Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Boost Your Metabolism?

Today as I was scrolling through my feed I came across this lovely little headline: 16 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism Without Even Trying.  Now, anytime anyone tries to tell you that you can somehow change your body without work should be a big red flag, but I am sure that like me you were interested to see what they had to say.  So, please go ahead and read the article, and then let us examine each point to see if there is any substance there.


1) Eat Pineapple.  Yes, pineapple does contain bromelain, which might have some use in reducing inflammation associated with arthritis and asthma, but the evidence for it helping digestion is very weak. (Link)  I found it interesting that even the people at Dole did not tout pineapple for its digestive properties, and you think they would being trying to use every selling point they could get. (Link)  Also, you will notice that there is nothing in this little paragraph that implies that you will burn more calories by eating pineapple anyway.  If you decide you want to eat pineapple for the vitamin C and other healthy attributes, just try to stick with fresh and avoid the dried and canned versions as they often have sugar added.  And keep in mind the 83 calories and 19 grams of net carbs per cup of chunks.

2) Eat Organic.  Once again, if you are looking for any good evidence from human studies, you are out of luck here.  There are apparently some researchers that are looking at a possible role of industrial pollutants in obesity but there just aren't any good human studies out there.  And think about it, if you go into a store like Whole Foods and buy the organic potato chips or the organic sugar you are going to get the same calories.  There are other benefits to choosing local organic foods as far as a better taste (in my opinion), putting money back into the local economy, maybe even getting animal protein that has a healthier fat profile, etc, but when it comes to reducing your caloric intake or helping you burn more calories the evidence isn't there.

3) Get It On.  You probably thought you were going to learn that you burned a lot of calories during sex weren't you?  Well, you are out of luck here too, as what you got was some vague notion about elevating your sex hormones and your metabolism.  First of all, for women, if you could actually significantly elevate your estrogen levels through sex that could actually be a bad thing as you are putting yourself at more risk for breast and ovarian cancers, but fortunately sexual frequency does not seem to be linked to cancer of the breast or ovaries. (Whew!).  For men, if your testosterone is low you will likely have a harder time losing fat and gaining muscle, but you're not going to feel like having sex anyway.  What you want to do is talk to a good endocrinologist about testosterone replacement therapy and start improving your diet to lose body fat; then you might actually want to get it on.  And as far as calories burned--the pace of sexual activity is so varied among individuals that it is hard to pin down a number.  You might burn 86-100 calories in an hour of foreplay, but then you eat one piece of bread and you've just cancelled that out.  There are plenty of other reasons to enjoy sex, it being a basic human need as one of them; but you might want to use a healthy sex life as a reason to improve your diet, your exercise, quit smoking, etc.  A healthier daily lifestyle can result in better sex.

4) Meditate.  There have been a very few studies conducted on Buddhist monks who appeared to have been able to increase or decrease their metabolism via meditation (Link).  I happen to think that’s interesting, but what does that say about the rest of us?  First of all, I wouldn’t want to compare my own attempts at mediation to someone who essentially does that for a living, and second of all you can’t take three people and extrapolate the results to an entire population.  If you a person that goes after high caloric food when you are under stress and you need an alternative to eating your weight in doughnuts, and meditation helps, then by all means use it to decrease the impact of stress on your life.  But once again, I recognize that the meditation is a tool to help you decrease your caloric intake and not depend on it to burn more calories.
5) Sip Green Tea.  There are a very limited amount of studies that indicate that there is something to the claim about green tea increasing the metabolism (Link).  The downside, however, is that you are going to have to do more than sip the green tea; you will have to drink about three to five cups per day.  And even after you consume that amount you will maybe burn off an extra 80 calories per day.  Every little bit helps when  you are trying to lose weight, but keep in mind that about one smaller sized chocolate chip cookie will undo those 3-5 cups of green tea.
6) Take a Cold Shower.  Sounds like a good idea since your muscles are actually doing work by contracting to make you shiver.  There is an estimate that you might burn up to 400 more calories per hour if you are EXERCISING in the cold, but that’s cross country skiing, not standing under the shower head.  You probably don’t want to stand under the shower for an hour as you will have wasted a lot of water besides being miserable.  Keep in mind also that if you have a substantial fat layer that you are trying to lose; it is going to take you longer to start shivering when you are exercising because you are insulated against the cold.  As always, if you do choose to exercise in the cold, take precautions not to get hypothermia.
7) Limit Cocktails.  Since one cocktail may cause you to intake 150-250 calories depending on the type and size of the glass, this is good advice for keeping your caloric intake under control.  Alcohol can act like an appetite stimulant, and if your judgment is impaired on top of that, you can wind up taking in way more calories at the meal than you intended.  But does it actually slow your metabolism?   Not in the way you think it does.  Let’s say that you’re trying to lose body fat and you have reduced your caloric intake and also limited your carbohydrate intake so your body does not have blood glucose readily available to be used as fuel.  Your body will be more likely to use the fat for fuel.  If you take in alcohol, your body will use that for fuel and you may not use your fat for fuel in the next several hours.  So if you are a chronic user of alcohol you might have trouble losing fat and building muscle over time, but the problem is not because your overall ability to burn calories is slower.
8) Sniff peppermint or citrus.  There is a very small amount of evidence that peppermint oil may help reduce cramping and diarrhea in people with irritable bowel syndrome, but no evidence that drinking peppermint tea or sniff the essential oils will actually help you burn more calories.  Perhaps flavoring your water with peppermint or citrus will keep you away from high caloric sodas and fake fruit drinks though.
9) Drink Cold Water.  According to a small study done in Germany a couple years ago, if you drink at least six cups of cold water per day you will burn more calories—a whole whopping 50 calories per day.  (Link)  Once again, every little bit helps, but when you think about how about eating half a slice of bread can undo that, it really doesn’t make much of a difference in my book.  If you prefer your water cold and it helps you drink more, by all means go ahead, but you still better be careful with how much you are taking in.
10) Spice it Up. There was a very small study done by Purdue University that showed that you may have a slight increase in metabolism after eating a spicy meal (Link).  But, as I’ve mentioned several times before, the effect is so little that it can easily be undone by eating what seems to be a small amount of food.  The other problem is that the increase in metabolism only seemed to happen in people who weren’t used to eating spicy food, so it appears that if you made a habit of eating spicy food you wouldn’t get that effect after a while.  This shouldn’t stop you from spicing thing up though—if you are already restricting your caloric intake you want to make sure that what  you are eating actually tastes good and you will stay on your plan better if you have more variety.  So add those different spices to help you stay on the plan.
11) Take a stand at work.  If you are more active, you will burn more calories, so there is actually something good that is finally coming out of this list.  But as I have said before, you are very likely not going to burn enough calories to compensate for any high caloric snacks you might be eating at work.  Be more active at work or wherever you can, but watch what you are taking in too.
12) Have a Cup of Joe.  See what I said about drinking green tea as I know I am sounding like a broken record.  Sure, you may burn a few more calories, but not much to make a difference.  And if your caffeine source is a high calorie drink from Starbuck’s, or is a sugary soda, or comes from an energy drink, chances are the benefits of the caffeine was cancelled out by all the other calories you just had.  Some people may have trouble with their blood pressure or with their mood after too much caffeine, so you have to weigh that risk too.  If you still want to enjoy the coffee, minimize the caloric add-ons from milk/milk substitutes and sugar.
13) Breathe.  Let me preface this explanation by stating that I read a lot of detective and science fiction/fantasy novels.  If you were kidnapped and trapped in an underground bunker with no supplemental oxygen, your respiratory rate would naturally slow and you would start burning fewer calories so that you would be more likely to survive long enough for your favorite hero or heroine to rescue you.  Once you were rescued and able to “breathe the air” again your metabolism would return to normal as you took in more air.  For the rest us who do not have such exciting lives, however, breathing deeper will not increase your metabolism.  If you do deep breathing exercises like you might do meditation, to relieve/handle stress, you might be able to cope without eating high calorie foods, however.
14) Laugh.  Yes, you will burn calories by laughing, a whole 1 calorie per minute per a study done at Vanderbilt University (Link).  So if you were sitting listening to a comedian that actually kept you laughing for a straight 60 minutes, you could burn off about a half a slice of bread again.  See my above advice regarding stress relief.
15) Drizzle extra virgin olive oil.  First of all, there is no evidence to support that somehow eating something that contains 100 calories per tablespoon will actually help you burn more calories, period.  I did try to follow the convoluted path that someone’s brain must have taken to come up with this, and all I can figure out is that someone thought that since olive oil was metabolized (i.e. processed) differently than animal fats in the body it must somehow cause you to burn more calories.  But my mind fortunately does not take the same convoluted path.  Olive oil does not raise bad cholesterol, and having enough fat at a meal can satisfy your hunger sooner so you consume fewer calories, but you don’t actually burn more calories.
16) Get more sunshine.  Sunshine does help us make vitamin D which is essential for bone health, and low levels have also been associated with insulin resistance and depression.  There also seems to be a link between obesity and low vitamin D levels, but there isn’t any evidence that supplementing with vitamin D or getting more sunshine actually raises the body’s ability to burn calories.    Some people report less hunger when their vitamin D levels improve, but once again, their weight loss is likely from a caloric deficit, not from an increased metabolism.
Take home message—You have probably already figured it out, the only proven way to increase your body’s ability to burn calories is to exercise.  And fat loss only comes with making major changes in your caloric intake, especially if you are overeating on carbohydrate.


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