Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When the Dog Bites, When the Bee Stings

Both Chef Brett and I have recently shared some of our favorite kitchen gadgets with you (see here and here) and that inspired me to share some of my favorite (read practically indispensable) medically-oriented home items. So, read on and prepare to stock your alternative medicine cabinet!

Whether they are single remedies like arnica montana (for trauma and bruising) and Apis mellifica (bee stings) or combination formulas for colds, flus, and teething infants, homeopathics are an indispensable part of my medicine cabinet. They stimulate healing, have no side effects, no drug interactions, and are safe for ALL ages.

I have a small collection of essential oils that I like to have on hand. Lemon is a natural disinfectant (I like to add 10 drops to my kitchen soap, a few drops in the garbage disposal when it's smelly, or a few drops in a sinkfull of water to wash produce!. I keep peppermint in the car (it's great for motion sickness--just hold it in front of the vent in the car!). I apply lavender topically when I burn myself cooking (I try not to, but it happens from time to time...). I also love some of my blends for immune boosting and stomach upsets.

I LOVE this (and I use it at my clinic as well)! Just hold it on your temple and you have an accurate temperature reading in 6 seconds--an absolute must have if you have an infant. And it's handy for older kids and adults too.

We're pretty outdoorsy at my house and these two items get quite a bit of use In the summertime. I'm not a fan of sunscreen so inevitably we get a few sunburns early in the summer before we've soaked up enough vitamin D and have a good base tan going. Aloe is great for soothing burns: store it in the fridge or even freeze it into cubes for even more relief! Most commercially available bug sprays are horribly toxic so we use essential oil-based ones at our house. Taking extra B vitamins and eating lots of garlic also makes you less appealing to bloodthirsty insects!

I'm not a fan of castor oil internally (my midwife threatened me with it when I was overdue with my first baby so I went into labor rather than having to drink it ;). But used topically it is truly awesome. Used on the abdomen, it stimulates detox, aids digestion, and reduces inflammation (see here for instructions for use). The antiinflammatory benefit of castor oil also makes it a great choice for sprains and strains. Sprained ankle? Wrap with a piece of flannel saturated with castor oil under your ACE bandage to reduce swelling and speed your healing. It's great for carpal tunnel syndrome as well.

I always have an assortment of Traditional Medicinals teas in my cupboard. They have formulas for everything from menstrual cramps to coughs. While they may not be the most potent herbals out there, I love them for their convenience and accessibility. I usually fortify all their immune formulas by adding honey (see my post about honey's health benefits) and fresh ginger root (ginger aids digestion and has warming effects that help boost immune cell function).

And my absolute favorite thing in my home health toolbox...?

Wool socks are the key ingredient in the amazing, magical hydrotherapy treatment that is warming socks! Warming socks are a wonderful way to boost your immune system. Worn for 3 nights in a row at the earliest sign of a challenge to your immune system, warming socks can knock out that cold and flu before it has a chance to incapacitate you. And they are great for kids too! For instructions on how to do warming socks, go here!

So, there you have it (though I guess I didn't cover dog bites, did I?). I hope you find this helpful--and timely too as these items make great stocking stuffers and holiday gifts!

Stay healthy everyone!
Dr. Crystal

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When Life Gives You Apples...

I ALWAYS have apples in my fruit basket. Ever since my boys were big enough to chew, they have loved apples; it isn't uncommon for them each to eat 2 a day! Maybe that has something to do with their mom being a doctor...? ;) Apples are a good source of soluble fiber, pectin, which helps to lower cholesteral and aids the body in elimination of toxins. Apples are helpful in regulating digestion, improving both constipation and diarrhea. They are also a great source of vitamin C.

Recently, my mom delivered a bag overflowing with apples from her tree. They were less-than-perfect to look at and more than even my children could consume so I took the opportunity to play with my new kitchen toy: a steamer juicer! I had used it to make grape juice before, but apples were a new one. A wonderfully simple process, I filled the basin with water, heaped quartered apples in the steamer basket, covered, and left it on the stove for a couple of hours.

Here's the "before" picture:

After 2 hours, I drained off almost 2 quarts of apple juice into clean jars I had sterilized and kept hot in my oven set at 200.

The juice turned out thick, almost like a syrup, as it cooled and my kiddos didn't really like the mouth feel. So, what was I to do with it? I found a recipe for Delicata Squash with Rosemary, Sage, and Cider Glaze and it turned out FANTASTIC! It will be on my table for Thanksgiving this year (though this time I'll be making it with butternut squash as all the delicata was gone from my local farm store). So, when life gives you apples, make apple juice...and then make this!

Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!

Dr. Crystal

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mama Bean’s Kitchen Sample Menu and Survey

In addition to making delicious things for my family and sharing them with you all I have also been in the process of starting a new business called Mama Bean's Kitchen. We’ll be delivering prepared meals to customer’s homes that will simply need reheating or can be frozen for later use. The meals will be locally handcrafted using fresh, whole, sustainable ingredients. The first step I am taking in the business is to do a little market research. First I would like to introduce my menu then invite you all to take a short survey. As a thank you for taking the survey I will be sending out $5 off coupons to everyone who has taken the survey once the business launches. Thank you so much for your consideration and support in this new endeavor. Please feel free to send anyone a link to this blog entry you might think is interested in helping me gather data.

Sample Menu
Soups – $10-$14
Pumpkin Sausage soup (vegan & gluten free options)
Tomato Cous Cous
Minestrone (vegan & gluten free options)
Chicken Meatball with Orzo

Entrees – $12-$16
Risotto Pie (vegan & gluten free options)
Mushroom and Lentil Pot Pie (vegan option)
Chicken and Dumplings w/mashed potatoes

Baked Goods – $8-$18
Cinnamon Rolls
Savory Rolls (with cheese and herbs)
Pie (strawberry rhubarb, pumpkin, apple, seasonal) – dairy free option
Crisp (pear ginger, blackberry, seasonal) – vegan, gluten & sugar free (made with Maple Syrup)
Cookies (snickerdoodles, chocolate chip… who knows)

Follow this link to take the survey:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lentil Cakes!

We have recently shifted our family schedule around and therefore have had more time and energy by the time I get to the evening to make dinner. I have taken to pulling out my old Bon Appetite magazines and flipping through them to see if anything catches my eye. This first recipe I came across this week was South Indian Lentil Cakes with Raita.

I made a few changes based on the available ingredients in my pantry and what I came up with had my husband asking if I could make a giant batch to keep on hand so he could take them for lunches. My preschooler also enjoyed them, saying, "Yum!" after each bite, although he wasn't a fan of the sauce.
Raita is an Indian dipping sauce made with yogurt and cucumber and various other spices. Traditionally it is used to cut the spiciness that comes from most Indian foods in this application it is just a yummy sauce as I left out the jalapeños in both the sauce and the cakes hoping to please the palette of my 3 ½ year old. I want to introduce more hot spice into our menu but I have traditionally avoided it myself so what I want to do is condition my taste buds, as well as my family's, to tolerate more spice and adding more variety in our menu. We'll see how that goes…
In the meantime as I mentioned I left out the jalapeños so it should be generally pleasing to most palettes. The lentils and rice have to soak for 3-5 hours so plan ahead on this one.
Special equipment: a food processor.
For Raita:
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup plain yogurt
¼ cup cucumber, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon cilantro, minced
1 teaspoon basil minced*
1 garlic clove, minced
For Lentil Cakes:
½ cup lentils
¼ cup rice
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ cup cilantro
¼ cup scallions
1 Tablespoon fresh basil*
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Oliver Oil (for cooking the cakes)

Raita –
Mix all ingredients together.
Lentil Cakes –
Rinse lentils and rice place in a medium bowl.
Add water to cover by 3".
Let legumes and rice soak at room temperature for 3-5 hours.
Drain legumes and rice; transfer to a food processor.
Add garlic and ginger and process until grainy paste forms.
Add next five ingredients and process till everything is just chopped, stopping to scrape the sides as needed.
You will have a wet "batter" now.
Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Spoon 4-6 mounds (approximately ¼ cup) of batter into the pan flattening with a spatula. (I used my cookie scoop to do this).
Reduce heat to medium
Sauté until golden brown and cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side.
Adding 1 more tablespoon of oil when cakes are flipped.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with raita.
*A note about herbs – I used basil because it is what I had, the original recipe called for mint instead. You
can use what you have or what you like. My favorite fresh herb is thyme so I often add it even when it doesn't call for it. Remember no recipe is set in stone and it is up to you to make it so it is pleasing to you and your eaters. If you like what you made write it down, if you don't it is no big deal just try again at the next meal. The more you experiment and find what you like the more comfortable you will be in the kitchen and the more fun you will have!

Do you eat the shell?

So we also carved pumpkins recently - this was my 3 year old's first carving experience. The look of shock and astonishment and joy that registered on his face when he first stuck his hand into the ooey gooey innards of his pumpkin was priceless to watch.

After scooping the goo and separating the seeds he loved to squish his hands around in the seed bowl, which we finally had to put an end to since his next favorite thing was to lift his seed covered hand out of the bowl and shake it thus flicking sticky seeds all over the kitchen.
So I took the seeds and washed them then spread them on a sheet pan to dry overnight. I did this because I was ready for bed and didn't want to wait up for roasting seeds. So they next day I roasted. The only thing I put on my seeds are olive oil and kosher salt. I am the only one in the family that really like them so I keep them in my truck for snacking on - super healthy, right Doctor?! So here is my question for all you  (and Dr. Crystal) do you eat the shells or do you take the time to crack them open and extract the seeds? I eat them whole. Always have. Sometimes I encounter a shell that I can quite chew up so I spit that part out. Is there any extra fiber benefit to eating the shells?

Happy Halloween to you all!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween & Pumpkin Seeds

It was pumpkin carving day at our house today!

The boys were up to their elbows in guts but the hard work paid off as we enjoyed the glow from our jack-o-lanterns!

Afterwards, I rinsed the seeds we saved, tossed them with olive oil, salt, and spices and turned them into yummy, crunchy goodness!

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Start with about 3 cups rinsed, well-drained pumpkin seeds. Preheat your oven to 350 then spread seeds on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and season with generous amounts of your favorite seasonings (I used kosher salt, pepper, onion powder, granulated garlic, cumin, coriander, and a small amount of cayenne pepper).

Toss to coat. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, scraping and mixing seeds every 10 minutes, until seeds are beginning to brown, smell toasty, and just begin to pop. Scrape up any stuck seeds and spread to cool.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week or so...if they last that long! As Little C says, "these are so AWESOME!"

And they just might be the perfect snack for this time of year; pumpkin seeds are great source of zinc which boosts your immune system! (For more health benefits of pumpkin and more pumpkin recipes, check out last year's Hey Punkin' and I Love Pumpkins posts.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Save the Tatas!!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month so I felt it would be timely to post about dietary considerations for breast cancer prevention. Are there specific nutrients and foods we should be consuming to take better care of our tatas? Certain regional diets show protection or increased risk of developing breast cancer: Traditional Oriental diets are associated with a very low risk, Mediterranean diets with an intermediate risk, and Western diets with a very high risk. So what are people eating (or not eating) that is affecting their risk of developing breast cancer? Research surrounding nutrition and breast cancer wants to focus on specific isolated factors in foods that may protect against breast cancer development. As Steve Austin, ND puts it in the book Breast Cancer: What You Should Know (But May Not Be Told) About Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment:

Researchers are now trying to prove that broccoli protects against cancer because of its sulforaphane content. But others say it must be the beta-carotene. Some feel the high level of vitamin C in broccoli may be responsible. Glucaric acid in broccoli has its advocates too, as does indole-3-carbinol. Who knows? It could be the fiber. Researchers are keeping busy looking for the magic bullet when they already have a veritable assault rifle to use against cancer. Attempts to attribute its effects to any on ingredient miss the boat; such efforts don't necessarily even constitute good science. Perhaps it just doesn't sound intellectual enough to say "Eat broccoli—it's good for you," though that may well be what we need to hear.

Cruciferous Veggies
like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts protect against cancer. There are many compounds in cruciferous veggies that have mechanisms of action that protect against breast cancer. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) deactivates estrogen (and increased life time exposure to estrogen is linked to increased risk of breast cancer). Isothiocyanates, such as sulforaphane found in broccoli, increase the activity of enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing agents. Glucaric acid found in broccoli interferes with mammary cancer in rats, most likely due to its ability to promote the body's ability to excrete cancer-causing chemicals. (Other foods high in glucaric acid include oranges, carrots, spinach, and apples.)

Fiber in whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts & seeds helps prevent the reactivation of estrogen by gut bacteria and reabsorption by the body. Lignans, a specific type of fiber found in the highest concentration in flaxseed, interfere with estrogen activity. Adding 2 tablespoons of freshly-ground flaxseeds to your daily diet is a simple thing you can do to increase your daily fiber consumption and protect against breast cancer.

Soybeans contain numerous compounds that protect against breast cancer. Genistein, a phytoestrogen, interferes with the formation of new blood vessels—it can cut off the blood supply to cancerous tumors. Phytoestrogens (found in all plants) bind to estrogen receptors in the body in the place of estrogen, effectively blocking estrogen and encouraging its excretion. There are some problems with soy—it has become very prevalent in our diets, it is highly allergenic and difficult to digest, and is typically genetically modified. (I will explore soy more in-depth in a future post!)

Fat, if we eat too much and the wrong type, can increase our risk of breast cancer. Research often shows mixed results, but looking carefully at the data shows us that in cultures where less than 20% of calories come from fat breast cancer incidence is lower than in cultures where greater than 20% of calories come from fat. Rates of breast cancer are even greater in cultures where 35-40+% of calories come from fat. The Nurse's Health Study reported no relationship between dietary fat and breast cancer, but these results are misleading – none of the participants were categorized into the <20% range that seems to be protective when you look at cross-cultural data. Fish and olive oils are cancer protective—their higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. Being obese increases your risk of breast cancer because the body stores estrogen in fat.

Eat Organic!
Pesticide residues collect in fatty tissues, like the breast and many have estrogenic effects. "According to the [EPA]'s own data, at least 67 currently used pesticides cause cancer in animals." If you are not vegetarian, it is especially important to eat organic animal products because pesticides in feed and hormones used in raising commercial meat are stored in the fat of the animals in high concentrations. See my previous posts about milk and beef for more information. Certain foods fruits and veggies are more important to eat organic than others—basically, the thinner the skin, the more pesticide residue. For more detailed info, check out the Environmental Working Group's 2011 Shopping guide for the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen."

This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating well for cancer prevention. For more detailed information, I highly recommend the book How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine by Michael Murray. I'll end with another quote by Steve Austin, ND that sums things up nicely, "Vegetables, fruit, and fish provide protection. Beans, whole grains, nonfat yogurt, and olive oil are fine. Other nonfat dairy products are okay in moderation. But most of the rest of the American diet is linked with trouble."

Yours in health,
Dr. Crystal

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

...and Schnitzel with Noodles!

I loved Chef Brett's post about her favorite things (and I totally have baker's envy for that beater blade)! It inspired me to post about my favorite kitchen gadgets too--and while they don't involve schnitzel, they kind of have something to do with noodles...

I love my small-volume liquid measuring cup. I use this whenever I am making dressings or marinades from a recipe and any other time I need to measure any liquid volume in teaspoons, tablespoons, or less than 2 ounces.

My girlfriends bought me my microplane grater for my birthday years ago and I use it any time I need to zest citrus or grate chocolate. Sometimes I'll use it for garlic or fresh ginger when making soup or stirfry.

Chef Brett introduced me to this favorite: a digital probe thermometer. I use it to make this:

Lime-honey-blackberry glazed pork tenderloin... And any other meat I'm roasting or grilling (like Earl Grey and Lemon-Brined BBQ'd Thanksgiving Turkey)! It has pre-set temps for various meats and levels of doneness and you can also set it for any temp you need. This is indispensable in my kitchen--I use it at least weekly.

For years I wanted a mandonline slicer and I finally bought myself this $40 version last year. I was never sure if I would use it enough to justify the storage space, but the answer is a definite yes! This inexpensive one works fine, but I fantasize about this one made by Kai... Drool...

I told you there would be noodles--my favorite use for this tool is to make this:

Zucchini "noodles" sauteed in butter and olive oil with garlic, onions, chicken, Parmesan, and herbs. So tasty! It is also great for making my latest favorite indulgence: three cheese scalloped potatoes. There really is nothing healthy about this dish but it is amazingly delicious and I reserve it for that 10% of the time when I don't worry about what I'm eating (since I try to make healthier choices 90% of the time).

Speaking of unhealthy choices, I use this favorite gadget--my immersion blender--to make this:

BACON JAM!! Chef Brett and I made this recipe together last month and it's phenomenal! Again, so not healthy but it feeds the foodie's soul so that's healthy in a whole other way, right? I also use my immersion blender to make salsa, peanut sauce, soups--any time the recipe says "transfer to blender" I get to skip that step (as well as the blender lid and hot food flying all over the kitchen) thanks to this wonderful thing. It even has a mini food processor attachment that's great for chopping nuts, herbs, garlic and ginger paste...

So, those are a few of my favorite things--what are yours?

Dr. Crystal

Pickled Beets

I learned this year that I love pickled beets on a tuna fish sandwich! My mom used to make pickled beets and, as a child, I thought they were gross. Isn't it wonderful how our tastes evolve? That's why we have a rule at our house that you have to try everything on your plates. I never make my kids eat something they really don't like, but they have to at least taste it--it's a pleasant surprise to all of us when they realize they like something they thought they didn't. They don't like pickled beets much yet, but who knows, they might change their minds!

Start with 2 dozen small beets, tops trimmed off, leaving an inch or so of stems and the roots on, scrubbed well. Simmer, covered, until fork tender. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid, drain beets, and spread on a cookie sheet to cool enough to peel.

I found that wearing rubber dishwashing gloves worked perfectly for peeling--the textured grips made peeling a snap and my hands didn't turn pink!

Peel then slice into 1/4 inch slices--you may want to halve them if you prefer smaller pieces. Return to the pan along with:

3 medium onions, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1 cup reserved beet cooking liquid
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp salt

Bring to a simmer, simmer 5 minutes, remove cinnamon stick, and keep simmering while you pack into hot, sterile jars. Fill jars to within 1/2 inch of the top. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 min. (For more information about how to can, I found this nice description plus pictures at canningbasics.com.)

This recipe should make about 4 pints.

Now you have pickled beet yumminess to get you through the winter--and they are so pretty too, thanks to all those wonderful antioxidant anthocyanidins!!

Yours in health,
Dr. Crystal

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A few of my favorite things

Today was my 3 year old son's first day of preschool! While I was feeling nervous and apprehensive about preschool starting he was all ready to go the minute he got up this morning. We had a little preschool monster on our hands in fact, "Let's go to preschool now!" he demanded. In response I pointed out he didn't have any underwear on and they weren't open yet so it wasn't the most opportune time to go. After getting a lunch packed and the appropriate clothes on we headed out to preschool with Led Zeppelin as our companion. It was a quick and successful drop off with big kisses and hugs and I waited till I was a few blocks away to shed my tears. As nervous as I was for him and overwhelmed with "holy moly my kid is growing up" feelings myself this moment is one of my favorites.

Another thing to top my favorites list is baking. This week while waiting for preschool to start my son and I had a few extra days together so one day we decided to bake some cookies. My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe is none other than the Nestle Toll House recipe. As we were gathering ingredients I discovered that the bag of chocolate chips I had purchased a few weeks before had two thirds fewer chips in it than when I bought it. Hmmmm… I sense some taste testing went on without my knowledge. So instead of scrapping the plan I found another one of my favorite items, Trader Joes roasted almonds, with 50% less salt. I don't pay particular attention to my sodium intake, I just really like these almonds and find that they are just salty enough. Since I was going to need chopped almonds I got out one of my favorite kitchen tools, an antique nut chopper that my Mother-In-Law gave me. This tool is easy to use and clean and safe (with supervision) for the little ones to use. We added about a cup of the chopped almonds along with a third of a bag of chocolate chips.

My newest favorite kitchen tool is the BeaterBlade for the Kitchen Aid mixer. It scrapes as it mixes and makes the cooking making process a breeze.

Next we scooped the cookies which brings me to the last favorite on my list today – the cookie scooper. When I worked in commercial bakeries we used large cookie scoopers to make giant cookies, it has only been in the last few years that the general public has known the wonders of the scooper. One Christmas I was lucky enough to receive two of these cookies scoopers (thank you sister and sister-in-law) – so now when I scoop cookies my 3 year old helper can scoop too. It is a fast and easy process that requires little coordination.

My real favorite thing in my memory was baking cookies with my wee one. This week has taught me that they grow up fast and I want to try to remember every moment of snuggling and baking I can.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Spaghetti First

So, this may seem hard to believe, but tonight I made spaghetti sauce from scratch for the first time. Now that I've done it—and it was so yummy—I don't know why I didn't do it sooner! I'm in the 3rd phase of a diet (in which I've lost 15.5 pounds in 26 days, yay me!) where I am avoiding all starches and sugars. Most readily-available jarred spaghetti sauces have added sugar so I decided to have a go at making it from scratch. I referenced two recipes—one from the June 2011 Bon Appetit and another I watched on an old episode of Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals—but I really kind of made it up as I went along. Since I can't eat pasta yet, I ate mine over roasted spaghetti squash. My whole family loved it, so I think I'll likely be making my own sauce for spaghetti night around here from now on!

Simple Scratch Spaghetti Sauce

2 Tbsp fat—I used 1 Tbsp rendered bacon fat and 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (I used Johnsonville all natural)
dash hot pepper flakes, ground fine (optional)
½ cup good quality red wine
1 – 28oz can crushed Italian style tomatoes, preferably organic
1 – 14.5oz can diced or petite cut tomatoes, preferably organic (I used S&W with sweet onions and roasted garlic—not organic, but yummy)
½ - 1 tsp kosher salt
1/3 c beef stock (I used homemade that I had frozen into ice cubes)
8 drops alcohol-free stevia extract (you could use 1 tsp of sugar or honey or natural sweetener of your choice, or omit altogether)
1 Tbsp minced fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
1 Tbsp minced fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)

Heat fat in a heavy, deep pan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onions and cook until soft and starting to caramelize, about 12-15 minutes. Add garlic, pepper flakes, and Italian sausage, breaking up sausage into small pieces with a spoon. Cook, stirring frequently, until sausage is thoroughly browned. Drain off most of the fat by scraping the sausage and onion to one side of the pan and using a spoon or paper towel to remove the bulk of the fat. Add wine and let cook until mostly evaporated, about 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, beef stock, stevia, and herbs and simmer for 30 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Adjust salt and seasonings as desired. Serve over al dente pasta or spaghetti squash seasoned with salt and pepper, top with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired, and enjoy!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!

I love coffee, the smell, the flavor, the ritual, either at home or in a coffee shop, the feeling I have after one cup. The problem is that my body doesn't like the 2nd or 3rd cup and sometimes even has issues with that 1st cup. So just like Dr. Crystal I have a love/hate relationship with coffee. My dad has always, in my memory, been a coffee drinker. I remember at Christmas time we had to wait till dad made coffee to open presents, although we could open our stockings while we waited. I had a few cups of coffee while in high school; I always drank it black because it was easier than trying to figure out the "right" way to drink it. When I got to college I discovered the mocha, then the latte, but it was still just an occasional drink, I was just as happy with a cup of black tea. That lasted until I had a kid. Now I feel I need coffee every morning and I couldn't possibly get through my day without 3 cups with half & half. My body takes issue with both the coffee and the half & half but alas I am not ready to shake the habit yet. Not sure what I am waiting for but I want to do it. I would like to occasionally get a latte or a good high quality cup of coffee from one of my favorite Portland coffee shops, Speedboat Coffee or Case Study Coffee, and truly enjoy the experience, rather than cheapening my experience by drinking Costco coffee every morning from our hand-me-down coffee pot that lived in our basement for years. Soon I say! Soon I will do it, I will kick the habit and my body will thank me.


As for a recipe in regards to coffee was going to tell you how to brew the perfect cup of coffee at home, instead I am going to refer you the Stumptown Coffee Roasters website. They are known in Portland for producing high quality beans and high quality coffee drinks. (This is where the aforementioned coffee shops get their beans too).



Coffee cake recipe to follow soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Good, The Bad & The Coffee (Part 2)

Now the Good

Remember, most of the health benefits I'm going to talk about refer to MODERATE consumption of coffee! We all know that drinking coffee increases alertness and wakefulness, but less well known is this: people who drink coffee in moderation are less likely to have Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, heart arrhythmias, stroke, liver disease and certain cancers. Coffee can also help treat asthma and headaches and can help with weight management and enhance athletic performance. Caffeine wakes us up because it blocks adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine causes reduced arousal and sleepiness because it inhibits excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain. By blocking adenosine receptors, caffeine keeps the excitatory neurotransmitters working which increases mental alertness, decreases reaction time (we're faster), and improves information processing.

There are more than 15 published studies that establish that coffee consumption may help prevent Type 2 Diabetes—some research indicates that decaf helps just as much as caffeinated coffee. In this instance alone, increased coffee consumption showed greater protection (compared people who drink fewer than 2 "cups" of coffee per day, people who drank 4-5 cups a day had a 28% reduction in risk vs. 35% reduction in those who drank 6-7+ cups a day). Personally, I'd go with decaf if I were to add coffee-as-diabetes-prevention into my lifestyle. Coffee also is high in antioxidants and contains some magnesium and chromium—all of which help manage blood sugar and insulin.

There is a lot of research linking coffee consumption to decreased risk of Parkinson's disease. The benefit here seems to come from the caffeine content, though the mechanism isn't clear. A 2009 study from Finland and Sweden showed than, out of 1,400 people followed fro about 20 years, those who reported drinking 3-5 cups of cofee daily were 65% less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease, compared with nondrinkers or occasional coffee drinkers.

The reduced risk of heart disease and stroke observed with moderate coffee consumption comes from reduction in Type 2 Diabetes (a risk factor for heart disease) as well as a decrease in heart arrhythmias in men and women who drink 1-3 cups of coffee a day. Women who drink 2 or more cups of coffee a day are 20% less likely to have a stroke than women who drink none.

Moderate coffee consumption has very definitively been found to decrease risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis but the mechanism isn't fully understood. Some research indicates that coffee consumption decreases your risk of developing gall stones. The evidence isn't as strong for coffee's protection from other cancers, but is fairly consistently showing benefit in ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer.

The health benefits in regard to asthma, headache, and exercise can be attributed to coffee's caffeine content. Caffeine is very similar to theophylline, an anti-asthma drug. Caffeine is also often included in migraine medication because it constricts blood vessels (this is helpful for people who get vasodilatory migraines but can make things worse for vasoconstrictive headaches). In relation to athletic performance, caffeine improves muscular work performance in all types of activities, though the mechanism is not fully understood. In a 2004 review of 39 previously published trials, Doherty et al. found that caffeine improved performance by 12.4%. Low amounts of caffeine (the equivalent of 1-2 "cups" of coffee) consumed pre-workout can help you to perform longer before tiring. In last week's post, I cautioned about the risks of dehydration from excess coffee consumption. Recent research shows that drinking 3-4 cups of coffee (300 milligrams of caffeine) does not have any adverse effect on hydration and in fact coffee can contribute toward your daily fluid intake.

My current relationship with coffee is as it always has been—love and hate. But now the tables have turned; I love coffee, but it doesn't love me back. A few years ago I did a food allergy test and found out that the main reason for all of my horrible digestive symptoms was an allergy to coffee. After 2 years avoiding each other, I think coffee and I are working things out. I now drink coffee once or twice a week and it doesn't give me any trouble. So for me, I'll have to miss out on most of the health benefits, but I can still enjoy my relationship with coffee. As for you, I'll tell you what I usually tell my patients when they guiltily admit to drinking coffee: if you NEED coffee in order to make it through your day or you don't handle stress well, then you may need to give up coffee for a while and focus on getting your adrenals in better shape. If you are just friendly with coffee, rather than codependent, keep your coffee consumption to no more than 16 ounces a day, preferably filtered and drink the good stuff!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Good, the Bad & the Coffee (Part 1)

Throughout my adult life, I have had a love and hate relationship with coffee. When I was in my teens, I really couldn't stand the stuff; my stepfather drank coffee every morning out of a really nice crockery pitcher and filter set that he kept warm on the stove over a burner diffuser. He liked his coffee with honey and half & half. I gave it a try and found it terribly bitter (he made his coffee really strong) and I didn't care for it at all. Later, I discovered lattes and mochas and these were much more appealing to me. What's not to like about a creamy, sweet drink topped with whipped cream? I liked these because I got the caffeine boost and didn't even taste the coffee! I still enjoy a caramel latte, but I've learned to appreciate a good cup of drip coffee (though I still can't drink it black).

While I was in Naturopathic medical school, I found that many naturopathic physicians have a poor opinion of coffee and I made it my mission to discover as many health benefits to coffee as I could. Yes, part of me wanted to justify my coffee consumption, but I also didn't like the statement "coffee is bad for you" because it went against one of the most fundamental concepts of Naturopathic medicine: everyone is unique. Sure, coffee is "bad" for some people, but most people can drink moderate amounts of coffee with no problems at all; and drinking moderate amounts of coffee can even be good for you! So let's take a look at the good and the bad of coffee.

First the Bad
Like everything, coffee in excess is not good for you. A cup of coffee (and a standard "cup" is approximately 6 ounces) contains 50-100 milligrams or so of caffeine. The amount varies depending on the beans used, how fine they are ground and what method is used to prepare them. Looking at the research, moderate consumption of caffeine means less than 300 milligrams per day—so, 18 ounces of Stumptown to 36 ounces of Folgers. Drinking more than this can contribute to dehydration because caffeine is a diuretic, making you lose water. In excess, coffee can contribute to constipation because of the diuretic effect but it can also cause diarrhea due to increasing peristalsis in the colon.

Too much caffeine can also wreak havoc on your adrenal glands and this is the primary reason that Naturopathic physicians tell their patients to stop drinking coffee. Caffeine stimulates the release adrenaline in your body—so drinking caffeinated beverages puts your body into a state of fight-or-flight. For people in good adrenal health, the body manages the surge in cortisol and epinephrine and helps you return to a "rest and digest" state. But for those with adrenal gland dysfunction—and this is probably the majority of people—caffeine can overstimulate an already overworked pair of adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and, among other things, are responsible for moderating your stress response by releasing cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. I say that a majority of people have some level of adrenal gland dysfunction because, as a culture, we live a high stress lifestyle. In the earlier stages of adrenal dysfunction, with prolonged exposure to stress, you are pumping out way too much cortisol (this causes an increase in belly fat, among other things). In later stages of adrenal dysfunction, exposure to stress creates a situation of trying to wring out a dry sponge—your body is so depleted that it can no longer respond to the stress signal (such as caffeine). So, coffee in a way is liquid stress. The difference between drinking a moderate amount of coffee and coffee in excess is like the difference between the good stress of workout and being chased by lions.

Coffee (because of its caffeine content) can also aggravate insomnia, worsen anxiety, and increase symptoms of PMS and fibrocystic breast pain. Excess caffeine consumption can contribute to high blood pressure and osteoporosis. A compound in coffee called cafestol can increase cholesterol levels (filtering your coffee removes most of the cafestol).

Coffee consumption can drastically affect fertility: women consuming more than 300 milligrams of caffeine each day are 2 1/2 times more likely to have delayed conception than women consuming less. Some research suggests that excess caffeine consumption during pregnancy can contribute to low birth weight and miscarriage, but most research shows that consumption of less than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe in pregnancy. But enough about the bad stuff, what's good about coffee? Well, for that, you'll have to wait for next week!

(For more detailed information about adrenal dysfunction, please check out my colleage, Dr. Jason Barker's, blog post Adrenal Fatigue on The Natural Athlete's Clinic site.)