The 8 Best Foods For Metabolic Health

Your diet and food choices directly affect your metabolism. To improve your metabolic health, it’s important to eat a varied diet rich in fiber, minerals, and low glycemic foods.

woman eating a healthy meal in the kitchen

When you think about your metabolic health your brain might go straight pondering all the ways you can boost your metabolism so you can drop a few pounds, but it’s actually way more than just your weight.  

A metabolically healthy person will have a stable weight, healthy blood glucose levels, optimal cholesterol numbers, and their blood pressure will be in a healthy range. The goal is to keep all of these biomarkers in their target ranges so you can reduce the risk of chronic disease down the road. 

So, what steps do you need to take to become metabolically healthy? Focusing on your diet is a great place to start because your food choices will impact every area of your health. To make it a bit easier for you, we’ve made a list of eight food groups that are scientifically proven to support all the factors that make up your metabolic health. 

Choosing Foods for Metabolic Health

We know that fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. They are rich in different vitamins, minerals, and fibers that are essential to metabolic health

And, there are other important food groups that also have added benefits to support your health.

1. Protein-Rich Foods 

You’ve probably been told to eat your protein. And there’s a good reason why! Protein-rich foods contain amino acids. These tiny acids are often referred to as the building blocks of the body. 

There are two major classes of amino acids: essential (they need to be included in your diet) and non-essential (your body can make these acids regardless of your diet). Choosing a variety of protein sources from animal and plant based foods can help you satisfy all your amino acid needs.

Amino acids support your metabolism by promoting satiety after eating.1They may increase the metabolic rate in some people.2 Examples of healthy proteins can include: 

  • Fish and seafood options including salmon, trout, scallops, and squid 
  • Lean cuts of red meat (tenderloin or sirloin) 
  • Poultry 
  • Eggs 
  • Unflavored greek yogurt 
  • Legumes and beans (more on this later)  

Each protein option is rich in different nutrients. Add variety to your daily nutritional intake by rotating protein choices throughout the week. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read about </strong> <a href="/blog/protein-for-weight-loss">how protein helps you lose weight</a>.</p>

2. Low Glycemic Foods 

The glycemic index is a scoring tool that rates food on how quickly it raises blood glucose levels. Low-glycemic foods may produce improved metabolic results when consumed long term3. Examples of low glycemic foods include: 

  • Berries, apples, and pears.  
  • Green leafy vegetables. 
  • Hearty vegetables like cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and squash. 
  • Whole grains such as bulgur, quinoa, and spelt. 

Low glycemic foods are expected to elicit a slight insulin response in the body. Keeping insulin levels low is an excellent way to be proactive with your metabolic health. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/low-glycemic-vegetables">the top low-glycemic vegetables</a>.</p>

3. Tea 

Brewed tea is rich with catechins.4These natural compounds are potent antioxidants that reduce inflammation and support metabolic health. Teas that have catechins include: 

  • Green tea contains the highest potency of catechins. 
  • White tea. 
  • Black tea. 
  • Oolong.

Frequent tea drinkers may experience better heart health outcomes (reduced risk of stroke and heart disease) compared to non-tea drinkers. Black tea and green tea are proven to be the most beneficial for heart health.5

Regular tea consumption may also help maintain a balanced gut microbiome, which provides the foundation for a healthy gut. The polyphenols in tea replenish your gut with health-promoting bacteria and limit the growth of bad bacteria.6

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read about </strong> <a href="/blog/green-tea-weight-loss">drinking green tea for weight loss</a>.</p>

pouring tea into a white mug
Catechins reduce inflammation by protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals.

4. Legumes 

Legumes and pulses are rich in protein and resistant starch. Resistant starch has been shown to improve metabolic function in some people.7Here are some common legumes you can incorporate into your diet:

  • Garbanzo beans are excellent for salads, soups, or blended into hummus.  
  • Kidney beans are well suited for healthy chili recipes. 
  • White beans are creamy and are a comforting addition to soups.
  • Black beans can be cooked with spices and mashed into a veggie burger. 
  • Edamame beans mix well in stir-fries or served as an appetizer.
  • Lentils are the most versatile and can be used in any of the options mentioned in this list. 

Canned legumes are economical and easy to prepare. Be sure to give them a thorough rinse under running water before using them in your recipe. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/legume-benefits">why legumes are good for blood sugar</a>.</p>

5. Iodine-rich Foods 

Trace amounts of iodine in the diet are necessary to maintain a healthy thyroid.8Your thyroid releases hormones and directly impacts your metabolism. Examples of iodine-rich foods include: 

  • Animal proteins including fish. 
  • Animal byproducts including eggs and dairy.
  • Seaweed. 
  • Iodized table salt. 

If you eat these foods, it is unlikely you will experience a deficiency. People who consume limited animal-based products need to pay closer attention to their iodine intake. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/hormones-and-weight-loss">hormones and weight loss, from a doctor</a>.</p>

6. High-Fiber Foods 

Fiber is a non-caloric carbohydrate that helps keep you regular, stabilize blood sugars, and lower cholesterol. A study from 2015 showed that people who only made one change to their diet, eating more fiber, experienced long-term weight loss.9Here are some common high-fiber foods: 

  • Whole grains 
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fresh fruits 
  • Nuts 
  • Seeds 
  • Legumes and pulses 

Adults should aim to eat 14g of fiber per 1000 calories consumed daily.9For most people, this will be a range of 25-35g of fiber per day. To hit this target include fiber-rich options at every meal, including snacks.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/fiber-for-metabolic-health">how fiber supports metabolic health</a>.</p>

a variety of whole grains on a slate surface
Whole grains high in fiber include amaranth, barley, rye flour, and bulgur.

7. Iron-rich Foods

In 2013 approximately 10 million Americans experienced iron deficiency.10Without enough iron, your skeletal muscle metabolism is disrupted and less energy is burned. This can impair weight loss efforts.11Incorporate these iron-rich foods to ensure healthy levels:12

  • Red meat
  • Organ meats, such as beef liver 
  • Clams and oysters 
  • Spinach 
  • Tofu 
  • White beans 

The US and Canada both fortify their grains with iron to help people meet requirements. The next time you buy boxed cereal, check the nutritional ingredients. You might be surprised that some whole grain brands offer 70% of your daily iron needs.  

8. B420 Probiotic

The last recommendation is not a food group, but a probiotic supplement. In 2020 a large-scale review of all published data confirmed that Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis 420 (also called B420) could help people manage their weight.13The bacteria are involved in complex signaling pathways which contribute to metabolism and weight management. 

More research still needs to be completed, but this is the first probiotic that has already demonstrated positive results. These probiotics can be easily purchased at a local pharmacy, vitamin, or health food store. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/probiotics-metabolic-health">how probiotics affect metabolic health</a>.</p>

What Else Can You Do to Your Diet to Boost Your Metabolism?

There is scientific evidence to show specific dietary practices can support your metabolism.14Examples of these include: 

  • Avoiding drastic calorie restrictions. 
  • Eating whole unprocessed foods as often as possible. 
  • Drinking water and being well-hydrated. 
  • Including protein at meals (plant-based or animal-based). 
  • Following the Mediterranean diet or D.A.S.H diet.

Focusing on your food choices is important to maintaining good health. Widening the lens to look at the big picture of your diet can also be helpful to make sure you are engaging in healthy habits. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/water-lower-blood-sugar">hydration and blood sugar</a>.</p>

Boost Your Metabolism Outside of Your Diet

You may be wondering if diet is the only way to boost your metabolism. And it’s not! There are other lifestyle factors to consider when trying to improve your metabolism, such as:

If any of these categories are standout to you, consider prioritizing them in your health goals. Improvements in any of these areas, combined with dietary changes, will likely improve your metabolism.

woman exercising her shoulders with an exercise band
Exercise can increase skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity.

4 Foods to Cut Back on to Help Your Metabolism

Just like there are some foods that can help improve metabolism, there are foods that can put your metabolism at risk. It can be helpful to reduce your intake of certain foods and drinks (listed below).

Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

The CDC states that sugar-sweetened beverages have been linked to an increased risk of developing type two diabetes, unwanted weight gain, heart diseases, kidney diseases, and tooth decay.15-18Some drinks include: 

  • Soda
  • Fruit juice 
  • Bottled smoothies 
  • Flavored dairy beverages (including plant-based products) 
  • Sport drinks
  • Energy drinks 

Sugary beverages are available all year, but they are more popular in the summer months. When served over ice it can be hard to taste just how sweet the beverage is. Opt for water whenever possible. You can jazz up plain water by adding fresh herbs or fruits.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn how to </strong> <a href="/blog/smoothies-for-weight-loss">make your own healthy smoothies</a>.</p>

Alcohol

Although there is evidence to suggest low to moderate intake of alcohol can be neutral for your health, most health studies agree that a higher intake increases your risk of negative side effects.19,20Drinking too much alcohol can: 

  • Damage your liver and lead to liver disease. 
  • Increase your blood sugars. 
  • Increase your triglyceride levels.
  • Increase your risk of different cancers.21

Depending on how much you drink on a regular basis, it may be dangerous for you to reduce your alcohol consumption without the aid of a medical professional. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. 

Refined Grains

Refined grains refer to any type of grain that has been processed. Processing includes steaming, grinding, or rolling. Examples of refined grains include:

  • White flour bread, pasta, bagels, and crackers. 
  • Sugary cereals including flavored instant-oatmeal packages. 
  • Minute rice products. 
  • Most prepackaged baked goods and cookies are made with refined flour. 

Processing grains remove some nutritional properties of the food, including fiber. A high intake of refined grains has been linked to heart disease.22Your best option is to choose whole grains whenever possible. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/best-breads-to-minimize-blood-sugar-spikes">the best breads to minimize blood sugar spikes</a>.</p>

Deep-Fried Food

Deep-fried food undergoes partial hydrogenation during the cooking process. This increases the presence of man-made trans fats in the food which has been linked to coronary heart disease.23 Foods to limit include: 

  • Potato chips and french fries
  • Some cracker brands
  • Battered fish or chicken fingers
  • Doughnuts
  • Novelty foods include a deep-fried pickle or deep-fried ice cream

Instead of picking a high-fat cooking method, opt for a low-fat option instead. This includes air frying, baking, grilling, and roasting. 

Frozen Ready-to-Eat Products 

Heat and serve meals can be high in calories, fat, sodium, and even sugars (depending on the sauces used). You should keep your intake of these ultra-processed foods as low as possible.24Some common freezer food finds are:  

  • Pizza pockets or pizza roll ups
  • Frozen toaster pastries, like waffles and pancakes 
  • Frozen sweet and sour chicken meals and other similar options  
  • Frozen handheld foods such as burritos or calzones 

If you need to buy a frozen meal, read the food label (first). Try to pick an option that has the lowest levels of sugar, salt, and fat. Consider adding vegetables to the side of your dinner to increase the nutritional quality of the meal. 

Key Takeaways 

Prioritize high-fiber, low-glycemic, and unprocessed foods in your diet to help your metabolism thrive. To prevent getting bored, make it a priority to include a variety of options throughout the week. This will also help you meet your vitamin and mineral requirements. 

Some form of lean protein, like chicken or fish, should be incorporated into your meals. It can help keep you feeling fuller longer and can boost the speed of your metabolism. 

Focusing on your diet is a great place to start if you are trying to boost your metabolism. Approaching your metabolism through a holistic perspective can give you additional benefits. 

Consider adding more physical activity to your routine and prioritizing your hydration. Improving your sleeping habits and learning stress management techniques may also be beneficial. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep reading to learn about: </strong> <a href="/blog/how-to-approach-metabolic-health">Easy Ways to Approach Your Metabolic Health</a>.</p>

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References

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  2. Leidy, H. J., Clifton, P. M., Astrup, A., Wycherley, T. P., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., Woods, S. C., & Mattes, R. D. (2015). The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(6), 1320S-1329S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.084038 
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  11. Aktas, G., Alcelik, A., Yalcin, A., Karacay, S., Kurt, S., Akduman, M., & Savli, H. (2014). Treatment of iron deficiency anemia induces weight loss and improves metabolic parameters. La Clinica terapeutica, 165(2), e87–e89. https://doi.org/10.7471/CT.2014.1688 
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About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski Headshot
Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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