Think you’re in great shape? Think again: only 12 percent of Americans are metabolically healthy, according to a 2018 study. Metabolic health is defined as “having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications. These factors directly relate to a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.”
As you can see, metabolic health should be pretty important, since its lack can lead to serious, life-altering diseases and ailments. Generally, you can achieve this goal with lifestyle changes like “quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly throughout the week,” along with improving your sleep hygiene.
To get you started, we’ve identified some foods to avoid: skip them, and you’ll instantly boost your overall metabolic health.
When you’re looking to improve your overall metabolic health, it doesn’t mean that you have to cut out certain foods forever. The goal is to avoid foods that will cause your blood sugar to spike, then crash, as well as foods that cause inflammation and raise your cholesterol.
When your metabolic health is good, it’s easier for your body to adapt to a fast food meal or sugary treats. While you should cut out the foods on this list generally, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy occasional treats as well as better overall metabolic health.
Generally, aim to eat a balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. The more diverse your diet, the more likely you are to get all the nutrients you need. This includes proteins, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, omega 3s and other nutrients that fight inflammation, ward off disease and keep you feeling (and looking) great. Plus, when you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you’re less likely to experience blood sugar crashes, fatigue and more.
Skip these foods for better metabolic health
These are the top five offenders—avoid them to instantly notice the difference.
- Sugar: Sugar is everywhere, including natural forms like fruits, vegetables, honey and more. Unfortunately, it can do some terrible things to your body. When you eat a diet high in carbohydrates, your body breaks those sugars down into smaller molecules. These move to your bloodstream and initiates insulin release. Insulin helps translate that food into fuel, but it can also cause your blood sugar to spike rapidly, then crash. Avoid added sugars whenever possible, and get in the habit of reading the labels: sugar is often added to bread, tomato sauces, salad dressings, yogurt and more.
- Wheat flours: Wheat flour has a high glycemic index, which has the same effect as eating sugar. Because wheat flour is usually processed to remove fiber, fat and other nutrients from whole grains, it’s not a great overall choice for your diet. Almond, hazelnut, chickpea and coconut flours can be a good substitute for these wheat flours—however, they may affect each person differently.
- Highly processed foods: Convenience food might be a good option for desperate times, but they have very little nutritional value. Those energy bars, hot dogs, deli meats and cereals are full of fat, trans fats, sodium, sugar and nitrates. Choose whole foods instead—you’ll have to cook more, but it will ultimately improve your health.
- Vegetable and refined seed oils: Vegetable and refined seed oils are full of linoleic acid, which scientists suspect have negative effects on overall metabolic health. In fact, it may contribute to insulin resistance. Avoid grapeseed, safflower, corn, sunflower, cottonseed, soybean, walnut, sesame, rice bran, peanut and canola oils whenever possible.
- Fast food: Finally, skipping fast food can help improve your metabolic health. While you can still enjoy the occasional burger and fries, fast food is loaded with sugars, wheat flours, vegetable and refined seed oils and other highly processed ingredients. Plus, they’re packed with sodium and fats, with low overall nutritional value. Your body is not lovin’ it.
Everyone will react differently to certain foods—some of these offenders may affect you more than others. The key is to monitor your health and how you feel after each meal, then make adjustments appropriately.
As always, make sure to talk to your doctor about your diet, and get screened regularly for heart disease, diabetes and stroke risk. With a balanced, healthy diet and regular exercise, you’ll be well on your way to becoming part of that metabolically healthy top 12 percent.