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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

September 13, 2021
Written by
Team NutriSense
Reviewed by
a graphic representing metabolism

Defining Terms: What is a Metabolic Diet?

A metabolic diet is a style or pattern of eating where the goal is to increase your metabolism or metabolic rate.  Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the baseline amount of energy or calories needed to keep the body functioning if it were at rest. This can differ from person to person based on body composition.  The common formula to calculate this figure is based on height, weight, and age—still, other factors to consider include muscle-to-fat ratio, physical activity levels, and hormone function.  The BMR gives you a baseline caloric intake, but each individual is different, and the additional calories needed to meet our own needs each day will be different.

How a Metabolic Diet Works: Increasing Your Metabolism

If you have a baseline metabolic rate giving you a certain amount of calories needed per day, plus some extra to help you do your daily activities, then what if you could speed up that rate and use your caloric intake more efficiently? We could then burn through all those stored calories in our fat deposits.  Doctors, scientists, and many others have studied this for years, hoping to find a way to help increase an individual’s metabolic rate through different foods, supplements, exercise. From this, several diets have emerged over the decades. Their premise is that if you follow their rules or guidelines, you can increase your metabolism and convert the food you eat into energy instead of storing it as fat.  

Famous Metabolic Diets You Might be Familiar With

a bowl of salad, an apple and a tape measure

The Metabolic Typing Diet

Also known as the Metabolic Typing Technique, this diet was created by William Donald Kelley in the 1960s and then was further developed by  Harold J. Kristal and William Wolcott.  Metabolism is classified in 3 ways: fast oxidizer, slow oxidizer, and mixed oxidizer (Dominant Protein type, Dominant Carb type, and mixed protein-carb type).  It is determined by your autonomic nervous system and your rate of oxidation.  The book gives readers a test to assess their Metabolic Type and then follow the plan that fits them the best.  This is a major red flag as this diet is supposed to be based on the autonomic nervous system and a BMR rate test that are not valuations you can make through a test written in a book.  

The actual plan includes five smaller meals throughout the day that are no more than 4 hours apart, supposedly to avoid blood sugar spikes and cravings.  All refined and processed carbohydrates should be eliminated. Dairy, soy, alcohol, and caffeine intake should be limited as well.  

There are differing studies that show benefits for OR harm to weight loss goals by frequent meals. The idea of small regular meals can go against the new research coming out about the benefits of intermittent fasting for weight loss and burning fat. Studies showed no difference in weight loss by the number of meals eaten per day.

Indeed with more frequent eating, it stands to reason that the body has to release more insulin throughout the day to handle the incoming meals. Therefore it cannot fully recover back to baseline until the end of the day, which is generally the most significant meal. Some reviews state that the evidence is inconclusive for the optimal meal frequency for weight loss and that a reduced meal frequency can lead to improved lipid panels. The Metabolic Typing Diet has a host of issues starting from a vague categorization of Metabolic Type leading to a prescribed way of eating that has no scientific basis for weight loss.

a stethoscope and a phrase "Zone Diet"

The Zone Diet

Dr. Barry Sears developed the Zone Diet, and he published his bestselling book “The Zone” in 1995.  The Zone Diet’s basic premise is to follow a specific ratio of macronutrients to reduce inflammation in the body. 

40% carbohydrates + 30% protein + 30% fat

The benefit of the Zone Diet is that you can follow this formula in any setting, at any restaurant, or any takeaway meal.  You can cook this way and batch prepare foods that fit into the buckets, and essentially, you can follow this for the rest of your life.  The categories are broad enough that you won’t feel bored or boxed in by the same chicken + brown rice + broccoli meal day in and day out.  

Lean proteins can be anything from turkey, chicken, pork, fish, shellfish, tofu, and egg whites. Low glycemic carbs can be fruits like berries, apples, oranges; veggies like asparagus, broccoli, cucumber, tomatoes, zucchini; and beans, chickpeas, lentils, wild rice. Examples of monounsaturated fats are found in oils like olive oil, as well as avocados and most nuts. 

The other benefit of the Zone Diet is that there is no caloric limit, only the macro allocation per meal.  Some people find this more flexible and liberating than constantly tracking points or calories like other popular diets.

a fish, a broccoli, carrots, eggs, tomatoes and a lemon

The Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet is a trendy diet created and promoted by Dr. Robert Atkins in his 1972 book.  It was vilified for a while due to its reliance on a large amount of fat in the diet, but subsequent research has shown that not all fat is bad, and in fact, it can be pretty essential to a healthy diet.

There are 4 phases to the Atkins Diet, and the first phase is very similar to a ketogenic diet:   

  • Phase 1 or Induction
  •  < 20 grams of carbs per day for two weeks. Focus on fat and protein, with some low glycemic veggies on the side. This phase is designed to promote weight loss.  
  • Phase 2 or Balancing 
  • Gradually adding in nuts and other lower glycemic carbs like veggies and fruits.  
  • Phase 3 or Fine-tuning 
  • Approach your goal weight and continue to add carbs to your diet until weight loss slows down.  
  • Phase 4 or Maintenance = this is the “lifestyle” part of the diet where you can eat as many low glycemic carbs as your body can handle without increasing weight.   

Again, similar to the Zone Diet, this diet does not rely on counting calories and promotes the kinds of foods that many people find to be satiating because they are high in fat and protein.  

Are these diets safe for everyone?

These diets are meant to be guidelines for a lifestyle and are designed to help people change their nutrition choices for the better and the rest of their lives.  These are dietary guidelines that work well for those willing to invest and put the work in to follow these rules over a significant time. 

As mentioned above, these diets or dietary patterns promote foods higher in protein and fats, which are naturally satiating. Therefore, people tend to feel full with smaller portions or feel full overall, something they may have lost while following a higher carbohydrate diet.  That feeling of fullness can help curb sweets cravings and snacking between meals, leading to excess caloric intake and weight gain.  

However, while there are no significant inherent risks with these diets on a short-term basis (<6 months), there may be risks associated with following any of these restrictive diets on a long-term basis. The more restrictive a diet is, the greater the possibility for nutrient deficiencies. This does not mean restrictive diets cannot be done properly and healthily, but more attention to detail is required for long-term success. Finally, for some people long-term restriction can lead to increased feelings of cravings and subsequent binge eating. 

Therefore the people who will have the most success following one of these diets, are those who are willing to make sure that they are supplementing where needed and keeping an eye on those micro or macronutrients where they might be under or overdoing it.  

Always consult your doctor before starting a metabolic-related diet or any other diet, especially if you have pre-existing conditions like diabetes.

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
Listen to the full podcast:
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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8
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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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9
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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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8
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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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7
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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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12
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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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6
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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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9
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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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10
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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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6
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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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9
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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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10
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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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8
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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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9
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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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8
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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.

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8
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Taking Mental Health Online: Tips & Tools for Self-Care
Taking Mental Health Online: Tips & Tools for Self-Care

Mental health has a significant impact on your overall health; here are tips, tools, and apps to improve your mental wellbeing.

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12
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Tea, Blood Sugar Levels and Your Health
Tea, Blood Sugar Levels and Your Health

Different types of tea have different benefits for your health. Learn more about a few popular types, and see how tea can help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

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14
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Summer Soup Recipes: An Expert Weighs in on 13 Healthy Soup Options
Summer Soup Recipes: An Expert Weighs in on 13 Healthy Soup Options

To help you make the most of the warmer weather, we asked Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD, and Nutrition Manager here at NutriSense, to share a few of her favorite summer soup recipes.