Archives for February 2009

The Health Benefits of Coffee

cup of coffee

It’s a cold, December, Saturday morning. The light is streaming in through the window, and you notice your wife is not in bed, and you smell the beautiful scent of coffee wafting through air. You walk into the kitchen and she has you a nice cup of bold coffee with some real cream and stevia sweetener.

It’s a hot summer day. You just got done playing a round of golf with your buddies, and you head over to Tim Horton’s for a large iced coffee. It hits the spot!

I love coffee. These stories more or less describe scenarios in which coffee enhances my life. Coffee not only enhances my life, but also my health. While many health food enthusiasts assumed for years that coffee and tea were bad for you (and in excessive amounts, they can be), scientific studies have shown that both of these foods actually have health benefits when consumed in reasonable amounts.

Natural News has written an article highlighting some of the health benefits of coffee, a drink loved and cherished by various cultures since its discovery around the 9th century AD.

Specifically, coffee can lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease, asthma, and headaches. Additionally, coffee drinkers are at a 20% lower risk of having a stroke. Drinking the golden brown liquid also helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease and type-2 diabetes. Gallstones? Coffee reduces the chance of getting those by 50%. Liver Cirrhosis? Coffee drinkers had an 80% lower rate. And Colon Cancer? Coffee drinkers have a 25% reduced risk of coming down with this deadly form of cancer. And finally, coffee has been shown to help prevent depression, and regular coffee drinkers have lower rates of suicide.

So next time you are enjoying that nice cup of Joe, enjoy it a little more, because it’s good for you!

Image taken by me then GIMPed up

Stay Off the Drugs, Son

This is a line from Coming to America, a classic Eddie Murphy film. The discussion goes like this:

Prince Akeem: Sir, did you happen to catch the professional football contest on television last night?
Cleo McDowell: No, I didn’t.
PA: Oh sir, the Giants of New York took on the Packers of Green Bay. And in the end, the Giants triumphed by kicking an oblong ball made of pigskin through a big “H”. It was a most ripping victory.
CM: Son.
PA: Yes?
CM: If you want to keep working here, stay off the drugs.
PA: Yes.

I am not on drugs, well, not really. I am on a drug, a pharmaceutical, Bactrim, for a pesky infection. Because it is pesky, I am supposed to be on it for 30 days. It is not life-threatening (and not a result of any improper behavior, by the way). Either way,  I was not happy to hear that I had to be on an antibiotic for 30 days.

At any rate, I was ready to rant yesterday. I was a little angry, because when I first went to the doctor, she prescribed Cipro. Okay, I knew all about Cipro, but I wasn’t completely aware of all the side effects. When I got the list of side effects that came with the bottle, I wasn’t too thrilled with taking the drug. For one, the quinolone class of drugs causes tendon degradation, and some people on Cipro have had their tendons snap…not a good option for someone who is training for a 10k. Cipro is also very powerful…I felt as if taking Cipro without trying another antibiotic first was the equivalent of hunting squirrel with an AK-47. I took one at night, and then one the next morning. I felt weird and dizzy.

So I called the doctor’s office, told them I was feeling odd, and that I wasn’t really comfortable taking it, and asked, “could you prescribe me something safer, like Doxycycline, before we move on to something strong like Cipro?” The nurse said she would talk to the doctor, but suggested I stop drinking coffee because caffeine aggravates the symptoms. I said that wasn’t an option. Now, you might say I was being stubborn, but the possible health benefits of coffee aside, I like coffee. I enjoy drinking it, a lot.

They called me back and said they were prescribing me Bactrim, which is safer than Cipro, although it can cause reactions in people allergic to it. I asked what the chemical name of Bactrim was (it is actually a combination of 2 antibiotics), and the nurse became a little agitated when she couldn’t recall the answer and I pressed the issue.

I guess the point of this post is to document the effort it took me just to get a medication I was comfortable with (and even then, Bactrim isn’t as safe as I would like). I also don’t like taking drugs, legal or illegal. While I understand the benefits of pharmaceuticals, and I am not opposed to them, I just prefer to take them only if I have to. It is kind of humorous (and yet sad) that when I looked up the side effects of these medicines, the side effects were often treated with other pharmaceuticals, which had side-effects, which were often treated with other pharmaceuticals. Unless out of absolute necessity, I will stick with diet, exercise, healthy living, and supplements to deal with medical problems I have.

I don’t think my doctor’s office was quite prepared for a patient like myself, who is concerned about these things. I also am old-fashioned in that I believe a patient should have a little time with his doctor to discuss what is really going on.

Damn You Paczki!

We have had paczki pastries around work for the last few days, since they are  a pre-Lent custom. They have tempted the heck out of me, and at 290 calories each, they really add up quickly. I have had a real sweet tooth the last few days, and a ravenous appetite. I am not sure where this is coming from. I have been feeling a little sick, but otherwise, fine. I have tried to keep it in check, but resistance has been pretty futile. Fortunately, one of my Lenten disciplines this year is to give up desserts/sweets, and since tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, is a Catholic fast day, I will be limiting my calories for religious reasons. I know it may be cliched to give up sweets for Lent, but sweets have had a real hold on me these last few days!

Damn you Paczki! Damn you Peanut-Butter Cookie Dough Ice cream!

I Dare You To Look at This and Be Angry

Seriously, can you look at this and not smile? Resistance is futile. We had this photo of my niece developed into a print (among others) and it has been lying in front of my computer all week. I swear that just looking at it makes me ready to have a good day.

baby laughing

Vitamin D and Obesity

Summer Day

Could a little sunshine melt away the pounds? Well, I suppose if the sun is hot enough it would, or…making a little extra Vitamin D might be less painful. At any rate, I found a really cool “quiz” that sums up the Vitamin D and obesity research in a fun way.

The studies on Vitamin D, sunlight, and obesity tend to suggest that moving to from a high to low altitude, thus decreasing sun exposure, increases body fat. There are other factors that could lead to increased body fat besides Vitamin D levels in these cases. However, other studies controlled for these other factors, and found that when populations that dress modestly (e.g. Saudi Arabian women) moved altitudes, there was no weight gain or loss. This suggests that Vitamin D could be the weight-loss/weight-gain factor here.

Studies show that obese individuals have lower circulating levels of Vitamin D and Calcidiol than normal-weighted individuals.  In what could be an exciting finding, some studies have shown a linear relationship between body fat and blood calcidiol (that is, as the calcidiol in the blood drops, body fat goes up, and vice versa). Of course, more research is needed before it is clearly known what role Vitamin D plays in obesity, but it is pretty exciting!

Anecdotally, upping my Vitamin D intake to 1000-2000 IU/day coincided with my “turning the corner” in my effort to gain muscle, and lose fat (even when eating more than I should have). I know that correlation does not imply causation, which is why I am only providing this as an anecdote. I also tend to do a lot of the right things related to my health, so it would be unwise to give Vitamin D all the credit.

Vitamin D is cheap. It is available. It is pretty much non-toxic. If there is one supplement we should be taking (especially in the winter) it is Vitamin D. I take quite a few supplements, but if I was limited to one, it would be Vitamin D (it is funny…but 10 years ago it probably would have been dead last on my list…but recent research has changed all that).

Image taken by me in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, in 2007.

Still Alive

I have been very, very busy lately, and haven’t had time to blog. However, I thought I would offer a few random thoughts today:

1. The economy is scary right now, and I am very thankful for my job. I also notice that frugality is now “in.” People no longer look at me like I am crazy when I say I don’t have cable.

2. Related to number 1, since the switch to digital, we can now only get one channel. We are a decent distance out from the stations we could get with analog, and now we can’t get most of the channels. We may have to just get a roof antenna or something, because the rabbit ears aren’t working. Even then, I am not sure how well that would work.

3. Related to numbers 1 and 2, we bought the first five seasons of “King of the Hill” and added two more seasons to our “Everybody Loves Raymond” collection. Amazon had them for $13.00 each, and I got some using some credit card points I had saved up. We don’t own a lot of TV show DVDs, but we do have all 8 seasons of “The Andy Griffith Show,” 4 seasons of “I Love Lucy” and every episode of the British version of “The Office.” Who needs new TV??

4. I finished my taxes, filed them, and then noticed I made a mistake…so I have to file an amended return.

5. I am happy because even though I ate horribly (at least it seemed so) last week, I had a great weigh-in yesterday at the Y. One night, I even ate 4000+ calories at the Golden Corral! Nonetheless, when I weighed yesterday, I didn’t even gain a pound. I certainly have gained some muscle during the week, so I probably even lost a little fat.

6. Even though we are in the middle of a brief cold snap, March is coming very soon, and better weather is on its way!

7. Fr. Wagner and I (and a few others) are looking for a 10k to run this summer! Running…Summer…sounds great!

Three Ways to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

I ran across a helpful article today that I thought I would share. According to this article on Natural News, recent studies list three things that may be important for preventing Alzheimer’s:

1. Drink Apple Juice

2. Don’t Smoke or Drink Too Much

3. Keep the Mind Sharp

Read the entire article for more information. The only comment I have at this moment is to wonder if raw apples or applesauce provide the same benefit as apple juice. Apple Juice is very high in sugar, whereas apples and applesauce have fiber mixed in with the natural sugars in apples, which mitigates the effect of the sugar.

Research: Multiple Sclerosis could be a Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D keeps me busy. There just seems to be too many positive studies coming out for me to keep track of all of them. Fortunately, the Vitamin D Council produces a newsletter that helps. I highly recommend subscribing!

In what could be an amazing finding, researchers linked the causes of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) with Vitamin D deficiency. The Times is reporting that scientists have found a direct genetic link between low Vitamin D levels and MS. Some researchers believe that giving all pregnant mothers, and young children, vitamin D supplements could eradicate Multiple Sclerosis entirely. If this is true, then MS could be a bit like Scurvy, the disease associated with Vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy confounded physicians of the time, until it was found that the juice of a humble lime could cure it.

I supplement with Vitamin D. The supplement is cheap, widely available, and pretty much non-toxic.

In less exciting news, Medicare apparently will no longer pay for Vitamin D blood level testing. So, here we have a vitamin that is associated with lower risks of cancer, heart disease, depression, and MS, and Medicare decides to stop paying for testing for it. This is why I don’t trust the government to make me healthy, and am not too excited about government sponsored health care (not that I am too thrilled with the way private health care has been going).

Black-Out Curtains: Save Sleep and Save Money Making Them

It seems like every house, apartment, or dorm I’ve lived in during these past 10 years has had some type of light right outside the bedroom window.  Right outside!?!  While they do make me feel more secure, they also make it harder for me to get quality sleep. I am not totally off-base, as studies show that sleeping in a room with some light is associated with higher levels of some cancers. In fact, just last week, Science News announced a new study has linked artificial light at night to a higher risk of prostate cancer. The studies are clear: artificial light leaking into our bedrooms at night cause health problems due to a lack of sleep. However, as I explain below, the solution need not be expensive (or involve you wearing one of those strange-looking sleep masks).

I’ve tried every solution, from taping up garbage bags to buying fancy curtains.  Yet, nothing seemed to work as well as the high-end brand black out shades my mom installed in her house.  I commented about this to her one day.  Her response was for me to go get some black out material at the fabric store.  Obviously I’ve never made curtains before, and I didn’t even know they had this “stuff”!  But for around $6 (after using the 40% off coupon in the paper), I got 2 yards of fabric.   I sewed a pocket for a tension rod and I was done.  Instant dark! Even in the day time it’s really dark in the room. It makes for a world of difference in our room.   I can’t tell you how great this material is.  You do not need to hem it.  Even if you don’t sew very well, you can make these.  As a matter of fact you don’t have to sew it either if you get a tube of liquid stitch.  Or if you’d like to take it one step further Martha Stewart has a How to Make Your Own Roman Shade tutorial here.

Baking With Stevia For Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day this weekend, in case you didn’t already know. 🙂 Some would rather avoid this holiday, and quite frankly I’ve never been into all the hype. I’d also rather receive something more useful then flowers and chocolate… not to say that flowers in the dead of winter aren’t a nice. And really, what girl is going to refuse chocolate!?! But I digress. Even though it does come with a lot of hype, there are opportunities to turn the holiday into something wonderful for those around you. You can have a friends night out, spend time with your family, or just give yourself a little you time.

I’ve been trying to think of something special to do for David this year. As a SAHW this can be quite the challenge. Fortunately, we will be able to spend Valentine’s Day with family. So instead of one, big, celebration, I decided to give him a week of small surprises. My first surprise (and fourth) were Scones with Stevia.

We have been trying to cut down on white sugar for quite some time, and for a few years we have been content to use suclarose instead (Splenda).  After reading about some negative side effects of sucralose, we started looking into alternatives.  We tried to find one that was economical, natural, and preferably low in calories.  Enter Stevia.  We’ve been using this almost as long as Splenda, but until recently our Stevia usage has been confined to drinks.  We like the undiluted Stevia,  because it was more economical.  However it is also very difficult to measure (25 milligrams of Stevia extract is equal to about 4 grams of sugar), and too much becomes bitter.

I’d first thought about baking with Stevia this summer, but hadn’t gotten around to figuring out the proper ratio of sugar-to-Stevia.  And then there is the risk of making it too bitter.  But this weekend I braved the unknown, and decided to try it in a scones recipe.  This recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of sugar, making it very easy to figure out just how many of those tiny scoops I need. One tiny scoop of pure Stevia extract is the equivalent to 1 teaspoon sugar. Yep it is *that* powerful!

First I had to find the perfect recipe. I ended up merging two scones recipes, one from Allrecipe.com and the other from America’s Test Kitchen (video clip).

whole wheat orange cranberry scones

Cranberry-Orange Scones

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
12 scoops Stevia (use the one that came with it)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest (optional)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup milk (I used rice milk)
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt

For Wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. Grate frozen butter, using the largest hole on your grater.
  3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, Stevia, zest, and salt into a large bowl.
  4. Add frozen butter, gently toss till covered.
  5. Mix together 1/2 cup milk and sour cream in a measuring cup. Pour all at once into the dry ingredients, and fold with spatula until just combined. With rubber spatula, transfer dough to liberally floured work surface. Dust surface of dough with flour; with floured hands, knead dough 6 to 8 times, until it just holds together in ragged ball, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  6. Roll dough into approximate 12-inch square. Following illustrations, fold dough into thirds like a business letter, using bench scraper or metal spatula to release dough if it sticks to countertop. Lift short ends of dough and fold into thirds again to form approximate 4-inch square. Transfer dough to plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in freezer 5 minutes.
  7. Transfer dough to floured work surface and roll into approximate 12-inch square again. Sprinkle cranberries evenly over surface of dough, then press down so they are slightly embedded in dough. Using bench scraper or thin metal spatula, loosen dough from work surface. Roll dough, pressing to form tight log. Lay seam-side down and press log into 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using sharp, floured knife, cut rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet.
  8. Whisk together large egg and 1 tbsp milk.  Brush tops with mixture. Bake until tops and bottoms are golden brown, 18 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

I promise this only looks complex.  I highly recommend watching the ATK video to get an idea of just how easy this really is. These come out quite light and fluffy.

Whole Wheat chocolate scones

To create Chocolate Scones (my fourth surprise) I added:

  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder & 1/2 teaspoon more baking soda to step 3
  • I also stirred in 3 tablespoons honey into the milk before mixing it with the sour cream.  You will need something to help sweeten the cocoa powder. I just couldn’t bring myself to use 24 scoops of Stevia…not yet anyways.
  • You can keep the cranberries or add nuts in their place.  Or both!

Have a taste for something chocolate now?  I know I do.  Check out the Nourishing Chocolate Recipes Carnival over at The Nourishing Gourmet.

***Note: There are 48 teaspoons in a cup.  Check your stevia for proper conversion.