Let’s start with the basics of ‘What is Metabolism’. Metabolism is the set of cellular mechanisms that generate energy from our food and environment in order to fuel cells in our body. When everything works well, we have optimal metabolic health. What does optimal metabolic health look like?
Metabolic health is determined by optimal levels of the following markers: Blood Sugar, Triglycerides, Blood Pressure, High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL), and Waist Circumference.
Metabolic health is the central pillar for optimal health and wellbeing.
Benefits of optimal metabolic health
- Stable and sustained energy throughout the entire day
- Physical endurance and better exercise performance
- Better memory and focus
- Better and faster weight loss
- Improved fertility
- Balanced hormones
- Lower risk of chronic conditions, such as cancer, heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Improved mental health (lower risk of depression and anxiety)
- Stronger immune system
Metabolic syndrome is the opposite of metabolic health. It is described as a cluster of conditions that put individuals at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s.
Metabolic syndrome includes the following:
- Fasting glucose above 100 mg/dL
- A waistline of 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men
- HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL
- Triglycerides higher than 150 mg/dL
- High blood pressure (130/85 or higher)
You might be wondering if you can improve your metabolic health. And the answer is absolutely!
Your metabolic health is impacted by the following factors:
- Foods you eat (when you eat and how you pair your foods)
- Exercise and daily movement
- Quality and duration of your sleep
- Mental health and stress
- Optimal hydration
Every person is unique making it important for nutrition to be individualized. Continuous glucose monitors (CGM) show that each person responds differently to the same foods. For example, some individuals will show a spike in their blood sugar after consuming a banana, while others see a slight spike or even no spike at all. It’s also important to pay attention to what you pair with your banana, and what you do before and after you eat a particular food.
Let’s dive into the foods that are the worst for your metabolic health.
The Worst Foods for Metabolic Health
1. Highly-Processed Foods
Majority of highly-processed foods are filled with additives, refined sugars, inflammatory oils, sodium and an overall decrease in nutritional value. Most processed food also contains trans fats which lead to higher inflammation, increased rates of type 2 diabetes and cancer. Most of the cookies, breads and crackers are made from white refined flour that will spike your blood sugar and increase your cravings, leading to unnecessary weight gain and chronic blood sugar issues.
When we consume high amounts of sugar such as in cookies, breads, sugar loaded coffee, sports drinks, salad dressings, candy, cakes, sodas, juices and sweets it leads to constant blood sugar spikes. When our blood sugar is chronically elevated, this has the potential to cause insulin resistance, as in type 2 diabetes, and weight gain. Extra sugar that is not used by the body, will then turn into triglycerides via the liver, which can often lead to a higher risk of heart diseases, obesity and cholesterol.
Therefore, It’s important to read all food labels and avoid foods high in added sugar.
You might be wondering about fruit. Fruit contains natural sugar which often also contains fiber that helps to better regulate glucose levels. Fruits that are higher in sugar are grapes, mangoes, pineapple and bananas. It’s best to eat these fruits in moderation, especially if you have blood sugar irregularities or are trying to lose weight. Pairing fruit with protein or fiber can also improve glucose regularity. For example, 2-3 slices of mango with a small handful of walnuts or almonds.
3. White Flour
White flour is easier to digest, and ultimately converts into sugar when in excess that can rapidly spike our blood sugar. This can lead to chronic fatigue.
Wheat flour is a better alternative as it has higher fiber that helps slow digestion of sugar and prevent dramatic blood sugar spikes. However, wheat flour can also cause moderate blood sugar spikes in many people. It’s important to track your blood sugar and respond accordingly to your body’s reaction in response to eating foods made from wheat flour.
It’s best to load your plate with non-starchy vegetables, high fiber and lean protein as optimal protein and fiber intake will help balance your blood sugar.
4. Fast Food
Fast food is always loaded with unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, sugar and sodium.
Many clients that wear a CGM found that all fast food causes a spike in their blood sugar, followed by a dramatic drop. In addition, all processed foods are highly refined and contain little to no nutritional value.
It’s best to avoid fast food and focus on eating more balanced and nutrient-dense meals.
5. Highly-Inflammatory and Processed Oils
Many refined oils are high in omega-6 fats which research studies show have been associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation and higher rates of heart disease. Unfortunately, these oils are highly processed and lead to a higher risk of blood clotting, heart attack and strokes.
Furthermore, these oils are much cheaper to produce and most packaged foods and fast food options are loaded with these inflammatory oils.
The following oils contain more than 20% of pro-inflammatory oils (linoleic acid):
- Soybean oil
- Canola oil
- Palm oil
- Peanut oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Safflower oil
- Corn oil
- Rice Bran oil
We have covered the worst foods for your metabolic health. Let’s dive into foods that are the best for your metabolic health.
The Best Foods for Metabolic Health
1. Fiber-Rich Foods
Fiber plays an important role in our blood sugar and gut health. Research studies show that most people don’t consume enough fiber. It is recommended to consume at least 25-35 grams of fiber per day. Some people would even benefit from consuming 50 grams of fiber per day.
Fiber is a macronutrient that mostly comes from plants. Our bodies don’t break down fiber into glucose like carbohydrates. Fiber goes through our gastrointestinal tract and feeds the healthy gut microbiome which has many positive health effects on metabolic health.
Optimal fiber intake supports healthy blood sugar and insulin levels, lowers gut inflammation, produces beneficial short-chain fatty acids, supports optimal mucus membrane, and decreases glucose absorption.
When we eat optimal levels of fiber at each meal, we’ll be able to avoid rapid blood sugar spikes contributing to better blood sugar balance and metabolic health.
There are two types of fiber soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to become gel-like substance that through the process of fermentation is broken down by gut microbiome.
On the other hand, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and is less fermentable and helps digested food move through the digestive tract.
When we consume both types of fiber, we are more likely to feel fuller longer, experience less sugar cravings and support a healthy gut microbiome.
The following foods are high in fiber:
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
2. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are very important for achieving optimal health and wellness. Research studies show the amazing health benefits of a Mediterranean diet which is loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild-caught salmon, cod liver oil, sardines and mackerel, walnuts, kidney beans, chia seeds and flaxseeds.
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory oils that support healthy blood sugar, cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of numerous chronic health conditions. When we consume healthy fats paired with fiber and optimal protein, we’ll be able to achieve stable blood sugar and avoid rapid spikes.
Here’s a great example of a blood sugar balancing meal: spinach salad loaded with non-starchy veggies, beans, walnuts + roasted chicken or salmon and topped with a sprinkle of flaxseeds. You get plenty of fiber, healthy fats and also protein to keep you full for hours and keep your blood sugar nice and balanced. This salad alone will help you eat at least 18-20 grams of fiber per meal!
3. Optimal Intake of Protein
Proteins are a vital macronutrient that play a key role in almost every function in our body. Protein is made from amino acids which are the primary building blocks in our body. Research studies show that an optimal intake of protein helps decrease sugar cravings and increase satiety hormones leading to more fullness and sustained energy.
Here are some great protein options to get you started:
- Black beans
- Cottage cheese
Vegetables are nutrient-dense food, loaded with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Also, vegetables are packed with health-promoting and disease-fighting nutrients. When we eat a variety of vegetables, especially non-starchy ones, we are more likely to have a steady and balanced blood sugar as veggies are loaded with fiber and decrease the spike in blood sugar.
It’s important to fill up half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables to help keep your blood sugar healthy and balanced.
Here are some delicious non-starchy vegetables to add to your daily meals:
- Bok choy
- Brussel Sprouts
- Green Beans
5. Low-Glycemic Fruits
Each fruit has its own glycemic index (GI) which indicates how a particular food impacts your blood sugar. Foods with higher GI values will often lead to quick and sharp rises in blood glucose. Here are the best fruits to consume that are loaded with fiber and are a lower in GI.
Raspberries (1/2 cup)
- Glycemic index: 32
- Fiber: 4 grams
Apple (1 medium apple)
- Glycemic index: 36
- Fiber: 4.4 grams
Orange (1 medium)
- Glycemic index
- Fiber: 2.8 gramps
Coconut (1 ounce unsweetened)
- GI: 42
- Fiber: 4.6 grams
Kiwi (1 fruit)
- GI: 52
- Fiber: 2.3 grams
The following fruits are higher in GI and lower in fiber. It’s best to consume them in smaller quantities and pair them with protein or fiber, such as nuts.
Medjool date (1 date)
- GI: 55
- Fiber: 1.6 grams
Pineapple (1 cup)
- GI: 59
- Fiber: 2.3 grams
- GI: 51
- Fiber: 2.6 grams
Grapes (1 cup)
- GI: 54
- Fiber: 1.4 grams
Metabolic health is important for reaching our health and wellness goals. What you eat has a powerful impact on your metabolic health. Do your best to choose nutrient-dense foods that will help you avoid rapid blood sugar spikes, lose weight and keep it off.