Food Freedom Friday Edition 179 - Metabolism - Beyond The Food

Your metabolism is what dictates your ability to create energy. This process also plays a primary role in your ability to burn fat and achieve your ideal weight. I am a true believer that people need a high capacity to burn fat as energy as it plays an important role in overall health and well-being.

Improving and supporting the metabolic process is one of the foundations of the work I do. Unfortunately, I see people regularly and unknowingly engaging in behaviors that are absolutely wrecking this process! Today we will be discussing a few common roadblocks to the ability to burn fat.

Underestimating The Role Of Hormones

One of the oldest and most pervasive myths that people adhere to is that weight is tied to the number of calories consumed. This is a very outdated way to look at how the metabolism works. In reality, the types of food that you eat can alter your hormones and completely shift the ability to burn fat more or less efficiently.

Eating a calorically similar diet of refined carbs versus low-glycemic whole foods will have completely different effects on your metabolism. Furthermore, a lower carbohydrate (or ketogenic) diet versus a higher carb diet will have completely different effects on how your body burns fat, regardless of caloric intake.

Metabolism and hormones go beyond food altogether. The 5 primary hormones that regulate fat burning are adiponectin, ghrelin, insulin, leptin, and cortisol. A variety of factors influence these hormones including stress levels, sleep quality, exercise routine, diet, and hydration levels!

Reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing healthy fats will simultaneously help keep blood sugar stable, insulin levels down, and improve fat burning.

When carbohydrates are consumed in excess, they can be converted into fats which are stored in adipose tissue. Research confirms that a low-carb, high-fat nutrition template outperforms a low-fat template in measures of diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory factors.

Movement will also play an important role in hormonal health. Most people exercise in the pursuit of weight loss in the wrong way. Chronic, low-intensity cardio and working out every day are not necessary and could actually be harmful to the body. Short-duration, high-intensity exercise where the body is intensely trained for short periods with rest days between workouts is more effective for optimizing hormones including growth hormone, ghrelin, and insulin.

The accumulation of toxins in the body can further impact hormones and fat storage. The hormone estrogen promotes the retention of fat. There is a large number of chemicals in the modern food supply that mimic estrogen in the body, having the potential to completely throw off hormone balance.

You can reduce your exposure by eating organic vegetables, pasture-raised or wild-caught meats, and avoiding synthetic plastics or beauty products. Be mindful of what

One excellent database for checking your cosmetics is the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database.

Lacking Micronutrients

Most people are spending their time focusing on the macronutrients:  Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat.  While the amount of each of these is an important factor in a healthy nutrition plan, what may arguably be more important is the number of micronutrients.

Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, fatty acids, and other vital compounds found in the foods you eat. There are a number of ways that deficiencies in specific micronutrients can impact your metabolism:

Nutrients like iodine, selenium, and zinc play critical roles in thyroid hormone conversion. If these are deficient, one can experience lower production of thyroid hormones and a slower metabolic rate.

Different colors in different foods signify the presence of different nutrients:

·       Red and Orange Foods tend to be high in carotenoids that are great for the eyes, heart, immune system, and skin.

·       Green Foods are rich in trace minerals, B-vitamins, chlorophyll, and Vitamin K. Leafy greens in particular are an excellent addition to a low-carb nutrition plan that supports fat metabolism.

·       Blue and Purple Foods are often high in powerful antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins. These compounds are highly anti-inflammatory, protective against heart disease, boost brain function, improve fat burning and even enhance exercise performance.

Minerals are needed for enzymes within metabolic processes to function properly. Without adequate mineral intake the body will not be equipped for proper energy production, building the blood, bone formation, maintaining, optimal hormone levels, and other vital functions. Some of the best sources of minerals include sea vegetables, wild-caught fish, leafy greens, and bone broth.

Too Many Anti-Nutrients

An anti-nutrient is any nutrient that either prevents absorption of or depletes other beneficial nutrients in the body. Common anti-nutrient sources are:

1.     Toxins increase the demand for liver detoxification.  Deactivating toxins is a highly sophisticated process and require many different nutrients. Toxins would include food products that have pesticides, herbicides, anti-biotics, heavy metals, artificial sweeteners and other chemical agents on them or within them.

2.     Sugar:  High blood sugar and the process of glycolysis depletes vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, chromium, B vitamins and vitamin C when consumed in excess. Sugar can contribute to a breakdown in the production of cellular energy, which will likely slow the metabolism as a protective mechanism.

3.     Plant Based Anti-Nutrient Compounds:  These include oxalates, lectins, and phytates.

Animals protect themselves from predators by fight or flight. They have well-developed muscles to escape or fight back against their prey. Plants are stationary and unable to use physical force or run away from their predators. Instead, they produce compounds that are either poisonous or act as micro toxins for their predators.   

Micro toxins are different in that they do not cause death or even an immediate inflammatory reaction.  Their response is subtler and more cumulative; the more one consumes, the more problems it causes.  Micro toxins weaken the species that eats them.  The 3 well-studied plant micro toxins include oxalates, lectins and phytates which are present in many foods that are considered healthy.

4.     Phytic acids are typically high in things like grains, beans, and nuts. These foods bind to and prevent the absorption of minerals like calcium, zinc, and magnesium.

Common sources of anti-nutrients include:

·       Phytates are most commonly found in grains and legumes.

·       Oxalates are found in highest amounts in spinach, beets, nuts, seeds, chocolate and raspberries.  You need not avoid these all together, but it may be wise to reduce your consumption if you eat substantial amounts. This is especially the case if you have gut health issues, kidney problems or chronic pain. 

·       Lectins are highest in grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and nightshade vegetables.  Again, you don’t need to avoid these all together, but it may be wise to reduce if you have digestive health issues, chronic pain and thyroid issues.  Soaking and sprouting reduces lectin content.

·       Non-organic foods tend to be higher in pesticides which deplete nutrients from the body and damage the gut.

·       Processed Vegetable Oils are highly inflammatory and do not provide a source of fuel for the body.

·       Raw cruciferous vegetables can be a source of anti-nutrients that are tough on the digestive tract. A good way to reduce these is to steam your vegetables before eating. This also serves to gently break down cellulose fibers that can be hard on the digestive tract.


Being dehydrated can send a similar signal to the brain as having low blood sugar. Which in turn can send a signal that it is time to eat.

If you are following a low-carb nutrition plan and frequently get hungry between meals, you are likely either not eating enough fats or you are dehydrated. Instead of reaching for a snack, first pour yourself a glass of water and see how you feel.

One of the best hydration strategies is super hydrating early in the day. For example, drinking 16-32 ounces of water before your first meal is a great way to flush out the body and restore dehydration that has occurred over night. I also like to emphasize that drinking should be done away from meals to promote better digestion.

Proper hydration in the body depends on both water and minerals. Adding a pinch of sea salt to your water is a great way to add some electrolytes. The further addition of organic acids like acetic and citric acids will support stabilizing blood sugar and improving hydration. These acids can be consumed in the form of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, respectively. Adding a splash to your water can help ward off cravings until meal time.

Ignoring When You Eat

The recommendation used to be that eating frequent but small meals was the best way to keep the metabolism high. This is actually the opposite of what we know now; going longer periods without food is a powerful way to improve your metabolic flexibility.

Metabolic flexibility is when the body is able to easily switch between burning fats and sugars as a primary energy source.  An individual who is metabolically flexible is efficient at burning their own body fat for fuel and can thus go long periods of time without food and maintain great energy, strength and mental clarity.

The hormone insulin is an energy storage signaling molecule. Each time you eat, insulin rises and tells the body to store fat. When you go longer periods without eating, or you eat less insulinogenic foods you produce less insulin.  Lower levels of insulin in your blood mean that you will be burning fat rather than storing it!

Intermittent fasting, also referred to as time-restricted eating, is a practice that works well for building metabolic flexibility. Fasting is simply the time between meals that you are not eating. By lengthening this window, you can train your body to tap into fat stores and build your metabolism.

To start, go 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. Try this for two weeks then push on to 14 hours. Next, work on getting up towards 16-18 hours. Find the window that your body responds to the best. During the fasting window consume lots of water and herbal teas.

Shifting towards a ketogenic style of eating will be one of the best ways to build your fat metabolism. In combination with intermittent fasting, a ketogenic lifestyle is one of the best ways to build metabolic flexibility that will allow you to lose weight, have more energy and stop obsessing about food. This is because once you become fat adapted, you will have the metabolic flexibility to utilize ketones as an energy source very effectively. Ketones provide an abundance of energy while producing less metabolic waste compared to sugars. 

Optimizing your metabolism can be achieved simply and effectively. Focusing on a few elements beyond the food and correcting a few unknown mis-steps can go a long way to supporting your overall health and long-term wellness goals.

Michal Ofer