Which Foods Might Be Helping or Hurting Your Metabolism?


As a functional medicine doctor, I am often asked about the profound impact of diet on metabolism. There is an intricate connection between the foods we choose and their potential effects on metabolism. Let’s go into some common questions and key insights to provide clarity on optimizing your metabolic health.


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What Role Does Diet Play in Metabolism?

Understanding the relationship between diet and metabolism is essential. Functional medicine recognizes that the foods we eat directly influence how our bodies produce and utilize energy. We will explore both sides of the spectrum – foods that support a robust metabolism and those that may hinder its efficiency.

Foods That Support Good Metabolism

  • Micronutrient-Rich Choices: Within the realm of functional medicine, prioritizing micronutrient-rich foods is foundational. These include leafy greens, berries, nuts, seeds, and colorful vegetables. These powerhouses provide essential vitamins and minerals, acting as catalysts for metabolic enzymes. For instance, B vitamins play a crucial role in converting food into energy, emphasizing the importance of a well-rounded, plant-rich diet.
  • Balanced Macronutrients for Sustained Energy: A functional medicine approach recognizes the significance of balanced macronutrients—proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. While individual needs may vary, the goal is to avoid extreme diets and instead focus on a balanced approach. Including lean proteins, healthy fats like avocados and olive oil, and complex carbohydrates from whole grains helps maintain sustained energy levels, preventing the erratic spikes and crashes that can disrupt metabolic harmony.
  • Metabolism-Boosting Foods: Certain foods are renowned for their metabolism-boosting properties. Green tea contains catechins, most specifically EGCG, which has been found to help maintain metabolic health. (1) Additionally, incorporating spicy foods like chili peppers can temporarily increase metabolic rate, promoting calorie expenditure. (2) Functional medicine encourages the integration of these foods into a well-rounded diet to support overall metabolic health.

Foods That Could Potentially Affect Metabolism Negatively

  • Processed Sugars and Refined Carbs: From a functional medicine perspective, the modern prevalence of processed sugars and refined carbohydrates has raised concerns. These foods can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, triggering insulin responses that, over time, may contribute to insulin resistance—a key factor in metabolic dysfunction. Choosing whole, unprocessed alternatives and being mindful of carbohydrate quality is essential in supporting metabolic well-being.
  • Inflammatory Foods: Chronic inflammation is recognized in functional medicine as a potential contributor to metabolic imbalances. Foods high in trans fats, refined oils, and excessive omega-6 fatty acids may promote inflammation. Opting for anti-inflammatory choices like fatty fish, walnuts, and olive oil can counteract these effects, fostering an environment conducive to optimal metabolic function.
  • Alcohol: When you drink alcohol, your body has to stop what it is doing and metabolize that alcohol, filtering it through your liver. That means you won’t be metabolizing fats and sugars as quickly, and your metabolism will slow down. 

Intermittent Fasting and Metabolism

Did you know that intermittent fasting has been shown to improve your metabolism? (3) Think of metabolism like your body's engine – it's what turns food into energy. When we do intermittent fasting, it's like giving our engine a reset. Our body gets better at switching between using sugar and fat for energy, making our metabolism more flexible and efficient.

By trying intermittent fasting, we not only follow a pattern that worked well for our ancestors but also give our metabolism a boost. This helps with things like having more energy, reducing inflammation, and overall, it's a way of eating that's been helpful for our bodies for a long time.

Wonder If Your Metabolism Needs a Boost? 

A lot of people ask me how they can improve their metabolism. I think a great first step is to take my Metabolic Flexibility Quiz, where you’ll find out how metabolically flexible you are, and whether you might need some help. 

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  1. Wolfram S. Effects of green tea and EGCG on cardiovascular and metabolic health. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Aug;26(4):373S-388S. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2007.10719626. PMID: 17906191.
  2. Yu Q, Wang Y, Yu Y, Li Y, Zhao S, Chen Y, Waqar AB, Fan J, Liu E. Expression of TRPV1 in rabbits and consuming hot pepper affects its body weight. Mol Biol Rep. 2012 Jul;39(7):7583-9. doi: 10.1007/s11033-012-1592-1. Epub 2012 Feb 11. PMID: 22327653.
  3. Aly SM. Role of intermittent fasting on improving health and reducing diseases. Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2014 Jul;8(3):V-VI. doi: 10.12816/0023985. PMID: 25505868; PMCID: PMC4257368.

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The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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Gut Feelings

Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
Between What You Eat And How You Feel