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We’ve known for a while now that the health of your gut is closely tied to your immune system, mood, and even brain health, and now according to Dr. Steven Gundry, it’s also a key driver in your energy levels. Dr. Gundry is a cardiothoracic surgeon, medical director of the Center for Restorative Medicine and now author of The Energy Paradox: What to Do When Your Get-Up-and-Go Has Got Up and Gone.
You might recognize Dr. Gundry from his New York Times best-selling book, The Plant Paradox, which delves into the connection between gut health and inflammation. So what does gut health have to do with energy levels? According to his new book, just about everything.
Dr. Gundry shares some key insights with us from his research on how our gut health impacts energy levels, why you shouldn’t snack all day long and how time-restricted eating can actually boost energy. Here are five takeaways that we should all be doing right now:
- Take care of your gut. Scientists conjectured that messages were being sent from the microbiome to the mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles in most of our cells, according to Dr. Gundry, but they didn’t know how — until now. “The language is called postbiotics and it consists of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and gases that literally tell mitochondria to step on the gas and make more energy. Postbiotics are made by fermentation of fiber (prebiotics) by our microbiome (probiotics).” So what does this mean practically? Make sure you get enough prebiotic foods, according to Dr. Gundry, because you need to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut to ensure they send those messages (aka postbiotics) to your mitochondria. Think garlic, onions, leeks, plantains and asparagus.
- Consider time-restricted eating. Eating all day long has implications on your blood sugar, according to Dr. Gundry, as your body is consistently producing insulin to compensate. Narrowing your eating window, as he explains in his book, is one way to give your body the break it needs to to keep energy production up. “In our current way of eating, our freeways are bombarded most of the day with traffic and our energy production grinds to a stop. If we control the time food arrives on the freeways, traffic and energy production soar.” Dr. Gundry explains. “The more rest you give your mitochondria by not eating (time-controlled eating) the better the energy production when you do eat.”
- Eat melatonin-rich foods. Normally we hear about melatonin in the context of sleep, but it’s also an antioxidant within mitochondria that’s key to energy. And in addition to the melatonin made by the body, eating melatonin-rich foods is also helpful. “Melatonin-rich foods, like pistachios, mushrooms, coffee, olive oil and red wine may actually be why these foods are associated with great health and longevity. In fact, the Mediterranean diet may be good because of all the melatonin in those foods!” says Dr. Gundry.
- Avoid excess fruit. Certainly not all fruit is bad for you, but according to Dr. Gundry, excess fructose from fruit can impede energy production in the liver. “I have nothing against organic, low-fructose fruit consumption in season,” he says. “But our fruit has been hybridized for more sugar (fructose content) and size.” For maximum energy stick to organic, seasonal picks and opt for those with lower sugar content such as berries.
- Start the day with a “mono meal.” Most foods are a mix of the three main macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat). But Dr. Gundry says we should be mindful to lean towards one of these nutrients at a time for our first meal of the day. “Your mitochondria are really good at processing one major nutrient at a time, like sugars or amino acids, but when sugars, proteins and fats all arrive simultaneously, traffic grinds to a halt. So, a mono meal, of mainly one substance, say millet puffed cereal with low-fat almond milk, or conversely an egg white omelet with Canadian bacon would both be processed easily,” he explains.
Dr. Gundry shares his recipe for gut-healthy shrimp cakes with Old Bay seasoning and prebiotic ingredients like onions and garlic.