Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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A few more myths about metabolism


A little bit more on metabolism…

After writing my OptiMYz edits last week a friend alerted me to an article on their website listing 7 Easy Ways to Boost Your Metabolism. I just want to address a few of the claims the author (for whom I can find no online footprint, by the way) makes.

1. Weight lifting builds muscle and the more muscle, the more calories burned. Research found that those who did resistance training burned an extra 100 calories each day, whether they exercised or not. Strength training causes micro trauma to muscles, and your body will attempt to rebuild the tissue by burning protein and carbs.

Yes, exercise is probably one of the best ways to increase your metabolism. That being said, it’s pretty damn hard to increase your metabolism and the effects of increased muscle mass tend to be grossly overstated. As Tim Caulfield states in his excellent book The Cure for Everything: If you were to gain 10 lbs of muscle you would then burn an extra 60 calories a day. “In cookie terminology, that’s one Oreo. Live it up”.

3. Adding spice to meals can boosts your metabolism by 20% to 25%. Cinnamon, cayenne and mustard seed promotes fat burning and increased the effectiveness of your metabolism.

Again, adding spice to meals can boost your metabolism. However, the effects tend to be much less than this and quite short-lived. An article in the NY Times gets at the truth of this claim: “Generally, studies have shown that on average a meal containing a spicy dish, like a bowl of chili, can temporarily increase metabolism by about 8 percent over a person’s normal rate, an amount considered fairly negligible.”

7. The Yoga position ‘downward-facing dog’ gets your metabolism going. Those who participated in a 50 minute yoga session saw a drop in the stress hormone cortisol, known to block fat burning.

I suppose it’s plausible that yoga might reduce cortisol levels by alleviating stress. It’s highly unlikely that downward-facing dog is going to get your metabolism going. Yoga tends to burn very few calories.

All of these things are great for you and I don’t want to discourage anyone from lifting weights, doing yoga, or eating spicy foods; I certainly do all of these things (yoga less than the others because I find it simultaneously boring and hard). I just hate seeing false claims about huge metabolism-boosting effects.

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Dr Oz and banana leaf tea


Oh Dr Oz. Where do you come-up with these gems? I can’t find any research to support this statement. Even if it’s true that banana leaf tea has a metabolism-boosting effect, it’s more than likely that the effect is negligible.

Want to lose weight? Focus less on metabolism boosting gimmicks, and more on what and when you’re eating.

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How not to boost your metabolism

Thank goodness for Chatelaine and Dr Oz when I’m running low on ideas for the blog. A recent online article in Chatelaine boasted about how to boost your metabolism. Unfortunately, it’s not easy, nor even always possible, to “boost” your metabolism. The tips provided in the article certainly aren’t going to have much, if any, effect on your metabolism.

The first tip was to choose thermogenic foods. Thermogenesis is just heat production through food consumption. It accounts for very little caloric expenditure. The article suggests consuming more protein as it has the highest thermogenic effect of the macronutrients. However, this higher level of thermogenesis is already accounted for in determining the calories in protein-rich foods so unless you consume fewer overall calories you’re not going to see weight loss using this method. Indeed, the highest rates of thermogenesis are seen when large quantities of food are consumed in a sitting. Certainly not a great weight loss strategy. Now, there is a little truth in what they’re saying, protein is likely to provide greater satiety than carbohydrates. If you are looking to feel more satisfied you should ensure that you consume protein at all meals and snacks. Unfortunately, that’s not the point the article made. It’s bottom line was to consume more broccoli and spicy foods to increase thermogenesis.

The article makes two more good suggestions: One, going to the gym. Yes, this will burn more calories and may boost your metabolism. The problem is that most of us end-up over-compensating with the calories we consume after we exercise. Two, eating regularly. While I don’t think this actually has any effect on the thermogenic effect of food as they claim, it’s still good for you to eat regularly to avoid binges and unhealthy food choices.

Aside from these somewhat decent suggestions, the article appears to be pretty out to lunch. The author claims that we can boost our internal thermostats through consumption of certain thyroid boosting nutrients. While hypothyroidism can most definitely lead to weight gain only about 2% of all Canadians are affected by this condition (1). Also, as far as I’m aware, contrary to what the article claims, nutrient deficiency does not cause hypothyroidism (2).

The final point made in the article: keep your liver happy. Supposedly the liver burns more fat than your muscles. This is news to me. Yes, the liver plays a role in fat metabolism but it’s to produce bile which helps to digest fats (which actually increases their absorption) and to help with their transportation throughout the body (3). Poor liver function is actually one of the reasons that many alcoholics are deficient in the fat-soluble vitamins and can be quite thin. Yes, being kind to your liver by not consuming alcohol to excess is a great suggestion but not to boost your metabolism and the suggestions by the author to consume supplements such as milk thistle and artichoke extract are unlikely to have any benefit either to your liver health or to your metabolism.

As always, there are no magic tricks to reaching or maintaining a healthy weight.


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Will an evening snack make you fat?

A nutrition myth that I’ve been hearing a lot lately is the no eating after a certain time in the evening, usually 7:00 or 8:00. The common misconception is that anything you eat after a certain time is just going to turn into fat. This is absolutely not true. I think that the intentions behind this myth were well-meaning. However, the best intentions don’t necessarily have the best effect.


One reason I think that this myth was started was because it’s not ideal to eat right before you go to bed. When you’re asleep your digestive system slows down so it’s going to take longer to digest any food in your stomach. For those who suffer from gastric reflux, there’s also an increased risk of experiencing reflux if you eat too close to bedtime. The second reason that I think this myth was developed was that we tend to do most of our mindless eating in the evenings. Think about it, all day long you’re so good and then you get home from work, have supper, sit in front of the tv and start munching on chips or cookies. You’re tired and stressed and you’re much more likely to gravitate towards high calorie, low nutrient foods and to eat too much of them.


The problem with this well-intentioned myth is that if you’re eating supper at 6:00 and not going to bed until 11:00 or later, that’s a really long time to go without eating. It’s much better to have a planned snack in the evening than to go hungry or to start mindlessly snacking.


Choose healthy foods like fruit and low-fat yoghurt, a small bowl of cereal, or peanut butter and whole grain crackers. Even a planned indulgence is better than an unplanned over-indulgence.  If what you want is ice cream, go for a small bowl or have a portion-controlled selection like a skinny cow or tofuti-cutie. If what you want is chips have a small helping. Take your serving, put the bag away at the back of the cupboard, and then enjoy, or buy the mini 100-calorie bags.


If your body needs the calories, it needs the calories and it’s not going to automatically turn them into fat because you ate them after a certain time of day. If your body doesn’t need the calories, it doesn’t need the calories and it’s going to turn them into fat no matter what time of day they were eaten.