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Feed Your Mitochondria

While it is American Heart Month, I’m inclined to write about another organ, or organelle, to be precise. I’m talking about the mitochondria, aka the powerhouse of your cells.

Let me tell you a little story. In most of our cells we have numerous organelles (think tiny cellular organs) that are working together just to make that one cell, which might belong to skeletal tissue or your kidney or your heart, function properly. Each of those nucleated cells has the potential to create energy, or as you might remember from your school days, ATP. How does it do that?

Well, the body’s preferred source of fuel is glucose, which comes from starches and sugars. (I won’t get into the other sources of fuel the body uses, but you should know that the body’s incredible intelligence has all kinds of safety measures for just in case.) So, you eat and the body starts breaking down your food and glucose is released and gets transported into the cells. There are 3 big cycles with dozens of enzymatic mini-steps in between that get us from here to energy.

Within the cell, in a juicy place called the cytosol, a 10-step process called glycolysis occurs, which is more breaking down until we get 2 molecules that enter into the mitochondria where the magic of energy making happens. Once inside there are 2 separate cycles going, the citric acid cycle and the electron transport chain. Through dozens more enzymatic steps, one cycle feeds into the other, shuttling off electrons to the chain to be transformed, to become the BANG of energy our cells need to keep doing their specific jobs.

Why should we care what happens on this ultra-microscopic cellular level? To be fair, it’s happening anyway, without our knowledge of it. This is very true however, for it to happen optimally, there are some things you need to know. For example, each tiny step and conversion requires certain nutrients. If there is a deficiency in any of those nutrients, such as, magnesium, manganese, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, selenium, etc. then your energy making cells just can’t make energy and you feel fatigue and a whole host of other symptoms. Can a chronic lack of optimal energy making lead to disease? Yes, it can. The good news is that eating whole foods, particularly an abundance of GREENS, can help. In this TEDx talk, Dr. Terry Wahls discusses her turn around from a debilitating multiple sclerosis diagnosis. After failed conventional therapy (the best there was), she turned to research of her own. She developed a meal plan for “feeding her mitochondria and brain”, a meal plan of fresh, local, organic and most importantly, whole foods. If Dr. Wahls can turn her disease around with whole foods, what might whole foods be able to do for us? If you’re interested in learning more about feeding your mitochondria, this blog post by Dr. Frank Lipman is a great resource.

I leave you with a recipe for one of my favorite meals, Mujadara. Lentils are a very good choice to feed your mitochondria. They are loaded with fiber and folate, with vitamins B1, B5, B6, iron, manganese, zinc and more. These tiny pulses are powerhouses themselves and deliciously pack a serious nutritional punch. Top this with sauteed greens and your cells will be jumping for joy.

These are the kinds of things I wish I learned a long time ago, like meditation. These are those little secrets that can make a huge difference in your life. Whole foods. Eating the rainbow. Meditating. Cooking. The little things we’ve lost touch with. Go and get back in touch, with your heart, with your cells and nourish them well.

(And thanks for reading along as I review glycolysis for a future exam!) Happy Cooking, Family. In good health,


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