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mitochondria: your own Starship Enterprise


Don’t leave.

This is good information, especially if you want to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, avoid type 2 diabetes (maybe even reverse it), boost your energy, and generally enhance your health and vitality.

Seriously, if nothing else, who doesn’t want more energy?

This will be a 2-part blog post. I have too much information to share with you in one shot. Last June I attended the Fitness & Health Blogger’s Conference at the new (and amazing) Anschutz Health & Wellness Center on the University of Colorado’s Medical School campus here in Denver. The conference, put on by the awesome folks at Zephyr Adventures, included everything from world-class speakers and organic food to optional exercise classes in a state-of-the-art fitness center. We were also treated to a tour of the metabolic kitchen and dinner on the urban garden green roof. For someone with a background in exercise science and nutrition, this was my kind of conference. Plus, we got to wear workout clothes the whole time. It makes it much easier to squirm around and sit cross-legged in a lecture hall if you’re barefoot and wearing yoga pants.

Dr. James Hill is the founder and Executive Director of the Health and Wellness Center. He’s also the co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry and America on the Move, a national weight-gain prevention initiative. He kicked off the conference with a presentation on The Importance of Evidence Based Approaches to Health and Wellness. The audience, mostly fitness bloggers, loved him. He’s a leading expert on obesity, food policy, environmental changes, genetic influences on energy balance, the health consequences of inactivity, and on and on and on. The guy is brilliant and has a great sense of humor. Perfect combo!

One of Dr. Hill’s slides was a map of US obesity rates. In 2008 Colorado “weighed” in as the fittest state with an obesity prevalence of 15%-19%. A few days ago, new numbers were announced. In one article, Colorado was called the “skinniest” state with a new rate of 20.7%. I’m proud of Colorado (born and raised here), but calling us the skinniest state with an obesity rate of almost 21% is misleading. Our obesity rate has doubled since 1995. Dr. Hill suggested that Colorado is simply the caboose on a fast moving train going the wrong direction. We’re still the fittest state, but we’re gaining just like everyone else. The highest obesity rates in general are in adults over age 40, ranging from 36% to 42%. That’s a big segment of the population.

What do you think? Which is more important in causing weight gain—diet or inactivity?

Dr. Hill asked the audience that question and the responses were all over the place. It’s a complex issue and he encouraged lively debate. That’s the mark of a good teacher!

Our genes haven’t changed since the 50s and 60s, but our environment has. Our lifestyles are different. We don’t move as much as our parents and grandparents did and we don’t eat the same food they ate. Obesity is the adaptation to this new environment. Our ancestors ate whenever food was available and rested whenever they could. It was a biological necessity. Now, abundant, cheap, and poor-quality food is available at every turn and we don’t even have to get off our bums to prepare it, let alone find or catch it. We can pick up the phone (now conveniently unattached from the wall) and order it to be delivered. If we’re out and about, all we have to do is pull through a drive-up window and have someone toss a bag of food to us.

We have to motivate ourselves to move. Now it’s called exercise. It used to be the way we lived.

How many motivational sayings do you see posted on Facebook or Twitter each day? I’m “guilty” of that. I post upbeat, motivational ramblings on a regular basis. We sit on our bums in front of our computers and tell each other to get out and do something. It’s actually rather silly when you think about it.

As many of you know, I spent the past year co-writing a book with friend, colleague, and endurance athlete Pete Bronski of the blog No Gluten, No Problem. I sat at my computer for long hours, fretted over my writing, stressed about hitting deadlines, and didn’t move as much as I normally do. I’m in that over 40 (way over 40 in my case) category and I gained several pounds. Under 10, but over 6—I’m actually not sure how much weight I gained, but regardless of the amount, “contents did shift” and I don’t like the feeling. It’s easier to gain weight when we’re older because our body composition changes. We typically have less metabolically active muscle tissue because we don’t move as much. I’m on a mission to change that. I started last March. Check metabolism, weight loss, yoga & flexible genes for the back-story.

If you diet alone to lose weight, your metabolic rate will go down. That’s not good. Dr. Hill noted that one of the characteristics of people who were successful in losing weight and keeping it off was 60-90 minutes of exercise per day. And if you’re considerably overweight to begin with, you’ll have to work harder to lose the weight because of the metabolic difference between lean muscle and fat. It’s not easy and my heart goes out to people who have this challenge. Just losing my few pounds has been difficult. I can only imagine how overwhelming it would be to have 50, 60, or 100 pounds to lose. But it can be done. It takes lots of time (years maybe); an overall strategy of simple, small changes; a scale (horrors!); patience; good food; and lots of movement. LOTS of movement.

The point is to increase mitochondrial density, which will increase the ability to efficiently process fat. Although the biochemical process is complicated, the point is pretty straightforward. Increase muscle, decrease fat.

I’ll leave you with a definition of the mitochondria and we’ll launch into part 2 next week—Pursuing Metabolic Health: What we have Learned from Elite Endurance Athletes with Dr. Iñigo San Millán. Dr. San Millán is the director of the Exercise Physiology and Human Performance Lab at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center and did a stellar presentation on the importance of movement, mitochondrial density, and fat loss. If you stick with me for part 2, you’ll see that there is always hope. We can make positive changes at any age and the mitochondria is our Starship Enterprise!

A double-membraned organelle that plays a central role in the production of ATP (energy-carrying molecule); known as the powerhouse of the cell. Mitochondria are small, spherical, rod-shaped, or filamentous structures that appear throughout the cytoplasm (material within a cell, excluding the nucleus). Mitochondria are self-replicative. Yay! They replicate in response to the increased cellular need for energy. Exercise causes an increase in mitochondria, which is a GOOD thing. We need to do that to lose weight and keep it off. FOREVER.

More on that in part 2.

Note: For more information on obesity statistics and recipe rehab, check the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center’s Tools & Resources link. If you’re in the Denver area, check their Programs & Services. And if you’re interested in gluten-free living and thriving, check our new book, The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life

Peace, love, and mitochondrial density!

sweet corn ice cream


Yes, you read that right. Corn, as in corn on the cob, ice cream.

And no, I’m not a total nutbar (well, maybe). Although, I must admit, I’m not sure I’d make this again. It was over-the-top rich and creamy. As in creamed corn, which I’m not crazy about. It looked gorgeous though, don’t you agree? A lot like my beet ice cream. Pretty on the outside, peculiar on the inside.

corny ice cream
what you need (a sense of culinary adventure)

1 & 1/2 cups whole milk
1 & 1/2 cups half & half
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
3 Large egg yolks
kernels from 2 large ears of corn *

* Remove and discard the husks. Boil the ears for about 10 minutes, remove from water and let cool. Remove the kernels and set aside in a small bowl. Save the corn cobs for later.

what you do (quit while you’re ahead, eat the corn with butter and sea salt and make plain homemade vanilla ice cream)
naah, be brave

Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Break the de-corned corn cobs (I don’t know what to call them) in two and carefully drop them into the cream mixture. Bring ingredients to a slow boil, reduce heat and simmer lightly for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Once the 30 minutes is up, remove pan from heat and remove corn cobs.

Combine the eggs, egg yolks and maple syrup in a medium bowl and beat on low-medium speed for about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Scoop out 1 cup of the hot liquid from the milk/cream mixture. With mixer on low speed, add the cup of hot liquid to the egg mixture in a slow steady stream. When thoroughly combined, pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a piece of plastic wrap placed directly on the custard, and chill completely.

Turn on ice cream maker, pour the chilled custard into the freezer bowl per manufacturer’s directions and let mix for 25 minutes until thickened. Add kernels and mix another 5 minutes. Eat or freeze for later.

I’m thinking a drizzle of caramel sauce might be nice on this – caramel corn ice cream. Literally.

Go forth and try new things (but maybe not this)!

P.S. I can’t decide if this is oddly wonderful or just plain weird and slightly unpleasant. I keep tasting it though. Hmmm?

across the farm frittata-ta-ta


This frittata was made from ingredients I picked up last night from my Grant Farms delivery. I decided I wanted to make an Italian egg dish for dinner tonight and gave myself some rules. I could only use what was in my CSA box. No additions, no substitutions.


When I picked up my load of veggies, fruit and farm-fresh eggs, my imagination veered towards a frittata-ta-ta dinner. The name “across the farm” came from a bright and engaging woman whom I know from commenting on one of my favorite British food blogs. Anne called a vegetable soup an across the garden soup because it simply had whatever ingredients were available from the garden at that time. I LOVE that. So, I’m borrowing the name, tweaking it, and giving Anne full credit.

Other than a pat of butter, two cloves of garlic and a sprinkling of cheese, everything in this recipe appeared in my pick-up box last night. Thank you, Andy and gang. YUM!

across the farm frittatata-ta-ta
what you need (whatever is in season)
what I used


6 eggs, beaten
2 cups chopped squash
2 medium-sized little onions (cippolini onions)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped (drain the juice)
1 ear corn, boiled for 10 minutes, cooled and kernels removed from the cob
Italian herbs (I used dried)
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Sprinkling of Parmesan cheese
pat of butter or a tablespoon or so of olive oil

what you do
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a heavy skillet (I use my grandmother’s old cast iron skillet), heat the butter or oil. Make sure you coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Sauté the onions for about 5 minutes, add the garlic, stir and cook another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the squash and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes. Now add the tomato, corn, herbs and seasonings; sauté and stir another few minutes until all ingredients are well mixed. Pour eggs over top, place on center rack in oven and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with a small amount of Parmesan cheese and return for another 5 minutes.

Serve with a plain mixed green salad and a glass of nice pinot noir. Yes, you can serve wine with eggs, just not at breakfast.

Go forth and enjoy across the farm goodness!

invasion of the killer veggie harvest


Holy kohlrabi, what am I going to do with all this stuff? I’m being bombarded with vegetables and fruit. This was last night’s small share delivery. SMALL share, but in a Brobdingnagian way. And some of the veggies and the pears didn’t even make it into the photo frame. Oh, and I totally forgot to add my dozen farm-fresh eggs.

I set out at the beginning of CSA season to use every last lettuce leaf I receive from Grant Farms, but they aren’t making it easy. Repeat after me. “My crisper drawer is not a place where veggies go to die.”

Okay, I’m warning the rest of you. This week’s harvest is pretty darn overwhelming. But I’m here to help you with some tips on how to wash, spin, store, eat, eat, give away, freeze, eat, eat, and eat some more farm fresh food.

And don’t panic, you can’t gain weight eating veggies. Unless you pair them with donuts and soda pop. I could eat that whole table of food in two days by myself and not gain an ounce. Having said that, I’m making sweet corn ice cream today. So there are no guarantees if you mess with the originals.

Tips for storing veggies
For washing, spinning and storing lettuce, check this post of mine.
For tips from the experts on storing veggies to retain their flavor and aroma, check here.
For a great SeriousEats post on how to unclutter your fridge and store veggies, check here.

Ideas for using greens
Poached eggs on spinach and tomatoes
This was my breakfast this morning. Spinach, tomatoes and a poached egg on toasted Montina bread (made from Indian rice grass). Sauté 2 cups of chopped spinach and 1 diced tomato in a small amount of olive oil over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Poach an egg while sautéing spinach and tomatoes. Pile onto toasted bread, no butter needed. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. This can also serve for lunch or dinner.


Savory kale, Swiss chard, or spinach
1 large bunch of kale (or other greens)
1 – 2 small onions
1 -2 cloves garlic, finely minced (optional)
small amount of broth
splash of olive oil (1 -2 tablespoons)
1 – 2 tablespoons tomato paste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until lightly browned. Remove onion from pan and set aside for now. Add greens and a few tablespoons of broth to the skillet and stir gently. Turn the heat down, cover and steam until tender (anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes depending on how like your greens cooked). Remove greens to a colander to drain. Put onions back in the skillet; you may need to add a small amount of olive oil (if using, add garlic at this time), heat to a sizzle, cook garlic for 1 minute and add tomato paste. Stir until onions, garlic and tomato paste are well mixed and warm. Return greens to the pan; mix, heat and serve.

Stay tuned for sweet corn ice cream and how to freeze and use all those tomatoes!

Go forth and eat your veggies before they eat you!

rethink your peanut butter treats

I eat an apple with almond butter almost every day. It’s my pre-yoga breakfast. Every so often I switch it up with fresh ground peanut butter, although not often. I create nut butters by grinding whole nuts, so I’m not too concerned about food safety. But as a “food” person, I thought I’d throw out some information on the current recall of peanut butter from the Peanut Corp of America (PCA) due to a salmonella outbreak. The FDA has confirmed that the outbreak resulted from products originating at the PCA plant in Georgia. At this point, 486 people from 43 states have become ill. It’s serious — with over 100 hospitalizations and 6 deaths. We have 12 reported cases here in Colorado. Ohio has the most at 65. For a state by state list, consumer recommendations, and information about salmonella, check this site at the Center for Disease Control.

PCA doesn’t sell peanut butter directly to the consumer, so jars of major national brands aren’t affected. It’s the processed foods you need to worry about. Some manufactures use peanut butter or peanut paste to make cookies, crackers, bars, cakes, etc. Keep in mind that peanut butter is also used in making dog treats, so it’s not only people food we need to be concerned about with the recall, but dog food as well.

While there are lots of what I’d call junk foods on the recall list, two good ones jumped out at me — Clif and Luna Bars. I occasionally eat Clif Organic Nectar Bars, which don’t come in peanut butter flavor, but you might want to check this list if you buy Clif products. For a current (as of today) list of all recalled products, check here. The list is long and some foods have been exported to other countries, so if you eat peanut butter treats, make sure they aren’t part of the recall.

It’s not always easy to do, but eating local food and knowing where your food comes from helps diminish food safety issues.

In good health,

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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