Book review: 'Fat for Fuel' focuses on mitochrondria problems, encourages readers to focus on 'clean' fuel

Jed Stuber

Dr. Joseph Mercola says we all need “Mitochondrial Metabolic Therapy,” which is “a system of eating that will help you shift your metabolism from burning glucose to burning fat to fuel your body.”

Mercola is a prolific author who does most of his publishing these days on his website, one of the most visited health sites in the world with 40 million unique page views per month. He still does book-length treatments of what he believes are the most important topics, and Fat for Fuel: A Revolutionary Diet to Combat Cancer, Boost Brain Power, and Increase Your Energy is the latest.

Dr. Mercola reports that amazing discoveries have been made about our mitochondria, tiny micro organs found in nearly all our cells:

  • Mitochondria are so small that a billion of them would fit on the head of pin.
  • There about 10 million billion mitochondria in our body and they account for 10 percent of our weight.
  • They are a key part of our body’s energy production process that combines nutrients from the sugars and fats we eat with oxygen from the air we breathe.
  • They continuously generate energy molecules called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and make about 110 pounds of it every day.
  • The more metabolically active cells are—such as those in the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and muscles—the more mitochondria they have.

What have we done to ourselves?

Mercola says there is good evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction is at the root of disease and is causing the epidemics of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer that we are experiencing today. He believes we’ve done it to ourselves through our modern diets that are full of highly processed food and overloaded with sugar and refined grains. This unhealthy diet results in our body burning the “dirty fuel” of glucose when it should be running off fats and ketones.

A negative effect of continually running on glucose is an excess of oxidation at the biochemical level. Out of control oxidation degrades cell and mitochondrial membranes, which in turn leads to tissue damage. Mercola says it can even cause genetic problems that disrupt DNA replication and gene expression.

The key to reversing these processes and restoring health is changing what we eat and when we eat, Dr. Mercola says. He is proponent of a keto diet, meaning that the macronutrient balance should be high-fat, adequate protein, and low carbohydrates.

In the first chapter, Mercola reviews the history of how the American diet shifted to unhealthy extremes. Our great-great-grandparents ate mostly whole, unprocessed foods, but vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats infiltrated the food supply by the early 1900s, which made possible the “supermarket” full of processed foods with longer shelf life.

We now know that these trans fats contribute to the damaging oxidation process because of their chemical structure. They’ve been prevalent in our diets for a century, and there has been some official recognition of the problem in recent years as the FDA has acted to phase them out of food products.

Mercola says that with the hindsight of history and current scientific research we should be able to clearly see that rise of trans fat corresponded with a sweeping rise in cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Unfortunately, saturated fat ended up taking all the blame in a massive public health blunder. This mistake can be traced to the enormous influence of researcher Ancel Keys, who was an advisor to US presidents and a prominent member of the American Heart Association.

Following Keys' lead, the US developed national dietary guidelines calling for Americans to cut back on fat. That dogma has now held sway for 60 years. In 2013 the medical journal Open Heart published a thorough review of the studies and data used to establish the national guidelines, and found that there was absolutely no basis for the dietary recommendations! Despite this debunking the confusion about fats remains to this day.

Dr. Mercola explains that the real tragedy is that much of the medical community and most Americans remain largely ignorant about this history. They continue to follow misguided assumptions that natural fats are something bad to be avoided. This error has cost us our health because the healthy fats in our diets were replaced by trans fats, and at the same time carbs and sugars became dominant in our diet.

We are throwing gasoline on the fire of oxidative stress, damaging our mitochondria.

Why we need Mitochondiral Metabolic Therapy

The second chapter of Fat for Fuel explains what happens if we can get our bodies into fat burning mode.

  • It creates significantly less oxidation which fights against the inflammation driving nearly all diseases.
  • It promotes healthy neurological and brain function. The brain is 60 percent fat.
  • It keeps blood sugar down so you don’t develop the insulin resistance that is the main driver of diabetes and obesity.
  • It results in a natural satiation of hunger.

When it comes to cancer the latest research is fascinating. It turns out that cancer cells have a fundamentally different energy metabolism than healthy cells. They don’t use mitochondria to produce energy and have a radically reduced number of mitochondria. Mercola writes, “It’s not genetic mutations that cause cancer. We know now that mitochondrial damage happens first.”

Again, the antidote lies in what we choose to eat: “When you remove processed foods, sugar, grains, and high-net-carb fuels from your diet, you essentially stress cancer cells and deprive them of their preferred metabolic fuel.”

How to do MMT

Dr. Mercola spends a chapter talking about the “protein paradox” because so many people want to take a low-carb approach such as the popular Atkins, Paleo, or Primal diets, but they end up eating too much meat and protein. He explains that too much protein can also lead to insulin resistance and excessive oxidation. That’s why he recommends investing in good digital kitchen scale to be able to measure your meat portions precisely when you are getting started on MMT.

Next Mercola explains that too much iron in our blood cans also cause mitochondrial dysfunction, but there are effective strategies for lowering it. It’s usually as simple as donating blood a couple times of year.

The specific dietary recommendations are of course the heart of MMT. Carbs must be cut to less than 50 grams of net carbs or fewer. More fiber helps lessen the impact of carbs. Sugar must be studiously avoided but there are three alternative sweetners that can be used judiciously. Don’t be discouraged by the strictures about carbs and sugars, Mercola says, because eating healthy fats are quite tasty and satisfying. Think of the rich tastes associated with butter, lard, and bacon.

Mercola hopes that MMT will help both reasonably healthy people who want to optimize their health and fight aging, and anyone who is facing any kind of health challenge. Whatever the case, Mercola says it takes precision, especially at first. The main tool everyone needs to invest in is an inexpensive glucose monitor. Yes, you must be willing to prick your finger to make sure you are getting MMT right. You may also want to get a few blood tests done to make sure you are becoming “fat adapted.”

Mercola also includes a chapter on the importance of fasting to help get into MMT, and he’s big fan of Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, which we reviewed in last month’s newsletter.

Mercola has never been one to shy away from controversy, and he acknowledges that MMT has plenty of critics. That doesn’t stop him from passionately advocating for MMT as a major breakthrough. Even if his readers don’t find his arguments convincing, they will be be treated to a groundbreaking book that pulls together cutting-edge information in a way few others can.


This article is for educational purposes and not meant as medical advice.

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