By Dr. Mercola
Modern food manufacturing processes have utterly failed at improving health and increasing longevity. The evidence is both clear and overwhelming: Cyclical net carbohydrate intake is the primary factor that determines your body's fat ratio, and processed grains and sugars (particularly fructose) are the primary culprits behind our skyrocketing obesity, diabetes and chronic disease rates.
Today, two-thirds of the American population are overweight or obese;1 1 in 5 deaths is obesity-related;2 half have pre-diabetes, diabetes or other chronic illness;3 and 1 in 3 women and half of all men will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime.
There’s an answer to all of these terrible health trends, and it all starts with the nutritional composition of your diet. Most people simply eat far too many processed foods, net carbs and too few healthy fats, and too many unhealthy fats, which results in gaining and retaining extra body fat and becoming increasingly insulin resistant.
Most also eat too much protein for optimal health and, while exercise cannot compensate for the damage done by a high-carb, low-fat diet, most do not get enough physical movement either. These factors set in motion metabolic and biological cascades that deteriorate your health.
The Root Cause of Most Degenerative Conditions
In the featured video, Dr. David Perlmutter4 and I discuss my new book, “Fat for Fuel,” which was released May 16. This book, which is the most important book I’ve written to date, explains the metabolic advantages you gain once your body regains the ability to burn fat for fuel.
The book was peer-reviewed by dozens of leading natural health experts and researchers, including Perlmutter. Peer-review is a gold standard in science and the medical literature, but there are very few peer-reviewed books, which is a feature that sets “Fat for Fuel” apart from many others. I’m deeply grateful for everyone’s input.
As explained in the interview, and in my book, a foundational cause of most degenerative diseases is the fact that your mitochondria, the little powerhouses located in most of your body’s cells, are not receiving sufficient amounts of proper fuel. As a result, your mitochondria start to deteriorate and malfunction. This dysfunction lays the groundwork for subsequent breakdowns of various bodily systems.
Your mitochondria generate the vast majority of the energy (adenosine triphosphate or ATP) in your body. Were all mitochondria to fail, you’d be dead in seconds.
In addition to generating the energy currency of your body, ATP, your mitochondria are also responsible for apoptosis (programmed cell death), and serve as important signaling molecules that help regulate the expression of your genes. This is a function that even most doctors are unaware of.
Your mitochondria are nourished by certain nutrients and harmed by others. So, a healthy diet is a diet that supports mitochondrial function and prevents dysfunction, and having the metabolic flexibility to burn fat is the key.
The vast majority of people on the planet who eat a primarily processed food diet are burning carbohydrates as their primary fuel, which has the devastating effect of shutting down your body’s ability to burn fat. This is why obesity is so prevalent, and why so many find it nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off.
Fats Versus Carbs
Ideally you will have the metabolic flexibility to burn either carbs or fats for fuel. Unfortunately, saturated fats have been wrongly demonized as being harmful, and when food manufacturers started removing the fats from their processed foods, they added sugar instead. For a long time, this was viewed as a healthy substitution. Today, the evidence clearly demonstrates the fallacy of this view.
When your body burns primarily carbs for fuel, excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals are created, which damage cellular mitochondrial membranes and DNA, leading to the degenerative diseases that are so prevalent today. Healthy dietary fats, which are a cleaner-burning fuel, create far fewer ROS and free radicals. This lays the groundwork for many of the metabolic benefits of this program. Fats are also critical for the health of cellular membranes and many other biological functions.
Metabolic Mitochondrial Therapy — Fat and Carb Basics
The program I’ve developed is called metabolic mitochondrial therapy (MMT). The initial phase of the MMT program — which ends once your body is able to effectively burn fat for fuel — can take anywhere from weeks to months or longer, depending on how metabolically damaged you are.
It is called MMT because I review a variety of other strategies to improve your mitochondria other than diet, such as cold thermogenesis, photobiology, detox, exercise and the importance of electromagnetic fields.
The initial strategy of this program is the restriction of net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber) to 20 to 50 grams per day, but only until you start burning fat for fuel. To replace the lost carbs, you increase healthy fats, so that you’re getting anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of your daily calories from fat. Examples of high-quality healthy fats include:
✓ Coconuts and coconut oil (excellent for cooking as it can withstand higher temperatures without oxidizing)
✓ Animal-based omega-3 fat from fatty fish low in mercury like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies and/or krill oil
✓ Butter made from raw grass fed organic milk
✓ Seeds like black sesame, cumin, pumpkin and hemp seeds
✓ Olives and olive oil (make sure it's third party certified, as 80 percent of olive oils are adulterated with vegetable oils)
✓ Grass fed (pastured) preferably organic and humanely raised meats. Avoid CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) animal products
✓ MCT oil
✓ Ghee (clarified butter), lard and tallow (excellent for cooking)
✓ Raw cacao butter
✓ Organic, pastured egg yolks
Fats to avoid include trans fats and highly refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils.5 The former acts as a pro-oxidant; the latter are high in damaged omega-6 and produce toxic oxidation products like cyclic aldehydes when heated.
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, when taken in large amounts, cannot be burned for fuel. Instead, they’re incorporated into cellular and mitochondrial membranes. Here, they become highly susceptible to oxidative damage, which ultimately damages your metabolic machinery.
It’s important to emphasize that MMT is not merely adding more healthy fat to your current diet or eating as much fat as you want. It is absolutely crucial to restrict net carbs, or else you’re merely increasing the number of calories you consume. Raising the amount of fat and decreasing net carbs is what pushes your body into burning fat for fuel. Eating high amounts of both fat and net carbs will NOT allow your body to make this shift, as your body will use whatever sugar is available first.
Metabolic Mitochondrial Therapy — Protein Basics
The program differs significantly from Paleo in that it restricts protein to adequate levels. A general recommendation is to limit your protein to one-half gram of protein per pound (1 gram per kilo) of lean body mass. To determine your lean body mass, subtract your body fat percentage from 100.
For example, if you have 30 percent body fat, then you have 70 percent lean body mass. Then multiply that percentage (in this case, 0.7) by your current weight to get your lean body mass in pounds or kilos. As an example, if you weigh 170 pounds, 0.7 multiplied by 170 equals 119 pounds of lean body mass. Using the "half-gram of protein" rule, you daily protein requirement would be 59.5 or just under 60 grams.
Certain individuals and life circumstances do raise your protein requirements. This includes seniors, pregnant women and those who are aggressively exercising (or competing). As a general rule, these individuals need about 25 percent more protein.
Why Limit Protein?
The reason for limiting protein is because excessive protein has a stimulating effect on a very important biochemical signaling pathway called the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which has significant, adverse metabolic consequences. Importantly, this pathway plays a significant role in many cancers. It's also a significant regulator of the aging process. When you reduce protein to just what your body needs, mTOR remains inhibited, which helps minimize your chances of cancer growth.
Perlmutter recently interviewed professor of biology Thomas Seyfried, Ph.D., on this very topic, so for additional discussion, have a look at that interview.6 Seyfried is the leading expert on the metabolic foundation of cancer, and a large portion of the proceeds of “Fat for Fuel” will be used to support his leading edge research.
Excessive protein can also be converted into body fat and, through some pathways, sugar. So, net carb restriction normalizes the insulin pathway while protein restriction normalizes the mTOR pathway, both of which are important for optimal health. It’s well worth noting that cancer is just one expression of the same metabolic problem found in most other degenerative diseases. The same pathways are involved in most if not all of them.
Feast-Famine Cycling Basics
Another crucial difference between MMT and most other ketogenic diets is something called feast-famine cycling. Continuously remaining in nutritional ketosis can actually cause counterproductive side effects, and is likely not optimally healthy in the long term. The ketogenic cycling is implemented once you’re out of the initial stage and your body has regained the ability to burn fat. At that point, you begin cycling in and out of nutritional ketosis by upping your carb and protein intake once or twice a week.
After a day or two of “feasting,” you then cycle back into nutritional ketosis (the “fasting” stage) for the remainder of the week. By periodically pulsing higher carb intakes, consuming, say, 100 or 150 grams of carbs opposed to 20 to 50 grams per day, your ketone levels will dramatically increase and your blood sugar will drop.
Why is this pulsing so important? It goes back to the workings of insulin. The primary function of insulin is not merely to drive sugar into the cell but rather to suppress the production of glucose by your liver (hepatic gluconeogenesis). When you suppress insulin for too long, however, your liver starts making more glucose to make up for the deficit.
The result? Your blood sugar starts rising even if you’re not eating any sugar at all. In this situation, eating a high-sugar meal will actually LOWER your blood sugar (because you activated insulin, which then suppresses glucose production in your liver). In the long term, this is not a healthy metabolic state, and cycling in and out of nutritional ketosis will prevent this from occurring.
The Role of Iron Is Also Vital in Mitochondrial Function
Iron also plays an important role in mitochondrial function, and contrary to popular belief, excessive iron levels are far more prevalent than iron deficiency. Virtually all men over the age of 16 and post-menopausal women are at risk of high iron. Menstruating women are protected since they lose blood, and hence iron, each month. While most people damage their mitochondria by eating a high-carb, low-fat diet and/or excessive protein, elevated iron levels can cause profound mitochondrial damage as well.
When you have high iron levels in your mitochondria, it enhances oxidation, creating high levels of damaging ROS and free radicals. Fortunately, high iron is simple to fix. Simply check your iron level with a serum ferritin test, and if your level is high, donate blood two or three times a year to maintain a healthy level.
An ideal iron ferritin level is between 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), the same as vitamin D. Below 20 ng/mL is a deficiency state, and you definitely do not want to be above 60 or 80 ng/mL.
To be successful on this program, precision is important. You cannot guess when it comes to the amount of fat, net carbs and protein you eat. In the beginning, you have to measure and track them. To do this you need:
• A kitchen scale to weigh food items
• Measuring cups to measure food amounts
• A nutrient tracker. I recommend using www.cronometer.com/mercola, as it is the most accurate nutrient tracker available, it’s free, and it’s already set up for nutritional ketosis.
Based on the personal base parameters you enter, such as height, weight, body fat percentage and waist circumference, it will automatically calculate the ideal ratios of net carbs, protein and healthy fats (including your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio) to put you into nutritional ketosis
From a metabolic perspective, once you become an efficient fat burner, one of the most astonishing things that happens is that your food cravings disappear. No longer will sugar rule your world. It’s incredibly freeing for most people. Your energy level and mental clarity will also dramatically increase.