I’ve got a slow metabolism!’ It’s a great excuse for being overweight – putting the blame on an aspect of our body make-up that we claim to have no control over. But few people know how to calculate their metabolic rate or more importantly, how to influence it.

What is a metabolic rate?

To put it simply, resting metabolic rate is the number of calories the bodies needs to support its basic functions. These are things such as breathing and staying warm or cool. They account for 70 per cent of your total daily expenditure.
However the World Health Organisation estimates that Basal metabolic rate can vary by as much as 25 per cent either way between individuals of a similar weight. And if you thought overweight people had slower metabolisms, think again. Carrying a heavier bodyweight actually requires more energy. It is true that younger people burn calories faster than older people; metabolic rate peaks in our teenage years and drops by about three per cent every year after that.

How can we speed it up?

Have a big breakfast: A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that starting the day with a proper healthy breakfast boosted the metabolic rate by an average of 10 per cent. Other research has backed this up, finding that people who skip breakfast have lower metabolic rates.

Eat spicy food: Ingredients such as mustard and chilli peppers are believed to raise the metabolism up to 50 per cent for three hours after consuming them. This is because hot food increases our heart rate. But going for a high-fat creamy curry won’t do the trick. The spicy food needs to be healthy, or you will simply increase your fat intake and put on weight instead.

Exercise regularly: Resting muscle uses up five times as many calories per kilogram per day as fat does. Recent research from the US found that high intensity exercise raises the heart rate, metabolic rate and energy expenditure for several hours. Weight training builds up muscle bulk, which boosts the metabolic rate by about 15 per cent. An 18-week study by the University of Limburg in Holland found that the average daily metabolic rate increased by 9.5 per cent as a result of twice-weekly strength training.

Drink green tea: Scientists have found that drinking green tea can speed up the metabolic rate by four per cent. This is probably due to the high concentrations of catechin polyphenols found in green tea. These antioxidants work to help intensify levels of fat oxidation and thermogenesis. To put it simply, they help burn fat.

Eat ginger: Ginger has long been believed to lead to an increase in metabolic rate and recent research has confirmed this. Dr Ann Walker and her team at the University of Reading in the UK recently conducted research on 36 men and women. They found that taking ginger supplements regularly led to a significant enhancement of energy expenditure.

Use cider vinegar in cooking: Cider vinegar’s claims as a use for speeding up the metabolism go back to ancient Egyptian times when they used it for weight loss. It is believed to have fat burning qualities and to be able to speed up the metabolism by stimulating the thyroid glands, which control our metabolic rate.

Take sea kelp: In a similar way, sea kelp also has the same effect. Sea kelp has been used by the Japanese, the Chinese, the South-Sea Islanders and the Greenland Eskimos for hundreds of years. First used to treat enlarged thyroid glands, it was found that it worked because it is rich in iodine, which stimulates the thyroid gland that controls the metabolism. Those who took it lost weight more easily. People today who take kelp supplements tend to lose weight quicker than those who don’t.