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Eating Real Food to Boost Your Metabolism

Part of the Boosting Your Metabolism For Dummies Cheat Sheet

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.

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