Now you can drink that third cup of coffee

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m starting to think Starbucks is behind all the pro-coffee research that drips out like, well, obviously, coffee from an old-school coffee maker.

But it remains my duty to pass on info that supports the “No coffee, no prana” motto of this here site. So, here it is:

Researchers found that people who drink between three and five cups of coffee a day are likely to have less coronary artery calcium (CAC) than those who drink no coffee at all.

They also found a correlation between people who drink between one and three cups of coffee a day and a reduced prevalence of CAC, according to a paper published Monday in the journal Heart.

But try not to overdo it: Drinking more than five cups of coffee a day was associated with a higher levels of CAC, the authors report.

Calcium in the coronary artery isn’t always a problem, but at high enough levels it can be an early sign of coronary heart disease.

I love the idea of a journal called Heart. How that isn’t a New Age publication, I don’t know.

This study was of nearly 30,000 men and women in South Korea. The researchers say they don’t know why coffee might be good for you — and that (as always) further research is needed.

But back to my Starbucks suspicion. Here’s how this article ends:

A flurry of recent reports suggest that there are many reasons to drink coffee: For example, it has been associated with improvements in short term memory, and reducing the risk of developing multiple sclerosis, melanoma Type 2 diabetes and liver cancer.

Remember all that pro-wine research?

Also, on the diet front: Science tells us why Indian food is so tasty.

Posted by Steve

Draft nutrition rules tell you what we’ve been saying: Drink coffee!

The U.S. is in the process of updating its official dietary guidelines, and the initial recommendations have been released telling you all what we keep saying: Coffee is good for you.

Here’s NPR’s take:

If you like a cup of coffee and an egg in the morning, you’ve got the green light.

A panel of top nutrition experts appointed by the federal government has weighed in with its long-awaited diet advice.

Their conclusions are that daily cup of joe (or two) may help protect against Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And an egg a day will not raise the risk of heart disease in healthy people. Hold the sugary muffin, though.

More generally, the guidelines encourage more fruit and vegetables — both for health reasons and because they are more sustainable than something like red meat. Another big focus is: Cut sugar. And that’s not easy because there is so much sugar hidden in foods — in condiments, in sauces, in cereals, sort of everywhere.

If you’re feeling skeptical about these government-endorsed suggestions, there’s reason. The New York Times sums it up nicely:

Since they were first issued in 1980, the guidelines have largely encouraged people to follow a low-fat diet, which prompted an explosion of processed foods stripped of fat and loaded with sugar. Studies show that replacing fat with refined carbohydrates like bread, rice and sugar can actually worsen cardiovascular health, so the guidelines encourage Americans to focus not on the amount of fat they are eating but on the type.

The guidelines advise people to eat unsaturated fat — the kind found in fish, nuts, and olive and vegetable oils — in place of saturated fat, which occurs primarily in animal foods.

The panel also dropped a longstanding recommendation that Americans restrict their intake of dietary cholesterol from foods like eggs and shrimp — a belated acknowledgment of decades of research showing that dietary cholesterol has little or no effect on the blood cholesterol levels of most people.

This time, though, they are moving toward what in our household holds true: limited processed foods, lots of vegetables (raw usually) and no real fear of eggs or even butter.

The guidelines now go through a 45-day public comment period. NPR says the updated guidelines will be released by the end of the year.

Posted by Steve

Vegan for a month?

We’re reeling here at the news that Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show, which may mean we’ll drown ourselves in some combo of whiskey and pho.

But we shouldn’t. So, to help us stay on the good side of things — if not the raw one — here’s a collection of stories and recipes as the Los Angeles Times tries to figure out its wacky Westside of LA readership via Veganism:

I’ve heard from many people motivated to become vegan by animal welfare issues. Health and the environment are other reasons to discuss, but this week, about halfway through my month chronicling my vegan ways, I’m going to turn to some practicalities.

Just how hard is it to become a vegan? If you’re new to it, where do you start? I’ve gotten some advice from readers, and I’ve reached out to a few people.

Our problem with a lot of these products is all the processing.

Posted by Steve

Stop juicing

I don’t mean like this guy.

I mean your possibly usual morning ritual of running an apple, kale, spinach and who knows what else through a juicer.

Why?

You’re better off blending.

That’s the findings from a slightly old study that gets new life via NPR this week:

What they found is the blended juice had significantly higher levels of beneficial phytonutrients compared to the juice made with a juicer (the electric juicer and hand juicer had about the same levels).

In particular, the blended juice had about a seven-fold higher content of a compound called naringin.

[snip]

The authors of the paper tell The Salt they did not expect such a significant difference.

“Yes, I was indeed surprised and so was everyone in the lab,” Rammohan Uckoo, a researcher at the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M, tells us by email.

So, what explains the difference? “The blended juice had the highest pulp content, which corresponds to the maximum levels of naringin,” Uckoo says.

In addition, the blended juice contained more of the fruit’s segment membranes — those white layers of papery fiber that line the outside of each segments — which have higher concentrations of flavonoids.

Or put another way: All that stuff left over in your juicer? It’s good for you.

Posted by Steve

One more coffee benefit: Sunscreen!

You can notch another happy benefit from drinking coffee: It looks like it may protect against melanoma, the worst of all skin cancers.

Here’s the LA Times coverage of a new study (and here’s a link to the study for you sciencey types):

The participants completed a food frequency questionnaire at the beginning of the study, including their coffee intake. Then the incidence of melanoma among subjects was tracked over an average of 10.5 years. Over this period, 2,905 test subjects developed melanoma — the fifth most common cancer and the leading cause of skin cancer death in the United States.

The researchers found that the more coffee participants drank each day, the less likely they were to develop melanoma. Drinking four cups a day was associated with a 20% lower risk. Those results remained consistent regardless of participants’ age, sex, body mass index, alcohol intake, smoking history and even ultraviolet radiation exposure, which is the primary risk factor for skin cancer.

The association was only found among participants who consumed caffeinated coffee, not decaffeinated. Coffee also only appeared to reduce the risk of malignant melanoma, not melanoma in situ, an early form of the disease in which melanoma cells have not spread beyond the outer cells of the skin. This “may indicate different disease etiologies or an inhibitory role of coffee consumption in disease progression,” the researchers write.

According to the study, bioactive compounds in coffee suppress UVB-induced skin cancer by protecting against oxidative stress and DNA damage in cells and by reducing inflammation in epidermal cells. And caffeine, the researchers say, taken both orally and applied topically, has been shown to absorb ultraviolet radiation, “functioning as a sunscreen.”

The researchers are quick to note that the safest thing to do is limit your exposure to the sun and UV rays. I guess because coffee drinkers otherwise aren’t so bright?

I also want to make sure you noted the caffeinated versus decaf difference. There’s no prana in decaf!

Posted by Steve

How that semi-enforced ‘Ashtanga diet’ might be really good for you

Ever hear of the 5:2 diet?

Well, you may be following it, nevertheless. And scientists are now investigating whether, and how, it may be really, really good for you.

We found out more at NPR’s food blog, The Salt:

But what if the payoff for a 16-hour fast — which might involve skipping dinner, save a bowl of broth — is a boost in energy and a decreased appetite?

This is what we’ve experienced as we’ve tried out the so-called 5:2 diet. It’s an intermittent fasting approach that, as we’ve reported, has been popularized by booksby British physician and television broadcaster Michael Mosley. The diet calls for two days per week of minifasting where the aim is to go a long stretch, say 14 to 18 hours, without eating. During these two fasting days, you also eat only about 600 calories, give or take.

[snip]

It’s not really weight loss we’re interested in (though, admittedly, we ate and drank too much over the holidays).

The fascination is what researchers say may be the broader benefits. Scientists are looking into how fasting may help control blood sugar, improve memory and energy and perhaps boost immunity.

[snip]

Mark Mattson, a researcher at the National Institute of Aging, says when we go without food, the body uses up its stored glucose, the basic fuel for the body, and starts burning fat.

Mattson is interested in what happens to the brain — in terms of memory and learning — when the body starts to burn fat for fuel. And he’s been studying animals, mainly mice, for clues.

During fasting, he says, fat can convert to compounds called ketones, “which have beneficial effects in making neurons more resistant to injury and disease.” He’s planning a study in people to evaluate what effect intermittent fasting may have on brain health.

And, as Eliza has reported, scientists are also studying how intermittent fasting may help boost immunity, perhaps by making cells more adaptive to stresses such as injury and disease.

There’s more at the link.

What caught our attention was the idea of its involving skipping dinner or, maybe put in a more healthy way, having an early dinner. Like quite a few Ashtanga practitioners we know do. Dinner by 5 p.m., early to bed, early to rise, practice … and maybe get to eating around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.

Or about 16 hours later.

Our experience with this was mostly during our two trips to India, particularly the first one. Did it help improve out focus? Hard to tell, given all the extra variables with traveling in India. But maybe.

And it may be another of those Ashtanga routines that, just coincidentally, turn out to be really good for you.

Posted by Steve

Here are the best and worst diets — maybe

U.S. News & World Reports — perhaps most famous for its best colleges and best high schools rankings — has brought its expertise and acumen to the world of food.

Its ranked — with the help of a panel of “health experts” — 35 different diets. According to its metrics, “To be top-rated, a diet had to be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease.”

The best? An apparently government-approved one called “DASH”:

DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an all-purpose diet. But it certainly looked like an all-star to our panel of experts, who gave it high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health. Though obscure, it beat out a field full of better-known diets.

From there, one created by the National Institutes of Health is next, followed by one from the Mayo Clinic. Feeling or seeing a pattern?

Well, No. 4 is the classic “Mediterranean Diet”:

With its emphasis on fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish and other healthy fare, the Mediterranean diet is eminently sensible. And experts’ assessments of it were resoundingly positive, giving this diet an edge over many competitors.

A few more to, er, whet your appetite: Jenny Craig at No. 8, The Biggest Loser at No. 9, a Vegetarian at No. 11. (Yep!)

But we have to go even farther down the list to get where I’m looking. Vegan — its No. 19. But that’s still not where my eye has fallen. Not even at the Macrobiotic, at a cool No. 26.

I’m looking at the Raw Food diet. Which — despite our experience — sucks, apparently. It’s at No. 32:

The experts conferred solid marks on the diet for weight loss, both short- and long-term, but considered it all but impossible to follow and its nutritional completeness and safety were concerns. “Doing it well involves considerable commitment and effort, knowledge and sacrifice,” one expert said. “And there are diets that require less of all these that are likely to be just as healthful.”

OK, maybe that is hard to argue with. But at least it is better than the Paleo, tied for the worst at No. 34 with something called the Dukan diet. (I was hoping that was Dunkin’, as in the doughnuts, but no.)

The one thing I’ll give this list is that it has fairly decent links explaining all the diets. But it sure isn’t friendly to anything that one might generally call “alternative.”

Posted by Steve

Yes! Science-approved: Coffee naps

Here’s one that we cannot not pass on: the power of the coffee nap. Via Vox:

If you’re feeling sleepy and want to wake yourself up — and have 20 minutes or so to spare before you need to be fully alert — there’s something you should try. It’s more effective than drinking a cup of coffee or taking a quick nap.

It’s drinking a cup of coffee and then taking a quick nap. This is called a coffee nap.

[snip]

To understand a coffee nap, you have to understand how caffeine affects you. After it’s absorbed through your small intestine and passes into your bloodstream, it crosses into your brain. There, it fits into receptors that are normally filled by a similarly-shaped molecule, called adenosine.

[snip]

But here’s the trick of the coffee nap: sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. If you nap for longer than 15 or 20 minutes, your brain is more likely to enter deeper stages of sleep that take some time to recover from. But shorter naps generally don’t lead to this so-called “sleep inertia” — and it takes around 20 minutes for the caffeine to get through your gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream anyway.

So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.

You can click on the above link to get the how-to to maximize the coffee nap effect.

Then it’s off to your best Ashtanga practice ever.

Posted by Steve

Even we don’t go this far with our coffee

No coffee, no prana, right?

Apparently, for some, it should be “no coffee, butter and MCT oil, no prana.” Per the New York Times:

It seems these days everyone is a coffee evangelist, but there are perhaps no proselytizers more fervent than those of Bulletproof coffee, a creation of the technology entrepreneur and biohacker Dave Asprey.

The recipe — a riff on the yak butter tea Mr. Asprey found restorative while hiking in Tibet — calls for low-mold coffee beans; at least two tablespoons of unsalted butter (grass-fed, which is higher in Omega 3s and vitamins); and one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, a type of easily digestible fat. Mr. Asprey claims having the 450-plus-calorie cup of coffee instead of breakfast suppresses hunger, promotes weight loss and provides mental clarity.

[snip]

Fans insist the beverage tastes like an amazingly creamy latte, though Mr. Rubin was more exclamatory: “like crisp toasted rye bread slathered with lots of butter blended in hot coffee,” he wrote in an email. “A wild classic-tasting breakfast in a cup.” For best results, the chef Seamus Mullen, another enthusiast, advised a hand blender instead of an electric one, because the electric blade heats up the oil, denaturing it and changing the taste. And start small with the MCT oil, which used to be given to hospital patients lacking enzymes to digest fat. “It can wreck your digestive tract,” Mr. Mullen said.

Being Bulletproof means never traveling light. After a MacGyver attempt to make coffee in a Chicago hotel room, Brandon Routh, who plays the superhero The Atom on the CW show “Arrow,” now carries ground beans, containers of clarified butter, a silicone squeeze bottle of MCT oil, plus a hand blender and Aeropress filter.

“My energy levels are through the roof compared to what they used to be,” said Mr. Routh, who learned of the drink at a bachelor party, of all places. He added: “My lines just kind of sink in and they’re there when I need them.”

Dr. Frank Lipman, an integrative doctor, recommends Bulletproof coffee to clients (who include the actress Gwyneth Paltrow) for “mind clarity and a bit of pep,” but cautioned that the drink is not nutritious because it lacks much protein and a variety of vitamins or minerals.

And we found a loose Ashtanga connection. That’s because my mind is so sharp — thanks just to black coffee.

Posted by Steve

Gluten-free: Cultural or dietary choice?

The New Yorker in its next issue dives deep into the tasty dough of the gluten-free movement. It’s rightly skeptical (and that coming from someone who avoids wheat, and who knows when I do eat it that it is a luxury). A few highlights:

While there are no scientific data to demonstrate that millions of people have become allergic or intolerant to gluten (or to other wheat proteins), there is convincing and repeated evidence that dietary self-diagnoses are almost always wrong, particularly when the diagnosis extends to most of society. We still feel more comfortable relying on anecdotes and intuition than on statistics or data. Since the nineteen-sixties, for example, monosodium glutamate, or MSG, has been vilified. Even now, it is common to see Chinese restaurants advertise their food as “MSG-free.” The symptoms that MSG is purported to cause—headaches and palpitations are among the most frequently cited—were initially described as “Chinese-restaurant syndrome” in a letter published, in 1968, inThe New England Journal of Medicine. The Internet is filled with sites that name the “hidden” sources of MSG. Yet, after decades of study, there is no evidence that MSG causes those symptoms or any others. This should surprise no one, since there are no chemical differences between the naturally occurring glutamate ions in our bodies and those present in the MSG we eat. Nor is MSG simply an additive: there is MSG in tomatoes, Parmesan, potatoes, mushrooms, and many other foods.

[snip]

Peter H. R. Green, the director of the celiac-disease center at the Columbia University medical school and one of the nation’s most prominent celiac doctors, says that the opposition to gluten has followed a similar pattern, and that it is harming at least as many people as it is helping. “This is a largely self-diagnosed disease,’’ Green said, when I visited his office, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “In the absence of celiac disease, physicians don’t usually tell people they are sensitive to gluten. This is becoming one of the most difficult problems that I face in my daily practice.”

He went on, “I recently saw a retired executive of an international company. He got a life coach to help him, and one of the pieces of advice the coach gave him was to get on a gluten-free diet. A life coach is prescribing a gluten-free diet. So do podiatrists, chiropractors, even psychiatrists.’’ He stopped, stood up, shook his head as if he were about to say something he shouldn’t, then shrugged and sat down again. “A friend of mine told me his wife was seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression. And one of the first things the psychiatrist did was to put her on a gluten-free diet. This is getting out of hand. We are seeing more and more cases of orthorexia nervosa”—people who progressively withdraw different foods in what they perceive as an attempt to improve their health. “First, they come off gluten. Then corn. Then soy. Then tomatoes. Then milk. After a while, they don’t have anything left to eat—and they proselytize about it. Worse is what parents are doing to their children. It’s cruel and unusual treatment to put a child on a gluten-free diet without its being indicated medically. Parental perception of a child’s feeling better on a gluten-free diet is even weaker than self-perception.”

As with all things, the key if one is going to make a change to one’s diet is to substitute in healthy things, not junk. I know plenty of vegetarians who aren’t healthy because what they eat — chips, Dorritos, cake and frozen vegetarian dishes — are crap. Same goes for replacing gluten. The New Yorker touches on that:

The diet can also be unhealthy. “Often, gluten-free versions of traditional wheat-based foods are actually junk food,’’ Green said. That becomes clear after a cursory glance at the labels of many gluten-free products. Ingredients like rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch are often used as replacements for white flour. But they are highly refined carbohydrates, and release at least as much sugar into the bloodstream as the foods that people have forsaken. “Our patients have jumped on this bandwagon and largely left the medical community wondering what the hell is going on,’’ Green said.

It’s a lengthy piece, but worth a read.

UPDATE:

Here’s Bobbie’s response to the article:

What frustrates me about articles like this is that they always lean in the direction of conventional wisdom (often in subtle and insulting ways) without spending any time actually deciphering if that wisdom is true. I mean, we used to hear from medical science that cigarettes were good for us. If you count native Americans, human beings also smoked for thousands of years. Did medical wisdom and historical use that make it true that cigarettes were good for us? The real problem is nobody really wants to admit it’s a problem, because to do so would lead to a major shift in human behavior. Americans seem predisposed to shifting behavior quickly if something new works. Which is why most of us don’t smoke, but most of the rest of the world still does.

It’s certainly true that mass wheat production saved human life. But that doesn’t make it healthy. And it’s also true that wheat is practical and portable food. But we have to process it to make that true, remove what’s good about it from it, and put it back later. I mean, hello, Michael Pollan, years ago, said that.

And there’s the complete dismissal of people like us. Half a dozen life-long health problems evaporated for me when I quit, and I lost weight. So I’m one of the “millions of people with vague gastric distress” who “found something to blame.” Fuck you, you smug ass hole. It wasn’t vague, and I didn’t find something to blame. I found a solution. Go eat your fucking bagel and stay out of my diet.

There.

Posted by Steve