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Food Fabulous

Notes from midlife

Metabolism boosting foods for menopause & midlife

Some foods have superpowers when you want to lose weight in perimenopause, menopause and beyond

From Sirtfoods to phytoestrogens, discover the exact foods that rev up your metabolism by switching on your skinny genes, including

I feel bad for having a blog post with this title because I suspect I might have lured you here under false pretences. Here’s the thing, unless you get the food strategy right (by this I mean balancing your blood sugar levels), you are wasting your time focussing on individual foods. The big picture is this: balance your blood sugar levels, sleep, take care of your stress and your happiness, and build muscle. The rest is fine details that, on their own, will have little impact. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but those downloadable guides you see on social media that promise doing this ‘one trick’ as the solution to your weight loss woes are utter bullshit.

cup of green tea and green tea leaves

There are millions of internet pages dedicated to foods that help you burn fat and ignite your midlife metabolism but what it essentially boils down to is this: eat real food, eat lean protein, eat eggs, cut out treat foods, eat fermented foods and others that are good for the gut, eat healthy fats, eat dark chocolate. There, that should save you a bunch of hours. There are no shortcuts. And yet (she says mysteriously)...

Green tea - metabolism boosting food #1

If you're looking for metabolism boosting foods that give you the edge in midlife, we have to start with green tea, which is probably the healthiest tea on the planet thanks largely to the polyphenols called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (ECCG). It’s actually the same plant as the black tea you use to make your builder’s tea but far less processed. It contains caffeine (though less than a cup of coffee) so that has fat-burning properties in and of itself, and it’s chock full of antioxidants that fight free radicals that cause oxidative stress. If you’ve ever bought a face cream for the claims around it combatting the free radicals that cause lines and wrinkles, you’d likely be far better off (not to mention richer) with a box of green tea.

Green tea is anti-inflammatory, chemo-protective, antibacterial,antiviral, anti-arthritic and neuroprotective (protects the brain), and scientists are fascinated by its apparent ability to burn fat. The mechanisms are not entirely clear and the research is ongoing, but it seems to be beneficial for your metabolism by influencing the ‘master metabolic switch’ AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activited protein kinase, in case you’re wondering), helping regulate appetite by telling your body you’re full and up-regulating some of the helpful genes in the ‘burn’ pathway and helps with insulin sensitivity. It's a genetic thing.

Most of the studies have been done on the metabolism boosting benefits of green tea extract but that’s not to say you cannot get this from the tea itself; you’ll just need more of it. If you are not sipping it already, add it to your shopping list. (Side note: probably best not to go hunting out high-strength green tea extracts unless you have had one of these tests done since some people can’t deal with that level of supplementation genetically without liver damage).

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY: A cup or two a day is likely worth a try.

Coffee - metabolism boosting food #2

Coffee, despite its reputation for being something to cut out of your diet, research over a long period of time has demonstrated it’s a good thing overall and there are health benefits that range from longevity to protection against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzeheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While it’s true that coffee does have a small impact on blood pressure (so take care if your levels are raised), research shows that women who drank coffee had a reduced risk of heart disease. This is a good thing for metabolism. When it comes to weight loss, the winning metabolism boosting ingredients seem to be the polyphenols and caffeine. Caffeine is found in almost every fat loss supplement because it’s one of a very small number of substances proven to help with fat burning. Research shows that it can boost your metabolic rate by up to 13% depending on which study you read.

If you combine it with exercise, it’s even more powerful - coffee drunk an hour before exercise was found to have increased fat burning. Since we are interested in all things blood glucose here and anything that might increase sensitivity to insulin and lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes is a good thing, there’s more promising research about coffee. One large-scale study of over half a million people demonstrated the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance was 4% lower in coffee drinkers, and this might be to do with links to reducing inflammation. The link was strongest in habitual coffee drinkers those who drank ground coffee, like espresso or filtered coffee, boosting levels of the hormone adiponectin (important for managing glucose levels and breaking down fat), and the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-13, while decreasing levels of the pro-inflammatory C-Reactive Protein. But the effect was only seen in non-smokers. Just saying, not everyone gets to benefit.

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY: If you like a black coffee, this is good news. Enjoy a couple of good-quality coffees but do it in the morning so there is a lower risk of the caffeine disrupting your sleep hormones. Some people get jittery when they drink coffee. If this is you, don’t randomly start drinking coffee for the health benefits. And, if the only way you can drink coffee is with a litre of milk and sugar, the extra energy and sugars (even in the milk) are not worth the potential gain, in my view.

cup of coffee on white sheet

Ginger & chilli - metabolism boosting food #3

These two beauts also activate that master metabolic switch AMPK through an effect on the ADIPOQ gene. Again, the result is fat burning. There won’t be a test, so don’t worry about remembering the names. Just know these are good things to be cooking with.

PRACTICAL TAKE-AWAY: Since no one really knows how much of these foods you’d need to eat to get the therapeutic benefits, use them where you can. If you’re a fan of dishes from the Middle East, India or Far East, these will be familiar ingredients. Fill your boots.

Curcumin- metabolism boosting food #3

Turmeric (specifically the active part curcumin) is helpful for all kinds of midlife woes and, though you can buy this little root in supermarkets, the reality is that you’ll probably need a supplement to get a therapeutic dose into your diet - but it’s worth it. Turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties and it’s often top of the list of supplements for people who have arthritis. There’s some research that shows it can suppress fat tissue growth, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also features in most supplements for metabolic health for its role in regulating blood glucose levels and improving insulin sensitivity. Turmeric is also a phytoestrogen, which can be helpful in the menopause years for balancing your lady hormones.

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY: Turmeric can be used in a wide-variety of dishes as a flavour enhancer (think curries, rice dishes and so on), with eggs, teas and turmeric latte, but it’s hard to consume enough of it to see the benefits so consider supplementing, too.

powdered turmeric aka curcumin

Rhubarb - metabolism boosting food #4

Rhubarb is a good thing. It combines surprisingly well with another one of these beneficial ingredients - ginger - but that’s more of an aside. Rhubarb’s power lies in its rheinic acid content. There's a gene called the FTO gene (also called the FATSO gene or the Labrador gene and, if you have one of these canines, you'll understand why), which dials up hunger and dials down satiety so you don’t get the signal to stop eating. Rhubarb helps modulate that - in a good way, obviously. Let’s not forget this vegetable (which it is even though we eat it like a fruit) is also full of fibre which on another level is very beneficial for balancing blood glucose levels, which helps your midlife metabolism, too. Obviously, if you’re having it as a super sweet rhubarb crumble, you’re negating the effect.

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY: If you need your rhubarb to be sweet, there’s nothing terrible about adding a touch of Stevia, which is a healthier sweetener than most of the other options. But don’t knock unsweetened rhubarb - try it poached or stewed with a little vanilla pod and ginger, and add it to authentic Greek or unsweetened coconut yoghurt.

Sirt foods - here are lots of metabolism boosting foods

You may also have heard of Sirtfoods. There was even a whole diet created around them - the Sirtfood Diet that was popular a while back and it was billed as a game changer for fat burning. There is a family of proteins called sirtuins that influence gene expression and can impact cellular functions, including metabolism, stress response, longevity, and inflammation.One of the most well-studied is SIRT1, which influences how fat is stored and used in the body. This so-called ‘skinny’ gene gets activated by factors including caloric restriction (eating less than your body needs) and consuming bioactive compounds found in specific foods that activate sirutins (Sirtfoods).

What are Sirtfoods?

Dark chocolate (at least 85% cocoa)

Bird’s eye chilli



Green tea


Olives and olive oil


Mejool dates








Citrus fruits


Red wine


PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY: In theory, this all makes sense. We know that foods are chemical messages in the body but, when it comes to hard and fast science, the research is patchy. Luckily, these are all healthful foods that I would recommend, so that’s enough reason to get them into your diet. Eat a couple of portions a day if you can. Would I eat a diet that only contained foods that upregulate the genes you want to tinker with? No and neither should you. We both have a life to live and, while ‘functional foods’ can be helpful, midlife is the time to embrace the overarching strategy rather than the minutiae of eating blueberries and walnuts.

bowl of blueberries

Cinnamon - metabolism boosting food #25

Cinnamon is a popular culinary spice and, to be fair, all herbs and spices are a great thing to add to your diet, whether fresh, frozen or dried. As an aside, these all count in a bid to eat a more varied diet, and many of these ingredients have some kind of medicinal value. Don’t believe me? Herbs, in particular, have been used by people from ancient times and the word ‘drug’ comes from the French word Drogue, which means Dry Herb, and this suggests the origin of modern pharmacology probably came from plants. Aspirin, for example, came from willow bark and morphine from the opium poppy, but I digress. In olden times, if you weren’t being treated with leeches, you were probably being medicated with herbs. Many are anti-inflammatory and we should use more of them for good health, particularly as it’s easy to do so.

But back to cinnamon, which can be added to more dishes than you might imagine. It contains a host of vitamins and minerals as well as other helpful components like cinnamaldehyde, cinnamate and cinnamic acid, which give cinnamon anti-diabetic, anti-microbial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps improve sensitivity to insulin, and there have a been a multitude of studies of studies that draw links between cinnamon supplementation and a reduction in body fat.

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY: 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon powder or 1-inch cinnamon bark per day. Sprinkle on porridge, add to smoothies, use as a flavour enhancer for quinoa or rice, add to chilli, make a cinnamon and turmeric latte, add to apple sauce, home-made low carb granola, add flavour to Indian-inspired curries and Moroccan meatballs and tagines.

Stinky veg - and a lot more

This is not an official term but consider smelly veg to be literally any veg that smells when you cook it: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Spring greens (aka collard greens), kale, kohlrabi, onions, leeks, swede, turnip (plus several others like rocket, watercress, radish, and horseradish). These are cruciferous vegetables from the family Brassicaceae and they’re great for women’s health thanks largely to the glucosinolates they contain - they boast two sulphur-containing compounds sulforaphane and diindolylmethane (aka DIM) that help the liver recycle old oestogens. They are also fabulous metabolism boosting foods.

PRACTICAL TAKEAWAY: If you can get in a couple of servings a day, that’s a very good thing. Over to you.

plate of broccoli florets

Eat a variety & make it colourful

In real life, so many foods can be helpful in keeping you healthy and in good shape for their vitamin and mineral, and phytonutrient content. Eating a wide variety of different foods over the course of the week - and by this I mean, animal and plant foods - is the best way to get all the raw materials your body needs and to keep a healthy gut since all the different bacteria like something different for dinner. I know this is a bit dull, but there you have it.

One of the easiest ways to improve your health in general is to eat more plants, and this is widely agreed by all nutritional scientists. You don’t have to turn vegan. Consider all fruit and veg, plus herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils and so on, are all plant foods. They’re high in vitamins and minerals, and also the polyphenols your gut loves. The different colours are all meaningful for your health so eat the rainbow of colours through the week to ensure you get the full benefits because they work synergistically. The sum is greater than the individual components.

30 different plants a week is easier than you think. And it’s not an arbitrary number. Among other things, we know that people who eat at least 30 different plants a week have a happier gut environment. Since we’re more interested here in your metabolism, just know that the fibre is the BIG DEAL as - although plants do contain carbs - the fibre slows down the release of starchy carbs like bread, rice and pasta, as you learnt earlier in the book, and this impacts on how full you feel, how energised, and on insulin sensitivity. And the fibre helps keep you regular. You know what I mean, and it makes logical sense that getting waste and toxins out of your body is a good thing. Is it just me, but are there few things so satisfying as a good poo?

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