How Nutrition Affects Our Energy
You may not realize it, but the energy we need for our bodies to properly function and thrive throughout our daily lives starts at the cellular level. Within our cells live energy-producing powerhouses called mitochondria. Each of our cells has hundreds to thousands of mitochondria inside of them, depending on their need for energy. For instance, heart cells and the cells in your skeletal muscle, which have very high energy demands to support the constant movements within your body, have up to 40 percent of their space taken up by mitochondria. All together, your body has over one quadrillion mitochondria that are constantly producing energy.
Maintaining structural integrity of your mitochondria is important for health and well-being. If tissues and organs do not receive adequate supplies of energy, they cannot function properly and become one of the major factors in unhealthy aging, fatigue and degenerative diseases. Mitochondria depend on oxygen and nutrients from food to produce these massive amounts of energy needed. Most of that energy comes from the breakdown of glucose or fats along with a multitude of nutrients.
The process within cells that creates and transports energy throughout the body uses a multitude of vitamins and minerals, in particular vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6 (one reason they are often called “energy” vitamins). Good sources of these vitamins include whole grains, wheat germ and brown rice. Also essential for the energy-production process is coenzyme Q10, iron and sulfur. Iron is present in whole grains, and good sources of sulfur are cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli.
While it’s not surprising that generating energy requires many nutrients, it may surprise you to realize that there is also a side production of dangerous molecules with potential to damage your cells. During the production of energy, about 2% of oxygen escapes in the form of what we commonly call “free radicals.” Free radicals bind to and break DNA chains, can cause cellular mutations and destroy proteins and fats in cell membranes. Under normal conditions, in which you are in good health, have low toxin exposure, and are eating a nutritious diet, your cells can protect against these ROS free radicals. In the case of poor nutrition, or in the presence of toxins that inhibit or damage energy production, the amount of free radicals generated in your cells exceeds the cells’ ability to protect themselves.
Research has shown that what we eat in our diet can significantly influence how much damage is produced by free radicals. A diet devoid of healthy foods will compromise cellular function and derail our body’s health. A diet rich in whole foods, grains, organic fruits and vegetables, however, can support healthy cells and energy production. Adding protective antioxidants in food, such as catechins and anthocyanidins in green tea and fruits; vitamin C in citrus foods; vitamin E in grain germs, whole grain oils, legumes, and carotenoids will strengthen and protect cells. Other beneficial nutrients like manganese, selenium, and copper from whole grains help protect cells, as well as amino acids present in broccoli, garlic and cauliflower. The enzymes involved in energy metabolism also require minerals including iron, magnesium, copper, selenium, and manganese, which can be obtained from whole foods and vegetables.
We know that antioxidants are good for us, but at the cellular level they are practically superheroes. Antioxidants directly bind to and destroy free radicals. Research has shown that green tea, flavonoid-rich vegetables and fruits, micronutrients like vitamin C, tocopherols (which include vitamin E), and carotenoids (including beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene) all function as antioxidants to protect cells from damage.
With an understanding how food affects the health of cells, it is recommended that diets include nutrient-rich, whole and organically grown foods and high quality supplements that will support healthy cells, robust energy and optimal health.
And say no to energy drinks:
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