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Kolasa: Diet, sleep, genetics influence metabolism

Kolasa, Kathy

Kathy Kolasa

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Q What causes slow metabolism? How do you know when you have it? What foods should you avoid or what should I be sure to eat? Big Daddy, Winterville.

A If you Google slow metabolism you will get all kinds of diet information — much of it is inaccurate. Katayoon D., a second-year Brody student took the challenge to tell you how sleep and diet contribute to metabolism. Here is what she wants you to know.

The way your body uniquely converts energy and maintains life, or rather your metabolism, is largely defined by your genetics. However, recent research suggests some good news for those of us who aren’t genetically blessed with genes that make it less likely to become overweight.

Earlier this year, scientists in the United Kingdom reported the results of their studies of why some people manage to stay thin while others gain weight easily. The results show that your diet and sleep hygiene can also affect your metabolism.

While the term ‘metabolism’ may appear difficult to fully grasp at first, it becomes more tangible through exploration of the various parts that contribute to it. The first key component is your basal metabolic rate or BMR, which is responsible for most — up to 80 percent — of the calories you burn daily.

There are some doctor and registered dietitian offices as well as some wellness centers where you can get your BMR measured. BMR does vary among individuals, as it is shaped by your age, sex, genetics, and muscle mass. You can’t do much about your age, sex or genetics, but you can maintain or build lean muscle mass with resistance training like weightlifting.

Additionally, your metabolism is influenced by the calories required for the digestion of food, as well as the calories that are burned through regular activities, like doing your daily tasks, to physical activity, where you break a sweat. It is important to note that your metabolism is directly related to your body size, with smaller individuals having a “slower” metabolism.

This is because smaller individuals need less energy overall to maintain their bodily functions. While there are thin individuals with a “fast” metabolism who seem to be able to eat anything they desire without gaining any weight, the recent research suggests that this exception is largely based on their genetics. But it’s not all about genetics.

Several lifestyle factors have been shown to impact metabolism. The intake of manufactured and processed foods, such as fast food items, results in a slower metabolic rate, as it allows for your body to easily get the energy it requires to function without having to do as much work to obtain it.

You can maximize your metabolism by eating more whole foods that require your body to utilize energy to break down the foods in order to get the nourishment it needs. Additionally, eating high fiber food products, such as beans, fruits, and vegetables, and foods containing natural probiotics, such as Greek yogurt, can benefit the bacteria in your gut that serve to promote your metabolism. This advice is consistent with the guidelines for healthy eating to avoid or manage chronic disease.

It has also been shown that maintaining a healthy sleep schedule and hygiene can play a role in your metabolism. Experts suggest you get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep; limit caffeine intake for the second half of your day; and not use any devices with blue light, such as your cell phone and computer, for at least an hour before bedtime.

You’ve probably seen stories that drinking green tea or apple cider vinegar, and using cayenne pepper will improve your metabolic rate and allow you to lose weight quicker and easier. There really are not high-quality studies that demonstrate that to be true. So, once again eating foods as close as possible to their natural state — fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and dairy products — seem to be the best for boosting your metabolism.

The most important point to take away from this article is that your diet and sleep hygiene can have as much of an influence on your metabolism as your genetics.

Talk with your doctor about your concerns and/or have a visit with a registered dietitian/nutritionist to design a health promoting eating plan for you.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.

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