nutrition

To Brew or Not to Brew: the effects of coffee on your health

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" So...what about coffee? Is it good or bad?" This is probably one of the most common questions I get asked from clients, students, and friends. If you are one of the 250 million Americans who consume coffee regularly, you may be wondering the same thing (and crossing fingers that my opinion supports your mild addiction).Here's my honest take on coffee: as with many foods, there is no clean cut answer. There are many factors to consider that determine whether it's a good addition to your diet/lifestyle or not. Let me give you the good, the bad, my personal experience, and the same advice I give to my clients. From there, you can be the judge.

 

The Pro's:

  • The caffeine in coffee can help boost energy and productivity. It has also been shown to increase mood and help alleviate depression.
  • Caffeine can increase physical performance and allow you to gain more from your workouts. Some studies also suggest that it helps break down fat cells to be used as energy. Therefore, a cup of joe 30 minutes before training can help burn fat and increase performance.
  • Coffee contains antioxidants and flavanoids that help fight inflammation and protect tissues. (See specifics below) 
  • Contains the following vitamins and minerals (per 8 ounces black coffee):
    • Riboflavin: .2 mg, 11% DV
    • Folate: 4.7 mcg, 1% DV
    • Niacin: .5 mg, 2% DV
    • Pantothenic acid: .6 mg, 6%
    • Choline: 6.2 mg (no DV established)
    • Magnesium: 7.1 mg 2% DV
    • Phosphorus: 7.1 mg, 1% DV
    • Potassium: 116 mg 3% DV

The Con’s:

  • Coffee is acid-forming in the body. All of our body’s tissues and organs (except the stomach) like to be at a nice alkaline pH to function optimally.
  • Caffeine creates a stress response in the body, stimulating the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. When the body is in a constant state of “fight or flight”, especially at rest, we are causing some serious wear and tear on the adrenals.
  • This increase in cortisol also elevates blood sugar levels, which contributes to insulin resistance, mood and energy swings, and excess fat storage.
  • Even if consumed early in the day, caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Digestion: this caffeine-induced stress response impairs digestion and nutrient absorption by diverting blood away from the digestive system. It also may impair the absorption of key minerals such as magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc.

Personal Experience: I love coffee. Love the taste, love the smell, love the buzz. In fact, I'm sipping on a 1/2 decaf americano as I write this. I especially love the kick before a hard workout or a long run/hike. But I also know that when I've been off it for at least a week I sleep better and both my energy and mood are more stable throughout the day. The biggest impact I feel personally is digestion. Caffeine seems to dampen my hunger/satiety signals. Intuitive eating (eating when hungry and stopping when full) is a huge factor in how I approach my daily diet, and I don't like when I feel out of tune with this. I'd love to say that I can avoid the stuff completely, but I do indulge here and there. I just have to weigh if the consequences are worth it for that day. 

If you just have to have it: believe me, I get it. Whether you have a deep romance with your french press or you're in desperate need of a pick-me-up, sometimes you just want some coffee. Here are some ways to help minimize any negative affects it may have on your body. 

  • Consider the quality of your coffee. Try to find an organic brand that you can brew at home, or a local coffee shop that uses organic beans. If you can, always get the real stuff as opposed to instant coffee. 
  • Be aware of what you're putting in your joe. Adding loads of refined sugars, syrups, and cream is going to add even more harmful stress on your body. Aim to reduce these additives, or opt for more natural flavorings like honey, maple, organic milk, or a non-dairy alternative such as coconut or almond milk. Cinnamon and raw cacao powder are a couple other delicious and health-promoting options. 
  • Consider what you are consuming with your coffee. As we discussed earlier, coffee is acid-forming in the body. Avoid having coffee on an empty stomach, but rather try it in conjunction with some nutrient rich foods such as fresh fruits/veggies, green smoothies, green powders, ginger, probiotics, or flaxseeds. This will help minimize irritation to digestion and keep the body alkalinized. (I like to take a shot of apple cider vinegar first thing in the morning if I know I'm going to be having coffee with breakfast. Gross, I know. But it seems to help my stomach be less pissed off.) 
  • Timing: when you have your coffee matters. Have your coffee early in the day (before noon), to avoid possible sleep disruption. Also consider what you will be doing in the hours following consumption. Try to avoid it when you know you will be fairly inactive. Again- caffeine produces a stress response in the body, and those stress hormones can be better metabolized if you get your body moving.

Summary: Still not sure? Here's what I tell people when they ask me if they "should" drink coffee. For healthy individuals, coffee in moderation (less than 2 cups daily) is probably no big deal. For people who are dealing with adrenal fatigue, chronic stress, anxiety, excess weight, sleep issues, digestive issues, or aiming to detox- I'd say you're best without it. It doesn't mean you have to give it up forever, but at least until your endocrine system, metabolism, and digestion are functioning optimally. Lastly, never discount your personal experience, as your body is the best health coach you have! Note how you feel (energy, mood, sleep, physical performance, digestion, etc) when you've gone at least two weeks without coffee. Note the same when you're having the stuff regularly. 

 

Resources:

Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2011). Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.

"Coffee, Brewed from Grounds, Prepared with Tap Water." SELF NutritionData. SELF NutritionData, 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fnutritiondata.self.com%2Ffacts%2Fbeverages%2F3898%2F2>.

Lukaczer, D., Jones, D., Lerman, R. (2004). Clinical Nutrition: A Functional Approach. Gig Harbor, Washington. The Institute of Functional Medicine

Walsh, Bryan. "Coffee and Hormones." Precision Nutrition. Precision Nutrition, 26 Jan. 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.precisionnutrition.com/coffee-and-hormones>.

Simple Guide to Homemade Yogurt

Last weekend I held a Gut Health workshop, which always includes discussing the importance of probiotics. The topic of probiotics always leads to yogurt-talk, probably because it's the most well-known source of this healthy bacteria. Making your own yogurt is not only inexpensive, but a great way to include a healthy dose of probiotics in the diet. In healthy individuals, over 100 trillion microorganisms live in your intestinal tract. These organisms aid in digestion, absorption, and production of vitamins B, K, and enzymes. They also help to minimize harmful bacteria. These bacteria cover every part of available surface space from your mouth to your anus. When there is an imbalance or disruption of this healthy gut bacteria, the result can be one or several of the following; 

  • acne
  • allergies/sensitivities
  • UTI’s
  • fatigue
  • compromised immunity
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • headaches
  • sinus problems
  • yeast infections
  • bloating
  • IBS
  • recurring infections

Best ways to restore gut ecology: Eat plenty of fresh veggies, non-allergenic proteins, cultured foods (yogurt, kefir, kombucha), probiotic supplements if needed, pumpkin seeds, garlic, onions, herbs (echinacea, oregano, clove, slippery elm) essential fatty acids, and vitamin C. Consider eliminating/minimizing NSAIDS, caffeine, and refined carbs/sugar.

Simple Guide to Homemade Yogurt:

Prep time: about an hour

Culture time: 8-16 hours

Ingredients/tools:

  • Milk: the amount and type is entirely up to you, as the process will remain the same. I’ve done batches as large as half gallon and as small as a few cups. For this batch I used 1 quart of organic whole milk. (Non-dairy milks such as coconut or almond will not work for this particular process, unfortunately.)
  • 2 Tbsp plain organic yogurt as a starter.
  • A glass mason jar or other glass container to store yogurt in
  • Candy thermometer

1. Make sure to sterilize all equipment and utensils that touch your yogurt. You don’t want any foreign bacteria interfering with the cultures in the yogurt.  Boiling water works just fine for this.

2. Pour milk into a saucepan and heat on high over stovetop.  Stay close by, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn. You want to heat it to about 180 degrees F.

3. As soon as it hits that 180 mark, remove from heat and allow the milk to cool to about 110 degrees. You can speed up the cooling process by putting milk in freezer, fridge, or submerge saucepan in cold water. 

4. Once the milk is at about 110, stir in yogurt being sure to blend well. Lid your container, and find a warm place to store it for about 8 to 12 hours.

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Notes on the culturing process:

The yogurt cultures like the warmth, we’re talking 80 to 90 degrees. The warmer the milk, the quicker the brewing process will take. If you don’t have a really warm place for it, preheat the oven to its lowest setting, about 100 degrees. Turn the oven OFF, place milk mixture inside for 8 hours. The oven will stay pretty warm even as it cools down. Also, the more the yogurt cultures the more tart tasting it will be. If you like really tart yogurt, be sure to let it brew longer and vice versa. Lastly, the MORE your yogurt cultures, the LESS lactose it contains. So if you tend to be sensitive to lactose, let it brew for 12-15 hours!

When the culturing process is finished, store in fridge. The yogurt will firm up even more after being refrigerated. Serve plain or add in sweetener, vanilla extract, and/or any other toppings that tickle your fancy!

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Coconog: Dairy Free Eggnog

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I love the Christmas season. Lights, family, gifts, ugly sweaters, snow. But let's not forget the real reason for the season: EGGNOG! Thick, sweet, spicy deliciousness. Anyone who claims to dislike eggnog is probably lying. For many though, it's the all dairy that keeps them from being able to fully enjoy all the magic of eggnog. In that case, I wanted to attempt a homemade eggnog that is dairy free as well as lighter and healthier than most store bought versions. And I must say...wow. I am 100% confident that you will enjoy this version just as much, if not more than traditional eggnog. 

Coconog: Dairy Free Eggnog

Time: about 15 minutes

Yields: about 1 quart

You'll Need:

  • 2 cans full fat organic coconut milk
  • 4 egg yolks*
  • 1/3-1/2 cup coconut sugar (honey, maple, or agave can be subbed here)
  • 1 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice

Instructions: 

  • Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl either by hand or with an electric beater. Gradually add in sugar or sweetener as you whisk, about 1 minute. Set aside.
  • In a saucepan mix coconut milk and spices over medium heat while stirring continuously until it comes to a low simmer. Turn off heat for the moment. 
  • Important! Temper the egg mixture before mixing it in with the coconut milk. You do not want scrambled eggnog. To do this, measure out about a cup of your warmed coconut milk. While whisking or beating the eggs, slowly  add in the milk, about a tablespoon at a time. By the time you add in the entire cup you should have a creamy, frothy, even mixture. 
  • Now you can dump the egg/coconut mix back into your saucepan. Heat everything again, and remove from heat just before it comes to a boil, or at about 160 degrees F. 
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  • Remove from heat and either serve warm (with a shot of rum of course), or let cool in the fridge.

Notes: I love the full fat coconut milk, but for a lighter option use lite coconut milk. You can also add in some almond milk after the nog cools to thin it out. Also feel free to adjust amounts of sugar and spices to your own liking. The best time to do this is when it's still warm so everything mixes more evenly. 

*Separating yolks from eggs can be kind of a shit show. I use this contraption to do the job, and it works every time without breaking a yolk. 

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Enjoy!

Quick N' Dirty Detox

One of my favorite nutrition topics to nerd out on is detox, and it's also a subject I get many questions about.  With numerous detox products and cleanses available, it can be difficult to know which is most effective. There are many approaches to supporting healthy liver function, but as for me, I tend to take the most sustainable approach possible. I like to eat food, so I rarely opt for juice cleanses or diets that are too restrictive (though there is nothing wrong with this approach if it suits you). Instead, I focus on cutting out substances that are going to put extra stress on the body's detox processes, and adding in plenty of liver supporting foods. This allows me to continue eating regular meals to sustain energy throughout the day while still detoxing. Read on for the deets, or scroll to the bottom for my top 5 detox tips. 

What is considered a toxin?

A toxin in the body is any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects. The liver is our built in mechanism to filter out toxins, but when the total load of “house cleaning” is too high, our overall state of wellness is compromised. Everything is connected; a liver that is overtaxed stresses our other biochemical functions such as metabolism, immune health, and endocrine function. Common substances that the liver detoxes include

  • Pesticides/herbicides: these are stored in our fatty tissues and organs if not eliminated!
  • Food additives: artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Synthetic hormones: in conventional meat products
  • Toxic metals: mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenic
  • Household toxins: cleaning products, cosmetics, solvents, synthetic fertilizers
  • Used hormones and neurotransmitters
  • Drugs, including alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine

Symptoms/Possible Signs of Overtaxed Liver

  • Tenderness or aches on right side, under rib cage
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue/lethargy
  • Lack of appetite/nausea/vomiting in extreme cases
  • Bloated belly
  • Inflammation
  • Weight gain: Excess toxins promote insulin resistance, interfere with metabolism, alter circadian rhythms, and interfere with thyroid function. All these are factors in weight gain

Quick N' Dirty Detox Tips

1. Decide a Timeframe: The amount of time you "detox" is up to you, but aim to give it at least a week. 

2.  Reduce/Eliminate: Caffeine, alcohol, trans and oxidized fats, excess sugar, refined sugar and starches, food additives such as preservatives, colors, and artificial flavors. Also consider cutting out common allergens such as dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, nuts, shellfish. If you choose to consume animal products while detoxing, choose organic to avoid synthetic hormones and additives.

3. Sip: Start your day with some warm water with lemon and/ or apple cider vinegar. The acid will jump start digestion and stimulate detox processes. (If you can find a way to comfortably ingest lemon peel, do it. Citrus peel contains limonene, a powerful detox agent.)

4. Sweat: Exercise and saunas help mobilize toxins to be eliminated as well as stimulates blood and lymph flow.

5. Eat: The following foods are detox superheroes. Consume them liberally while detoxing. 

  • Choline: Eggs, whey, legumes, liver
  • Liver specific veggies: dandelion, watercress, mustard greens, arugula, radishes, beets, artichoke
  • Cruciferous Veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels
  • Citrus fruits: citrus fruits and their peels (NOT grapefruit! Grapefruit actually inhibits Phase 1)
  • Sulfur: Garlic, onions
  • Cilantro/parsley: Binds to heavy metals (mercury, lead, aluminum)
  • Lipotropic agents: Improve fat and bile metabolism in liver. Choline, methionine, folic acid, vitamin B12.
  • Botanicals/herbs: Dandelion, milk thistle, rosemary, green tea, licorice root, burdock root, turmeric
  • Antioxidants: Wide variety of vegetables (esp dark leafy greens), and fruits with dark red or purple skin (blueberries, cherries, apples, etc)
  • Fiber: Binds to toxins and cholesterol for elimination

Happy Detoxing!

Green Chai Smoothie

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I realize that "green" smoothies are very much a thing in the health/fitness world, but I have to confess I'm not really into them. I have nothing nutritionally against smoothies, and in fact they're a great way to get in some extra nutrients for breakfast or after a workout, but I guess I would just rather eat my food. So in my last nutrition workshop when a student asked me what I do for my smoothies, I had to blush and admit that...well...I don't. 

Challenge accepted. I made a green smoothie this week!

I chose to go with a chai flavored smoothie for two reason; the first being that I just love chai. The second is that I don't care for sweet beverages (probably another reason why I don't drink smoothies), and this particular recipe has much more spice than sweet.

Green Chai Smoothie

Prep Time: 5 minutes (when chai is brewed ahead of time)

Yields: about 16 oz

You'll Need:

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup chai (keep in mind chai does contain caffeine, so be sure to buy decaf if you are trying to avoid the jitters)
  • 1/2 frozen banana 
  • 1/2 cup ice
  • 2 cups spinach/greens (but honestly, who actually measures their greens? A couple solid handfuls should do it)
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Protein powder (optional)

Brew chai ahead of time by steeping a chai tea bag in 1/4 cup of boiling water for about 4 minutes. Let the tea cool in the fridge. The rest is cake. Everything goes in blender til smooth.  

Variations: Like I mentioned before, I like this recipe because it's spicy rather than sweet. For extra sweetness, make that half banana a full one, and/or add a couple tablespoons of honey/agave.  Also, if I'm going to drink a smoothie, it's gonna have to have some protein in it. Vega brand actually makes a chai flavored nutritional shake that has some protein in it, so there ya go.

I have to admit I really enjoyed the taste of this one. Will it convert me to a full-blown smoothie drinker? Probably not, but I hope you find it useful and tasty!

Diets, Disorders, and Real Nutrition

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Clients and friends often ask me what "diet" I'm on or what I eat to look the way I do. Every time I'm asked about my diet, I find myself stumbling over my words and not being able to really come up with an answer. So how is it that I can be so passionate about good nutrition and health and yet have nothing to say when asked about my OWN diet?Because I don't have an answer. Not an easy one anyway. 

We live in a society that is obsessed with weight loss and dieting. Just look at the countless diets and meal plans that are out there, as well as all the Joe Shmoes who just wrote that new book on the food plan that REALLY WORKS! We are also a society that wants everything to be as quick and easy as possible. LOSE 70 POUNDS IN TWO HOURS!! REALLY WORKS!!SHED ALL YOUR BELLY FAT AND CELLULITE AND CURE WRINKLES AND HAIR LOSS AND CROOKED TEETH WITH THIS ONE EASY TRICK!! And we buy it. 

Yikes. 

All these things can sound so promising and magical, but what they don't tell you is that there is NO REPLACEMENT for good nutrition, effort, and TIME.  What they don't tell you is what a tightrope walk dieting and food restriction is, or what can happen if you fall off the wrong side of the tightrope and land in a heap of eating disorders. 

I'm not in any way claiming that dieting leads to disordered eating, but I am claiming to know first hand that it is an easy trap to slide into. Too much time of my own life was lost to restricting, starving, bingeing, purging, abusing laxatives, and not to mention a difficult journey to recovery. And the scariest part about it all...I didn't fall into that spiral by "dieting" or trying to lose weight. I wanted to get healthy. I wanted to stop eating Taco Bell for breakfast and clean up my nutrition. Which is why I am so cautious about offering quick advice on nutrition to clients and even friends. Because food and body issues are not just for Victoria's Secret models. They're not JUST FOR WOMEN. 

So here is my answer to these questions, and beware, if you are looking for a quick trick, easy solution, or even a cut and dry one, look elsewhere yo. 

The way I eat has been years, 5 at least, in the making. It has been a lot of trial and error, and error, and error to figure out what works for me. I'm not even there yet. My "diet" is always evolving as I learn more about food and my own body. I have had to do all kinds of food experiments on myself to find what works for me. I've had to figure out what makes me feel good and energized, not just in my body but in my mind and emotions as well. Hear this: Food doesn't just interact with your body! It interacts with your mind, emotions, lifestyle, and relationships too! That is why I believe that there is no one diet or system that will work with everyone. 

Here's where I give you a little tough lovin'. Your body and what you put in it are IMPORTANT. Stop looking for easy answers. GET EDUCATED and take the time to create your own system of nutrition that works for you. Find legit sources to learn about carbs, fat, protein and how they function in your body. Learn about micro-nutrients, chemicals, preservatives, and the processes your food goes through to get to your plate. I know there's a lot of info out there, and it can be overwhelming, but START SOMEWHERE. And ladies...SHAPE and Cosmo magazine, even Women's Health, are NOT good sources. In fact, that shit's garbage. If you got em', toss em'. Find a mentor who lives a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Ask a professional, but make sure the emphasis is on the whole person and not just the physical body, calorie count, or a number on the scale. 

Accept that this will take some time and effort. You didn't develop your unhealthy habits overnight, so don't expect to unwind them quickly.  YOU HAVE ONE BODY and one life, and IT MATTERS! If you don't have your health, the rest of your life will suffer. Promise. Everyone makes room for what matters to them. Spend less time on Facebook. Cut your TV time. Take that $5 that you spend on your frappamochalatte whatever and buy some fresh produce. You CAN make it work, it's just a matter of how. Make small, doable changes. Pick one food to cut out for a couple weeks and see how your body reacts. Make your body your own science experiment. Learn to listen to and TRUST your body rather than accepting everything you hear and read. Even the best information might not be what's right for you. What feels good in my system might tear yours apart. Get educated, then embark on the beautiful and scary journey of going inside and asking YOURSELF what you need and don't need. Enjoy the adventure. It's worth it. 

One final note: If you do suffer from any kind of disordered eating, reach out! It's not easy, I know. Seek professional help, no matter the cost. You are valuable, and deserve to live a vibrant and healthy life. 

photo courtesy of http://mediagallery.usatoday.com/Diet-advertisements-throughout-the-ages/G1980,A8325