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Metabolism 101

Published:Wednesday | March 31, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Charlyn Fargo, Contributor

Is it really a slow metabolism that causes some people to gain weight and others to have a hard time losing weight? Can you really speed up your metabolism? Environmental Nutrition's latest newsletter and Healthy Cooking Magazine offer some insight.

Metabolism refers to the way the body uses energy, which is measured in calories. The body needs calories to sustain vital body functions, physical activity and for digestion and absorption of food. Sustaining vital body functions accounts for up to 75 per cent of the calories burned daily. And, yes, it does vary depending on the person. Some lucky people really do have a higher metabolic rate than others and burn more calories while doing nothing. Having said that, there's plenty you can do to help your body burn more calories.

Exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly burn more calories and have more muscle mass than those who are less active. While there is controversy as to whether there is an 'after-burn' effect where calories continue to be burned after exercise is finished, there's no doubt that exercising burns calories and builds muscle and that muscle increases metabolism.

Get enough sleep. How long you sleep affects hormones that regulate appetite and body weight. Seven or eight hours of sleep is needed to regulate the appetite-regulating hormones.

Eat less. It is still true that calories count. To lose a pound a week, you need to consume 500 fewer calories a day for a total of 3,500 calories.

Eat breakfast to wake up your metabolism after a night's sleep. Breakfast gives you energy and helps prevent overeating at lunch.

Fill up on fruits and veggies. Grab a carrot or banana for a quick snack.

Make it at home. Being your own chef allows you to control everything from ingredients to portions.

Add seafood to your diet. It's often lighter in calories and has a beneficial effect on heart health.

Source: Environmental Nutrition Newsletter and Healthy Cooking Magazine

High-fibre diets and belly fat

Q. Is it true that high-fibre diets reduce belly fat?

A. Eating plenty of high-fibre vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans may help avoid excess body fat, including belly fat, but research has not yet clearly shown whether all methods of increasing dietary fibre (including fibre supplements) necessarily reduce abdominal fat.

Waistline fat includes fat deposited just under the skin and visceral fat that nestles deep around abdominal organs, which seems most strongly related to risks for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. People who eat more whole grains are more likely to have a healthy weight and waistline, compared to those with diets high in refined grains.

Some studies also link eating more refined grains (like white bread) with greater yearly increases in weight and waist. Replacing refined grains and sweets with whole grains could lead to smaller surges in blood sugar and reduced insulin levels. In theory, these lower insulin levels could shift metabolic processes to favour fat burning instead of fat storage, but research has not yet proven such an effect

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at