I was recently on vacation in Maui, one of my favorite places on Earth. I was on the west side of Maui Kaanapali, where there were many beach resorts and restaurants. And so, if you walked around and went to a restaurant for dinner or lunch, you would get a menu like the one I posted here, which inspired me to write this post.
Here it is:
You can see that there are many options there. But there is only one meal explicitly marked "without gluten." The rest are loaded with processed and refined carbs. Even those so-called healthy options are very similar. And that prompted me to think about what this means.
If you're not that familiar with what to eat, what not to eat, what's good for you, and what's not good for you, a general principle confirmed in the scientific community is minimizing processed or refined carb intake as much as possible.
Of course, sometimes you could have a little bit more. But, for instance, it's a good thing for you if you don't eat a lot of these when you are not exercising. If you eat more carbs once, and then the remainder of the week, you go back to a more ketogenic diet with more healthy fats, protein, and some healthy carbs from veggies or fruits, then it's not that bad. But I'm talking about a constant high load of carbs.
And that is a major problem if you think about it when you go out, as the majority of restaurants are unfortunately catering to the broader demand, which is a lot of carbs. My kids weren’t asking for those steamed broccoli, they preferred the chicken sandwich with fries. So people get used to it and want more, which leads to more unhealthy food offerings in restaurants - a vicious cycle.
The menu I'm showing here from this restaurant is very typical, but it shows you the general problem. The problem is that it's very hard to find these healthy options; even those labeled healthy are not necessarily healthy. So there is an excess amount of carbs hidden in most of these on this menu. There's also a lot of gluten, lactose, and all things that are not necessarily beneficial for your body. But they're hidden there.
So if you look at the menu, what would you choose?
Maybe you go for the fish tacos in this case because it looks like it's the best deal. But even that one is loaded with carbs. The wrap, the Fajita, is made out of corn in this case, but it's still a carbs bomb. Therefore, this is a big problem.
The Decline of Mitochondrial Health
If you think about younger kids growing up in an environment like this, it's basically a program for obesity.
And if we look at adults whose metabolism is much slower, that means if you eat such a diet on an ongoing basis, it's a program for disaster. It eventually leads to being overweight and obesity.
This correlates nicely with the study from 10 to 20 years ago about the rise of obesity, not just in the US but in general as a global trend.
And you can see why this is because what's considered "normal" food contains way too many carbs.
The underlying problem is linked to poor mitochondrial health. Mitochondria are those little organelles in your cells. I often talk about them in my blog articles. They produce the energy your cells need to survive in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), which is your body’s energy currency.
The processes for producing this ATP are quite complex, and the body has several ways of achieving that typically quite effectively and efficiently. You can think about it as an orchestra comprising several players. If it is well coordinated, the sound of music can be awesome, but if some musicians are playing out of tune, it may sound terrible. Same here for your cells and those little mitochondria. Too high carb intake on a regular basis leads to poor mitochondrial health and eventually mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to many multi-organ diseases like CFS, depression, fibromyalgia, diabetes type II, cancer, heart diseases, stroke, and many more.
Therefore the goal if you would like to stay healthy and achieve a state of a high-performance mind, which I often encourage, is to take proper care of your mitochondria.
Decreasing your overall carb load is one part of keeping them in good shape and the foundation for achieving a state of a high-performance mind.
If we're unable to shift to a healthier way of eating, and of course, food offerings in restaurants are a big cause of this issue, then we are setting ourselves up for the decline of our mitochondrial health. I think this has already happened in the past years, and I anticipate a substantial increase in all types of diseases rooted in mitochondrial dysfunction.
That got me thinking:
What can you do?
The first step is obviously to educate yourself, knowing what's good and what's bad for your body. That alone is a very complex problem because there's so much advice about good diets, bad diets, and so on. Many of them are conflicting, leading to misleading information.
The second aspect is that micronutrients that were abundant in our food 20 to 30 years ago have nowadays decreased significantly. Studies show there are 50% to 70% fewer micronutrients, for instance, in broccoli or other vegetables. Important minerals, such as magnesium, iron, and calcium, decreased significantly. And so you eat the same amount of food, but your body gets 50% to 70% less of these important micronutrients.
The third aspect is the environmental toxicity that has been growing continuously in the last decades. There are more herbicides and pesticides in our food chain. Heavy metal poisoning, particularly in fish, is also a big issue. For example, you load up your body with mercury when you have sushi. Then there is a rise of microplastic. So it's quite challenging to eat well if you consider all those things.
In the end, it boils down to how you can minimize the damage happening.
Or how can you mitigate it?
What can you do to counterbalance this problem?
With the standard food choices out there, it's not always possible to do everything from scratch at home when you go to a restaurant. The ideal scenario is to eat completely organic vegetables and minimize environmental toxins as much as possible. And then you spend countless hours every day carefully preparing your food and ensuring it's optimal. But that's, unfortunately, not practical most of the time.
So I think it boils down to educating yourself.
You have to think creatively about how you can mitigate the damage as much as possible. And even in situations where you get this type of menu at a restaurant, what can you do to minimize the damage?
Of course, there are ways of doing it. But I think the more troublesome perspective here is that, unfortunately, most people are unaware of how to mitigate these things and continue eating like this.
This type of diet will gradually affect cellular levels.
First of all, the mitochondria are affected negatively. That means energy production on the cellular level gets out of balance with this ongoing excessive carb load and decreases as one side effect.
A lot of our metabolic processes and gene expressions depend on healthy mitochondria.
So this is a major problem in terms of how to stay healthy.
Without any changes to our diets, I see major problems occurring in the next one or two decades.
I predict we will see a sharp increase in all kinds of diseases related to mitochondrial dysfunction, one aspect of medicine that, unfortunately, has not made it yet mainstream for most medical doctors around the world. A few integrative or functional medical doctors started specializing and going deeper into mitochondrial health, but this is more the exception currently. So I see this as a big challenge.
But on the other hand, I don't want to paint this doomsday scenario here. I think humans are creative when it comes to address harder challenges, and thus the purpose of this article here is to raise awareness for this important topic.
If you haven't thought about this topic, hopefully, this article sparks some interest in investigating this in a little more detail.
In particular, to know what you eat:
What carbs are in it? In particular, look for carb “bombs” like in pasta, rice, and bread.
Is there gluten in there? Most of us have trouble processing it.
Is there lactose in there? This also causes digestion problems for many of us.
How much sugar is in there? Look at the label of ingredients to determine the amount of sugar per serving.
And how much can it be affected by environmental toxins? Especially seafood, which might be highly filled up with heavy metals like mercury.
Those are all good questions to ask and think about.
And in most cases, you won't know everything for sure. But you can try your best to educate yourself and figure out healthy choices.
But in the case of the menu here, maybe it is fish tacos for today. And hopefully, the next day, you can eat elsewhere to find better and healthier options.
I have developed a data-driven 12-week training program, "The High-Performance Mind," leveraging the latest science and technology to assist senior tech leaders in optimizing their mind and brain performance to thrive in high-pressure environments. Optimizing your food intake and upgrading your mitochondria is part of it.
You can reach out and contact me for a (free) initial get-to-know meeting, where I can outline some strategies, based on your unique situation and objectives. This is my gift to you.
Take action, make your mitochondria health & wellbeing a priority and take the first step now.