blood glucose and insulin in young healthy women: randomized controlled cross-over study. Nutrients, 15(5), 1174. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15051174
Krok-Schoen, J.L., Price, A. A., Luo, M., Kelly, O.J., & Taylor, C.A. (2019). Low dietary protein intakes and associated dietary patterns and functional limitations in an aging population: a NHANES analysis. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 23(1), 338-347. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-019-1174-1
Pesta, D.H., & Samuel, V.T. (2014). A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutrition & Metabolism, 11(1), 53. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-11-53
Reynolds, A. N., & Venn, B. J. (2018). The timing of activity after eating affects the glycaemic response of healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrients, 10(11), 1743. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10111743
Lingo products are not for sale in the U.S. The Lingo system is not intended for medical use and is not intended for use in screening, diagnosis, treatment, cure, mitigation, prevention, or monitoring of diseases, including diabetes. The Lingo program does not guarantee that everyone will achieve the same results as individual responses may vary.
It is best to speak to your doctor for advice on starting any diet or exercise regime or if you have an eating disorder or a history of eating disorders.
Do not use Lingo if you are pregnant. Dietary advice and Lingo Counts may not be suitable for you if you are pregnant.