Every year brings about new research, studies, and theories regarding the human body, diet, and health. In 2018, it seems that mitochondria are taking center stage in the debate.
With that said, how many of us understand the essential role of mitochondria? What are they? How do they work in the body? And, most importantly, how do we keep our mitochondria happy and healthy?
What is Mitochondria?
To understand the important function of mitochondria, you have to start with the cell. The cell is the building block in every living organism. While most people know the cell as the place where our DNA lives, cells also provide essential functions for the body including protein synthesis, the building of proteins within cells, and metabolism. In order for cells to carry out these functions, they have “specialized cellular components” called organelles, one of which is the mitochondria.
Mitochondria work as batteries for the cells via three avenues: create energy, synthesize proteins, and prepare proteins to be transported around the cell and through the body. The importance of mitochondria and your diet comes down to their true basic function, to break down carbs, fatty acids, and oxygen in order to create energy.
Healthy Fats and Mitochondria
Recent studies have delved into the important role that mitochondria plays in your overall bodily health. One such issue that they believe mitochondria health is connected to is the FLP syndrome, Feel Like Crap. Basically, when you just don’t feel good and you can’t pinpoint the reason. Dr. Frank Lipman, a pioneering doctor of functional medicine, the most effective way to bolster your mitochondria and maintain great mitochondrial health is by infusing your diet with a proper balance of healthy fats. Lipman goes further to explain that while mitochondria will use sugar and carbs to generate energy, they actually prefer fat.
While some turn to a total lifestyle change, such as switching to the ketogenic diet which focuses primarily on healthy fat consumption, simply increasing the number of healthy fats in your normal diet will do the trick!
Types of Healthy Fats
To begin, it’s important to understand the differences between the many different types of fats. There are two main categories of fat: unsaturated, which includes healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and saturated fats, which includes less healthy options such as trans fatty acids. Today, we’re highlighting the healthy fats and where to find them!
Monounsaturated fats have “one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule.” You can usually differentiated foods with monounsaturated fats by the fact that in hot temperatures they are liquid and in cold temperatures, they solidify. These fats have been shown to lower the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood, provide Vitamin E, and feed your mitochondria.
Some examples of foods that are high in monounsaturated fats include olive, safflower, and peanut oils, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and pumpkin and sesame seeds.
In contrast to monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats have “more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule.” With that said, they share the same liquid-to-solid identifier based on the temperature of the space it’s being stored within. Polyunsaturated fats share the same health benefits as monounsaturated fats including lowering bad cholesterol, vitamin E, and feeding your mitochondria. Yet, these fats also provide a great source of the omega fats. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids aren’t created by the human body. They must be ingested via diet.
Some examples of foods that are high in polyunsaturated fats include: sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, walnuts, flax seeds, soybeans, and tofu.
While we touched upon the omega fatty acids, it’s important to highlight these essential fats and where to find them. This can be especially difficult in a plant-based diet that adheres to strict vegetarian or vegan guidelines as omegas are found in their greatest quantities in fish. Three crucial omega fatty acids include EPA and DHA, which are found in fish meat, and ALA, which is found in plant-based products such as nuts and seeds.
Omega fatty acids have also been linked to some amazing health benefits including lowering triglycerides (blood fats) — which can reduce your risk of heart disease — reduce inflammation — which can aid with arthritis and asthma — combat depression, help neurological and visual development in babies. They can also possibly protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia. There’s also links to reduction in ADHD symptoms.
Foods that are high in polyunsaturated fats also will contain small amounts of omega fatty acids, yet some great sources of higher amounts of omega fatty acids include chia seeds, brussels sprouts, hemp seed, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
A Few Healthy Fat Food’s in a Plant-Based Diet
You know what types of healthy fats you need and how you can benefit from them. But, how do you get the most healthy fats out of your diet? While there are plenty of plant-based foods with healthy fats, below are a few that are also vegan staples. Each item on the list has high amounts of fatty acids. They also have a diverse range of uses, and, best of all, are incredibly tasty!
Macrobiotic Sweet and Sour Tempeh/One Green Planet
Using certain oils in your cooking is a great way to slip healthy fat into almost any recipe! Keep in mind, some oils are better than others when it comes to healthy fats. Try sticking with oils such as olive, safflower, flaxseed, and peanut. Try a few of these plant-based recipes such as this Macrobiotic Sweet and Sour Tempeh, Matzo Ball Soup, Chickpea Fries, and Kung Pao Tofu.
Nuts and Seeds
Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo With Kale and Sweet Pea/One Green Planet
No plant-based diet is complete without a healthy regimen of nuts and seeds. While nuts and seeds provide a host of essential vitamins and minerals, they are also one of the best sources of healthy fats. On top of that, nuts and seeds are diverse and delicious ingredients in recipes from breakfast to dinner to dessert! Try a few of these nut and seed-based recipes: Overnight Strawberry and Coconut Chia Pot, Lemon and Walnut Linguine With Roasted Broccoli, Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo With Kale and Sweet Peas, or this Homemade Hazelnut Cheese.
Tofu and Avocado
5-Ingredient Avocado Key Lime Pie Popsicles/One Green Planet
Tofu and avocado are important staples in plant-based diets. Tofu is a great source of protein and is one of the most popular meat substitutes. It takes a little experience and skill to cook tofu. Try these tips and tricks to get your tofu recipes just right! Avocado’s range of use makes it one of the best plant-based recipe ingredients and sources of fats, vitamins, and minerals. The creamy texture and mild taste has made this fruit a favored substitute in dessert recipes. Use it in this 5-Ingredient Avocado Key Lime Pie Popsicles, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, Raw Superfood Avocado Cake, or this Blender Brownies With Chocolate Avocado Frosting.
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and Raspberry Chia Jam Cups/One Green Planet
Last, but definitely not least, is dark chocolate. Yes, you read that right, dark chocolate is a great source of healthy fat! While overeating chocolate should be avoided, a small bit of dark chocolate has incredible benefits. Including, infusing your body with powerful antioxidants, lowering blood pressure, improved brain function and helps to feed those mitochondria. Try a few of these dark chocolate-based recipes: Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Fig Oat Bars, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and Raspberry Chia Jam Cups, or these Raw Matcha Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Cups.
For a host of healthy-fat, plant-based recipes, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App. It’s available for both Android and iPhone. It can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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