Fueling your Mitochondria Through Food, This Naturopathic Doctors Perspective on Health Eating

Food is medicine and should be used as our medicine. What we fuel our bodies with will determine how our body runs and for optimal health we want optimal fuel! We will be discussing a diet therapy I have recently become certified in called the Wahls Protocol. This is a diet therapy that is geared toward optimizing the health of your cells, particularly the mitochondria, or batteries, of your cells. We will go into detail on the reasons for certain food choices and eliminations and how to start to implement change for lasting health benefit.  

It all starts with a desire to live healthier and happier. We are bombarded with health information all the time from “eat this” and “don’t eat that.” Even when we are equip with health knowledge we often do not turn this knowledge into action and why is that? We want to be healthy, we want to feel better in our skin and want to have more energy, yet lifestyle changes are the most difficult of all to make and sustain. This is where it is important to find your why, your purpose, your motivation. I encourage you to write this down, so you can refer to this when going through lifestyle change. Breaking old habits is a difficult process and there will be slip ups along the way, but having your purpose, something that deeply resonates with you, is extremely important. For example, “I am committing to this lifestyle change to reduce my chronic pain and improve my energy, so I have the ability to physically and emotionally be more present with my family.”

Cellular Health 101

As mentioned, we want to eat to fuel our cells, particularly our mitochondria. Mitochondira are quite literally the batteries of each of the cells in our body. Interesting facts about these little powerhouses include:

  • every cell in the body contains a mitochondria with the exception of red blood cells
  • you obtain your mitochondria from only your mother
  • one cell can have as little as one up to over a thousand mitochondria per cell

So why pay so much attention to these little guys. For starts, it is thought that the “fountain of youth” is found in the health of one’s mitochondria. When we burn out our resources, we starve these energy generators, which in turn has ill effect on our organ systems and the way we feel overall.  From cardiovascular disease to mood disorders to neurological disorders, all are thought to have roots in the health of your mitochondria.

How to Preserve the Powerhouses

For starts, we need to reduce the load we place on them. Through diet we can eliminate foods that promote inflammation including overindulging on sugar, alcohol, highly processed foods and foods that we are intolerant of. Less stressful input the less stress on the cell.

Next, we want to help promote the ability to detoxify and function. Mitochondria require nutrients including coenzyme-Q-10 (CoQ10), B vitamins, magnesium, anti-oxidants, sulfur and more. Where can we attain these? Supplements are one way, but food is the most important way!

It occurred to me, that I should get my long list of nutrients from food [rather than supplements]. That if I did that, I would probably get hundreds and maybe thousands of other compounds that science had yet to name, that would be helpful to my brain and my mitochondria.
— Dr. Terry Wahls

So what foods should we focus on if we want to support our mitochondria?

  • 3 cups (about one heaping plateful) of leafy green vegetables, such as kalecollardschard, spinach or lettuce, which provide vitamins A, B, C and K.
  • 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, such as cabbagebroccolicaulifloweronions, garlic, mushrooms and asparagus. These support detoxification in the body thus reducing stress on the mitochondria.
  • 3 cups of colorful vegetables and fruits (ideally picking 3 different colors each day), due to their rich antioxidant content. The rule is they need to be colored all the way through so apples and bananas don’t count as colored, but berries, peaches, citrusbeets and carrots You can still have an apple or banana if you would like, however, you need to obtain your 3 cups of color requirement first!

Beyond this, you want to consider foods that might not be serving us. By this, I mean, maybe a food is causing more stress in the body than good. For example, sugar. There is no daily allotment of sugar I would want you to aim for in the day, therefore, eliminating added sugars is priority. Check labels on products like almond butter and dairy free milk alternatives like coconut milk as these can be hidden sources of where sugars are added.

Dr. Wahls recommends in her first phase of her diet protocol to consider additionally eliminating dairy, gluten/wheat and eggs as these are the top 3 foods that can cause the body additional stress. You may find you feel more mentally clear, have more energy, your pain reduces, and your bowels regulate. The number one question I get asked is how long do I need to follow this plan. While this changes from person to person, the idea that incorporating more vegetables and fruits in this way should be a lifestyle change not a temporary change. Elimination of entire food groups like dairy, wheat, and eggs might not necessarily be a permanent change, you may find you can tolerate very small quantities of these items, however, after an elimination and reintroduction you will know the “price you will have to pay” when you eat them. For one person it may be embarrassing acne breakouts, for another it might be terrible digestive pain and bowel changes, for another it might stir up their immune system to exacerbate their autoimmune condition. While reactions can vary, any reaction is a sign that you are stressing the body, aka stressing the mitochondria.

Food, just like everything else in life, is a choice we make based on our upbringing, emotions and current knowledge. When we start to connect the dots between food choices and our overall wellbeing, we are then empowered to live the best life we can live! Check our Collaborative Natural Health Partners 28 Day Detox to kickstart a healthy food plan to support your mitochondria based off the Wahls Protocol.

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