Most people understand that food provides energy, but how it provides energy is a question within itself.
Here’s a rundown of how it works. The food you eat breaks down into fats, protein, and carbohydrates, each of which contains different nutrients that your body uses to create energy. The oxygen you breathe combines with these nutrients in these tiny little factories inside your cells called mitochondria. The mitochondria is a membrane-bound cell that generates most of the chemical energy needed to power our cell’s reactions. The food and oxygen then produce the form of energy used by our bodies called ATP. It powers everything. Once we stop producing energy we die.
Some foods burn clean, and others create a lot of exhaust, such as free radicals that cause oxidation (like rusting), inflammation, and damage to our tissues and cells. Our body produces its own antioxidants to protect us from this damage, but often our body’s antioxidant systems can’t keep up when we eat too much sugar, starch, processed foods, and too few nutrients.
The key to longevity and health is optimizing your mitochondria. Poorly functioning mitochondria are found in most chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, Parkinson’s, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. It might also show up as fatigue, brain fog, muscle pain, intolerance to exercise, and rapid aging.
How we feed our bodies affects the number and function of our mitochondria. While environmental toxins, infections, food allergens, an unhealthy gut microbiome, nutrient deficiencies can all damage mitochondria, the biggest factor is food.
Your mitochondria are like a hybrid engine that can run on two fuel sources: fat or carbohydrates. Most of us fuel our metabolic engines with carbs, a dirty-burning, inefficient fuel, instead of clean-burning fats. Bad fats like trans fats and oxidized oils (especially from deep frying) harm our mitochondria. However, certain fats, called ketones, are the preferred fuel for mitochondria and help them repair, renew, and rebuild.
New science on longevity has identified key mechanisms that get turned on with starvation or anything that mimics starvation including calorie-restricted diets (restricting overall calorie intake), time-restricted eating (consuming all calories within an 8, 10, or 12-hour window), intermittent fasting (limiting calories a few days a week), ketogenic diets (restricting carbohydrates and eating extra fats), and the fasting-mimicking diets (five days of calorie restriction). They all do basically the same thing. Essentially, when and what you eat come together to boost or damage your mitochondria. Quality is vital.