Most of the energy your cells need to survive is created in your body’s mitochondria. These little powerhouses take the food you eat and the air you breathe and turn them into energy. So, it stands to reason that eating nutrient-rich foods will give your mitochondria the essentials they need to power you through your day. Feed them poorly however, and you could be dragging yourself out of bed every morning!
What you feed your mitochondria matters. A lot.
Here are our top foods for powering up your mitochondria, plus a couple that aren’t….
Good Mitochondria Foods
While this word seems sciencey, broken down ‘phyto’ means ‘plant’ in Greek so it’s simply plant-nutrients. Phytonutrients are responsible for the vibrant colours found in fruits and vegetables and provide essential vitamins and minerals. Load up on leafy greens and sulfur-rich veggies, like cauliflower and cabbage, which will also help your body produce glutathione which many call the ‘mother of all antioxidants’ due to its essential role in cellular health.
We recommend: any vegetable is a good vegetable so you can’t really go wrong here (with the exception of potatoes) but focus on dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce. And make sure you are getting at least five servings a day.
Protein is rich in amino acids like glutathione that protect the mitochondria. It is important to remember with protein that quality is as important as quantity and that you are getting it from a variety of sources.
We recommend: red meat, fish, poultry, beans/lentils, nuts, seeds and eggs.
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.
We recommend: low-mercury wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, nuts (especially walnuts), seeds and egg yolks.
Healthy fats protect the mitochondria by providing anti-inflammatory support. While the mitochondria can use either fatty acids or carbohydrates to produce energy, doing so with healthy fats is loads more efficient and creates fewer free radical by-products.
We recommend: oily fish, avocado, coconut, olive or flaxseed oil.
This one is a bit of a wild card. Bone broth is believed to contribute to mitochondrial health by indirectly protecting the gut lining and delivering doses of certain types of amino acids that your cells thrive on.
We recommend: any type of bone broth. Mitochondrial health advocate Dr. Terry Wahls recommends adding a splash of vinegar to help draw the minerals out of the bone (magnesium, calcium, zinc, boron, and others). Adding extra seaweed is an excellent source of iodine and other trace minerals.
Our cells use CoQ10 to line the mitochondrial membrane, giving it a secure, defensive barrier that neutralizes free radicals, helping to protect essential energy production and prevent free radicals from escaping in the main body of the cell, where they can cause damage.
Getting enough CoQ10 can be tricky. Whilst we naturally make it in our bodies, production can slow down as we age. It also isn’t the easiest thing to get from food. There is a small selection of foods that contain some CoQ10, but the best way to get enough CoQ10 is through supplementation.
We recommend: organ meats, eggs, oily fish, olive oil, an effective CoQ10 supplement (like MitoQ).
Bad Mitochondria Foods
We all know sugar isn’t great for our health, but did you know that if you eat too much of it your mitochondria can’t burn it fast enough for energy. The sugar winds up getting stored as fat and producing damaging free radicals.
You may be surprised by the amount of toxins you consume from pesticides on fruit, vegetables and in some animal products. Not surprisingly, this can cause a lot of mitochondrial damage. When you can, try to buy spray-free, organic, local, pasture-raised (animal) products.
Simple carbohydrates like white flour and rice might as well be table sugar to your body since they’re so quickly converted to glucose once digested. Your mitochondria function better on a low carbohydrate diet as they are able to increase energy levels in a stable, efficient, long-lasting way. Don’t force your precious mitochondria to burn junk.
We aren’t recommending you stop eating fruit! But we do know that fructose, or fruit sugar, impairs rather than promotes the production of cellular energy. Try to focus on eating ‘whole’ fresh fruits and reduce consumption of juices and products with added fructose syrups.
Food is converted into fuel by mitochondria located within almost every cell in your body. These delicate organelles require the right amount of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to function properly. We owe it to ourselves to ensure what we put into our mouths is going to be good for us.
Our top tips for promoting mitochondrial health every day:
- Vegetables (excluding potatoes) are the best source of fibre, vitamins and minerals and should constitute most of your diet
- Protein should be sourced mainly from fish, poultry, beans and nuts and small amounts of red meat
- Whole-grain cereals should be chosen over refined grains such as white rice and flour
- Choose fruits at the peak of their freshness for the greatest nutritional value
- Use healthy oils when cooking or for salads, such as olive or coconut oils
- Steer clear of sugary drinks and fruit juices as they contain high amounts of fructose