The number of calories you need to survive and thrive depends on much more than you might think. Age, gender, muscle mass, activity level, and stress levels can make your metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories) soar or stall.
While some people seem blessed with a fast and active metabolism, eating whatever they want without gaining an ounce, not everyone has this natural superpower. If all you have to do is look at a slice of pizza to gain weight, there’s good news—you may be able to speed up your metabolism by adding more of the right foods to your diet.
RELATED: 26 Worst Habits Slowing Your Metabolism, Says Science
Certain foods, especially leafy greens, have the right combination of nutrients to help increase your metabolism. And the only work involved is finding tasty ways to enjoy them! Leafy greens’ secret energy-burning power comes from their high levels of iron and magnesium. Spinach is a delicious and versatile leafy green that’s high in iron and magnesium, whether you enjoy it raw or cooked, two nutrients linked to a healthy metabolism.
One cup of cooked spinach has 36% of the daily value (DV) for iron and 37% of the DV for magnesium. If you’d rather enjoy your spinach raw, two cups will give you 9% of the DV for iron and 11% of the DV for magnesium.
How foods high in iron and magnesium affect metabolism and weight loss
Iron is essential to several reactions in the body affecting energy metabolism. If you’ve ever had low iron levels, you most likely felt sluggish and tired most of the time. One of the ways low iron levels can work against you is by interfering with the metabolism-boosting effects of your thyroid hormones. This leads to a lack of appetite and a lack of energy.
In one study, researchers in Turkey treated 21 women with iron deficiency anemia. After six months, the women had significant reductions in weight and BMI, suggesting that treating low iron levels may increase the metabolic rate. The study was small and more research is needed to determine the relationship between iron levels and weight loss.
Along with increasing the number of calories your body burns, treating an iron deficiency can also increase your hunger levels—which in some cases may also lead to weight gain.
Magnesium is a mineral essential to energy production and metabolism; without enough of it, your body can’t effectively turn the food you eat into energy (calories burned).
It’s estimated that up to half of the U.S. population has insufficient intakes of magnesium. A 2014 meta-analysis found an inverse relationship between magnesium intake and metabolic syndrome (the combination of metabolism-related diseases such as high cholesterol, hypertension, insulin resistance, and obesity). The more magnesium people ate, the less likely they were to have metabolic syndrome.
Ways to eat more metabolism-boosting spinach
Try it in our Spaghetti Squash Spinach Lasagna, add to a fruit smoothie, sneak into these Honey Miso Salmon and Spinach Burgers, swap spinach for basil in homemade pesto, or add a handful to an egg scramble.
Kelsey Lorencz, RDN
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