9 benefits coffee

Let’s be honest, coffee is an integral part of most of our lives. But is your caffeinated habit good for you?

Maybe not for your wallet, but it can, in fact, have a surprisingly great number of benefits. All the more reason to visit and support your local coffee shop. If they used high-quality machinery and roasted coffee beans from Iron and Fire then I would certainly find it hard to stay away! I’m sure you’ve all experienced the mood and energy boosting effects of coffee, but it also has many important antioxidants, too. However, too much of anything is never a good thing. Like every food or drink you consume, moderation is key.

For healthy adults, the recommended caffeine intake is no more than 300-400 mg of caffeine a day, about 2-3 cups of coffee. To get started, you’ll obviously need a coffee machine. I’ve found coffeebitz.com to have some great reviews on the different machines and equipment. Continue reading to discover 9 surprising benefits of coffee!
  1. Decreased Muscle Soreness
    Two cups of coffee can cut post-workout muscle pain by up to 48%.
  2. Protection against cirrhosis of the liver
    Of course, you could just cut down on the alcohol intake. But a recent study showed coffee has liver protecting benefits! Both coffee and decaf coffee lowered the liver enzyme levels of coffee drinkers, which helps keep your liver healthy.
  3. Lowered risk of Type 2 Diabetes
    Those who consumed 6 or more cups per day had a 22% lower risk of diabetes.The risk of type II diabetes decreases by 9% for each daily cup of coffee consumed. Decaf coffee decreased risk by 6% per cup, which is good to know since 2-3 cups of caffeinated coffee is best to avoid overdoing it on the caffeine!
  4. Lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease
    There is considerable evidence that caffeine may protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
  5. Protection against Parkinson’s
    People with Parkinson’s disease are less likely to be smokers and coffee drinkers than their healthy siblings. Drinking coffee can even reduce the risk of Parkinson’s when genetic factors come into play.
  6. Coffee drinkers have less risk of heart disease.
    Korean researchers found that study participants who consumed 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day were less likely to show the beginning signs of heart disease. Other dietary factors should also be noted as Koreans typically have a different diet than do Westerners.
  7. Coffee drinkers have stronger DNA.
    A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that coffee drinkers have DNA with stronger integrity since the white blood cells of coffee drinkers had far fewer instances of spontaneous DNA strand breakage.
  8. Lower Risk of Multiple Sclerosis.
    Recent research showed that at least 4 cups of coffee a day may help protect against the development and re-occurrence of MS. It is believed that the coffee prevents the neural inflammation that possibly leads to the disease developing.
  9. Coffee reduces colorectal cancer risk.
    Even moderate consumption of coffee can reduce the odds of developing colorectal cancer by 26%. This protective benefit increases with more consumption.
Keep in mind, this is coffee we’re talking about, not frappuccinos or other fat and sugar-laden coffee drinks. If you’re looking to add extra flavor or sweetness to your morning brew, try a little stevia, honey, or maple syrup instead of refined or artificial sweeteners. You can also try cocoa powder, cinnamon, or vanilla extract to switch up the flavor! If you like cream, try coconut or almond milk, or even just real cream instead of the artificial creamers! Real food is always better than the fake stuff – not just for flavor, but for your health, too.

Want to try a fun new coffee recipe? Check this one out!

Low Carb Java Jolt – Makes 2 servings

  • 1/2 cup 2% plain Greek or non-dairy yogurt (choose soy for non-dairy protein!)
  • 1 scoop low-carb chocolate protein powder
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond, coconut or soy milk
  • 2 teaspoons natural plant-based sweetener like Swerve or Truvia
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup Cool Brew
  • 6-10 ice cubes
Add all ingredients to blender and blend for 30-60 seconds, until smooth. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 115 calories, 4 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 50 mg sodium, 9 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar, 14 grams protein.

Whether you are a student or in the working world, most of us don’t have the luxury of preparing and eating lunch at home.

Beyond sandwiches, it can be a bit of a challenge to come up with tasty lunches that are both easy to prepare and travel well. I love making fresh salads, and my favorite way to transport them is with mason jars! They keep all of the ingredients separate until ready to eat without having to carry 5 separate containers.

mason jar saladThe Mason Jar Salad!

There are many great recipes out there and the first one I tried was a Mango, Avocado, and Black Bean Salad. I couldn’t find a ripe mango at the grocery store so I chopped up fresh pineapple instead. The best part is that I was able to pack a few jars on Sunday night, which made getting out of the house on time much simpler.


The trick is to layer the salad so that all the ingredients stay crisp and fresh.

mason jar salad dressingThe basic order of ingredients is:

  1. Dressing – This recipe called for vinaigrette made with lime juice, olive oil, honey and chopped cilantro.
  2. The next step is to create a buffer between the dressing and the salad greens. You can add harder, sturdier vegetables or fruit such as carrots, cucumbers, peppers, or onions. I added some chopped red onion and pineapple so they could mellow in the dressing as it sat for a couple of days.
  3. The next step is to add beans, grains or pasta. I added a layer of black beans, and then a layer of quinoa.
  4. The next layer should be softer vegetables and fruits. I added some chopped avocado that I had coated with lime juice and salt to keep from browning.
  5. Finally, I added some fresh spinach and screwed the lid on tightly. When I was ready to eat my lunch on Monday afternoon, all I had to do was unscrew the lid and shake the salad into a bowl, or just shake up the jar and eat it straight from there! I am pleased to report that it tasted absolutely delicious! I am excited to try some new recipes and maybe add some nuts, seeds or (vegan) cheese to my next batch.


quinoaMango Avocado Black Bean Salad
Adapted from Greenplaterule.com

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe but firm avocados, halved, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 ripe but firm mangoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped, or 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. honey
  • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 – 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups of spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa

mason jar saladInstructions:

  1. Add the avocado, 1 tbsp. lime juice, mango, and jalapeno to a large bowl and gently toss.
  2. Whisk together 2 tbsp. lime juice, apple cider vinegar, cilantro, salt, honey together in a small bowl.
  3. Once those ingredients are mixed well, add olive oil slowly while continuing to whisk. Pour dressing over avocado mixture, add black beans and gently toss. Serve over a bed of spinach with quinoa.

There you have it! Your ultimate lunch on the go.

autumn quinoa salad

Autumn Quinoa Salad
Recipe adapted from Blue Zones

It’s finally starting to feel like fall again! Which means I’m getting ready to start cooking warm, fall foods. For me that means cinnamon, root vegetables, squashes and cranberries. It does NOT have to mean you throw away your summer diet! It’s still just as easy to find healthy fall foods as is is to enjoy the fresh fruits and veggies of summer.

What’s in season in Massachusetts at this time of year? Here’s a quick list:

[col size=’4/16′ pos=’first’]
Apples
Beets
Broccoli
Broccoli raab
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Celeriac/celery root
Celery
Chard
[/col]

[col size=’4/16′ pos=’second’]
Chicories
Cranberries
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Escarole
Fennel
Garlic
Grapes
Kale
[/col]

[col size=’4/16′ pos=’third’]
Chicories
Kohlrabi
Leeks
Lettuce
Melons
Onions
Oregano
Parsley
Parsnips
[/col]

[col size=’4/16′ pos=’last’]
Pears
Peas and pea pods
Peppers (sweet)
Potatoes
Pumpkins
Radicchio
Rutabagas
Shelling beans
Squash (winter)
Turnips
[/col]


I have no idea how to use escarole, so if you have any ideas, let me know! I’m going to focus today’s blog on an autumn recipe that involves the nutrient-dense, ancient grain: quinoa. Why is quinoa so great? It’s a high protein whole grain, which can actually make you live longer. By eating 90 grams of whole grains a day, you can reduce your risk of mortality by 17%! Crazy!

autumn quinoa saladHere’s what you need to make this delicious autumn quinoa salad:

  • 1 1/2 cup quinoa
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 green onions, minced
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • 1 (15.5-oz.) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

So how do you do it?

  1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the quinoa and salt to taste. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook until the water has been absorbed, about 12 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the green onions, carrot and peas, and set aside to come to room temperature.
  3. Add the beans, peanuts, cranberries, oil, vinegar and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss to combine.
    *Variation: Substitute cooked brown rice for the quinoa, or a different type of nut in place of the peanuts.

That’s it! It’s great hot or cold, so feel free to use the extras as leftovers the next day.

For years, artificial sweeteners have been promoted as safe ways to cut calories and aid in weight loss.

The logic is simple: since obesity has been linked to diabetes, artificial sweeteners must also help with diabetes prevention. However, a new study shows they could actually increase glucose intolerance by changing the composition and function of gut bacteria. The findings were supported by experiments in both mice and humans performed by the Weizmann Institute of Science. They claim, “the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and food, among other things, may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic that is sweeping much of the world.”

A little history…

Most studies linking sugar to health problems have been highly criticized because the government subsidies corn, which is used to make high fructose corn syrup, and ends up in most processed foods. Also, major corporations feel threatened because they know the sugar content in their products are far more than what’s healthy.

Despite protests, the World Health Organization released draft guidelines last year that halved the recommended maximum added sugar intake (10% of daily calories to 5% of daily calories, 200 to 100 calories for a 2000 calorie diet). In response, the International Council of Beverages Associations, whose members include The Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, released the following statement:

“ICBA is disappointed that the WHO has confirmed the conditional recommendation suggesting a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5 percent of total energy intake, as it does not reflect scientific agreement on the totality of evidence…we will continue to offer innovative ways to help consumers to achieve calorie balance through smaller portion sizes, no- and low-calorie beverages and transparent, fact-based nutrition information.”

For companies like Coca-Cola, the solution to the attack on sugar is to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners. Many people think if there are no calories, there is no harm.

But is there?

There is confusion over why the use of artificial sweeteners has not been aiding in weight loss. Some studies even show opposite effect. Another interesting fact worth noting is that overweight people often have different bacteria in their intestines than slim people do, but it is not clear what the link is & whether or not bacteria somehow cause obesity or diabetes. However, it has been found that even though artificial sweeteners do not contain sugar, they still directly affect the body’s ability to metabolize glucose. More specifically, they can lead to glucose intolerance: the inability of the body to cope with large amounts of glucose, the first step towards diabetes.

Now Let’s Get Sciencey!

In an experiment led by Dr. Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Immunology, and Prof. Eran Segal of the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, mice were given water laced with 1 of 3 types of sugar substitutes (aspartame, saccharin, sucralose), water, or water with sugar.

It was found that those given artificial sweeteners developed glucose intolerance, while the others did not. Next, the researchers killed the mice gut bacteria with antibiotics, and found it reversed the effects (the mice were no longer glucose intolerant). When they transferred gut bacteria that had been grown outside of the mice in the presence of artificial sweeteners into healthy mice, the healthy mice developed glucose intolerance.


But enough with mice. Let’s talk humans!

In an elaborate study called the Personalized Nutrition Project, it was found that there was a significant association between reported consumption of artificial sweeteners, gut bacteria, & glucose intolerance.

They also performed a controlled experiment with volunteers who did not regularly consume artificial sweeteners. They asked them to consume them for a week, then tested their glucose levels and gut microbiota. It was found that some, but not all, had begun to develop glucose intolerance. This was because there were 2 different populations of human gut bacteria: one induced glucose intolerance when exposed to sweeteners, and one with no effect either way.

Dr. Elinav believes certain bacteria in guts of those with glucose intolerance reacted to chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that caused an inflammatory response similar to a sugar overdose, promoting changes in their ability to use sugar.

Wow. Heavy Stuff.

The only real solution to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity is healthy eating and exercise.

The current American diet is not healthy, and metabolic diseases will continue to be a concern until Americans drastically alter their lifestyle. Artificial sweeteners are not the solution to sugar, sugar is not even the problem. The problem is the quantity in which sugar is consumed because it is in practically everything! And the current recommended added sugar intake is not labeled as a percent daily value on nutrition facts. And as long as major food corporations have the money and legal ability to influence government policy, there will be little change in the regulation of sugar and artificial sweeteners in foods.

So what should you do?

If you haven’t read my last blog post, you should. Because you’ll learn ALL about what “healthy” really means. Eat plants, eat whole, REAL foods, not ones made in a lab with 10 billion ingredients that you can’t pronounce. I’m a proud host to a healthy gut bacteria population! Besides, real sugar tastes good. Just don’t eat too much.

Good question.

It seems like in the past few decades, this question has become harder and harder to answer. With new research and the ease of accessing and publishing information (both true and false), “healthy” has become one of the most ambiguous terms out there. To clarify, let’s review a quick definition:

Healthy: free from disease or pain : enjoying health* and vigor of body, mind, or spirit

*So… what is health? Another definition for ya:

Health:

  1. the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit :  freedom from physical disease or pain : the general condition of the body

  2. a condition in which someone or something is thriving or doing well

I don’t know about you, but the concept of a “healthy” diet still seems pretty unclear to me. Based on these definitions, “healthy” food should make me “thrive,” and benefit me physically, mentally and spiritually. I certainly love chocolate, though I can’t say that I have a spiritual connection to the stuff. So how do we determine what a healthy diet really is?

I think most people might reference fruits and veggies, which is certainly a good place to start. Most Americans don’t get enough of these crucial food groups. But that’s not the only part of a “healthy” diet. Another good resource for understanding healthy food is the government issued My Plate. I’m not an adamant subscriber (obviously, I don’t drink milk and I find the pictures too unspecific for my taste), but for the general public it can be a great resource for getting started.

But here is my interpretation.

Eat plants. This includes fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Eat lots of them, and try to keep them as “whole” as possible. This means avoiding their processed counterparts – but NOT like the plague! Part of a healthy diet, in my opinion, is being mindful about how much you are eating as well as what. That doesn’t mean restricting anything at all. If you eat a lot of cookies, cut back. But you don’t need to eliminate your favorite foods to be healthy. That would be neglecting the mental (and maybe spiritual) aspects of health.

 

With that said, if you like to drink milk and eat meat, by all means, go for it. Just maybe not all the time, and opt for lean and local sources. Read ingredients. Watch portion sizes. Experiment with foods and flavors and see how each makes you feel. You may notice that eating certain foods make you feel better (and happier!) than others, and not just in the moment of eating them.

I know that may not be very specific, but I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to diet. Our bodies respond differently to different foods, and we all have various lifestyles, activity levels, cultural habits and genetics. Find what works for YOU as an individual! Eat your plants and move your body, and choose everything in moderation. You’ll likely turn out alright.

If you have more questions about nutrition, feel free to send me an email! I’m happy to talk about more specific topics or address any curiosities you may have.

Email Sarah with questions or comments:

[contactform email=”sarah.oliver4@icloud.com”]

 

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

You’ve got Monday off to relax and host a BBQ with your friends.

But will this ruin your diet?


 

Will a little bit of fun on the weekend put a stop to your progress? Let’s take a look. If you start your weekend with 40 cent wing night on Thursday, then dinner dates and bar hopping on friday and saturday, then family brunch sunday… Things aren’t looking good in the aftermath of Monday’s BBQ. Take a look at this little infographic to see how those fun nights may be getting in the way!

Ok, so now that you’ve learned you’re never allowed to have fun, let’s talk about how this doesn’t have to be the case! I know it may not seem like it, but…

 

…you can go out with friends, eat and drink with freedom, and still reach your fitness goals!

The secret: mindfulness. If you have plans with friends for the night, load up on the simple, wholesome foods during the day. Plan ahead. And for Labor Day…

 

I have recipes for you! Whether you’re hosting or attending, you can always prepare a few simple and affordable options (on sale at Star Market!) that will allow you  to have fun and reach your goals. Hey, who knew?
  • Corn: 15 cents each – Simple and delicious, corn is always a late summer staple for any BBQ. Try wrapping them in tin foil with a little bit of plant-based buttery spread (a low saturated fat alternative to butter) and grilling for 8-10 minutes.
  • Scallops: $13.99/lb – Ever heard of scallop kebabs? They’re pretty great. Try this recipe here for Herbed Scallop Kebabs on the grill!
  • Whole Seedless Watermelon: $3.99 each – Keep it simple. Everyone loves a good, thick slice of watermelon.
  • Outshine Fruit Bars: 3/$10 – Looking for dessert but don’t want the fat and sugar-ridden ice cream novelties? Try these fruit bars! Very satisfying and refreshing for the last few days of summer, and only 60 calories!
  • Strawberries: $2.99/lb – With all these fresh berries, you simply can’t go wrong! Throw them in a salad with walnuts, gorgonzola and grilled chicken. Or make them into a trifle. Check out this recipe for a little bit healthier alternative!
healthy food budget

I’m sure you all have heard recent articles and published statistics about the absurd amount millennials shell out each week to eat their beloved avocado toast. Hey, I’m one of them! Avocados are full of healthy fats, vitamins, and antioxidants that help to make your skin and hair healthier, protect you from cancer, and aid in weight loss. (If you want to indulge in your avocado obsession a bit more, feel free to check out this article).

Despite the health benefits of this amazingly delicious fruit, a healthy diet does not necessarily have to include it. In fact, when planning a healthy menu, one of the most important elements is that it is sustainable financially. If you have to choose between paying rent and eating avocado, I’d go with the rent. Or for a less dramatic situation, if the choice comes between a bunch of vegetables and one single avocado, you’d likely benefit more from the variety and quantity of veggies that those $6 could buy you.

Healthy food does NOT have to be expensive!

You CAN find a way to budget for it. Take Star Market, for example. This week’s sale flier lists ice cream and cookies, but it also includes plenty of inexpensive fruits, veggies, lean protein and whole grains to craft a full week of meals out of. Let’s take a look at a few, and how you might use them!

healthy food budgetFruit:
Strawberries, $1.77/lb
Blueberries, $2.99/pint
Bananas, 59 c/lb

Veggies:
Birds Eye Frozen Veggies, BOGO
Francesco Rinaldi Marinara Sauce, BOGO
3 Romaine Hearts, $2.99
Peppers, 3/$5

Protein:
Cedars Hummus, BOGO
Boneless Chicken Breast, $2.49/lb
Canned Tuna, 2/$3
Greek Yogurt, 2/$7

Whole grains:
2/$6 Arnold Sandwich thins
Barilla Pasta 2/$3
Pepperidge farm Whole Grain Bread, $3.49
Potatoes, 2/$5

And there is a lot more listed, too! These are just a few highlighted items to show you that a healthy diet can and should be affordable. So what would your week look like if you incorporated these items? Maybe a little something like this:

  • Breakfast: yogurt with berries and toast with butter
  • Lunch: sandwich with veggies and tuna and a banana on the side
  • Snack: veggies with hummus
  • Dinner: whole grain pasta with marinara sauce and a side of grilled chicken

Other tips for making healthy eating affordable include comparing the sales at different stores, planning meals ahead of time, saving leftovers for new dishes, and buying dry or bulk goods like rice or beans.

Generally, just stick with the basics. Eat real, whole foods. Mainly plants. And you may find that your wallet isn’t the only happy one!