When it comes to heart-healthy grains, you’re likely well aware of the basics, like brown rice or quinoa, and their inherent benefits. But have you considered pearled barley? It’s steeped in fiber—about 10 grams to the 2.8 in quinoa—which, according to the Mayo Clinic, slashes your LDL cholesterol levels. (That’s the bad kind.) For more advice on your ticker, here are the 40 Ways to Prevent Heart Disease After 40.
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You already know to keep calories and fat in check, but you'll fan the flames of your metabolism by putting another nutrient on your radar: protein, the building block of lean muscle mass. Each time you eat a protein-rich food—say, a piece of fish or cheese—your body goes to work, breaking it down into smaller particles called amino acids. "The amino acids enter your bloodstream and are then absorbed by your muscle tissues and other cells," says Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD, director of exercise studies at the University of Texas Medical Branch. "Once the amino acids end up in your muscles, your body starts putting them back together—sort of like Legos—into your muscle tissue." This is called muscle-protein synthesis, and it's the process your body uses to build and maintain muscle mass.
Buying organic fruits and veggies might cost a little bit more, but it's worth it for your waistline. Researchers in Canada found those with the most organochlorines — AKA pollutants found in pesticides that are stored in fat cells — are more likely to experience a halt in metabolism opposed to those who eat pesticide-free organic produce. To avoid letting what you eat get in the way of burning more calories, try to at least buy organic produce when it comes to the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen": strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes.
Muscle burns more calories than fat. So will building more muscle not boost your metabolism? Yes, but only by a small amount. Most regular exercisers only gain a few pounds (kilograms) of muscle. That is not enough to make a big difference in the number of calories you burn. Plus, when not in active use, muscles burn very few calories. Most of the time, your brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs account for most of your metabolism.
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"The main culprit that slows metabolism and often leads to yo-yo dieting is what I call shrinking muscle syndrome," says Caroline Apovian, MD, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center and the author of The Overnight Diet: The Proven Plan for Fast and Permanent Weight Loss. Starting at age 30, most people begin to lose about half a pound of the metabolism-revving tissue each year. Poof! Gone, just like that. And at age 50, the rate doubles. "The average sedentary woman may have lost nearly 15 pounds of muscle by the time she reaches her late 50s, a change that could cause her to gain nearly the same amount in body fat," says Wayne Westcott, PhD, a Prevention advisory board member and the director of fitness research at Quincy College in Massachusetts.