Cheat Sheet

Boosting Your Metabolism For Dummies

Along with making some lifestyle changes and adding exercise, your diet has a lot to do with boosting your metabolism. Sometimes making the right choices about what to eat isn't so easy, and these decisions are often fraught with anxiety because of the conflicting messages we all receive about food and health in the media. It doesn't have to be so tough. With a little foreknowledge and preparation, you can eat foods that will boost your metabolism without being stressed out about it.

Best Bedtime Foods to Promote Sleep and Boost Metabolism

''It's okay to have a snack before bed, especially if it's been many hours since dinner. This will prevent you from going to bed hungry, which can interfere with sleep. However, now that you know it's okay to eat before bedtime, that doesn't give you free rein to finish off that carton of ice cream or leftover lasagna!

Greasy or salty foods are tough on your bedtime digestion. Same with any food that's spicy or acidic, like tomato sauce or citrus fruits, which can increase heartburn. In addition, although ice cream is a popular late night and refreshing treat, the simple sugars can cause an increase in energy, or alertness which offsets that sleepy feeling.

The old adage about having a glass of warm milk before bedtime isn't a myth! Warm liquids make you sleepy by increasing body temperature. Also, dairy contains tryptophan plus calcium to boost your sleep-well chemicals.

The ideal snack before bedtime is about 200 calories and is a combination of carbohydrate plus a bit of protein. That's best to help you get to your happy place.

Calming components

  • Tryptophan: An amino acid in turkey that purportedly increases sleepiness helps your body produce serotonin, or the feel-good hormone, which makes you feel calm and promotes good sleep. It works best when the stomach is empty or there's not too much protein in your system — so with turkey, the effect is somewhat dampened. Protein perks you up with the amino acid tyrosine, which is another reason why you don't want a protein-dense snack pre-bed. It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan the timing of your snack accordingly. Best sources for sleep: Whole grains and seeds.

  • Melatonin: The same stuff that's affected by light and regulates your internal sleeping clock is also found naturally in some foods. Best sources for sleep: Oats and cherries.

  • Calcium: Calcium can convert tryptophan into melatonin. Calcium is also important for nerve impulses, and a deficiency may interrupt your sleep. Best sources for sleep: Low-fat milk and yogurt.

  • Magnesium: Helps decrease the production of cortisol, your stress hormone, that thwart a good night's sleep. Magnesium is also key for muscle contraction so that your legs aren't cramping up in the middle of the night. Best sources for sleep: Almonds and bran cereal.

  • Potassium: Important to prevent muscle cramping and Restless Leg Syndrome, which can keep you up when you're trying to power down. Best sources for sleep: Banana and sweet potato.

Ten great bedtime snacks

  • Oatmeal with sliced banana

  • Edamame

  • Air-popped popcorn

  • Bran cereal with soy milk

  • Whole wheat crackers with hummus

  • Roasted pumpkin seeds

  • Cherry smoothie (frozen cherries plus skim milk)

  • Low-fat yogurt with ground flaxseed

  • Whole wheat toast with almond butter

  • A calming cup of chamomile tea

Eating Real Food to Boost Your Metabolism

The standard American diet is synonymous with overly processed, high-salt, fatty foods. When you start focusing on eating real food — as it's found in nature — you're automatically cutting out a lot of metabolism-busting nutrients and adding back in the nourishing factors like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and heart-healthy fats.

If you can't picture the food you're eating growing on a tree (there's no such thing as a candy bar tree, sorry) or coming from an animal, it's technically not a real food as nature intended us to eat. Sure, the foods you eat could have originated as a plant, but then they are processed beyond recognition into a non-real food, like a potato that becomes potato chips or French fries. Your body simply doesn't recognize these man-made, artificial products in the same way it recognizes real food and it responds in ways that can be harmful to your health.

It's important that when you pick up a product, you read the ingredients label. If there are more than five ingredients and you can't pronounce half of them, that's a cue that what lies within isn't a real food. Also stay away from these additives:

  • Trans fats: A man-made fat created by hydrogenating oils so that they're solid at room temperature, trans fats are found in fried foods, commercial baked goods, and many processed snack foods. Trans fats have been shown to increase cholesterol levels and risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

  • Sodium nitrate: Nitrates can be toxic to our bodies. They're found in many processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, deli meats, and smoked fish. Too much sodium in general can cause increased blood pressure and risk for heart disease. But nitrates in the presence of protein have also been linked to increased risk for cancer.

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Notorious for being present in Chinese food, MSG is also used as a taste enhancer in foods such as canned vegetables and processed meats, in the form of glutamic acid. Many people have adverse physical reactions to MSG, including migraines, increased heartbeat, chest pain, and nausea.

  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS): HFCS is found as a replacement for sugar in a plethora of products from sodas to salad dressings, and research shows that these foods may increase inflammation in the body. Getting too much sugar in general can increase risk for obesity and disease.

  • Refined sugar: Eat too much refined sugar found in white breads, sugar cereals, candy, and soda, and your body converts the excess into triglycerides, increasing your risk for heart disease. In addition, more insulin is released, causing your blood sugar to spike and drop and increasing food cravings later on, resulting in low energy.

  • Artificial sweeteners: Added to foods for sweetness sans calories, artificial sweeteners can make your brain think you're getting a sweet food. That causes your body to releases insulin to prepare to utilize blood glucose. When it doesn't get what it's looking for, that in turn increases food cravings. Many artificial sweeteners can also cause headaches, migraines, and stomach upset.

  • Food coloring: Added to make foods look brighter and more appealing to eat, food colorings like Blue 1 and 2, Red 3, Green 3, and Yellow 5 and 6 have been linked to behavioral problems in children, allergic reactions, and cancer. These colors are found mostly in processed foods — which is another reason to skip them for the foods as found in nature.

Fast foods contain many of those ingredients, even if they don't come with a food label. Therefore, avoid fast foods, read food labels, and get your real food sans additives from places you can trust:

  • Your local bakery: To cut down on the number of ingredients on your food label, get fresh bread from a bakery. Commercially made bread products contain added ingredients like sodium to maintain a longer shelf life.

  • Your butcher: A butcher knows about the leanest cuts of protein, where the animal comes from, and the practices used on the farm if you choose hormone-free, organic, or only grass-fed meat products. Your butcher also doesn't use pink slime — filler for ground beef products that is essentially scrap meat pieces ground together and treated with antibacterial solution. The presence of pink slime in meat products isn't labeled and is currently under contention.

  • Your local farmer's market: The fruits and vegetables at a nearby farmer's market are in season and haven't traveled far, which means they contain the most nutrition without additives. Remember to thoroughly wash your produce, even if it's organic, to minimize bacteria.

  • Organic dairy: To eliminate consumption of hormones or antibiotics fed to cows, choose organic dairy products. Make them low-fat dairy products to save on saturated fat.

  • Cook at home: When dining out, there are ingredients you wouldn't even guess at in the dish. To be 100 percent sure of the food you're eating, start prepping meals at home. If you're a newbie, start with once per week and build up to more. Purchase a simple cookbook for easy meals.

Making Smart "Junk Food" Choices

It's not always realistic to only eat real — whole — foods. Convenience foods are simply more, um, convenient sometimes because they're processed in ways that make them more accessible and easy to eat and prepare for anyone with a hectic schedule. You may enjoy these foods. Just remember that everything can fit into the boosting metabolism diet — in moderation.

Although healthy food choices are expanding everywhere you go, from the movie theater to the airport to vending machines, many are of the packaged variety. When you just have to have "junk food," you can make the best decisions possible by sticking to the following rules of thumb:

  • Always read the food label, when it's available, for ingredients and portion size to see what you're really getting and how much per package.

  • Choose packaged snack foods that have a source of protein or fiber, like unsalted nuts, seeds, or dried fruit to help keep your blood sugar levels in check.

  • Have a fiber-infused granola bar, even if it contains inulin (an added natural fiber product). It will keep you satisfied longer than your everyday granola bar.

  • Instead of regular chips, choose the baked variety to save on fat or make your own vegetable chips at home. Slice up potato (or sweet potato), break up kale or another green leafy veggie, baste with olive oil, and bake in the oven until crispy!

  • When at fast-food restaurants, choose foods that are grilled or broiled, not fried. In general, to cut calories and saturated fat, stick with lean meats like turkey, chicken without the skin, or fish.

  • Instead of regular or diet soft drinks, try a naturally flavored water or seltzer water.

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