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Myth-busting metabolism

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May 27, 2024—When it comes to losing extra pounds or maintaining a healthy weight, metabolism—the process our bodies use to turn food into energy—is a popular topic. Unfortunately, there's a lot of inaccurate information about how it works. Here's the scoop behind three popular metabolism myths.

MYTH: Metabolisms start to slow in middle age.

A 2021 study in Science revealed a surprising truth: Once a person reaches their 20s, their metabolism stays constant until around age 60. After that, metabolic rate slows gradually—by about 0.7% each year.

Weight gain in your 40s or 50s typically can't be blamed on metabolism. Instead, it's often caused by a combination of factors. Changes in hormone levels can affect how you feel hunger and fullness. And changes in estrogen or testosterone can affect the way the body stores fat.

Changing body composition makes a difference too. Muscle burns more calories than fat. Stress and health problems, such as arthritis, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle can lead to less muscle.

What to do: Resistance training, like lunges, squats or weight lifting, can build or maintain muscle and help sustain a healthy weight.

MYTH: Meal timing can alter metabolism.

Think eating breakfast is going to jump-start your metabolism? Think again. Breakfast has its benefits. But it doesn’t affect how many calories you burn each day, reports the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

While eating late at night might seem like a bad idea, our bodies are still quite active during sleep. Plus, our bodies constantly switch between using or storing energy. So that pre-bed snack isn’t going to make a dramatic difference, according to the IFIC.

Small meals and snacks can help some people stick to a healthy diet. But that approach doesn't alter metabolism, says the IFIC. While it takes energy to process, utilize and store nutrients, six small meals require about the same energy to digest as three regular meals.

What to do: Whatever the timing of your meals, aim for healthy portions and a balanced diet.

MYTH: Certain foods can increase your metabolism.

This metabolism myth does contain a grain of truth: Some studies have found that certain foods and drinks, such as green tea or hot peppers, may temporarily boost metabolism. Other studies have been inconclusive.

But according to the IFIC and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, any boost is small—and short-lived. For a more effective approach, aim for an overall healthy eating pattern. Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables can help you feel full longer, while healthy protein can help you build and maintain muscle mass—which can give your metabolism a natural boost.

What to do: Choose a variety of healthy foods—which can include spicy peppers and green tea, if you prefer.

Uncover the truth about weight gain

Maintaining a healthy weight in middle age can be a challenge. Knowing the common causes of weight gain may help you counter them—and that can help you stay healthy.


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