“Metabolism” is a popular buzzword, especially when it comes to talking about body weight. I frequently hear misconceptions about what metabolism is and the belief that “mine must be broken” if a person is having difficulty achieving a normal weight. A thin person is assumed to naturally have a fast metabolism, while an overweight person must have a slower metabolism. But is this the case?

Rebecca Stetzer mug

Rebecca Stetzer

Before I debunk some common myths about metabolism, let me define it for you: metabolism is the process by which the body converts the calories consumed into energy to function. Think of it like a furnace that powers everything you require to survive. Now, here are the facts to three common myths about metabolism.

Myth #1: I can’t change my metabolism

Fact: Genetics do play a role in determining your metabolic rate, but so do eating and exercise habits. You can’t change your genetics, so focus on what is in your control. Eating in a structured manner by spacing meals and snacks out about every three to five hours throughout your day supports a healthier metabolism. The opposite is also true: skipping meals, especially breakfast, means a slower metabolism.

Since muscle burns more calories than fat, a leaner and more muscular body requires more calories to function than a body with a higher percentage of fat. So although a thin person weighs less overall than an overweight person, they may still have a lower muscle mass and higher-than-recommended body fat percentage. A muscular person who is considered overweight by Body Mass Index (BMI) standards may have a higher metabolism than the thinner person. You can achieve a healthier balance of lean muscle and fat by incorporating regular exercise and strength training.

Myth #2: Certain foods or supplements can speed up my metabolism

Fact: I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no magical food or supplement that will speed up metabolism. There have been studies that show green tea and spicy peppers may temporarily boost metabolic rates, but the difference is pretty insignificant.

Eating food every morning shortly after waking will fire-up your metabolism for the day and eating a structured and balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, proteins and whole grains is the key to keeping that “fire” burning throughout the day. Eating whole and minimally processed food, as close as they come from nature, will deliver a slow and steady burn. Processed food, on the other hand, is burned up much more quickly since a lot of the processing that your body would normally do through digestion is already done in the food processing plant.

There isn’t any evidence supporting the use of supplements to boost metabolism either. These products aren’t FDA-regulated, so you never know what you’re ingesting. Save your money and don’t take the risk of adverse side-effects.

Myth #3: Eating past 7 p.m. will ruin my metabolism

Fact: Eating a snack at night will not ruin your metabolism. However, eating throughout the evening hours when you are not physically hungry will likely result in a large amount of calories consumed when your body did not ask for it. It’s the extra calories that cause weight gain when consumed for emotional reasons such as boredom, stress, sadness or fatigue.

If you go to sleep around nine o’clock at night, not eating past seven o’clock may be a good idea to reduce reflux and help you sleep comfortably. But if you go to bed at midnight, chances are you will be going to bed hungry if you don’t eat past seven.

The bottom line is that structuring eating (eating shortly after waking and every three to five hours thereafter), a balanced diet of whole food, regular exercise, and listening to hunger and fullness cues while appropriately coping with emotions are all ways you can control your metabolism. Be aware of any supplements, herbs or rare foods, and rules dictating when you should stop eating touted to speed up your metabolism and melt off the pounds, as these are all unfounded and potentially harmful.

If you would like more information on improving your eating habits, Gundersen registered dietitians can help. For an appointment, call (608) 775-3447.

Egg-less egg salad

Makes: 5 servings

Ingredients

1 lb. extra-firm tofu

¼ cup + 1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 dill pickle spear, chopped

¼ cup onion, chopped

¼ cup celery, chopped

¼ teaspoon turmeric*

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Directions

Press liquid out of tofu by slicing it a few times and placing it between paper towels with a heavy object stacked on top. Leave the tofu like this while you chop the other vegetables, or about 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mash the tofu with a fork. Add mayo, parsley, pickle, onion, celery, turmeric and mustard. Stir well to combine.

Serve on two slices of bread, on a bed of lettuce or scoop it up with crackers.

*Turmeric is optional. It simply gives the salad a yellow color to resemble regular egg salad.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 180 calories, 14 g fat, 9 g protein, 3 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 200 mg sodium

Fudgy black bean brownies

Makes: 16 servings

Ingredients

1 (15 oz.) can of black beans, rinsed and drained well

3 eggs

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

⅔ cup sugar

¼ cup cocoa powder, unsweetened

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon coffee grounds (optional)

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8x8 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Puree black beans in a blender or food processor.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs, oil, vanilla extract and sugar together. Add pureed beans and combine.

In a medium bowl, combine cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and coffee grounds (if desired). Add wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour brownie batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 120 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 90 mg sodium

Rebecca Stetzer is a Gundersen Health System registered dietitian.

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