Americans are suffering through a pandemic of enormous proportions – one the likes of something that’s never been seen before – but it’s not the one we’re all thinking of. No, this pandemic is the pandemic of obesity. As our diets and lifestyles have changed significantly over the last several decades, a major side effect has been the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is chock full of carbohydrates, processed foods, fast foods, sugar, unhealthy fats, and salt. Furthermore, Americans are less active and fail to get adequate exercise. All of this has led to an explosion in overweight and obesity.
According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data, in 1999-2000, 30.5% of Americans were considered obese. This is indeed a staggering figure; however, the story doesn’t end there. These same figures ballooned to 42.4% in 2017-2018, a dramatic and ominous increase. For children ages 2-19, obesity rates in 2017-2018 were 19.3%, indicating that the trend starts early and only worsens as we age into adulthood.
There is a strong need for real health guidance at the national level which is unfortunately lacking for the time being. But as waistlines balloon, so do healthcare costs, costing the economy staggering amounts of dollars to deal with the health challenges that obesity brings.
The road to reversing this trend must start with dietary and lifestyle choices. We need to get back to eating real food that is nutrient-dense, rather than just calorie dense, and we need to eat less of it. We also need to increase physical activity levels, making it a point to take time out of our busy days to develop an exercise routine. In addition, we need to assess and address common nutritional gaps in our diet to ensure our bodies are getting the vitamins and minerals it needs to maintain healthy metabolism and a proper metabolic rate.
In addition to all of this, we need to address the secondary health issues that obesity directly impacts, including but not limited to cardiovascular health, blood sugar health, and overall metabolic health. Obesity leads to severe consequences in these areas and is a trigger for metabolic syndrome, which them can progress to type 2 diabetes, if left unaddressed.
What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic Syndrome is a convenient label that denotes the presence of several cardio and metabolic disorders that are predictors of poor health. These risk factors include high blood sugar levels, low levels of protective HDL “good” cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides in the blood (which are fat molecules bound to sugar), large waist circumference, and high blood pressure. When three or more of these factors are present, an individual is considered to have metabolic syndrome. The levels of these risk factors do not need to be where they are indicating serious disease but they do need to be elevated from normal levels in order to be considered metabolic syndrome. The elevation in these factors, however, are predictive of severe disease over time, if they are left unaddressed. A serious consequence of increased cardio and metabolic risk factors is heart disease and diabetes, which is why it is important to monitor these risks on a regular basis and implement dietary, lifestyle, and nutritional changes early on to mitigate these risks.
Metabolic syndrome – or prediabetes – is a major issue in the US with over 88 million American adults impacted by it, highlighting the need to intervene in order to prevent more serious consequences with age.
How to Boost Metabolism
Several lifestyle and dietary practices naturally boost metabolism or your overall basal metabolic rate. These include increasing physical activity. Exercising is a great way to boost metabolism. These benefits extend long after you’ve stopped exercising. While you’re metabolic rate is increased during exercise, leading to calories being burned, metabolism stays elevated long after you stop. Similarly, weight training to build muscles is a great metabolic booster as muscle tissue burns more calories than fat.
There are also several foods that can help boost metabolism. Adding herbs and spices to your diet (such as cayenne, black pepper, turmeric, and ginger) is a great way to boost the thermogenic value of your food. Consuming green tea is another good way to boost metabolism as it increases energy expenditure. Eating smaller portions as well as eating more frequently is another method to increase your metabolic rate, as long as your mix of macronutrients is healthier overall. Avoiding highly processed foods and carbohydrates in favor of increasing your intake of protein, whole foods, and healthy fats is an excellent way of enhancing your metabolism and your health overall. Of course, any dietary advice would be incomplete without emphasizing an increase in water intake. Adequate water intake supports metabolic health, serves as a replacement for sugary beverages, and helps your body filter out toxins, all of which can positively impact metabolism and metabolic function.
Vitamins for Metabolism
There are several vitamins and minerals that support metabolic health. Enzymes in our body that facilitate the breakdown of foods containing fats and sugars, for example, are dependent on vitamins and minerals that serve as cofactors for their functionality. So ensuring your intake of these vitamins is adequate is essential to optimal metabolism.
Vitamin D is well-known for its health benefits, including its link to cardio health and blood sugar. Most cells have vitamin D receptors on their surface, indicating the prominent role vitamin D plays in facilitating metabolic reactions in the body. Several studies also directly link obesity with decreased vitamin D blood levels. Some clinical trials have shown that a vitamin D supplement can lead to a measure of weight loss as well, supporting the metabolic effects of this vitamin. Since more than 50% of the population is deficient in vitamin D, increasing vitamin D intake is essential for proper metabolic function. Make sure to look for vitamin D3 in supplements to ensure you are getting the most active form to realize vitamin D benefits.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in so many facets of health. As a cofactor for several hundred enzymes that facilitate metabolic reactions throughout the body, this mineral is an often overlooked, but critical, nutrient for health and wellness. Energy production in the body is highly linked to having adequate magnesium levels. Cellular energy production in the form of ATP requires magnesium, further solidifying its crucial role in cellular metabolism. Of course, it’s impossible to overlook magnesium benefits for blood sugar, blood pressure, and overall cardio health, all of which are important risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Since half of US adults fail to get an adequate intake of magnesium, indicating that magnesium deficiency is a problem, shifting dietary choices towards high magnesium foods, as well as considering magnesium supplements, is a great way to ensure optimal levels of this mineral.
Another forgotten vitamin for cardio and metabolic health is vitamin K2. This special form of vitamin K2 is lacking in the SAD diet since it is usually mainly present in fermented foods, which we don’t get enough of in the diet. Vitamin K2 (as menaquinone-7) is responsible for balancing calcium metabolism in the body and working in partnership with vitamin D to enhance its functionality. By removing calcium from the arteries and facilitating its transport to bone tissue, vitamin K2 benefits include healthy circulation and blood flow, which is key to the body’s overall metabolic function. Another vitamin that most are often deficient in, it’s critical to get vitamin K2 (as menaquinone-7) in supplement form in order to maximize it’s cardio and metabolic benefits. Look for a supplement that contains stabilized vitamin K2 and provides the cofactors vitamin D and magnesium at the same time to ensure maximum benefit.
There are numerous types of physical activity that one can focus on to boost metabolism and increase basal metabolic rate. For beginners, the idea is to start exercising at whatever pace suits you and build from there. If you aren’t getting any physical activity outside of the normal course of your day, add in cardio exercises such as walking, treadmill exercise, jogging, swimming, sports, low impact cardio, or whatever interests you, and ultimately aim to exercise 5 days per week for a minimum of 150 minutes weekly. Making small incremental changes can help you experience the benefits of walking and other types of exercise for your resting metabolic rate and overall health.
More targeted metabolism boosters include high intensity interval training (HIIT), which can help with weight loss, weight training, as well as various forms of yoga. As you develop your exercise routine to get regular exercise, you can begin experimenting with different types of physical activity to suit your health goals.
Supporting metabolic health and metabolism goes a long way towards supporting health overall. Given the epidemic of obesity we are facing as a country, supporting your weight management goals by boosting metabolism and doing what you can to prevent metabolic syndrome, along with more serious health consequences, is a necessary move for optimal wellbeing as you age.
- Adult Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
- About Metabolic Syndrome. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome/about-metabolic-syndrome
- Prevalence of Prediabetes Among Adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report/prevalence-of-prediabetes.html#:~:text=An%20estimated%2088%20million%20adults,A1C%20level%20(Table%203).
- American Diabetes Association. https://diabetes.org/diabetes/prediabetes