Metabolism – The Facts

by Caity Nienow, RD, LD

We all hear about “metabolism,” but what does it really mean?  Can we change our metabolism?  If I eat (insert fad diet food here), does that increase my metabolism?  Here are some answers to your metabolism questions.

Metabolism is the process of turning the food (nutrients in storage) we eat into energy that we burn.  Imagine your metabolism represented by a fire, taking wood (food) and turning it into heat and light (energy).  When we do not feed our fire, the flames become smaller and smaller, until only coals are left.  In a similar way, if we do not consume enough calories, our metabolism will slow down to conserve energy.  However, if we monitor our fire carefully, feeding it every couple of hours, our flame will continue to burn, providing heat and light – just as our bodies require food every couple of hours to keep our metabolism strong.  The higher our metabolism is, the more stored food we turn to energy.

Our bodies have two main types of tissues: fat and fat-free mass (bones, muscles, organs, blood and water).  The fat in our body has a slower metabolism, or rate of turning stored nutrients into energy.  However, if our body has a larger amount of fat-free mass (more muscle mass), we have a higher metabolism.  Thus, exercise and increasing muscle mass will inherently speed the body’s metabolism.

Many fad diets claim certain foods will raise our metabolism.  However, the truth is there is no food that will raise or lower it.  Some foods may raise our metabolism for a short time, but the overall effect will be the same with or without the intake of that food.

Many claims have stated that eating after dinner will slow our metabolism down.  In fact, if our body needs those calories, then an 8 p.m. (or later) snack is just fine.  If we have had our calorie fill for the day, then that late-night snack will turn to stored energy, or fat, which burns energy slowly. 

In summary, metabolism is the measure of food turning into energy that the body burns.  Exercise and fueling our body by eating several balanced meals and snacks throughout the day will help increase metabolism.  However, the foods claimed by fad diets will not increase our body’s metabolism. 

For more information, please contact your Hy-Vee dietitian, Caity.

Caity is your Hy-Vee Barlow Plaza Registered Dietitian.  She is originally from Rochester, MN, and attended high school in Stewartville.  After high school, Caity received her Nutrition and Dietetics degree from Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI.  Through the program, Caity completed internships at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital, Hy-Vee Grocery Stores in Madison, and Cancer Treatment Center of America in Zion, IL.  In the past, Caity has also worked with individuals with special needs in the Rochester community.  During her free time, Caity enjoys being active outdoors, dancing, reading, experimenting with new foods, and spending time with family. For more posts from Caity, click here.