New study links daily coffee habit to long life

I’ll pull a quote right from NPR:

“In our study, we found people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didn’t drink coffee,” says one of the study authors, nutrition researcher Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health.

And I’ll admit, apparently it also is true of decaf. But p-schaw.

Here’s a link to the study in Circulation.

Posted by Steve


OK, so tea’s OK, too

There’s no secret about our extolling of coffee’s benefits.

But just to be fair to all you tea drinkers, we’ll throw some leaves your way. Via the New York Times’ Upshot column, here’s some of tea’s health benefits:

At the end of all of this, I’m a little less impressed with the body of evidence regarding tea than I was with that of coffee. I admit that this is an interpretation, and others may disagree. The lack of a dose response in many of these trials, coupled with the fact that so many were performed in countries with markedly different tea consumption from our own, makes these results less generalizable than those of coffee were.

But the conclusions I would make are similar. I wouldn’t strongly recommend that anyone take up tea based on these findings. But there seem to be few harms, and some potential benefits. Drink it if you like it. It, too, seems to be a completely reasonable addition to a healthful diet.

Click on the link to get a whole mouthful of different studies.

We of course like this conclusion, giving coffee its great due. But maybe for those who want a little less of a boost in the afternoon… you can have your chai.

Posted by Steve

Here’s your latest reason to drink coffee, and it involves your colon

Ashtanga practitioners, from my experience, can give just about any subset of people — emergency room doctors, workers in the morgue or new parents — a run for their money when it comes to a willingness, even pleasure, in discussing things that really ought not be talked about among polite society.

So putting the word “colon” in a headline here feels right.

It’s also appropriate, because colon health is our latest reason to knock back some coffee each day. (Getting up to attend Tim Miller’s 6 a.m. pranayama is another.)

Here’s from the New York Times, early last week (forgive me, I was busy surfing):

Colon cancer patients who were heavy coffee drinkers had a far lower risk of dying or having their cancer return than those who did not drink coffee, with significant benefits starting at two to three cups a day, a new study found. Patients who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee or more a day had half the rate of recurrence or death than noncoffee drinkers.

But, the researchers caution, cancer patients should not start ordering extra tall coffees. The study, the first to report such findings, does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between coffee drinking and a lower risk of colon cancer recurrence. As other experts note, there may be differences between heavy coffee drinkers and abstainers that the research was not able to account for.

Yes, so there’s a caveat. But the guy who led the research had this to say:

“No one has ever done this before in colon cancer patients. It does require confirmation,” he said. Patients should not start drinking coffee based on this study, but, “If you’re a coffee drinker and enjoy your coffee, stick with it,” he said. “If a patient says, ‘Well I hate coffee,’ I’d say there are other things you can do, like avoid obesity, exercise regularly and follow a balanced diet.”

I like coffee, so I’ll stick with it. You can read more about the study at the link, obviously enough.

Posted by Steve

Here’s what you need to know to eat Ayurveda everyday

We’re stoked to be able to pass this news on to y’all. Our friend, Yatra partner and on-the-Yatra teacher Kate O’Donnell, Authorized Level 2 Ashtanga teacher for those wondering, has announced a publication date for her Ayurvedic cookbook, The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook. Mark your calendar for Dec. 1.

Hey, right in time for the holidays. (It can make a late Divali gift, too.)

There’s a website, which you can check out here. A little, ahem, taste:

Even the simplest Ayurveda practices complement Western medicine because of their focus on righting imbalance before it creates disease. Keeping digestion on track is the key to health in Ayurveda, and eating natural, homemade foods in accordance with personal constitution and changes in environment is often all that is needed to bring a body back into balance. The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook inspires yogis and nonyogis alike to get into the kitchen and explore this time-honored system of seasonal eating for health and nourishment.

Ditching processed food and learning to eat well at home are the first steps you can take to relieving imbalance. The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook removes many of the obstacles by showing you how straightforward and accessible preparing your own delicious, seasonal meals can be. Season by season, learn how the changing weather and qualities in your environment both mirror and influence your body and appetite. Lifestyle advice on meal planning, self-care regimens, and how to ensure health during the change of seasons is included throughout. And the no-fuss recipes will get you eager to cook.

To expand your cooking repertoire, you’ll also learn foundational “everyday” recipes that can be adapted to any season and any dosha: once you understand the blueprint of a basic dish, you can recreate it in your kitchen year-round, using seasonal produce, grains, and flavors for health and nourishment.

(I took liberally from the About page.)

Kate talked to us about the book, why, just about this time last year while we all were treading our way across the Himalayas. We know she’s been working hard at it; we also know Kate knows what she’s talking about. She didn’t just come to Ayurveda yesterday; she’s nationally certified. (She’s also an insightful Ashtanga teacher.)

The book contains more than 100 recipes; the website even has some preview recipes, like this one for tofu tacos. Again, to give you a quick taste. The lead-in gives you a sense of how the book will treat and dissect Ayurveda:

On a cold, dry spring day you may have a heartier appetite than on a warm, wet day. Tofu Tacos with Greens make an easy, satisfying meal for a hearty day while staying aligned with the lighter qualities of spring. The dry quality of corn, the bitter taste of the greens, and a hint of spice to help the body digest tofu’s proteins balance the meal so you will feel full, but not heavy.

We certainly can get behind the notion of ditching processed foods that’s at the center of this. And I’ll throw in a little personal plug. (Feel free to use this, Kate.) Kate not only knows this stuff, she knows how to translate it so it’s useful here in the West and for people to whom Ayurveda isn’t all that familiar. I’m sure it isn’t going to be “Ayurveda for Dummies,” but it will be something that will benefit both longtime practitioners and those new to the game. I’m sure it will be both grounded and inspiring, sort of like Kate herself. The excerpt above demonstrates all that nicely, I think.

The book’s photographer and recipe developer is Cara Brostrom. It’s being published by Shambala, so there’s also that stamp of approval.

Posted by Steve

Wheatless in Los Angeles: Why Does the New York Times Hate the Gluten-Free?

Readers of this blog know that Steve and I keep a mostly raw food diet, which was spurred in part (for Steve especially) by giving up wheat. That happened a few years back when I taught a research methods class that used Michael Pollan‘s book, In Defense of Food, as its core text. During the course, William Davis‘s book Wheat Belly also came out, and my students researched its findings, read its cited studies, found others. Steve and I subsequently gave up both processed foods (even raw ones) and wheat as a result. We lost fat, lowered our cholesterol, felt better. So we stuck to it. Since then, “gluten-free” has become a thing, a joke even, and we often find ourselves defending our diet choices. Here we go again, we say.

The paper of record, The New York Times, has once again (albeit on the “Opinion” pages under the frankly inaccurate title “The Myth of the Big, Bad Gluten”– tell a person with Celiac’s that it’s a myth) gone after the gluten free folk. And the author (Moises Velasquez-Manoff) once again proves my theory that it just seems so unbelievable that modern wheat might be bad for you that there is a deep need to come after perfectly harmless diet choice that people like myself make because it works for me. It’s baffling to me. I mean, if people are giving up a processed food in favor of fresher, greener things, what’s that hurting? Why be so nasty about it? So I thought I’d take a moment to answer a few points made in the article.

And of course Velasquez-Manoff rolls out the now familiar old chestnut, the “but humans have been eating wheat for thousands of years” argument. I suppose the paleo diet followers may use this argument–I don’t know who says this, because the author doesn’t cite anyone specific, but does go to great pains to trace how humans evolved lactose tolerance in an attempt to make a parallel with wheat. However: The argument is not that humans can’t tolerate wheat. The argument is that it’s at least clinically demonstrable that some people can’t tolerate modern, hybridized, processed wheat flour, which has only been around for a few decades.

The author then goes on to concede as fact recent increases in Celiac’s Disease, a truly miserable condition that causes a debilitating range of symptoms in its sufferers. Rather than see this as the end of a spectrum of tolerance, the argument turns to try to dismiss a series of theories about why this increase is occurring. He does this using one 2013 study to reject the possibility that increase in gluten protein in modern wheat may be responsible. The study finds that the amount of protein (in the form of gluten) hasn’t changed over time, but to my knowledge the theory started by William Davis in his book was that it was the kind of amino acid that was causing the problem, not the amount.

Are we just eating more wheat? This also gets dismissed, since the author cites another study that points out Europeans actually ate more wheat a century or so ago. But while it might be true that people consumed more wheat in the nineteenth century, the article ignores its own observation that the issue is with modern, hybridized wheat. Which they were not consuming in the nineteenth century–they were going over to the local mill, buying the freshly ground flour, taking it home and baking it (or buying that day from a baker who had done so). The problems with argument here drive me crazy.

All this seem to be in print because Velasquez-Manoff would like to propose his own theory about why you may be but are probably not gluten sensitive. He argues that recent increases in Celiac’s Disease are really due to increased immune system sensitivity–something that has been recently proposed with the rise of peanut allergies in children. But of course the article simultaneously sneers at those of us who do not have Celiac’s, but instead experience a range of other unpleasant symptoms when they consume modern wheat products. I’m not sure why that shouldn’t also involve the immune system and be just as valid, but sneering is something the Times does very well.

So as a last word, I’d like to just point out that modern wheat is a processed food. Bread that you buy anywhere, from an artisan bakery to your white loaf of Wonder, uses a processed wheat flour, called “enriched.” It has to be stripped of nutrients in order to have a shippable shelf life, and those nutrients (such as folic acid and B vitamins) have to be chemically added back into the flour. Usually, the “whole grain” part is added back in as well. This is true no matter how “whole grain” you buy, since all unprocessed wheat flour starts to go rancid in a very short time. If it’s widely recognized that processed foods are bad for you, why should something as basic and as omnipresent as wheat flour be any different?

Was wheat causing my digestion problems? Yes. Was it causing skin rashes? Yes. Headaches? Yes. I know this because I get all three of these things when I eat wheat, which I still do on occasion. But when Steve grinds some einkorn into flour and bakes a loaf at home, no problems. Was wheat causing other health issues? My early osteoporosis, asthma, weak immune system? That causality I can’t prove, because those are long-term problems that don’t just pop up when I have a slice of pizza. But since those things have disappeared from my overall health concerns, I’m not willing to take the chance, thank you, New York Times. Go have your sandwich and leave the rest of us alone.

Posted by Bobbie

You want your foods GMO-free, right? Why?

I’ll freely admit that we go for the GMO-free (and organic) alternatives pretty routinely at this point when we’re buying our food. (Most of all, we try, try, try to avoid processed foods. That’s still our guiding force, even more than simply being raw.) I know there’s arguments about whether organic alternatives are in any way better; I get it.

I’m less attuned to worries about GMO foods, though — although I see half my Facebook feed going on about it. Anyway, here’s an argument against going GMO-free, via the New York Times:

However, a review of the pros and cons of G.M.O.s strongly suggests that the issue reflects a poor public understanding of the science behind them, along with a rebellion against the dominance of food and agricultural conglomerates. The anti-G.M.O. movement, I’m afraid, risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What is needed is a dispassionate look at what G.M.O.s mean and their actual and potential good, not just a fear of harmful possibilities.

Let’s start with the facts. Humans have been genetically modifying food and feed plants and animals for millenniums, until recently only by repeatedly crossing existing ones with relatives that have more desirable characteristics. It can take many years, even decades, to achieve a commercially viable product this way because unwanted traits can come in the resulting hybrids. While it may be nice to have a tomato that can withstand long-distance travel, the fruit also has to ripen evenly and, most important, taste good.

Genetic engineering makes it possible to achieve a desired outcome in one generation. It introduces only a single known gene or small group of genes that dictate production of desired proteins into a plant, imparting characteristics such as tolerance of frost, drought or salt, or resistance to disease or weed killer. The technique can also be used to enhance a plant’s growth or content of an essential nutrient, or, in the case of animals, reduce the feed they need.


A legitimate safety concern involves possible delayed deleterious effects of genetically modified products on consumers, the environment or the “balance” of nature. As with an organism’s natural genes, introduced ones can mutate or disrupt the function of neighboring genes. Thus, continued monitoring of their effects is essential and, as with defective cars, malfunctioning products may have to be recalled.

Are there risks to G.M.O.s that scientists have yet to consider or discover? Of course there are. Nothing in this life is risk-free, but that is not enough reason to reject valuable scientific advances.

That might not convince you — I’m not sure it convinces me, as it all seems sort of “well, yeah, but the same is true if you’re arguing for GMO-free foods” — but it’s never bad to be armed with the facts — or what approaches the facts.

And I know it’s a little off the Ashtanga topic — not much Ashtanga stuff out there today.

Posted by Steve

Soylent Green is yogis!

I’ll point you to a fun article in the weekend’s New York Times, and first add a caveat and then a reminder.

Caveat: I can’t believe this hasn’t — or won’t — spill (later on that pun will be great) into yoga circles.

Reminder: We’ve talked about smoothies before, and this takes it one step further:

Boom times in Silicon Valley call for hard work, and hard work — at least in technology land — means that coders, engineers and venture capitalists are turning to liquid meals with names like Schmoylent, Soylent, Schmilk andPeople Chow. The protein-packed products that come in powder form are inexpensive and quick and easy to make — just shake with water, or in the case of Schmilk, milk. While athletes and dieters have been drinking their dinner for years, Silicon Valley’s workers are now increasingly chugging their meals, too, so they can more quickly get back to their computer work.


Rob Rhinehart, a software engineer, said he came up with the idea for Soylent in 2013 while working long hours at a wireless communications company and realizing he was eating poorly. He said he wanted to create something that could be “universally applicable” for hard-working people like himself. So he founded Soylent, based in Los Angeles, that year and gained more than $3 million in funding from the crowdsourcing site Tilt.

Orders took off quickly. The company said it had shipped more than the equivalent of six million “meals” across the United States. Mr. Rhinehart declined to share financial details but said his company was shipping “at the kiloton scale” each quarter and had attracted $24.5 million in financing. While Soylent has a diverse customer base, tech workers in particular have the “early-adopter personality” that makes them open to trying the powder, Mr. Rhinehart said.

This just feels like something that would take root among yogis, who are looking for a simple way to eat that is high on the nutrition scale and low on fuss. A little something to have at, say, 7 p.m. that won’t feel heavy come 6 a.m. practice? Twelve ounces or so post-practice? Something to have out in the wilderness on a seven-day meditation retreat?

Posted by Steve

Counterpost: Your gluten-free, wheat-free, paleo, whatever diet is horrible

In the interest of balance — like a balanced meal, maybe — I’ll point you to this Q&A with a guy — who happens to be a  religion professor at James Madison University– who thinks all our fad diets are pretty stupid:

Food rituals, food taboos, dietary demons, dietary myths, magic diets, guilt, sin: why do we apply so much religious language to food?

Virtually ever religious tradition has had food taboos and sacred diets. I think part of the reason is that food is something that we have direct control over. It crosses the boundary in a very personal way: we take something outside of our body and put it into our body. Eating is very personal, and it’s easy to invest those kinds of things with religious and ritual significance.

With diets today, there seems to be a lot of fear involved, too.

It’s terrifying to live in a place where the causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s, autism, or ADHD, or the causes of weight gain, are mysterious. So what we do is come up with certain causes for the things that we fear.

If we’re trying to avoid things that we fear, why would we invent a world full of toxins that don’t really exist? Again, it’s about control. After all, if there are things that we’re scared of, then at least we know what to avoid. If there is a sacred diet, and if there are foods that are really taboo, yeah, it’s scary, but it’s also empowering, because we can readily identify culinary good and evil, and then we have a path that we can follow that’s salvific.

That gives you a taste of how a religion professor is approaching this topic. He specifically calls our the book Wheat Belly, which we’ve referenced often.

Given how well cutting wheat out has worked for us, I can only say, well, that: It worked for us. It may not work for everyone, but we encourage people who are curious to give it a try and see. And we think it comes down to common sense, the Michael Pollan “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

But there is one point I think is worth some thought:

What works for another culture might not work for our own culture. People ask me, what’s the harm? Why not just go gluten free? And the answer is that going gluten free has all sorts of effects. It affects your relationship with your friends and family. It affects your relationship with your own past and foods that you love. While there might be some culture in which celebratory foods don’t typically contain gluten, that’s not our culture.

For me, unless I have an extraordinary reason, I do try to err on the side of being a good guest or good host rather than a militant eater. Food’s great, and so is good health. But family and friendships are better.

Posted by Steve

On coffee: ‘The potential health benefits are surprisingly large’

Another focus on all the positive health benefits of coffee for you to, um, digest. This from an online New York Times blog:

When I set out to look at the research on coffee and health, I thought I’d see it being associated with some good outcomes and some bad ones, mirroring the contradictory reports you can often find in the news media. This didn’t turn out to be the case.

Just last year, a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies looking at long-term consumption of coffee and the risk of cardiovascular disease was published. The researchers found 36 studies involving more than 1,270,000 participants. The combined data showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee, about three to five cups a day, were at the lowest risk for problems. Those who consumed five or more cups a day had no higher risk than those who consumed none.

The post goes on to list the increasingly large amount of evidence that suggests coffee is potentially good for you, in moderation — and that it certainly isn’t bad.

Because (repeat after me): No coffee, no prana.

(And thanks to the few of you who passed it on to me. I’m glad my reputation is established.)

Posted by Steve

FDA to look into whether it should be regulating homeopathies

Here’s news that will be of interest to those of you who try to eskew Western medicine where possible in favor of more tradition (others would say unproven) remedies: The FDA this week will look into whether it should be regulating these medicines.

NPR dove deep into the issue Monday morning:

Homeopathic medicine has long been controversial. It’s based on an idea known as “like cures like,” which means if you give somebody a dose of a substance — such as a plant or a mineral — that can cause the symptoms of their illness, it can, in theory, cure that illness if the substance has been diluted so much that it’s essentially no longer in the dose.

Critics say those ideas are nonsense, and that study after study has failed to find any evidence that homeopathy works.

“Homeopathy is an excellent example of the purest form of pseudoscience,” saysSteven Novella, a neurologist at Yale and executive editor of the website Science-Based Medicine. “These are principles that are not based upon science.”

Novella thinks consumers are wasting their money on homeopathic remedies. The cost of such treatments vary, with some over-the-counter products costing less than $10.

Some of the costs, such as visits to doctors and the therapies they prescribe, may be covered by insurance. But Novella says with so many people using homeopathic remedies, the costs add up.

There’s also some concern that homeopathic remedies could be dangerous if they’re contaminated or not completely diluted, or even if they simply don’t work.

As NPR makes clear, this doesn’t mean regulation is on the horizon. The FDA just is seeking some information of what, if anything, it might or ought to do. But I’m guessing the hearings will be pretty high energy.

Posted by Steve