The Best Foods to Slow Your Metabolism

The largest component of our daily energy budget is resting metabolic rate. As I discuss in my video Slowing Our Metabolism with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables, the direct effects of physical activity are relatively small compared to how many calories we expend just living and breathing. Now, during something like training for the US Army’s Special Ops or climbing a four-mile-high mountain, we may burn 4,000 calories a day. For most people, however, the calories we burn just lying around existing exceeds normal physical activities. Thus, our resting metabolic rate can have implications for controlling our weight.

Researchers have shown that dietary nitrate found in beets and green leafy vegetables improves the efficiency of the little power plants within our cells, boosting athletic performance by extracting more energy from every breath. So, if we eat a lot of vegetables, might it slow our metabolism since our body can function so much more efficiently with the calories we give it?

Indeed, researchers found that after giving people a dose of nitrate equivalent to a few servings of spinach or beets, their resting metabolic rates slowed on average about 4 percent. That’s nearly a hundred calories a day. If our bodies burned that many fewer calories each yet we didn’t eat any less, couldn’t we could put on a few pounds? Of course, green leafy vegetables may be the healthiest food on the planet, so we shouldn’t decrease our greens intake to try to control our weight. What’s going on? Researchers think perhaps it was a way our body evolved to use vegetables to help preserve energy during lean times in our ancient past. That is, slowing our metabolism may have benefits for our longevity.

What else similarly slows our metabolism? Caloric restriction, such as eating every other day. This may be one reason why caloric restriction is associated with a longer lifespan in many animals. Maybe like a candle, burning with a smaller flame allows us to last longer. It’s hard to walk around starving all the time, but it’s easy to replicate that same metabolic benefit by eating a big salad every day.

This may be why eating leafy green vegetables is among the six most powerful things we can do to live longer, along with not smoking, not drinking heavily, walking at least an hour a day, getting seven hours of sleep a day, and achieving an ideal weight. Doing even just one of these six may cut our risk of premature death by around 20 to 25 percent.


What’s that about boosting athletic performance? See:

Don’t want to carry beets out onto the track with you? Try fennel seeds: Fennel Seeds to Improve Athletic Performance.

What else can greens do? Check out How to Regenerate Coenzyme Q10 Naturally.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

How to Reverse Type 2 Diabetes

 

Diabetes reversal, not just treatment, should be a goal in the management of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can be reversed not only with an extremely low calorie diet, but it can  also be reversed with an extremely healthy diet. Could it be because an extremely healthy diet is also low in calories? This is the topic of my video Diabetes Reversal: Is It the Calories or the Food 

Study subjects lost as much weight on a green, leafy vegetable-packed plant-based diet as those who were on a semi-starvation diet based on liquid meal replacements. So, does it matter what we’re eating as long as we’re eating few enough calories to lose 15 pounds a month?

Even if diabetes reversal is just about calorie restriction, instead of subsisting off largely sugar, powdered milk, corn syrup, and oil (common ingredients in some liquid diet drinks) on the plant-based diet at least one can real food—in fact, as many low-cal veggies as desired. So, even if it only works because it’s just another type of calorie-restricted diet, it’s certainly a healthier version. But, even participants in the study who did not lose weight—or even gained weight eating enormous quantities of whole healthy plant foods—appeared to improve their diabetes. Thus, the beneficial effects of this kind of diet appear to extend beyond weight loss.

The successful treatment of type 2 diabetes with a plant-based diet goes back to the 1930s, providing “incontestable evidence” that a diet centered around vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans was more effective in controlling diabetes than any other dietary treatment. In a randomized controlled trial, insulin needs were cut in half and a quarter of the subjects ended up off insulin altogether. But, again, this was a low-calorie diet. Walter Kempner at Duke University School of Medicine reported similar results 20 years later with his rice and fruit diet studies, showing for the first time documented reversal of diabetic retinopathy in a quarter of his patients, something never even thought possible. One patient, for example, was a 60-year-old diabetic woman already blind in one eye and who could only see contours of large objects with the other. Five years later, while on the diet, instead of her vision getting worse, it got better. She “could make out faces and read signs and large newspaper print,” and got off insulin, had normal blood sugars, and had a 100-point drop in her cholesterol. Another patient went from only being able to read big headlines to being able to read newsprint four months later. What was behind these remarkable reversals? Was it because the diet was extremely low-fat or because there was no animal protein or animal fat? Or, was it because the diet was so restrictive and monotonous that the patients lost weight and improved their diabetes that way?

To tease this out, we needed a study where researchers switched people to a healthy diet, but forced them to eat so much they didn’t lose any weight. Then, we could see if a plant-based diet has unique benefits independent of all the weight loss. For that, we had to wait another 20 years until a study in the 1970s. In it, diets were designed to be weight-maintaining. Participants were weighed every day, and, if they started losing weight, the researchers made them eat more food—in fact, so much food that some of the participants had trouble eating it all, but they eventually adapted. Thus, there were no significant alterations in body weight despite restrictions of meat, dairy, eggs and processed junk, and there were enough whole plant foods—whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit—to provide 65 grams of fiber a day, four times what the Standard American Diet provides.

The control diet they used was the conventional diabetic diet, which actually had nearly twice the fiber content of the Standard American Diet, so it was probably healthier than what they had been used to eating. So, how did the even healthier diet group do? With zero weight loss, did the dietary intervention still help? The study compared the number of units of insulin with which subjects had to inject themselves daily before and after going on the plant-based diet. Overall, despite no change in weight, insulin requirements were cut about 60 percent, and half of the diabetics  were able to get off insulin altogether. Was this after five years, or after seven months, as had been the case in the other studies discussed above? No.

It was after 16 days.

To be clear, we’re talking about diabetics who had had diabetes as long as 20 years, injecting 20 units of insulin a day, getting off insulin altogether in as few as 13 days, thanks to less than two weeks on a plant-based diet. Patient 15, for example, had injected 32 units of insulin while on the control diet, and then, 18 days later, none. Lower blood sugars on 32 units less insulin.

That’s the power of plants.

As a bonus, their cholesterol dropped like a rock to under 150 on average in 16 days, making them nearly heart attack proof as well. Just as “moderate changes in diet usually result in only modest reductions” in cholesterol, asking people with diabetes to make moderate changes often achieves equally moderate results, which is one possible reason why most end up on oral drugs, injections, or both. Everything in moderation may be a truer statement than people realize. Moderate changes in diet can leave one with moderate blindness, moderate kidney failure, moderate amputations. Moderation in all things is not necessarily a good thing.

The more we, as physicians, ask from our patients, the more we—and they—get. The old adage, “shoot for the moon,” seems to apply. It “may be more effective than limiting patients to small steps that may sound more manageable but are not sufficient to actually prevent disease progression.”


Although I have dozens of videos about diabetes, I think Diabetes Reversal: Is It the Calories or the Food may be the single most powerful one I‘ve made. Please share this life-changing, life-saving video with anyone you know who has type 2 diabetes or is at risk for the dreaded disease. As far as I’m concerned, it should be required viewing for every healthcare practitioner. I wish I had seen it when I was a medical student!

If these kinds of videos have benefited you or your loved ones, please consider becoming a monthly supporter.

This is the final installment of a three-part series. If you missed the first two, check out Reversing Diabetes with Surgery and Reversing Diabetes with Food.

For more on the remarkable work of Dr. Kempner, see:

For more related videos, give one of these a try!

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

A Super Healthy Plant-Based Diet vs. Diabetes

We’ve known that type 2 diabetes could be reversed by an extreme reduction in food intake for nearly a century and a half, since the 1870 siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. This has been demonstrated experimentally. By starving people enough, you can reverse diabetes. Diabetes specialists “have long known that the tiny proportion of iron-willed people [with diabetes] who can substantially decrease their weight and maintain this, can exhibit a return to normal metabolism.”

“A label is required to allow doctors to recognize and appropriately manage this subgroup who were willing to do anything to get rid of their diabetes. These are the Health Motivated. At the time of diagnosis, the Health-Motivated individuals will benefit from being advised that they are likely to be able to reverse their diabetes completely” by losing up to one-fifth of their body weight. And then—and only then—if they “show that they are not sufficiently strongly motivated should the routine guidelines for managing Type 2 diabetes be rolled out,” which include lots of drugs. Unfortunately, the control of blood sugar with medication has proven to be unsustainable and may actually exacerbate obesity, making us put on more weight and, thus, creating a vicious cycle.

There has got to be a better way.

Instead of starving oneself by eating less food, what if we just ate better food? What if we ate a diet that emphasizes all-you-can-eat greens, lots of vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and some whole grains, and is at least 90 percent plant-based? This would be a diet including at least one big salad every day (like a pound of raw greens), veggie-bean soup, a handful of nuts and seeds, fruit at every meal, a pound of cooked greens, and some whole grains, but no refined grains, junk food, or oil, and a restriction on animal products. Thirteen diabetic men and women followed this diet for an average of seven months.

How did they do?

Hemoglobin A1C is considered the best measure of blood sugar control. Below six is normal—that is, non-diabetic. The official American Diabetes Association target, however, is to get diabetics at least down to seven. Anything above seven is uncontrolled diabetes. In my video Reversing Diabetes with Food, you can see a stunning chart that plots how the study participants’ hemoglobin A1C levels responded over time after they start plowing in the plants. All subjects had had diabetes for at least seven years, and they started off with hemoglobin A1C levels ranging from as low as 6 to as high as 12. After they began following the plant-heavy diet,  their levels consistently dropped, month after month. After about seven months, their average A1C dropped from a diabetic 8.2 down to a non-diabetic 5.8. The majority dropped down to normal, and this is after dropping most of their medications.

Now, this was a pilot study with only a handful of people, no control group, and including only people who could actually stick to the diet—essentially, a retrospective case series, considered one of the weakest forms of published evidence. However, the magnitude of the effect they found indicates that a high nutrient-density diet can be very effective for some people.


In Reversing Diabetes with Surgery, another one of my videos, I discussed how type 2 diabetes can be reversed with an extremely low-calorie diet. And, as I’ve just shown, type 2 diabetes can also be reversed with an extremely healthy diet—but is that because it is also low in calories? That’s the million-dollar question I answer in Diabetes Reversal: Is It the Calories or the Food?.

You may be aware that I’ve touched previously on the ability of healthy diets to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. (See Plant-Based Diets and Diabetes and Plant-Based Diets for Diabetes if you haven’t yet watched those videos or want a refresher.) It’s so exciting to be plugging in the final puzzle pieces.

What about the benefits of blood sugar medications and more moderate diets? I discuss that topic in When Drugs and Diets Don’t Lower Diabetes Deaths.

Other videos of interest include:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: