The development of obesity and chronic diseases is closely linked to nutrition, metabolism and energy production. Understanding the role of mitochondrial health is important. By understanding this, paying attention to dietary composition and meal timing, you can prevent obesity and prevent a significant proportion of chronic diseases without effort or self-indulgence.
What does energy “come from”?
Your body needs energy. Without it, the tissues gradually stop working and you can be in a life-threatening condition in just a few days.
Energy is usually not “ready”. It is produced by breaking down food and “burning” the end products (glucose or fatty acids).
In a normal, mixed diet, your metabolism makes what it needs. In fact… it stores, it builds up a reserve – like grandma puts away the preserves – to use in times of need.
Food contains three main macronutrients. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Of course, every meal has different amounts of these and the proportions vary. For example, cereals are high in carbohydrates and low in fats and proteins. Meats are mainly protein and fat, but have minimal carbohydrates.
Proteins are broken down into amino acids during digestion. These are then important as building blocks in the healing process and in rebuilding tissues. They become a source of energy only in extreme starvation.
There are two main types of proteins: plant and animal. Animal proteins are found in meat (pork, beef, poultry, fish, etc.), dairy products and eggs. It is a proven fact – although many people still do not believe it – that protein requirements can be met from plant proteins alone. Chickpeas, beans, lentils, peas, spinach, mushrooms, edamame (sprouted soybeans), tofu and seitan are just a few examples of plant protein sources.
These are the ones you’ll hear most about on weight loss forums. Carbohydrates are not only important in everyday nutrition, but are also an absolutely essential component of a sustainable weight loss programme. Carbohydrates provide the most readily available energy for the body and also play an important role in healthy brain function.
Complex carbohydrates are ‘better’ for health than simple ones.
You can get simple carbohydrates from foods made from grains (breads, pastries, cakes, snacks, etc.), potatoes and rice. Most people get at least 60% of their daily calories from these.
Their carbohydrate is starch. It starts to break down in your mouth as you chew. The enzyme amylase in your saliva breaks down starch into glucose. Some of the glucose is already absorbed through your oral mucosa. Of course, the breakdown of the ingested snack continues down the digestive tract. Once in your bloodstream, it raises blood sugar levels, triggering the release of insulin. Insulin’s job is to ‘push’ sugar into cells and turn it into fat.
Complex carbohydrates are made up of longer, more complex sugar molecules and are therefore broken down more slowly. They raise blood sugar levels less, so you feel fuller for longer. Vegetables, peas and beans and whole grains are rich in complex carbohydrates.
The carbohydrates in your blood are stored by your liver and skeletal muscles in the form of glycogen (liver 90-100 grams, skeletal muscles 2-400 grams). When the stores become saturated, the excess glucose is converted into fat.
Fats play a role in the storage of vitamins and are involved in the build-up of hormones such as cholesterol, testosterone and oestrogen.
When you eat good quality fats, such as those found in nuts, avocados, olives and fish, your body is better able to store nutrients from other macros.
Like carbohydrates, there are different types of fat: saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
The healthiest fats are monounsaturated (e.g. in avocados) and polyunsaturated (e.g. in fish).
Saturated fats are fats found in meat and meat products of animal origin, and too much of them can be unhealthy for the heart.
Trans fats are the worst form of fat. They are sometimes found in animal products, but the unhealthiest are hydrogenated oils. These are vegetable oils that have been chemically altered to keep them more solid at room temperature. Vegetable margarines, snacks and frozen foods are high in trans fats.
I’ve already mentioned that carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and then stored by your body as glycogen or fat. As long as your glycogen stores are not empty, this is what your body uses because it can most easily produce energy from it.
When glycogen ‘runs out’, it starts to switch to the other fuel, fat. From this your body can provide energy more slowly but for longer periods of time.
The mitochondria that produce energy “don’t like” glucose. They can produce twice as much energy from a fat molecule as from a glucose one. Burning glucose (as a by-product) produces more free radicals than burning fat.
A healthy mitochondrion can neutralise many free radicals. However, glucose breakdown produces so many free radicals that it impairs mitochondrial function, leading to inflammation and even death of the mitochondria-containing cell.
This cell inflammation is the basis of most chronic diseases.
When chronic inflammation occurs, it should always be considered as a root cause. Nutrition and, in particular, carbohydrate consumption habits should be examined. The development of a healthy diet should be a central part of the management of inflammation.
Metabolic flexibility – key to health
Metabolic flexibility is your body’s ability to switch quickly between carbohydrate and fat burning.
The healthier your mitochondria are and the more of them you have, the faster you switch from energy production to fat instead of sugar.
Mitochondrial health, and even the amount of mitochondria you have, depends on how you eat. If all your meals contain simple carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, sweeteners, sugary drinks, sugar), you are condemning your mitochondria to a constant glucose burn. The formation of free radicals causes the mitochondria to die and their number to decrease. In cells where the number and health of mitochondria is reduced, inflammation occurs and energy production is reduced.
The importance of timing
Macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fats – need to be consumed in the right balance and at the right time throughout the day. The timing of carbohydrate intake alone gives a huge boost to starting weight loss and optimising body weight!
Everyone needs different amounts of carbohydrates and their metabolism converts to fat breakdown at different times!
With poor mitochondrial health (eating carbohydrates with every meal), it can take up to 3-4 days to start fat breakdown!
You may be on a diet, but taking in some carbohydrate with every meal. Then you torture yourself, you starve yourself, but you don’t lose weight because your body can’t switch to fat loss for a moment!
In order to break down fat, you need a “carbohydrate fast”, i.e. to empty your carbohydrate stores and switch to burning fat.
Intermittent fasting is not too complicated. It simply involves eating carbohydrate-containing foods and drinks only during an 8-hour period of the day. And after that, don’t take in any sugar for 16 hours. Of course, the optimum would be to consume the other macros only during this period.
Face it, it’s not too complicated. You get up, you have breakfast at 7-8am. Then you eat your second meal around 4-5 pm.
After that, you definitely don’t have any carbs! If you’re really hungry, you can still eat salad, avocado, eggs, fish, low-fat meat – but zero side dishes, zero bread, zero snacks, no sugary drinks! Of course, water, sugar-free tea is fine.
The longer the meal-free period (i.e. the closer to 16 hours), the more certain and faster the results will be.
The first few days require self-discipline because you’re used to eating sugar all the time and feeling hungry. If you keep at it, the hunger will soon reduce and disappear! In fact! You will feel more energetic! Your physical performance will also improve!
Lumen.me – “support” in fasting
The hardest part of any diet is to believe that it makes sense. A sign of weight loss is weight loss. Buy a scale so you can check.
But what if the indicator doesn’t budge? You have no idea why your diet plan isn’t working. It’s because it’s not the right mix for you and you’re not timing it right! You’re pushing yourself, but you have no idea what’s going on in your body, is it creating the hunger you need?
I suggest you get a Lumen.me device to measure your metabolism directly! The reading in the morning will show you if your body has switched to fat burning overnight (values 1 and 2 indicate) or if you are still burning carbohydrates. A reading of 3, 4 or 5 means that your diet is still too high in sugar or you are timing your meals wrong!
If you have a high value, make sure your last carbohydrate intake is as early as possible, preferably around 3-4 hours. This will already give your body enough time to switch to burning fat… if you do it right, the pounds will melt off you gradually and without starvation (!).
To simplify things: if you eat foods that make your mitochondria multiply and healthy, you’ll have good energy levels. Poor, unhealthy eating will make you tired first, then sick.
The good news is that you can control and influence the number and health of the mitochondria in your cells. It’s up to you, what do you eat and when?
By planning your diet, you can make your own decisions about the health of your mitochondria and your body. Lumen.me is a great resource for this.