Your overall health depends greatly on your metabolic health. But what does it mean to be metabolically healthy?
Well, researchers define metabolic health as having an optimal waist circumference, and levels of blood glucose/hemoglobin, triglycerides, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol. These factors mean your body’s metabolism is doing a great job and this lowers your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
While gentenetics certainly play a role in metabolic health, your habits can increase your risk of developing poor metabolic health. If you think you’re at risk of metabolic problems or are already diagnosed with a metabolic disorder, consider adopting these 7 healthy habits that are proven to enhance metabolic functioning.
A diet based on ultra-processed, high-calorie, and nutrient-poor foods is bound to ruin your metabolic health.
On the other hand, clean eating is likely to do the exact opposite. As one study discovered, your odds of being metabolically healthy drops by 14% when eating a diet based on refined and processed food, while odds of being metabolically healthy rise by 16% when eating clean. But what does clean eating mean?
Clean eating entails many different things, but generally refers to eating a diet based on the following:
Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and organic animal products are examples of real foods. Ultra-processed foods like instant noodles, frozen yogurt, french fries, wieners, and candy can be considered “fake foods.” The latter raise blood glucose and bad cholesterol quickly while also being high in calories.
Nutrient dense foods are defined as foods that are dense in nutrients but low in calories. Examples include broccoli, kale, asparagus, tomatoes, lean meats, nuts, seeds, and berries.
Research shows that plant-based diets reduce a person’s risk of certain metabolic diseases by 30-40%. These diets are defined as being largely based on plant foods, but they may also involve a low intake of animal products.
Eating Enough Fiber
When you eat a clean, plant-based diet, your fiber intake also goes up. Still, it’s really important to pay special attention to this often-overlooked nutrient. Fiber refers to indigestible carbohydrates, which can be soluble or insoluble. Both types are found only in unrefined plant foods like whole grains, leafy greens, and nuts and seeds.
Population and clinical studies show that the higher the fiber intake, the lower the risk of metabolic diseases. That’s because fiber slows down digestion, lowers the absorption of fats, helps create a more gradual release in blood glucose, improves gut bacteria balance, and supports the immune system, among many other things.
To ensure your diet is rich in fiber, try eating at least 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables each day. Another important thing with fiber intake is to balance it out with your intake of fluids. Some types of fiber absorb water in your digestive system, and without enough water, this type of fiber can worsen constipation.
The second biggest risk for poor metabolic health is inactivity. Research done in bed rest patients found that inactivity breaks down muscle tissue. But not only that, it also leads to insulin resistance and even to the development of the metabolic syndrome.
If you are living a relatively active lifestyle or your work requires that you move a lot, you may not be at risk of these metabolic problems. But if you’re sedentary or have a desk job, then it would be a good idea to develop an exercising routine.
The National Health Service (NHS) recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly as well as strength exercises for 2 days a week. Moderate aerobic activity includes things like running, pushing a lawnmower, bike riding, etc. Strength exercises include weight lifting, push-ups, and some yoga poses. You need to do both types of workouts for the best metabolic outcomes.
Skipping meals here and there can also work wonders on your metabolism. More specifically, practicing intermittent fasting can help improve your metabolic health according to a growing body of research. This type of fasting involves periods of meal skipping (usually 8-16 hours) followed by periods of feeding (4-8 hours). It is often practiced alongside diets like the ketogenic diet, but many practice it with their standard diet.
But if you really want to get the metabolic benefits of fasting, consider a method called “early time-restricted feeding.” This method involves fitting all your meals for the day into an early eight-hour period (7 am to 3 pm).
A recent study in obese subjects compared this method to a different fasting regime and found that it worked to dramatically lower insulin levels, significantly improve insulin sensitivity, and lower blood pressure. And what’s best is that the study subject had decreased hunger by the end of the study.
Getting Enough Sleep
While this one may sound cliche, it really is important to get enough quality sleep, especially for metabolic health. Many important hormonal and metabolic processes take place while you sleep. Consequently, insomnia and other sleep disorders cause metabolic dysregulation through pathways that involve whole-body overstimulation, hormonal imbalances, and low-grade inflammation.
Ideally, you should be getting around 8 hours of sleep each day. If you feel refreshed and energized after waking up, that’s a good indicator you’re getting enough quality sleep. If you feel tired and drowsy, it could mean you’re not sleeping enough or that the sleep you are getting is disrupted. Sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, and sleepwalking can all disrupt normal sleep.
If you don’t suffer a specific sleep disorder, but rather have poor sleep hygiene, there are things you could do to improve sleep quality:
- Cool down your bedroom
- Avoid late-night screen time
- Use earplugs if living in a noisy environment
- Have camomile tea or a high-carb food before bedtime
- Exercise in the afternoon
Probiotics commonly refer to lactic acid bacteria found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso. Eating these foods increases the levels of probiotic bacteria in your gut, and these bacteria then help balance out digestion and enhance immunity. Ultimately, they are proven to enhance metabolic health.
For example, probiotics decrease the absorption of cholesterol by reducing bile salts in the intestines. Furthermore, Bifidobacteria (another type of probiotic) can reduce endotoxin levels in the gut, in this way reducing whole-body inflammation, which helps lower diabetes risk. And, of course, probiotics are known to improve digestion, which is also central to normal metabolic health.
To get the metabolic benefits of probiotics, it’s a good idea to include them into your daily diet. Try getting them from several different sources and combine your intake of probiotics with prebiotics (fermentable fibers).
Being metabolically healthy is the cornerstone of great over health. If you suffer any metabolic problem, it will disrupt other aspects of your health and cascade from there on. For example, having insulin resistance puts you at risk of diabetes, and diabetes puts you at risk of kidney disease, amputation, vision loss, and other problems.
Luckily, you can take charge of your metabolic health by forming the right diet and lifestyle habits. While there are many things that play part in metabolic health, the 7 covered here are among the most prominent. Try incorporating each of these simple habits into your daily life and your chances of staying in optimal metabolic health throughout life will definitely improve.