Metabolism Myths

By Charlyn Fargo

May 19, 2017 6 min read

Why can one person eat like a growing teenager and not gain a pound, while another person's every indulgence shows up on the scale? Chalk it up to individual differences in metabolism, muscle mass and physical activity. Metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert what we eat into the energy we need to survive and function. It powers everything from breathing to blinking. A fast metabolism is like a hot furnace that burns through fuel (calories) quickly. A slow metabolism needs less fuel to keep a body running. It's tempting to throw up our hands and blame weight issues on a slow metabolism, but there are ways to support metabolism and maintain a healthy weight.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers four myths surround metabolism.

—Our metabolic rates can't change. While it's true that genetics help determine our metabolic rates, we can boost metabolism by increasing lean muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories per hour than fat, which means that people with lean, muscular bodies need more calories to function than people with a higher percentage of body fat. Our muscle mass decreases as we age, and this contributes to a slower metabolic rate. But you can counteract this process by picking up the weights to help lessen this decline.

—A diet of green tea and chili peppers will boost metabolism. There is no magic food to speed up metabolism. Some studies have shown that green tea and hot chilies temporarily boost metabolic rates, but the lift isn't enough to offset eating too many calories. The path to healthy weight loss is through portion control and a balanced diet filled with nutrient-rich foods, not through a diet doused in chili peppers.

—Eating late at night slows metabolism. It's the extra calories that cause weight gain. There is little evidence to support the fact that eating after 8 p.m. causes weight gain. However, you may be more likely to snack mindlessly in the evenings while watching television. Calories in these snacks add up, and that can cause weight gain.

—Very low calorie diets and skipping meals can jumpstart weight loss. Weight loss is all about creating an energy deficit; but creating too large of a calorie deficit can backfire. Our bodies are smart and programmed for survival. Severely limiting calories can make your body think it's entering a famine, and that it needs to do more with fewer calories. When that happens our bodies adapt to the restricted caloric intake, and uses fewer calories to perform the same tasks.

Q and A

Q. How much calcium can I absorb at one time from a supplement?

A. For maximum absorption of calcium from supplements, no more than 500 to 600 milligrams of elemental calcium should be taken as a single dose, according to Tufts University Health & Wellness Letter. For the few people who require more than 500 to 600 mg of calcium in supplement form, the dose should be split. For best absorption, calcium carbonate should be taken with meals. Calcium citrate may be taken anytime. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium is 1,000 mg for men and 1,200 mg for women ages 51 to 70; for adults age 71 and older, the RDA is 1,200 mg. Dairy products and many fortified foods are rich in calcium. An 8-ounce serving of cow's milk or calcium-fortified soymilk and 6 ounces yogurt each have 300 mg calcium. It's always best to get your calcium from food rather than supplements, if possible.


If you haven't tried a cast iron skillet, pick one up or clean up your mom's. It's my new favorite way to cook — even heat, wonderful flavor and easy to clean. Here's a recipe from Good Housekeeping magazine for an easy weeknight meal using your cast iron (or any other skillet you love).

Skillet Lemon Chicken with Artichokes

1 teaspoon canola oil

6 small chicken thighs, boneless and skinless

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon butter

1 can (14 ounces) quartered artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained

1 medium lemon, thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 cup brown rice

In skillet, heat oil. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Cook 5 to 8 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer chicken to a rimmed foil-lined baking sheet and roast at 425 degrees until cooked to 165 degrees, about 15 minutes. In the same skillet the chicken was cooked in add onion and salt. Cook 3 minutes, stirring. Add white wine and simmer 2 minutes, scraping up any browned bits. Stgir in butter until melted, then can of artichoke hearts. Add lemon slices. To serve, spoon sauce over chicken and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with steamed brown rice. Serves 4.

Per serving (including rice): 510 calories, 34 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 35 g fat, 3 g fiber, 90 mg sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and a spokesperson for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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