March 16, 2021
Boost your Mitochondria
by Mona Jauhar RDN, LD
When people complain they’re feeling wiped out or trudging through their days, it is more often than not because of a weak mitochondria. They don’t realize it but mitochondria play a massive role in their energy levels, how well their metabolism functions and even how much brain fog they deal with every day. Good news is that you can strengthen your mitochondrial function with some diet and sleep adjustments. Leading experts have identified key foods that support mitochondrial health and delay the aging process. These are an interesting blend of antioxidants, healthy fats, probiotics and low glycemic foods. Bid adieu to anything with possibilities of sugar, fructose, refined or toxins.
Feed your mitochondria well
Look for foods packed with vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants. That means high-quality, pasture-raised animals, wild-caught fish, (preferably) organic veggies, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, and some low-sugar fruits. You can’t go wrong loading up on leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
- Antioxidants galore: Glutathione is one of the most important cellular antioxidants produced by the body. It is also involved in the process of detoxification. Certain vegetables, spices, and quality proteins help the body produce and utilize important antioxidants such as glutathione, vitamin C, and N-acetyl cysteine.
- Anti-inflammatory platter: Eating 8–12 servings daily of colorful vegetables and fruits will guarantee a generous supply of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, minerals, and vitamins, without added sugars. Polyphenols in many of the therapeutic foods, especially blueberries, strawberries, and walnuts, have been shown to increase cognitive function and decrease inflammation. They may even help to increase lifespan.
- Healthy fats: Omega 3 fatty acids help to build up the mitochondria’s protective membranes. These membranes contain the spread of nasty free radical by-products, resulting less cell damage and more energy. Eat low-mercury wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, nuts (especially walnuts), seeds and egg yolks. It is important to remember diversity when considering oils for cooking and dressing salads or vegetables. Coconut oil is a brain-healthy saturated fat, while Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in polyphenols.
A ketogenic diet is characterized by fewer carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein, and higher amounts of fat. This shift in macronutrients causes the body to switch to utilizing ketones (produced by burning fats) instead of glucose as its primary source of fuel. Called "ketosis," this state of burning ketones instead of carbohydrates is optimal for cognitive functioning and results in more sustained energy throughout the day. Ketosis also facilitates a release of BDNF, the protein that helps build neural connections in the brain responsible for learning and memory.
To boost mitochondrial function and longevity, practicing intermittent fasting a few days a week is a great ‘bio hack’ that supports mitochondria health by reducing mitochondrial free radical production. Compress your ‘eating window’ from the typical 12 -16-hour graze-all-day routine down to 8-hours, giving your body more non-eating hours. Calorie restriction may also be healthy for one’s nerves and support memory and cognition. Eating fewer calories than required by the basal metabolic rate (BMR) allows the brain to make new neurons by decreasing free radicals, enhancing ATP production, and increasing the number of mitochondria present.
Sleep and sun
Focus on good quality sleep. Sleep protects your brain by clearing out neural waste products and preserves the mitochondria as well. Think of sleep as your brain’s time to ‘take out the garbage’. And yes, soak up some sun! Exposing your body to sensible amounts of sunlight is nature’s way of increasing mitochondria production.
Eating for our mitochondria is paramount to treating any health problem. However, a well-rounded protocol includes detox support, stress management techniques, lifestyle changes, and supplementing with nutrients.