Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Altering Metabolism -- Foods and Habits that Influence Metabolism

  When I want to learn something, I use it as an excuse to write a blog.
'In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.'
  By explaining, by teaching, by writing a blog, it helps me gain a better understanding, a better grasp on the subject.

  Recently, I've made a few changes in my eating habits. Though, there have only been a few changes, I've found they've greatly affected my energy level throughout the day, and my overall 'feeling'. My energy levels are suddenly constant -- there are no peaks and valleys, and I generally feel better.

  So for me, that meant my metabolism has changed. The way my body is burning fuel has changed. It brought up the question: What is metabolism?

  People often say 'I have a slow/fast metabolism' But what does that really mean? To some degree, yes, we have a set metabolism. The levels of hormones our bodies produce are specific to each individual. That's why, comparison between people, in regard to metabolism and diet, is never a helpful strategy.

  Metabolism is our bio-chemistry, our hormonal makeup, our body chemistry. It dictates how our bodies burn fat, how many calories our bodies burn, muscle maintenance, how much fat you store or burn.

  Since our bodies synthesize hormones, we can affect them depending on our habits, and therefore, influence our metabolism. Certain hormones play a huge role in hunger, satiety, fat burning ability, and muscle maintenance.

  Simply stated, hormones help our bodies function properly. And depending on our goals, the foods we eat, and our day-to-day routines, can either positively, or negatively, affect our metabolism.

My plate has looked a lot like this lately.
  Certain foods and lifestyle habits are going to help create more of one hormone or another. So in researching how my body's metabolism was changing, I came across some helpful information. Here are some tips to decrease fat storage hormones, and increase fat burning hormones:

  While I might be over-simplifying it, insulin is commonly referred as the fat storing hormone.

  Insulin's main job is to remove sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream, and convert it to something the body can use for energy. When we eat, (anything really -- a piece of bread, candy, a piece of fruit, or even protein), our pancreas produces insulin to convert it to usable energy. The more sugar we eat, the more insulin that is produced.

  One thing we don't want is a constant surge of insulin. An increase in glucose causes the body to store more body fat. More fat is stored, less is burned.

  Keeping our insulin levels as stable as possible is the goal. We can accomplish this by eating higher quality carbohydrates (complex carbs vs. simple carbs, whole grains vs. refined grains).

  Foods that are slow digesting (low GI foods), pass more slowly through the digestive system, gradually enter the blood stream, and keep insulin at a more consistent level. Slower digesting foods, or complex carbohydrates include quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta. High fibrous foods like beans, and vegetables and most fruits are also slow digesting foods.

  Fast digesting foods are those that pass quickly through your digestive system, and into your blood stream. Because they arrive so quickly, they drive up blood glucose levels causing insulin to spike so that your body can utilize the glucose. These foods include 'white' foods -- rice, bread, pasta, potatoes -- soda, most cereals, sports drinks, and candy.

  Limit the fast digesting foods as often as possible, and insulin levels will stay relatively stable throughout the day.

Nothing more relaxing than this -- Sardegna.
  Cortisol is most-commonly referred to as the stress hormone. It's also associated with triggering the 'fight or flight' response. When we experience stress, our adrenal gland releases cortisol. So obviously, the more stress we feel/experience, the more cortisol produced.

  Studies have linked cortisol to the storage of abdominal fat. And elevated, and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream is also related to higher blood pressure, impaired cognitive function, decrease in bone density and muscle tissue, among other things.

  Cortisol is also known to leave us craving sugar and carbohydrates (which then lends itself to trigger the production of insulin).

  To naturally decrease cortisol levels: 1) sleep more (and keep a 'normal' sleep habits), 2) do any-and-every-thing possible to decrease stress (vacation, meditation, breaks in the work day, exercise).

  Find effective ways to manage stress. Easier said than done though, isn't it?

  Serotonin plays an important part in the regulation of learning, mood, and sleep. Known as the 'happy' hormone, serotonin has the opposite effect of cortisol. It calms us down, and helps drive down stress hormones. It also acts as a natural appetite suppressant.

  To encourage more serotonin production, eat folate (Vitamin B9)-rich foods. This includes:
lentil beans, garbanzo beans, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach), and asparagus.

  By changing my eating habits, my goal was not necessarily altering my metabolism. That was just an effect of altering my my diet. After reading these 'tips', you can probably guess my dietary changes came in the form of: more slow burning foods: less processed sugars, more legumes (beans), and a lot more vegetables.

  I am constantly amazed at the human body. And the way its functions and effects are interacted never cease to blow me away.



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