By Nicci Micco, M.S., EatingWell.com
So you’re trying to lose weight. Join the club! Wouldn’t it be great if you could just turn a knob and rev up your metabolism — your calorie burn — just like that? Well, we all hear about diet and exercise strategies that supposedly do just that. But do they work? Yes — and no. Read on for the skinny on strategies to outsmart your metabolism.
1. Spice things up. Studies suggest that capsaicin, an antioxidant in chile peppers (and also what makes them hot), increases the body’s metabolic rate — slightly.
Is it recommended? Sure! While the metabolic boost you get by adding chiles to your diet isn’t likely to melt away pounds, some research also suggests that capsaicin may stimulate brain chemicals in a way that helps you feel satisfied. And when you make your foods delicious with spices — instead of huge amounts of butter or cream — you save calories.
2. Eat more often. By having many mini meals instead of fewer, larger ones, you can shift your metabolism into a higher gear more often — and burn more calories. Our metabolisms rev up slightly each time we eat, as our bodies process what we’ve consumed.
Is it recommended? Sure, if it helps keep your hunger in check so that you don’t overeat when you finally sit down to a meal. (And if you’re not having a bunch of snacks that are actually the calorie-equivalent of big meals.)
3. Add coconut oil to your diet. There is some preliminary research to suggest that using coconut oil in place of butter, olive oil or canola oil might help people lose weight by boosting their calorie burn. The fatty acids in coconut oil (called medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT) are shorter and more water-soluble than those in other oils, such as olive or canola, so they’re routed directly to the liver where they’re readily burned for fuel. There’s no scientific evidence to show that consuming coconut oil helps people lose weight, but research suggests that using an MCT oil in place of olive oil might.
Is it recommended? Not really. Even if coconut oil does indeed help people lose weight, few nutrition experts recommend it, since coconut oil is loaded with saturated fat: 12 grams in 1 tablespoon versus 7 grams in a tablespoon of butter. It also has 120 calories per tablespoon, like all other oils.
4. Exercise. As you age, muscle metabolism decreases — by 1 to 2 percent each decade after age 30. When you’re young, muscle burns up to 10 times more calories per pound than fat. So even if you maintain the same level of exercise and calorie intake, you tend to accumulate fat. Regular exercise can help offset reduced muscle metabolism and help you stay lean.
Is it recommended? Absolutely! Exercise not only boosts your resting metabolism so that you’re burning more calories when you’re at rest, heart-thumping activity blasts away calories while you’re doing it and makes you feel great. If you’re just getting started with an exercise program, check with your doctor first.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)