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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

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

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.

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.

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.

Understand How Your Diet is Actually Impacting Your Body With NutriSense

Metabolic flexibility is critical in keeping your glucose at healthy levels. 

Without monitoring your glucose levels, you can never truly see the response your body has to any dietary or lifestyle changes you make.

If you want to take a big step towards metabolic health, the NutriSense Continuous Glucose Health Program can provide you with a combination of leading CGM technology and personalized support from Registered Dietitians. The program makes monitoring and understanding glucose simple so that you can take charge of your metabolic health.

Try it for yourself to analyze your glucose levels and meet your health goals. 


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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How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?
How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?

What's the perfect time to eat, and how many meals should you eat in a day? Explore how eating at different times and frequencies each day impacts your body and blood glucose.

Story
6
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks

Looking for a way to add apple cider vinegar into your diet? Start with some of these delicious glucose-friendly ACV drinks, recommended by our Nutrition Team.

Story
8
min
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Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 
Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 

Find out how taking a walk after your next meal can benefit various aspects of your health, including your blood glucose levels.

Podcast
55
min
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I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology
I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology

Molly explains how using a continuous glucose monitor is what personalized health care means. If you want to fine-tune your health, tune in to this special episode of I Think, I Can.

Podcast
10
min
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My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles
My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles

My Day | My Life explores the lives of people who have, in one way or another, mastered the art of aging. In this episode, meet Carlee Hayes, dietitian and Nutrition Manager at NutriSense.

Story
9
min
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Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Worried about getting injured during your next workout? Learn about the most common workout injuries, how they can affect blood glucose levels, and some tips to help you prevent them.

Story
6
min
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Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day
Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day

Would eating the same meal, at the same time, have the same blood glucose response for three different people? See what our team found out after sampling a delicious corned beef and cabbage dish in preparation for St. Patrick's Day!

Story
7
min
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Build Healthy Habits During Lent
Build Healthy Habits During Lent

Do you know what you're giving up for Lent this year? For those who observe it, this can be a good time to give up bad habits, and add healthy ones into your routine! Read on to find out more about how to build healthy habits this season.

Story
11
min
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Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?
Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?

Cereal is one of the most popular breakfast foods out there—but how healthy is it, really? Review the nutritional content of some popular breakfast cereals, and learn how to choose a healthy option for your individual needs.

Story
9
min
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Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition
Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition

Did you know that more than two in five adults have obesity? Find out more about the pressing public health issue, review some new research that is shedding light on the condition, and learn how to diagnose and treat it.

Story
7
min
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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

Story
9
min
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Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?
Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?

Read on to find out what impact, if any, vinegar really has on our body’s ability to balance blood sugar.

Story
8
min
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Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?
Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?

If you have insulin sensitivity, is eating two large meals a day or three to five smaller meals better? Find out more about the relationship between meal frequency and insulin sensitivity, and how many times you should be eating in a day.

Story
9
min
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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common yet often ignored condition. Learn more about the symptoms to watch out for, how you can seek treatment, and read first-hand accounts from two women who have dealt with endometriosis.

Story
8
min
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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.

Story
7
min
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Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?
Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?

Pizza can be challenging to enjoy eating without worrying about how it affects your health. But while it may be indulgent, it is possible to prepare or order it in a way that won’t wreak havoc on your health or blood sugar levels. Read on to find out more!

Story
8
min
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Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?
Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?

Review our post on the impacts artificial sweeteners have on blood glucose, insulin, and other areas of your personal health.

Story
8
min
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What Research Says About Sleep and Blood Sugar Levels
What Research Says About Sleep and Blood Sugar Levels

Recent research has shown that sleep and blood glucose are intricately connected. Read on to learn more about what this means for your blood sugar levels and overall health.

Story
8
min
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Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health
Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health

Did you know that menopause can affect your metabolic health, and vice versa? Read on to understand the relationship between metabolic health and menopause, and how to manage metabolic health during your menopausal journey. 

Podcast
57
min
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How a Continuous Blood Sugar Monitor Can Help You Find Your Perfect Diet
How a Continuous Blood Sugar Monitor Can Help You Find Your Perfect Diet

In this episode learn the truth about how we react to certain foods in regards to our blood sugar response and how you can tailor your diet according to your CGM results.

Podcast
66
min
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All About Blood Sugar With Molly Downey, RDN
All About Blood Sugar With Molly Downey, RDN

This week, dive into how to eat your carbs and manage your blood sugar, too with Molly Downey, RDN, LDN.

Story
8
min
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A NutriSense Dietitian's Favorite Kitchen Staples
A NutriSense Dietitian's Favorite Kitchen Staples

Food can be fun, pleasurable, and nutritious all at the same time. Read on to learn more about the two nutrient-dense kitchen staples one of our dietitians swears by to help optimize her health!

Story
10
min
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10 Tastiest Nutrient-Dense Foods From Around the World
10 Tastiest Nutrient-Dense Foods From Around the World

Instead of the type or amount of food you eat, you should focus on the amount of nutrients you're adding to every meal. Here are some of our favorite nutrient-dense foods from around the world to help you get started.

Story
7
min
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Do Pineapples Raise Blood Sugar Levels?
Do Pineapples Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

Learn everything you need to know about pineapples, your health, and your blood glucose levels, and see how our dietitians like to eat the sweet, tropical fruit. 

Story
14
min
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Setting Up The Right Diet Plan For Prediabetes [+Sample Diet Plan Included]
Setting Up The Right Diet Plan For Prediabetes [+Sample Diet Plan Included]

Learn more about the relationship between prediabetes and your diet, and see how to build a diet plan that works for you with some great tips, tricks and recipes from our nutrition team!

Story
9
min
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What You Should Know About Acupuncture
What You Should Know About Acupuncture

Learn more about the research on, as well as the benefits and risks of acupuncture, a form of alternative medicine that involves inserting needles into your body for pain and stress relief.

Story
6
min
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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.