Red beets on white plate on yellow table.

The largest component of our daily energy budget is resting metabolic rate.

As I discuss in my video Slowing Our Metabolism with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables, the direct effects of physical activity are relatively small compared to how many calories we expend just living and breathing. Now, during something like training for the US Army’s Special Ops or climbing a four-mile-high mountain, we may burn 4,000 calories a day. For most people, however, the calories we burn just lying around existing exceed normal physical activities. Thus, our resting metabolic rate can have implications for controlling our weight.

Researchers have shown that dietary nitrate found in beets and green leafy vegetables improves the efficiency of the little power plants within our cells, boosting athletic performance by extracting more energy from every breath. So, if we eat a lot of vegetables, might it slow our metabolism since our body can function so much more efficiently with the calories we give it?

Indeed, researchers found that after giving people a dose of nitrate equivalent to a few servings of spinach or beets, their resting metabolic rates slowed on average about 4 percent. That’s nearly a hundred calories a day. If our bodies burned that many fewer calories each yet we didn’t eat any less, couldn’t we could put on a few pounds? Of course, green leafy vegetables may be the healthiest food on the planet, so we shouldn’t decrease our greens intake to try to control our weight. What’s going on? Researchers think perhaps it was a way our body evolved to use vegetables to help preserve energy during lean times in our ancient past. That is, slowing our metabolism may have benefits for our longevity.

What else similarly slows our metabolism?

Caloric restriction, such as eating every other day. This may be one reason why caloric restriction is associated with a longer lifespan in many animals. Maybe like a candle, burning with a smaller flame allows us to last longer. It’s hard to walk around starving all the time, but it’s easy to replicate that same metabolic benefit by eating a big salad every day.

This may be why eating leafy green vegetables is among the six most powerful things we can do to live longer, along with not smoking, not drinking heavily, walking at least an hour a day, getting seven hours of sleep a day, and achieving an ideal weight. Doing even just one of these six may cut our risk of premature death by around 20 to 25 percent.

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About The Author

NutritionFacts.org's picture

NUTRITIONFACTS.ORG is a strictly non-commercial, science-based public service provided by Dr. Michael Greger, providing free updates on the latest in nutrition research via bite-sized videos. There are more than a thousand videos on nearly every aspect of healthy eating, with new videos and articles uploaded every day. NutritionFacts.org was launched with seed money and support by the Jesse & Julie Rasch Foundation. Incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit charity, NutritionFacts.org now relies on individual donors to keep the site alive.

Dr. Greger is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. A founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Greger is licensed as a general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition. Currently he proudly serves as the public health director at the Humane Society of the United States. Dr. Greger is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

His latest book, How Not to Die, became an instant New York Times Best Seller. 100% of all proceeds he has ever received from his books, DVDs, and speaking engagements has always and will always be donated to charity. Dr. Greger receives no compensation for his work on NutritionFacts.org.

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