1. Understand the Importance of Proteins

Proteins, which are made up of amino acids, work within the body as primary building blocks for all tissues and cells, including your muscles. Their secondary function is to provide energy after your carbohydrate resources have been depleted—boosting your metabolism! One gram of protein equals 4 calories and it can be found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and legumes (beans and peas). While legumes are low in fat and high in fiber, animal sources of protein (which can be higher in unwanted fats) can deliver all of the necessary amino acids, so it’s important to have a balance of the two to lose weight effectively.

Basically, to help your body to function properly, you must feed it protein. There are many different types of proteins—some healthy, some not so healthy—and this chapter contains many different healthy options that are better than yet another hamburger.

2. Eat More Lean Protein

Your body has to work twice as hard to digest protein as carbohydrates or fats, which means your metabolism has to work harder, too. Also, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people ate more protein and cut down on fat, they reduced their calorie intake by 441 calories a day. In fact, experts think that eating protein actually enhances the effect of leptin, a hormone that helps the body feel full. When you choose protein, reach for the healthier choices, such as fish, skinless chicken, lean pork, tofu, nuts, beans, eggs, and low-fat dairy products, with the occasional lean red meat.

3. Eat Less Red Meat

Red meat contains more fat and calories than lean chicken, pork, or fish. Cutting back on red meat may help lower your risk of serious illness later in life, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. It will also help lower your caloric intake, thus boosting your metabolism. When you do eat red meat, make sure it’s lean and well cooked. If you hate the idea of surrendering red meat, at least cut back to red meat twice a week maximum.

4. Eat More Fish

Fish and shellfish are excellent sources of protein that are also low in fat. One serving (3 ounces) of most fish and shellfish provides about 20 grams of protein, which is approximately one third of the recommended daily amount for the average adult. In addition, fish contain all of the essential amino acid our bodies need to function and have other important minerals like iron, zinc, and, in those fish with edible bones, calcium.

As you may know, fish are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote the development of healthy membranes that make it easier for your body to use stored fat and sugar for energy. Even better, those who dine often on fish may have more leptin in their system, a hormone linked with high metabolism, appetite control, and weight loss.

The American Heart Association recommends that you eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least twice a week in order to reap all of its benefits.

5. Eat an Egg

Once the victim of a bad rap, nutritional research has shown that an egg has protein (in the white part) and fat (in the yellow part), but no carbohydrates. The egg white has few other nutrients, while the yellow has a high amount of vitamin B12 and folate. Nutritionists used to think that eggs contained too much fat, but they now know that the fat in an egg doesn’t contribute to higher levels of cholesterol in the blood.

However, one large egg contains does 213 mg cholesterol in its yolk, and the American Heart Association recommends consuming not more than 300 mg cholesterol daily. Also, people with high cholesterol levels should eat less than 200 mg of cholesterol per day. Only eat eggs if you can fit them within the 300 mg/day limit and be especially careful if you have high LDL cholesterol or are taking a blood cholesterol– lowering medication.

6. Bolster Your Amino Acids

Amino acids, simply put, are organic compounds that make up proteins and are essential to human metabolism. Though they don’t receive nearly as much mention in nutrition discussions as vitamins and minerals, amino acids are just as necessary to our health. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important amino acids in terms of boosting your metabolism—and protecting your brain:

Arginine: This amino acid is partially converted into a chemical known as spermine, which is believed to help the brain process memory. Low levels of spermine often signal age-related memory loss. Arginine has also shown importance in immune function.

Choline: The brain uses this amino acid to manufacture a memory-related neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Older people are encouraged to take choline supplements (no more than 3.5 grams per day) because we tend to produce less acetylcholine as we age, putting us at greater risk of memory impairment. Choline is also important for the transport and metabolism of cholesterol. Dietary sources of choline include cabbage, cauliflower, eggs, peanuts, and lecithin.

Glutamine: This amino acid is a precursor of a calming neurotransmitter known as GABA. It helps improve clarity of thought and boosts alertness by assisting in the manufacture of glutamic acid, a compound known for its ability to eliminate metabolic wastes in the brain. Glutamine is also a necessary fuel for intestinal cells.

Methionine: Like glutamine, this amino acid helps cleanse the brain of damaging metabolic wastes. It is an effective antioxidant and helps reduce brain levels of dangerous heavy metals such as mercury.

7. Try Tyrosine

Tyrosine is one of the 20 amino acids that are used by cells to synthesize proteins, but studies have also shown that it may reduce stress, improve memory, and lower blood pressure even when the subject is feeling tense, all of which aids in generating a healthy metabolism. It is a building block for several neurotransmitters that affect mood. Additionally, some scientists have found that tyrosine may affect thyroid hormone levels in such a way that boosts metabolism. To get more tyrosine in your diet, dine on foods such as turkey, fish, chicken, nuts, and dairy products. If you choose to take a supplement, ingest it a half hour before meals and with a multivitamin-mineral complex that will help break it down into the chemicals you need. Be careful though. Tyrosine may cause a severe blood pressure increase in people taking the antidepressant medications known as MAOIs. It may also raise thyroid levels when taken with synthetic thyroid hormones. No one should take tyrosine at the same time as levodopa, a Parkinson’s drug. Be sure to consult your physician before starting, or radically changing, any physical, nutritional, or supplemental regimen.

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