When it comes to achieving our goals, whether it's in business or in our personal lives, we know that having the right tools and knowledge is crucial. The same rings true when it comes to our health and fitness.
Losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can often be challenging, especially when so many diets and foods promise better and healthy outcomes.
But still, there's only one real solution for achieving an optimized metabolism and better overall health.
While fad diets may offer quick results, they rarely offer long-term solutions. To reach lasting results, it's essential to understand how your metabolism lies at the center of everything.
From a physiological standpoint, metabolism refers to the chemical processes that maintain life, including food breakdown of food into energy and waste elimination, to balance energy intake and usage.
An important aspect of our metabolism is maintaining stable blood sugar (glucose) levels to reduce the strain on our mitochondria - the tiny parts inside our body's cells that act as power plants, constantly working to produce the energy our cells need to work properly.
Breaking up with unhealthy food is easier once you have the knowledge of what to reach for. That's where whole foods come in.
By making smarter food decisions, you can take control of your health, maintain your glucose levels, avoid empty-calorie snacks, and enjoy the food you love - with better metabolic health.
Read on to see how.
Embracing a diet rich in plant based whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, are nutrient-dense and provide the body with various essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
These nutrients are critical for maintaining a healthy metabolism, as they help to regulate the body's energy production and metabolism. Choosing a whole food diet allows our body to optimally perform its metabolic functions in a more balanced and natural way compared to other diets.
A Whole Foods diet is about consuming food in its most natural state, or as close to it as possible. The basic guidelines of this diet typically include:
Fruits and Vegetables: Preferably organic, as they're free of pesticides. You can eat them raw or lightly cooked.
Whole Grains: These are grains that have all parts of the grain — the bran, germ, and endosperm. Foods from whole grains are rich in fiber and other important nutrients. Examples include brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole grain bread or pasta.
Legumes and Beans: These are great sources of protein and fiber. They include chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and peas.
Nuts and Seeds: These are good sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. They include almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds. Try to choose raw or lightly roasted versions, and avoid those with added salt or sugar.
Healthy Fats: Avocados, olives, and coconuts are whole foods that provide healthy fats. In addition, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are good for cooking.
Lean Proteins: These can come from both animal and plant sources. Animal sources include fish, poultry, and eggs, while plant sources include beans, legumes, and quinoa.
Dairy: If included, dairy should be organic and preferably raw or fermented, such as yogurt, cheese, and kefir.
Herbs and Spices: These not only add flavor to meals but many also have health benefits. Examples include turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and garlic.
Water, Tea, and Coffee: Minimizing sugary beverages and alcohol is important for a Whole Foods diet. Water should be the primary beverage, but unsweetened tea or coffee is generally acceptable as well.
If your diet predominantly consists of processed grains such as white bread or pasta, consider replacing them with their whole-grain counterparts to enhance your nutritional intake.
Globally, grains form an integral part of the daily diet.
The three components of grains are: the bran, which is the nutrient-dense outer layer; the germ, the seed's embryo filled with nutrients; and the endosperm, the germ's source of sustenance, rich in starchy carbohydrates.
Whole grains are essentially grains that retain all these three sections. They are typically abundant in iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber.
Notably, a preference for whole grains instead of refined grains is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, among other health conditions (1).
Eating natural, minimally processed foods, in the right portions for your body, encourage a healthy cycle and helps balance your blood glucose levels.
Stable blood glucose may lead to less carb snacking, and this allows the body to tap into its fat reserves for fuel. Over time, metabolic flexibility improves, and insulin sensitivity improves.
This physiological harmony will make it easier to reach your health goals and feel good!
The state of metabolic flexibility can be better achieved by understanding your body's current metabolic state, you are better equipped to make informed decisions for your nutrition. This includes what you eat, the time you eat, and how other lifestyle habits, such as movement, sleep, and stress, impact your metabolic health.
Unfortunately, the trend of labeling foods as "health food" has gained momentum in recent decades since the term "healthy" is often used misleadingly to encourage consumers to purchase foods that are far from nutritious. We can see it in the numbers - 1 in 3 American adults are considered metabolically unhealthy (2).
These foods are often stripped of the necessary nutrients during manufacturing and are loaded with sugar (dextrose, fructose, maltose, sucrose, and more are the usual culprits), trans fats, and other harmful additives. When we don't know the real impact of our lifestyle on our metabolism, it has the potential to lead us to an unhealthy relationship with food. As individuals continue to consume them, they still feel hungry, deprived, and unsatisfied.
When we consume processed carbs and high-sugar foods, a vicious cycle sets off in our body and begins with our blood glucose rising quickly, but also dropping quickly. Your body converts the carbs into glucose quickly because there is a lack of fiber, protein, or healthy fats to slow down the absorption.
This spike promotes that feeling of reaching for more carbs... leading to carb snacking and sending your blood sugar levels shooting up and pushing your pancreas to produce more insulin.
This takes a toll on our body and forces it to store carbs as fat - leading to weight gain, and a less efficient metabolism. Over time, this might lead to insulin resistance - a precursor to diabetes, inflammation and chronic conditions.
To achieve better metabolic health, our Lumen Metabolic Coaches share why they recommend adding whole foods to your diet.
Eating a diet rich in whole foods can positively impact metabolic health by providing the body with the essential nutrients it needs to function correctly.
Your metabolism is constantly working to maintain a balance between the energy we take in and the energy we use. When your body gets real, whole foods in the right portions tailored to suit your metabolic rate (made up of ample protein, healthy fats, and healthy carbs), you help it to promote stable blood glucose levels, which helps curb carb snacking. With fewer sharp drops in blood sugar, you may end up snacking less, and your body is able to tap into its fat reserves for fuel.
Your body fat will decrease, and metabolic flexibility (the ability of the body to efficiently switch between using different fuel sources, such as glucose and fats) and insulin sensitivity will improve. Maintaining metabolic health is important for preventing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
Consuming whole food provides sustained energy. These nutrients are slowly digested and absorbed, providing a steady energy source to the muscles. Athletic performance and endurance are also increased during exercise by providing the body with high-quality carbohydrates pre-workout. This fuel can be converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver, which is then used for energy during exercise.
Better sleep is something to strive for in this anxiety-riddled world. Consuming whole foods regulates blood sugar levels, preventing blood sugar spikes and crashes that can disrupt sleep. Incorporating healthy sleeping habits will make the journey to metabolic health smoother. Eat foods packed with magnesium, a mineral essential for quality sleep, found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Stress is a part of our everyday lives. It can range from acute (a brief event like getting stuck in traffic), to acute episodic (more frequent, like work deadlines) and chronic stress (persistent events like unemployment or family conflict). We experience all three of these at some point.
Chronic stress can affect eating patterns by increasing the body's metabolic needs and elevating levels of cortisol - which might lead to cravings for comfort foods that are high in fat and calories but low in nutrients, which can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of chronic diseases (2).
To counteract the adverse effects of chronic stress on eating habits, individuals should prioritize healthy balanced meals that can help improve levels of feel-good hormones such as serotonin, ultimately leading to an increase in mood!
Consuming this type of diet increases satiety and reduces hunger. When your body gets all the nutrients it needs, it craves less processed foods. This can prevent overeating and snacking on unhealthy foods, which can contribute to weight gain.
When we eat whole foods made up of ample protein, healthy fats, and healthy carbs (in moderation), we promote stable blood glucose levels and shift to utilizing carbs for fuel, and not storing carbs as fat. Personalizing the amount we need to eat for our biology will help you keep on track.
As time goes by, your body fat levels may decrease, and your metabolic flexibility may improve, which can make it easier to achieve your weight loss goals.
The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract.
A whole food diet that includes fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
These bacteria play a critical role in digestion and nutrient absorption and also help support the immune system.
Whole food diets are typically low in added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods - all of which are known to promote inflammation. Consuming healthy fats in the right quantities for your body is the best source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K – all of which minimize inflammation and promote blood sugar balance. Avoid corn and soy oils and rather opt for extra virgin olive oil, or avocado oil.
Consuming a diverse nutrient profile can prevent nutrient deficiencies. By consuming processed foods, you miss out on all the vitamins and minerals that whole, real food provides.
As mentioned earlier, oxidative stress can lead to aging. It can cause chronic inflammation and metabolic dysfunction. Whole food, which is rich in antioxidants, can help to reduce oxidative stress and promote healthy aging.
Many processed foods contain chemicals such as BPA and phthalates, known endocrine disruptors that can interfere with hormone function. Eating a whole-foods diet free of processed foods can help reduce exposure to these chemicals and promote hormone balance.
A whole-food diet encourages individuals to choose whole, unprocessed foods, which can increase awareness of food choices. By focusing on nutrient-dense foods and minimizing processed foods, individuals are more likely to pay attention to what they eat and make more mindful food choices.
Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that is particularly beneficial for the gut microbiome. Prebiotics are found in onions, garlic, asparagus, and bananas. These foods help to nourish and support the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Eating a diet rich in real food can also positively impact the environment. Real food tends to be less resource-intensive than processed food, which often requires significant energy and resources to manufacture and transport. And who doesn't want to help save this beautiful planet?
The benefits of healthy nutrition can be further enhanced by increased physical activity and the avoidance of sleep deprivation and excess psychosocial stress in the context of a healthy lifestyle modification.
Transitioning to a whole-food diet can seem daunting, but here are some actionable tips provided by Lumen metabolic coaches to help you get started:
Remember, transitioning to a whole-food diet is a journey to improve your overall health and well-being and reduce the risk of these negative consequences.
Using on-demand real-time insights, you can measure your metabolism and understand what to eat for your body and when.
It's important to be patient with yourself. Start small, focus on progress rather than perfection, and celebrate your successes along the way.
We hope this has helped ease the anxiety of thinking you have to be a gourmet chef to eat clean, whole foods. It is as simple as choosing foods that are not packaged, throwing them into a frying pan, and voila! You just made yourself a natural, whole-food meal!
Steffen LM, Jacobs DR Jr, Stevens J, Shahar E, Carithers T, Folsom AR. Associations of whole-grain, refined-grain, and fruit and vegetable consumption with risks of all-cause mortality and incident coronary artery disease and ischemic stroke: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3):383-90. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.3.383. PMID: 12936919.
Torres, S. J., & Nowson, C. A. (2007). Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity. Nutrition, 23(11-12), 887-894. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2007.08.008
Araújo J, Cai J, Stevens J. Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2019 Feb;17(1):46-52. doi: 10.1089/met.2018.0105. Epub 2018 Nov 27. PMID: 30484738.
Marine is a registered dietitian with a passion for well-being, health and metabolism. She started her career as a clinical dietitian, opened her private practice to accompany patients from various backgrounds in their health journey, and is now providing nutrition support for Lumen’s customers.