You’ve probably heard the terms “slow metabolism” and “fast metabolism” thrown around in online health and weight loss spaces. But what exactly do those terms mean?
Well, slow and fast isn’t quite the best way to describe metabolic health. However, your metabolic health is still really, really important.
In this article, we’ll define metabolic health and discuss the best foods and diets for metabolic wellness, and the foods you should avoid. Let’s go!
What Is Metabolic Health?
Metabolic health, in general terms, is all about how your body transforms the food you eat into energy.
When you eat, your blood sugar rises, and the hormone insulin is released by the pancreas to move this sugar into your cells. Some of this sugar is consumed immediately as energy. When there is excess sugar, though, it is stored as body fat.[*]
If you’re not metabolically healthy, your body may be insulin resistant — so your blood sugar levels stay higher, and your body releases more insulin to compensate. The end result is higher blood sugar levels and higher insulin levels.[*]
Insulin resistance often goes hand-in-hand with chronic inflammation, which may lead to further health problems — like poor heart health.[*]
Cardiometabolic health refers to your metabolic health and your heart health but is often used interchangeably with the term metabolic health.
Why Is It Important?
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that indicate poor metabolic health. If you meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome, you may be at an increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, and more.
To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you must meet 3 of these 5 criteria[*]:
- A waist of 35+ inches for women or 40+ inches for men
- A triglyceride level of at least 150 mg/dL
- A low HDL cholesterol level of less than 50 mg/dL for women or less than 40 mg/dL for men
- Blood pressure at or above 130/85
- Fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL or higher
Note: these are the guidelines for metabolic syndrome in the U.S., but the criteria in your country may differ slightly.
Any of the criteria on this list can serve as a sign that your metabolic health may not be optimal. However, if you meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome, it’s a good idea to start trying to reverse these health issues before they develop into something more severe.
What Foods Support Metabolic Health?
The best foods for metabolic health are whole and minimally processed. Nearly any food that fits these criteria can be good for metabolic health — including meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, herbs and spices, and even some legumes and grains if you’re not sensitive to them.
This is why there are so many different diets that promote health for many different people across the world. From the almost exclusively carnivore diet of the Maasai people in Kenya and Tanzania to the almost exclusively vegetarian diet of Okinawans, the common factor is that these diets are composed of whole, minimally processed foods.[*][*]
However, some specific foods are particularly noteworthy. Here are our top 10 picks for the best foods for metabolic health.
Top 10 Foods for Metabolic Health
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat, fiber, and potassium — making them a triple-threat when it comes to metabolic health. The monounsaturated fat (the same type found in olive oil) may promote heart health, the fiber offers a number of weight and heart health benefits, and the potassium can help to regulate blood pressure.[*][*][*]
2. Olive Oil
Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that may help improve your heart health. Olive oil is thought to be one of the major beneficial components of the Mediterranean diet.[*]
Salmon is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are vital for heart health, brain health, and regulating inflammation in the body.[*]
Berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are low in sugar and rich in antioxidants, which may help combat cellular damage that can contribute to metabolic disease. They also contain some fiber.[*]
5. Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens are low in calories and carbs and provide some fiber. They’re also rich in micronutrients and antioxidants, which help optimize cellular functioning to keep your body metabolically healthy.[*]
Egg yolks contain choline, an essential nutrient many people don’t get enough of. Choline is necessary for your body to complete several metabolic processes and plays a key role in forming cell membranes and neurotransmitters.[*][*] Eggs also contain high-quality protein and disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin.
7. Almonds and Other Tree Nuts
Almonds and other tree nuts, like walnuts and pecans, are rich in fiber, fat, and protein — making them a balanced choice for snacking. Almonds in particular, have also been linked to improvements in metabolic health.[*]
8. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut contain live bacteria called probiotics. After you eat fermented foods, these probiotics can take up residence in your gut and help promote a healthy gut microbiome — which may, in turn, promote metabolic health.[*]
9. Green Tea or Coffee
In addition to energizing caffeine, green tea and coffee contain antioxidants and phytochemicals (plant compounds) that may help promote cellular health. For example, coffee contains chlorogenic acid, and green tea contains epigallocatechin-gallate (EGCG).[*]
10. Grass-Fed Beef
Grass-fed cows consume a more natural diet than their conventional counterparts, that are grain-fed, and generally have leaner meat that also contains a higher level of omega-3 fats.[*]
Foods to Avoid for Metabolic Health
On the other hand, there are some foods you may want to avoid or limit as much as possible for optimal metabolic health. These include:
- Processed snacks: Ultraprocessed foods — think chips, crackers, cookies, and boxed meals — have been linked to weight gain and metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease,[*] and maybe even Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Sugary drinks: Sugary sodas are thought to be major contributors to increasing rates of obesity and chronic disease.[*]
- Sweets: Likewise, sweets like candy, snack cakes, and ice cream may cause the same issues due to their high sugar content.[*]
- Refined seed oils: Refined seed oils like soybean oil, corn oil, and canola oil are highly processed and have been linked to heart disease and weight gain.[*][*]
- Refined grains: Refined grains like white pasta and white bread may not taste sweet, but they break down in the body and behave nearly identically to table sugar.[*]
Best Diets for Metabolic Health
So, how can you put all of this together to eat in a way that’s metabolically healthy? Here are four diets that have been studied for their potential metabolic health benefits.
Keto is low in carbs and high in fat, with a typical macro breakdown of 5% carbs, 20-25% protein, and 70-75% fat.
The goal of Keto is to get you into a metabolic state called ketosis, where you’re burning fat for fuel rather than carbs. In ketosis, many people find it much easier to lose weight because they are much less hungry. Additionally, it reduces insulin levels, making it easier to burn stored body fat and helping to improve your blood sugar levels. People on Keto have also reported improvements in blood pressure and triglycerides, so it may help improve metabolic health in a number of ways.[*][*]
Low-carb diets are less restrictive than Keto, allowing you to eat up to 26% of your calories from carbs each day. However, with higher carb levels, you won’t enter ketosis and may not achieve all the potential benefits it offers.[*]
Regardless, low-carb diets offer a number of promising benefits — including weight loss, improved insulin resistance, lower triglycerides, and reduced blood pressure.[*]
Paleo is a dietary pattern based on what our Paleolithic ancestors likely ate. It’s high in protein, moderate in fat, and relatively low in carbs. On Paleo, you avoid added sugars and processed foods, as well as grains, legumes, soy, and dairy.
Many people have found success with the Paleo diet for improving their overall health, and researchers have found that the diet may help improve weight, blood sugar levels, and heart health.[*][*][*]
The Mediterranean diet has been heavily researched and shown to be very beneficial for metabolic health. It’s based on the traditional diet eaten in Mediterranean countries and is rich in olive oil, lean meats, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.[*]
The Mediterranean diet is often higher in carbs than Paleo, Low Carb, or Keto, so it’s a good choice if you have trouble avoiding sugary fruits or whole grains. It is also frequently combined with other diets, such as a “modified ketogenic Mediterranean diet.”
Researchers have found that the Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.[*]
If you realize you may not be metabolically healthy, it could be time to make some changes to optimize your health moving forward. Whether you’re curious about Paleo, Keto, Low Carb, or Mediterranean, Carb Manager has the resources you need — like meal planning tools, helpful articles and guides, recipes, and a huge catalog of nutrition information.
As always, be sure to work with your health care practitioner on any dietary and lifestyle changes if you have been diagnosed with or are concerned about a serious health condition.
FabulousRadish574906 a month ago
This has helped me realize that i can switch to a more Mediterranean Diet with moderate low carb. My LDL level rose on Keto for the first time in lifetime as shown in my last comprehensive blood tests, so I need to lower saturated fat and up my fiber intake and nutrition through whole grains, beans/legumes, and more fruits. I love Carb Manager for everything: meal planning, macros/fiber/calories, great recipes, ability to amend CM recipes to fit me, importing or creating other recipes, nutrition tracking, exercise . No other app that I've explored offers all these features. I love CM!
Walton sue 2 months ago
I have had my thyroid gland removed and rely on thyroxine to regulate my metabolism. Is it possible doing Keto and intermittent fasting won’t have any effect on my metabolism?
Amber413 16 days ago
I'm also on levothyroxine and keto has been working well for me. The intermittent fasting was not as effective as regular keto.
Swinginamiss 4 months ago
Very informative, the more knowledge I gain the easier it is for me and my hubby to stay in the Keto way of eating for the long haul.
Sissypom 5 months ago
Loved this article. With Keto it is easy to consume those top 10 foods that are recommended for metabolic health and avoid the foods that are unhealthy. Keto diet has been the best decision for our health.
Janegj 5 months ago
I found helpful. Liked the charts that guide what can be helpful for those metabollically challenged...what to eat & not eat. Thank you. Of course some will find nothing new. One can not help everyone. Of course individuals may be different & must do hopefully with their trusted mentor or health professional's advice what is right for them. But I think article was very good. As far as grass fed beef being too expensive. Surprisingly everything is now with inflation. But at stores I frequent can find sirloin as cheap or same as Laura's grass fed beef . Due to dates expiring soon prices slashed. Not all time. Petes market & Aldi.
SuperKetone703658 8 months ago
This very interesting and informative. Thanks 😊
Lviets 10 months ago
Not much new is said in this article and it doesn't have much in the way of specific details to be very helpful. I wish to point out that the superiority of grassfed beef to regular beef has not been scientifically proven or validated, and I am apt not to trust professionals who use their academic credentials to suggest that it is so. The cost is prohibitive and it's an option for mostly only wealthy dieters. I personally have gained weight on a Mediterranean diet, perhaps because the carbs were too high for my insulin-resistant sick metabolism. Haven't tried Carnivore, but think it might help with Insulin issues. My greatest success has been with a keto HFLC lifestyle with a slow weight loss; I keep to HFLC but have periods of time where my caloric intake exceeds BMR needs and I gain weight. Keeping my carbs low seems to help with dropping my FBS and A1c, as do various IF regimens. After 2 years of basically HFLC I believe my Insulin resistance is improving, and my A1c is down to 5.3; I am not misled by this metric, however, as, while it is in normal range, it still denotes a cardiac risk MUCH greater than that for metabolically healthy people (whose A1c's can be 4.5 and lower). My goal is to get my fasting sugars below 85 and my A1c down to 4.5: and I would certainly want my healthcare team to push for that. This MY 2 cents worth, what works for me, what I wish to share in the hope that it will help someone. The article is a decent place to start your inquiry.
Jeannie72 10 months ago
Very helpful, Great article to help us stay motivated!!
Katedinella1 10 months ago
Very helpful and educated me a bunch!
Maganda2022 10 months ago
Helpful tips. Thank you!
MirthfulKale439887 10 months ago
Great overview - thank you1
laughing tern 10 months ago
Is 12% carbs high or low?
Rosie 10 months ago
I met the criteria for every metabolic syndrome listed. I am sad and glad at the same time. Sad that I am in this situation. Glad and thankful that I read this article. It was like a good swift kick in the butt. I really needed this article today. Day 3 of trying to go KETO. It's a learning curve, but I can do this!
Skip 5 months ago
Hi Rosie, I have been on keto for 3 years now, except when I have fallen off the wagon more than a few times. The longer you on it the less hungry you are and the easier it is to stay on it. Been able to shed over 60 pounds. At first I thought this was a diet, however now I k ow it is a lifestyle change for the better. Lean into it and keep going. Skip
agentskelly 10 months ago
Yes you can. The thing to remember is, if you fall off that Kerp wagon one day, don’t despair, just start over agin next day. Keeping track everyday in this app and buying proper foods so it’s all you have in the house is the other. It’s a slow and steady progression. I started end of May, it took about a month to get into ketosis and so far am down 28lbs. And it’s gotten easier as I go, cuz I can see all the delicious foods, and deserts to make it all work. YES YOU CAN!
Lviets 10 months ago
Rosie, do not despair or ever give up. I am 77 yo and have been metabolically impaired for most of my prediabetic life. Insulin Resistance has been HARD to work on, but finally, after two years of abandoning carbohydrates, my blood sugars are in a normal healthy range that no longer suggests prediabetes, You must be persistent in setting lifelong goals and willing to accept that even when you are meticulous about following expert advice you may not achieve the promised results. Commitment is the key to success and education is the way forward. And mistakes are the way we learn.
RemarkableRadish884369 10 months ago
It’s works to stay at a low carb
Lviets 10 months ago
Yes, it does.
Nency 10 months ago
It seems that KETO is not helping
UpbeatKetone509124 10 months ago
FYI, I’m not a dr or nutritionist just try to help out from what I have learned over the years from podcasts
UpbeatKetone509124 10 months ago
Try lowering your fat and eat your goal weight in protein. Ex. Goal 130lbs eat 130g of lean protein. Keep fat lower then your normal so your body can burn the 600 calories of energy from body fat not food fat
Sandraqx10 a year ago
Great summary, ❤️❤️❤️
Jenny a year ago
Nannyporro a year ago
Extremely informative and helpful. Thank you.