Mi­to­chon­dria and carb cy­cling are 2 hot health top­ics that could be the key to re­newed en­ergy.


For­got ev­ery­thing you learned in AP Bio class? We have a re­fresher on mi­to­chon­dria, your en­ergy fac­tory and how to keep it work­ing for you. Also, a guide to carb cyling, the new­est way to pre­vent a fat-loss plateau.

Q: What are “mi­to­chon­dria”? I’ve never heard this term be­fore, and now I’m start­ing to hear it ev­ery­where!

The mi­to­chon­dria are mi­cro­scopic struc­tures in­side your cells that have an out­size ef­fect on ev­ery as­pect of your health. Al­most ev­ery cell in the hu­man body has be­tween one and tens of thou­sands of them. (The heart mus­cle – which con­sumes a ton of en­ergy and works 24/7 – has about 5,000 mi­to­chon­dria per cell.) The “mighty mi­to­chon­dria” are the cel­lu­lar power plants that keep your me­tab­o­lism hum­ming. They’re so im­por­tant that na­ture has given them their very own DNA, dif­fer­ent from that of their host (you). These lit­tle self-con­tained mini-fac­to­ries live in­side the cells and are re­spon­si­ble for creat­ing adeno­sine triphos­phate (ATP), the Bit­coin of cel­lu­lar en­ergy for the hu­man body. Your body uses ATP for ev­ery­thing from blink­ing to play­ing Gui­tar Hero. The mi­to­chon­dria are also re­spon­si­ble for burn­ing fat, detox­iā­ca­tion and āght­ing oxy­gen-based free rad­i­cals. It’s quite a ré­sumé! So if the mi­to­chon­dria aren’t func­tion­ing at top level, vir­tu­ally ev­ery sys­tem in the body is af­fected. You may feel it as brain fog, fa­tigue or a ten­dency to get sick more of­ten, but mi­to­chon­drial dys­func­tion is a com­po­nent of all chronic dis­eases, in­clud­ing ne ur ode gen­er­a­tive, car­dio­vas­cu­lar, di­a­betes, au­toim­mune, mood and psy­chi­atric dis­eases. And the re­search on this is vo­lu­mi­nous.

So what does it take to keep your mi­to­chon­dria healthy? Terry Wahls, MD, the physi­cian who mostly re­cov­ered from crip­pling MS by us­ing a mi­to­chon­dria-friendly diet that she is now test­ing in clin­i­cal tri­als, sug­gests start­ing with these steps:

1 | Stop ex­pos­ing your mi­to­chon­dria to tox­ins.

A good start: Avoid any­thing on the En­vi­ron­men­tal Work­ing Group’s Dirty Dozen list of most-con­tam­i­nated fruits and veg­eta­bles.

2 | Dump the sugar and white flour–based prod­ucts, which, ac­cord­ing to Wahls, “con­trib­ute to mi­to­chon­drial star­va­tion.”

3 | Eat more veg­eta­bles, berries and high-qual­ity pro­tein (in­clud­ing grass-fed beef and or­gan meat) as well as sea­weed. Dr. Wahl’s per­sonal reg­i­men, which she talks about in her TEDx lec­ture, “Mind­ing Your Mi­to­chon­dria,” in­cludes three cups of green leaves, three cups of sul­fur-rich veg­eta­bles and three cups of color­ful pro­duce, or enough to cover three din­ner plates each day.

In­ter­est­ingly, ev­ery­thing that con­trib­utes to good health also con­trib­utes to mi­to­chon­drial health: ex­er­cise, clean eat­ing, in­creas­ing nu­tri­ents like omega-3s and de­stress­ing, rest­ful sleep. If you’re al­ready do­ing those things, you’re prob­a­bly keep­ing your mi­to­chon­dria very happy. If you’re not, start now.

What is carb cy­cling? Carb cy­cling is the no­tion of strate­gi­cally vary­ing your carb in­take ei­ther to pre­vent fat-loss plateaus, help the bod\ work more efā­cientl\ by burn­ing fat rather than carbs, or to in­crease phys­i­cal and ath­letic per­for­mance (or both). These days, we hear of carb cy­cling mostly as a vari­a­tion on the keto diet, which we talked about in our Novem­ber 2017 is­sue (cleaneat­

In case you’re not fa­mil­iar with the keto diet, it’s ba­si­cally a high-fat, very low-carb diet (fewer than 50 grams of carbs a day) de­signed to get your body to pro­duce lots of ke­tones, a by-prod­uct of fat me­tab­o­lism. Ke­tones are an ab­so­lutely won­der­ful al­ter­na­tive to glu­cose (sugar) as a source of en­ergy for your cells. (And wouldn’t you pre­fer to be burn­ing fat over sugar?)

To get your body to do this, you have to limit your glu­cose in­take and, in­stead, eat a lot of fat. But there are some po­ten­tial down­falls, at least for some folks. Carb cy­cling was “in­vented” as a way of ad­dress­ing some of those prob­lems (like stick­ing with a diet or hit­ting a plateau). The idea is to eat very low carb for a cer­tain amount of time and then to “jolt” the sys­tem with an in­sulin spike by strate­gi­cally con­sum­ing a carb uptick at pe­ri­odic in­ter­vals. (For ex­am­ple: In my pro­gram, Meta­bolic Fac­tor, we do the carb feast on the 10th, 14th, 18th and 22nd day of the plan.) This not only has meta­bolic ad­van­tages, but it also keeps peo­ple very mo­ti­vated be­cause they’re never more than a few days away from their fa­vorite food.

I’ll be hon­est: When I wrote my pro­gram, I was very skep­ti­cal about carb cy­cling. There isn’t re­ally a good body of peer-re­viewed, sci­en­tiāc re­search on carb c\cling keto di­ets, so for now, it’s like the Wild West out there with a ton of self-ex­per­i­menters and bio­hack­ers lead­ing the charge. And they’re re­port­ing good things. So I in­ter­viewed many su­per­star train­ers and even the di­rec­tor of a med­i­cal prac­tice where they were us­ing carb cy­cling and getting ter­riāc re­sults. , built carb c\cling into my pro­gram, beta-tested it and was de­lighted by the pos­i­tive re­sponse of the peo­ple who tried it. Many oth­ers who have writ­ten carb cy­cling pro­grams (such as John Kiefer, the mod­ern-day spir­i­tual fa­ther of carb cy­cling) re­port sim­i­lar re­sults. The re­sults? Getting your body in an op­ti­mal place to burn fat with­out much of the feel­ing of de­pri­va­tion that comes with other low-carb di­ets.

If you want to try carb cy­cling, there are plenty of on­line pro­grams, many free, that will out­line dif­fer­ent ways to do it de­pend­ing on your goals. Re­mem­ber that while you can have carbs on these pro­grams, it’s al­ways bet­ter to not treat the carb cy­cle meals as if they were free passes to Junk Foods R Us.

JONNY BOW­DEN, PhD, CNS Board-cer­ti­fied nu­tri­tion spe­cial­ist, mo­ti­va­tional speaker, au­thor and ex­pert in the ar­eas of weight loss and health.

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