Food is medicine and what we fuel our bodies with determines how our body runs. I recently became certified in the Wahls Protocol which is a diet therapy that is geared toward optimizing the health of your cells, particularly the mitochondria, or batteries, of your cells. Let’s talk about the reasons for including or eliminating certain food choices and how to implement change for lasting health benefits.
Cellular Health 101
As mentioned, we want to eat to fuel our cells, particularly our mitochondria. Mitochondria 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 only from your mother
- one cell can have as little as one to up to over a thousand mitochondria per cell
Why pay so much attention to these little guys? For starters, 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
First, 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 intolerant foods.
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.
Foods That Support the Mitochondria
- 3 cups (about one heaping plateful) of leafy green vegetables, such as kale, collards, chard, spinach or lettuce, which provide vitamins A, B, C and K.
- 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, 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, citrus, beets and carrots do. You can still have an apple or banana if you would like, however, you need to obtain your 3 cups of color requirement first.
Foods to Avoid
Beyond this, you want to consider foods that might not be serving you. By this I mean a food is causing more stress in the body than good, like 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 sugars.
Dr. Wahls recommends in her first phase of her diet protocol to consider 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 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.
“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
Dr. Ashley Burkman is a naturopathic physician at Collaborative Natural Health Partners, LLC, with locations in Manchester, West Hartford and Stonington. The office is accepting new patients, please call: 860-533-0179 to book an appointment and visit: www.ctnaturalhealth.com for more information.