Organic, Free Range, Grass Fed, and More

Grass FedThese days, the topic of what’s in food is probably less important than what you’re likely to hear about food. People can go for years without discussing their diets, but it’s practically impossible to go a day without hearing terms like organic, omega, or carb. Upon hearing one of these terms, you’ve found evidence that advertisers have used their market research tools and, thus, determined that they need to shove these words down your throat, especially since you probably have no idea what they mean. You see, as long as you don’t know what they mean, they can spin them however they like. Spin: it’s not just for politicians anymore. But these terms do have meaning. And once you understand them, they can help you make smarter food choices.

Foods without labels
Some foods don’t require a label, which makes them harder to spin. These are mainly very fresh and haven’t been tampered with so, in general, they are your healthy alternatives. The spin doctors here play both sides of the fence. When it comes to non-labeled foods, the important issue is how these foods were raised. When it became clear that the reason certain companies could offer lower-priced goods was because they used inferior raising methods, those who didn’t use inferior methods began using terms to help distinguish themselves. When this affected the business of the former, they jumped into the fray and the spin games began. But that’s getting ahead of our topic. Let’s begin by defining which foods don’t require labels.

First are foods like apples, oranges, broccoli, and many other things that you can buy in the state that they come from the earth. Known as fruits, vegetables, and herbs, they’re entirely different than that soda you just bought with “real fruit flavor.” These foods have parts that aren’t really foods, either. Called fiber, it’s the indigestible part of a plant. It has no nutrient value, but it’s still an ultra-important part of your diet because it does all kinds of things, including cleaning out our digestive tract and soaking up excess cholesterol. It’s very important that our diets feature plants. They are loaded with nutrients and fiber and have no man-made ingredients (okay, some have pesticides, which we’ll get to in a minute). When we do things like cook or make juice from these items, they lose their nutrients and fiber, and get a label.

Next are grains and legumes. Things like rice and beans—also plants—these foods have more protein and calories than fruits and veggies. They are less easily found in their natural state. Rice, for example, often has its shell stripped, so it’s white. Grains get turned into breads and crackers, often at the expense of their healthiest ingredients. Beans get smashed and have things added to them. As a rule, the closer you can get a legume or grain to its original state, the better it is for you.

Finally, we have meats and dairy products. Nowadays, unless you live on a farm, you probably have to buy these with labels. That’s mainly due to suspect growing and harvesting practices. This topic is mainly one for Politics class, but we’re going to look at the consumer end of it next. Hey! What are you rolling your eyes at? Yes, you, the guy in the white suit taking up two seats. What are you dressed like that for? Going to the Kentucky Derby after class? Well, pal. I believe that this subject concerns you more than anyone, so pay attention.

These animal products are loaded with protein, vitamins, and sometimes carbs and healthy fats. But we need to be careful with them because meats (other than fish) and dairy products have a lot of saturated fat. You can buy all of these products with much of this fat removed. For the most part, this is recommended, which we’ll cover in the “fat-free” portion of the lecture later on.

Organic and other terms for natural foods
Now it’s time to get to some good jargon. You’ve heard all of these terms, probably while you’ve been considering buying any of the aforementioned food items. But just what do they mean?

Organic
Organic means living, so organic foods are supposed to be alive or, at least, recently alive. Originally, “organic” meant produce that hadn’t been sprayed with inorganic things, like pesticides. But now you’ll see “organic ingredients” in boxed, jarred, and canned foods, which can be confusing. Organic was once a term used only by the folks who showed up at your weekly farmers’ market. Then, word started to get out about large-scale farmers spraying nasty pesticides on their crops, pesticides that would still be on those crops when we bought them. Most people are pretty sure they don’t want to eat something made to kill animals, so when the little “organic” guys’ businesses started to feel the impact, the big guys just started slapping an “organic” label on anything, until the government had to step in.

Now we have an imperfect system. Organic rules can be fudged to some degree, but it seems to be getting better and not worse. It’s made the large growers a bit more cognizant about what they add to or spray on their crops. Organic has also trickled up. So now packaged foods using “organic ingredients” are labeled as such. But be prudent because the fine print will tell you how much is organic. Lobbyists haggle over how much organic stuff needs to be in a product for the word “organic” to appear on the label, and the amount has changed and will continue to change. So you can see a product with a big “organic” on its label with very little organic inside.

Also, many farmers claim that organic growing remains behind the times. They argue that their products don’t seem to grow as healthily using organic standards because the classification needs reworking. This is no doubt true, as we’ll probably never be able to create a perfect system.

Bottom line: “Organic” on a label is probably better, but you should read the fine print. The more concerned the farmer or rancher, the more information they want to provide. A company that spends a lot of effort to list its practices is probably better than one that won’t go to the trouble. As a general rule, those going out of their way to meet organic standards probably care more. It’s not perfect, but buying “organic” still stacks the odds in your favor.

Grass fed
Cattle were once all grass fed. They lived on prairies and ate grass, ’cause that’s all there was to eat. On the prairie, that grass is nutrient rich because of the soil. Cattle that ate it grew big and strong, and when we ate them, we grew big and strong. Then, some guy figured out that cattle, if they had to, would eat grain. This meant he could build houses and strip malls on the prairie, put the cattle into little fenced areas and feed them grain, and make a lot more money. The downside was that grain didn’t have the same nutrient value (like eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts instead of broccoli), so the cows weren’t so big and strong. To make them look like they once did, he started shooting them with things like steroids, so that the cattle started looking like Jose Conseco, and all was good in the world. Except that when we ate the cattle, they didn’t have the same nutrient value. This meant we ate the same calories with less nutrient value. When this happened, we got fat.

For a while, we were none the wiser. Then, people started getting sick and dying because some genius, low on grain, started feeding cows parts of other cows mixed with the grain to make more money. Cows aren’t carnivorous, like animals with sharp teeth, so this didn’t work well and bad stuff like E. coli started showing up in meat. Anyway, feeding cows other cows is now against the law, but lobbyists were also able to make a deal in which it’s nearly impossible for meat companies to be sued, so who knows what they’re actually up to.

Bottom line: Even though meat lobbyists have been hammering away at the “grass fed” requirements, it still means that the meat is likely to be much better in quality.

Free range
Cattle weren’t the only animals out on the prairie. Birds were there, too. In fact, birds were all over the place because they have wings and can, you know, fly. This became problematic when folks decided they wanted to raise them on farms. You listening, Colonel? Figuring that if birds couldn’t fly and, well, they would then need no space at all, “farmers” started loading them all together in tiny little pens. Irritated—naturally—the birds would peck at each other and cause general turmoil, so good ol’ Foster the farmer put them in little cages wherein they couldn’t get at each other—for their entire lives!

Since this isn’t Animal Cruelty class, let’s just talk about how healthy these birds are when they grow up and we eat them. When you get out and exercise, how does that help you? Hmm, since some of you can’t answer this, I’ll tell you. You get healthier. Your body systems work better and you get more muscle. Muscle is meat, like the part of a chicken that we want to eat. If you sit in a small room for a long time, how do you tend to look or feel? Answer: You get fat. You get sick. You die young. Take two chickens. Let one run around and eat stuff it finds growing out of the ground. Put the other in a 2-foot-square box and feed it junk food. Which one do you want to eat?

Bottom line: Only eat free-range fowl, which is harder than ever to find now that new grades of distinction have surfaced. Again, to stay on top of it, you’ll need to stay educated. To reiterate, the more concerned the company, the more likely they will want to educate you.

Farm raised
This term has to do with fish. For those of you who are confused, that is natural. Fish live in water. We live on land. How the heck do we farm them? The obvious answer is to put them in big aquariums, but that would be too expensive. Instead, they raise fish in fenced-off areas and treat them a bit like the birds mentioned above. This tends to cause a lot of damage for the ecosystem in general, but this isn’t Environment class. We don’t offer environment classes because they don’t help your standardized testing. Anyway, the effect on the fish depends a lot on the type of fish. Some, like catfish that naturally live in sluggish conditions, do okay, while others, like salmon, do terribly. In fact, salmon are migratory and swim for most of their lives. Keeping them in a “tank” wreaks havoc on their lifestyle. Farm-raised salmon don’t even have red meat, like they do naturally, and are dyed red for market. Do you really want to eat fish that’s been dyed red?

Bottom line: Avoid farm-raised fish when possible. Always avoid farm-raised salmon.

Local
Some of you are no doubt wondering why this rather boring-sounding label is taking up more shelf space lately. After all, isn’t the gourmand taught to eat from exotic and far-off lands? Who, with ample means, wouldn’t always opt for Maine lobster, Norwegian caviar, and water from New Zealand?

One concerned for the health of the planet might be the obvious answer. You don’t have to be Al Gore to deduce that using 500,000 gallons of gas so that you can sip from a melting glacier near Christchurch might create a ripple effect with negative implications for the planet. Buying locally allows us to play watchdog. It’s easy to check out your local dairy. Just ask around. You don’t even need to research. Good businesses tend to get talked about in the community. And if you suspect that a local business is wielding a bit too much power and influence over your neighbors, that’s probably all the information you need. But your local Chambers of Commerce, Better Business Bureaus, and independent news organizations are keen to help out should your scuttlebutt network not be broad enough.

Bottom line: Local companies should always be considered first.

What Happens to Our Brains During Exercise (and Why it Makes Us Happier)

What Happens to Our Brains During Exercise (and Why it Makes Us Happier)Most of us are aware of what happens to the body when we exercise. We build more muscle or more stamina. We feel how daily activities like climbing stairs becomes easier if we exercise regularly. When it comes to our brain and mood though, the connection isn’t so clear. Leo Widrich, co-founder of social media sharing app Buffer, set out to uncover the connection between feeling happy and exercising regularly.
What triggers happiness in our brain when we exercise?

“Yes, yes, I know all about it, that’s the thing with the endorphins, that makes you feel good and why we should exercise and stuff, right?” is what I can hear myself say to someone bringing this up. I would pick up things here and there, yet really digging into the connection of exercise and how it effects us has never been something I’ve done. The line around our “endorphins are released” is more something I throw around to sound smart, without really knowing what it means.

Here is what actually happens:

If you start exercising, your brain recognizes this as a moment of stress. As your heart pressure increases, the brain thinks you are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect yourself and your brain from stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This BDNF has a protective and also reparative element to your memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s why we often feel so at ease and like things are clear after exercising.

At the same time, endorphins, another chemical to fight stress, are released in your brain. Your endorphins main purpose are this, writes researcher MK McGovern:

“These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain, and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.”

There is a lot going on inside our brain and it is oftentimes a lot more active than when we are just sitting down or actually concentrating mentally:


So, BDNF and endorphins are the reasons exercise makes us feel so good. The somewhat scary part is that they have a very similar and addictive behavior like morphine, heroin, or nicotine. The only difference? Well, it’s actually good for us.

Don’t do more, but focus on when

Now here is where it all gets interesting. We know the basic foundations of why exercising makes us happy and what happens inside our brain cells. The most important part to uncover now is, of how we can trigger this in an optimal and longer lasting way?

A recent study from Penn State shed some light on the matter and the results are more than surprising. They found that to be more productive and happier on a given work day, it doesn’t matter so much, if you work-out regularly, that you haven’t worked out on that particular day:

“Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning.”

New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Reynolds wrote a whole book about the subject matter called The First 20 Minutes. To get the highest level of happiness and benefits for health, the key is not to become a professional athlete. On the contrary, a much smaller amount is needed to reach the level where happiness and productivity in every day life peaks:

“The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk – all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.”

So really, you can relax and don’t have to be on the lookout for the next killer work out. All you have to do is get a focused 20 minutes in to get the full happiness boost every day:

“On exercise days, people’s mood significantly improved after exercising. Mood stayed about the same on days they didn’t, with the exception of people’s sense of calm which deteriorated.”(University of Bristol)

Make it a habit

Starting to exercise regularly or even daily is still easier said than done. At end of the day, there is quite a lot of focus required to get into the habit of exercising daily. The most important part to note is that exercise is a keystone habit. This means that daily exercise can pave the way not only for happiness, but also growth in all other areas of your life.

In a recent post from my colleague Joel, he wrote about the power of daily exercise for his every day life. Coincidentally, he follows the above rules very accurately and exercises daily before doing anything else. He writes:

“By 9:30am, I’ve done an hour of coding on the most important task I have right now on Buffer, I’ve been to the gym and had a great session, and I’ve done 30 minutes of emails. It’s only 9:30am and I’ve already succeeded, and I feel fantastic.”

I’ve spoken lots to Joel about his habit of exercising and here are some of the most important things to do in order to set yourself up for success and make your daily exercise fun:

  • Put your gym clothes right over your alarm clock or phone when you go to bed: This technique sounds rather simple, but has been one of the most powerful ones. If you put everything the way you want it for the gym before you go to sleep and put your alarm under your gym clothes, you will have a much easier time to convince yourself to put your gym clothes on.
  • Track your exercises and log them at the same time after every exercise: When you try to exercise regularly, the key is to make it a habit. One way to achieve this is to create a so called “reward”, that will remind you of the good feelings you get from exercising. In our big list of top web apps, we have a full section on fitness apps that might be handy. Try out Fitocracy or RunKeeper to log your work outs. Try to have a very clear logging process in place. Log your work out just before you go into the shower or exactly when you walk out of the gym.
  • Think about starting small and then start even smaller: Here is a little secret. When I first started exercising, I did it with 5 minutes per day, 3 times a week. Can you imagine that? 5 minutes of timed exercise, 3 times a week? That’s nothing you might be thinking. And you are right, because the task is so easy and anyone can succeed with it, you can really start to make a habit out of it. Try no more than 5 or 10 minutes if you are getting started.

The highest level of happiness happens at the beginning

As a quick last fact, exercise, the increase of the BDNF proteins in your brain acts as a mood enhancer. The effects are similar to drug addiction one study found. So when you start exercising, the feeling of euphoria is the highest:

“The release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria over time.” (McGovern)

So, if you have never exercised before (or not for a long time), your happiness gains will be the highest if you start now.

Interview with Darin Olien, The Inspiring Ingredient Hunter

Interview with Darin Olien, The Inspiring Ingredient HunterDarin Olien founded Darin’s Naturals in 2005 as a means to integrate the numerous concepts related to health, nutrition, and exercise gained while acquiring a BA in Exercise Physiology/Nutrition, an MA in Psychology, and over a decade of experience working in several health-based industries.

Since 2005, Darin has traveled the planet on behalf of Darin’s Naturals, discovering new and underutilized herbs, superfood, and medicinal plants. Darin’s complete immersion in the indigenous cultures found across the globe have helped to expand his knowledge as a formulator and environmental initiator.

In 2006, Darin began working with Beachbody, in Santa Monica, California, to formulate the now popular whole food supplement, Shakeology.

Christine Christensen had the awesome opportunity to sit down with Darin recently to discuss the fabulous wonders of superfoods and intuition, both of which Darin is a very well versed.

Christine: I was first introduced to your work from the recent O Magazine. I was so excited when I opened it. I just saw these really amazing pictures of you with amazing super foods & herbs. Something inside of me just said, “ I need to interview this amazing person.”

Darin: It’s all about following the knowing, isn’t it?

Christine: Yeah, it seems like you kind of just of follow what you’re lead to do. So let’s talk about your journey. It seems that you have had quite the beautiful adventure. Can you tell us how it all began and how you’ve come to be a world traveler?

Darin: Sure. Well you know, being a Mid-Western, Minnesota-born kid, I grew up in a small town and played conventional sports and loved it for what it was. I went on to play college football, and my sophomore year, I was starting lineup. I was so excited, but during the second game I went down with a back injury. In that moment it was this boyhood dream that came crashing to an end. That spun me into what I would call a depression. It just threw everything off. You know, you have a certain plan, a certain idea, you’re young, and you’re doing what you want to do, or so you think. When that happened, I had to stop playing and I went to the conventional methods of physical therapy and doctors and all of that stuff. It wasn’t actually getting me on the field. Again, I was going back to what I wanted, what I thought I wanted to do. So I decided to basically come to the understanding that it wasn’t happening and when that wasn’t happening and I had to sit with that. It brought me one of the greatest epiphanies. I was always very physical and I was always fascinated with the body. Recognizing this, I made the decision in my mind that other people couldn’t fix the injury for me. So I thought, I’m going to take this on. I transferred schools, I transferred majors. I studied exercise physiology and nutrition. It opened me up to that fascinating world and I basically healed myself. From that moment, it’s been a forever growing curiosity – every day. It hasn’t stopped. I did physical therapies professionally for years. I worked individually with hundreds of people—athletes and celebrities.

Christine: So you have worked from the other side of physical therapy?

Darin: Yeah, because that personal experience is so powerful. You learn about yourself and you learn about nutrition and physiology and power of choice and all of that stuff. In working with all these hundreds of people, I then became completely fascinated with, as I called it then, the psychology of it all. I could go through the methodologies of things, but yet, the outcomes weren’t the same. It became increasingly obvious to me that there were a ton of X factors happening.

Christine: Yes, we are all very intricately unique to our own personal journey and challenges.

Darin: I then started asking questions and started getting more curious about the inner working of mind, body, and spirit.

Christine: Are those the X factors that you feel contribute to someone’s recuperation time after an injury?

Darin: Yeah. I think it’s what you call the deep voice within all of us that knows what to do on our next action. It’s our intuition. It’s such a feather touch and it’s so easy to blow off. The courage of saying yes to it, I think it’s a growing muscle and every time you say yes to it, it grows.

Christine: Absolutely.

Darin: Almost like the universe is smiling to you and saying ‘oh you got that? Here’s a little more.’

Christine: (laughs) Yeah. And if you pay attention, you can actually hear them kind of applauding on the other side, like: ‘Hey, you actually picked up on it or you actually listened to it.’

Darin: Yeah. I mean, you know, then it comes down to receiving. You just said yes to that so then you’re in a position to receive more of what the energies of the universe have to give. I think that is maybe one of the greatest muscles I am willing to work. I never at three years old said I’m going to go around the world and hang with indigenous people and find superfood, and I now do that.

Christine: Yes, it is such a blessing to follow that guidance.

Darin: I think the greatest blessing for me in my life has always been the willingness to take what I thought of in the moment as the spark of my heart and do it full on, and then I opened that door. I only could open that door with saying yes to whatever was in front of me and over time just led me to the expansion of what I could never put as a goal.

Christine: Absolutely, every little step adds up to something greater.

Darin: That always blows my mind in terms of “how did I end up here?” It’s a series of choices rather than the singularity of a goal or a singularity of one choice. It’s in the act of showing up every day. When you show up every day… all of those choices lead up to either living a fulfilling life or a very unfulfilling life.

Christine: Yes, and being in the spirit of giving, the goal of being to continuously give so that you then can be led to the next step. It seems like that’s part of your mantra.

Darin: Yeah, I never set out to give. I only set out to answer the call deep, deep, deep within and it just so happens that that call always has had a giving to it.

Christine: It does seem to have that essence to it. With all of the projects that you’re involved in it’s really amazing how you are bringing so many different communities and ingredients and experiences together for film, for consumption and then also for publication. You are just on every level reaching out and creating this community.

Darin: When something hits me and I’m inspired by it and impregnated with the passion of it, there’s no choice at that point. Because I’ve said yes to that so often, it makes itself known so often.

Christine: Yes, it definitely begins to grow, once we begin to follow our guidance, it grows.

Darin: So you know, it’s like okay, let’s do it. Who would have thought I’d be doing a film on the country of Bhutan? Middle of the Himalayas. I never set out to be a documentary film person. Who would have thought I’d be running to Africa and helping the kids at school and hospitals get clean water? How did that happen? How did I end up finding certain foods and indigenous plants that have been forgotten for centuries? I’ve been in the position to get those to people here in the West for the first time. I mean, it’s just when I have someone in the middle of nowhere saying you’re the first person to ever ask these questions here in this position, to me it’s as baffling as someone else hearing it. I think that most people have an idea in their head that everything should have already been discovered by now.

Christine: How did that experience influence what you have created?

Darin: I think that got me basically to the first formulation I started doing. It was like, well, I don’t know why people are taking this left turn on these formulas and why wouldn’t they use this? And I just came to realize that, hey, they don’t know, maybe they’re not exposed to it, or see it. They just don’t have the awareness of it.

Christine: It’s like the grand illusion that everything has already been explored or already experienced or shared. Often people comment that your lifestyle seems like such an unreachable goal, for them. ‘Look at what he does for a living. Look at what an amazing life he’s created.’ And somewhere within there, there is the essence of ‘that’s something he’s done but I can’t do that for myself’ – which as you know, really, isn’t the truth. What would you say to that? What’s the first step in creating that kind of life that you’ve created?

Darin: Yeah. It is a great one and I love to try to dispel that because you know, as radical, deep, and as weird as it may sound, it’s those little things that ignite you. You don’t know where that’s going to go. That thing could be to read that book that you’ve been pushing off or call that person that you’ve been wanting to call, or call that university and find out about that class that you’ve been wanting to take for 10 years. I didn’t just show up and all of a sudden I get to travel around the world to all these places. It doesn’t show up like that.

Christine: Right.

Darin: It’s an illusion, like you said. When you have the willingness to say, “Yes” to every little thing you desire, because as you are involved in a holistic view of the world in what you do, you have to honor that. Any one blow- off, at any level is a blow-off to the entire level. It’s the entire being. I mean mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, you name it. There is no separation. If we don’t honor all of that and everything that is who we are, what we want, you know, maybe in their heart, someone does want to be a movie star. It could be. Don’t blow that off. With that said, also don’t get fixed on what that is or how it looks.

Christine: Yes, don’t become fixed on the outcome.

Darin: Understand the essence of it. Because the essence could be clouded. It could be clouded into the conclusion of what you think it is, but maybe the spirit of that person has something to express, has something to ignite in the world and a voice and share. If you get caught into concluding that ‘I’m supposed to be a movie star’, then you’re going to fall into the category of what it takes to create a movie star and it has nothing to do with the spirit trying to get out and come through you and ignite your life.

Christine: Yeah, the experience that is wanting to be born of you.

Darin: I think one of the greatest things that I practice is completely letting go of those outcomes and going back into question, using question as the source of creation. It can be as simple as, “Hey what would it take to find the greatest cacao source in the world?” I’m not in conclusion, I’m in question, and that moves energy. Right? Now, I’m completely open to whatever answers come in instantaneously and what’s coming in a year from now.

Christine: Right. It’s the curiosity that sparks.

Darin: That curiosity and consciousness. They are not separate.

Christine: Yeah. Absolutely. And when you become curious about something and actually one of the major things that I teach my students is that when you become curious, you don’t have to be right or wrong, you don’t have to be attached to the outcome. You can just be curious about what this is or how I could do this or what that would feel like.

Darin: Yeah, and that’s a constant question. Hey, what about this? Hey, let’s check this out. Hey, is that the case?

Christine: Yeah. Exactly. It makes it playful and not so serious or scary.

Darin: Exactly.

Christine: You follow what’s in front of you as the next step. In fact, I believe you’ve created a production company. Was that also born of this moment to moment inspiration?

Darin: Yeah. I mean I’ve created it based on putting some things together and doing some documentaries for sure.

Christine: Right and so I’m sure, the idea of starting your production company was not in order to become the creator of that organization. It was more because it served the purpose of whatever it was that you were working on at the moment.

Darin: Bingo. And that’s a huge point. It’s like okay, cool. I didn’t see the calling of a documentary but what is it going to take for this to get out? So we’ll create a film and get the people that can help out.

Christine: It really speaks to that seeking and collaborative nature. It seems that you have a way of creating community wherever you are with the people around you and beginning something that can really open people’s minds and their eyes to some really, really interesting things. Can we discuss some of the projects you have done? For example your documentary on the Wild Horses, entitled, “The American Wild Horse.”

Darin: A buddy of mine, James Kleinert who created the film, has been working with the natives throughout the Dakotas and natives throughout the US for over a decade and has done many documentaries. He fell upon and became aware of the wild horse Bureau of Land Management Turmoil in the southwestern United States. Over the last seven or eight years in filming this, he quickly learned that there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, including the reason behind the slaughter and the elimination of one of the greatest symbols of the US, the wild horses. James is such a dear man and he’s like a walking heart of a guy, he’s the lifeblood of that project and doing everything he can to save these horses. There’s a lot of mining that he’s now been exposing as the true genesis for why the Bureau of Land Management is eradicating these horses. He’s really done some gnarly stuff. He’s followed semi’s that were supposed to go somewhere and he saw them slaughter beautiful, beautiful horses, incredible animals. He’s lived on nothing in order to help save these beautiful animals.

So you know, my family is from the Dakotas. My family has been connected to horses. Being a kid I loved wild creatures. I just had to try to do anything I could to raise the awareness. I mean when I first saw the film, it was crushing to see what was actually going on, but it’s virtually the United States version of The Cove. It’s just like The Cove is to Japan. It’s that kind of gnarly stuff going on that is just not okay.

Christine: Wow, it really shows how when you follow the next thing in front of you, you’re not really sure how it’s going to affect someone, how involved you have to be and how that affects others. It’s like you do your little part and then it allows that to open for everyone’s eyes, it opens us up to something that most of us don’t know about.

Darin: Exactly. You know, and it’s that resonance that James is acting from—his truth. So when you feel that vibe, you know that someone is wholeheartedly doing that. The cool thing about James is that he’s actually not making anyone wrong.

Christine: Right.

Darin: Because a lot of times these activists are missing the whole boat because they are in judgment. It actually throws the whole message completely off and then it only attracts the very activist that for the most part just want to talk about it and don’t get anything done.

Christine: Right. But when you go into that judgment space, you close off the ability to see the whole picture.

Darin: Exactly.

Christine: When you’re in ego, which judgment is, it’s not intuitive whatsoever so you miss out on some really important aspects of it. That’s really amazing that he’s able to stay in that truth.

Darin: It’s hard. So you know, it’s a warrior’s path.

Christine: Yeah, it’s a lot to hold for one person. Yeah, it’s the driving force. It seems that you have that within you as well. I know I have it.

Darin: Yeah, it’s a charge for sure, you know. It really comes down to, the more I get clear about who I am and what I care about, I just charge. It’s like this is it, it’s my life. At the end of the day, I can theorize and philosophize about what happens after this life, but you know what, I’m here. I’m going to give it a go and go as consciously and aware and as powerfully and as potent as I can.

Christine: So what’s your next step now? I know that you just returned from Southeast Asia.

Darin: Yes. Southeast Asia, Philippines and Indonesia. I made some amazing connections to some groups and new alliances down there. It has sparked an organization that we’re going to create, an international organization of quality assurance and guidelines for agricultural, superfoods, all of these things.

I’m back now, and I’m working on about 15 different superfood formulas right now.

Christine: How exciting to have the backing to continue to create more and more sustainable blends.

Darin: I never thought I’d be working for a half-billion dollar company because I worked for many of the guys in the superfood world. But when I got connected with Beachbody, it didn’t take much time for them to understand what I was doing on a whole other level with the farmers and the social aspect of it. When you have the bandwidth, you can actually prove to them that everything from their bottom line to their customers’ mouths is going to be beneficial if you do it correctly from the beginning.

Christine: Yeah.

Darin: You know, we’re really, really aggressive in terms of helping the farmer. Instead of going wide trying to squeeze prices, we find a good relationship and we go deep into the relationship. Everyone knows what’s going on, everyone is transparent, the trust is built, everyone knows what everyone’s margins are because we’re not out to squeeze anybody, we actually have them tell us what’s fair margin.

Christine: Building trust, creating a foundation.

Darin: So that is a continuous project because there are a lot of foods that I am working on. There are about 300 super foods that I have a pulse on and I’m in touch with every aspect of it, from the packaging, to the manufacturing, formulating, to the farming, the soil.

Christine: Have you ever looked into branching out beyond? I know that you have really focused on exercise nutrition, but have you ever felt a pull towards creating something more toward the therapy side, addressing conditions such as autism or ADD?

Darin: The interesting thing is, if you knew what I know about what I am working on, you would be nodding to all of this stuff.

Christine: I am nodding. You forgot what I do for a living.

Darin: You’re already tuned in. I’m actually working on a kid’s formula right now. If you want to know where a society is, just look at the kids. There’s a lot of confusion out there.

Christine: So tell me, what are some ingredients you are looking at for children?

Darin: A crowd favorite of mine is Yacon. It is a tuber out of Peru and it has the highest FOS content of any known food. FOS is fructo-oligo-saccharides. They’ve known about FOS for a long time and FOS has even been put as an isolate in baby formula. The research even on the isolate is very positive for the stabilization of ADD and ADHD. I think that we know so little about the disaccharide sugars.

Christine: Yeah.

Darin: We only talk of the macro and then maybe, we’re getting into sucrose and fructose and dextrose and all of these things. There’s actually a whole world, a microscopic world of sugars that are complete alchemist in a lot of functioning of the body. FOS and Yucon are hinting at some of that. So I want to put formulas together basically in whole food and then measure the effect that that can have. If the isolates have an affect then what kind of affect will the whole food have? It’s this philosophy that I take. I look at science of course, but then I back into it or go into it based on the synergistic effect of what nature has already created. I am very excited in the next coming year to be working with some individuals who are doing one-of-a kind research into synergies and whole foods, looking at disease markers. It will be scientifically based in whole foods that are all peer-reviewed and all of these researchers will not be able to dispute it. So we’re being very systematic about that because if you want credibility, then you have to be aware of how people are hearing messages.

Christine: Yes. Absolutely.

Darin: You know, so those are exciting things and I just take basic principles in mind. I go back into question. I start with, ‘What are kids lacking?’ So then I back into that question, I start with basics. It’s got cumulative amino acids, helping out with every neurotransmitter that the kids need. You’ve got fiber and fibers, you know, a fourth or a fifth of what it needs to be. So then I look in the minerals. What is the mineral uptake ability of certain foods? And I go into that because it’s the root of all disease, like Dr. Linus Pauling says, it’s the lack of minerals. So that’s my approach really, to come and do the formulas like this. I expose myself to what the concerns, the macro skills, the kids, and then I go into it based on research and also just field knowledge of the foods.

Christine: Wow. I’m really excited to hear about it. I personally have just really strong passion for all things, nutrition and things that can enhance your life and especially with our children, because when our children struggle with their health, it’s really difficult to live a vibrant life if your child is not living vibrantly as well.

Darin: Exactly. I mean, it’s already a challenge. When you’re getting pulled from every direction not to do the right thing.

Christine: How can we stay updated with your work, Darin?

Darin: I have a newsletter that you can sign up for on my site and I send that out monthly.

Christine: Awesome. Well thank you so much. Thank you for your time and for all your work and everything that you’re doing, and I’m really excited to hear more about everything that you’re creating.

Darin: Well, thank you. Thank you for your time Christine.

Recovery Done Right: 8 Ways to Prevent Muscle Soreness

Gym RecoveryAching after a brutal workout? Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can make you feel the burn while your muscles recover and rebuild. But, if you take the right steps after your workout, you can go hard without paying the price. Here are 8 easy ways to prevent postworkout pain.

Stretch. Stretching is your first line of defense after a good workout. “When you train, you contract the muscles, and the muscle fibers get shorter,” says Steve Edwards, Head of Fitness and Nutrition Development at Beachbody®. “Lengthening them after a workout promotes mobility, and can lead to a more thorough recovery.” While fitness experts can’t seem to agree on this strategy[1]—one Australian study[2] claimed that stretching had no impact on muscle soreness—it certainly won’t hurt, especially if your flexibility is limited.

Eat for rapid recovery. In a study on “nutrient timing,” researchers found that a postworkout drink with between a 3:1 to 5:1 carb-to-protein ratio reduced muscle damage and improved recovery times[3]. A tough workout depletes blood sugar, as well as the glycogen stored in your muscles. Restoring that supply within an hour of finishing your workout is your body’s top priority. P90X® Results and Recovery Formula® is optimized with the 4:1 ratio, but in a pinch, down a glass of grape juice with whey protein powder or a glass of chocolate milk. Denis Faye, Beachbody’s Nutrition Expert, explains. “When the sugar [from the drink] rushes into your muscles to restore that supply, the protein piggybacks to jump-start the recovery process.”

Ice it. Immediately after a tough workout, icing your muscles can stave off inflammation. “Inflammation is one of nature’s defense mechanisms, but it works like a cast—it immobilizes you,” Edwards says. “When you keep inflammation down, that area is free to keep moving, and movement promotes healing.” Like stretching, its effectiveness is up for debate—some researchers have claimed that ice is only effective for injuries and not for run-of-the-mill soreness[4], but it’s a simple and safe option that many top-level athletes swear by[5]. “Unless you ice so long that you give yourself frostbite, there’s really no danger,” Edwards says. “It seems to really speed up healing without any adverse effects.”

Change your diet. “When your muscles are sore, inflammation is a huge part of the problem,” Faye says. To help reduce this inflammation, add foods that are rich in omega-3s—such as salmon, free-range meat, flax, avocado, and walnuts[6]—to your diet. The natural anti-inflammatory properties[7] of these foods can help dial back the soreness after overexertion. Amino acid supplements can also help with muscle recovery after a high-intensity workout[8].

Massage your sore spots. A recent study found that massage can reduce inflammatory compounds called cytokines[9]. One type of massage that’s gaining popularity is myofascial release, which targets the connective tissue covering the muscles. You can hit these areas yourself using a foam roller—put the roller on the floor, use your body weight to apply pressure, and roll back and forth over the sore areas for about 60 seconds. But . . . before you do, make sure you’re rehydrated and your heart rate is back to normal. “When your muscles are hot and loaded with lactic acid, you might make it worse,” Edwards says. For a more detailed tutorial on foam rolling, check out the Beachbody Tai Cheng® program.

Get heated. While ice can work wonders immediately after a workout, heat can help once your muscles have returned to their resting temperature[10]. “Heat increases circulation, especially focused heat in a jacuzzi, where you can hit areas like joints that don’t normally get a lot of circulation,” Edwards says. Just don’t jump in the hot tub immediately after a workout, because the heat can exacerbate inflammation, and the jets can pound your already-damaged muscles. Edwards cautions, “When your body heat is already high and you have a lot of muscle breakdown, sitting in a hot tub with the jets would be counterintuitive.”

Move it. You may be tempted to plant yourself on the couch until the pain subsides, but don’t skip your next workout. Circulation promotes healing, so it helps to get your heart pumping—just don’t overdo it. “Active recovery” is low-intensity exercise that gets your blood flowing without taxing your muscles. What qualifies as low-intensity? It depends on your typical workout. If you know your training zones, you can use a heart rate monitor. But, Edwards says, the easiest way to engage in active recovery is to exert around 50% of your max effort, and keep your heart rate below 140 bpm or so. Most Beachbody workout programs include a recovery workout, but if yours doesn’t, a gentle yoga class or going on an easy hike are good options.

Pop a painkiller—if you must. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can relieve pain, but many experts aren’t sure if they’re worth the risk. “A lot of athletes call it ‘Vitamin I,'” Edwards says. But he cautions that NSAIDs can cause nasty side effects and accelerate muscle breakdown. “The only time they might help is if you’re in so much pain that you can’t do low-level exercise—you can’t get off the couch,” Edwards says. In that case, meds might help, but be careful not to overdo it—because if you’re not feeling pain, you may push too hard and cause an injury.

Resources:

[1] http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20071017/stretching-wont-prevent-sore-muscles?page=2
[2] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016195932.htm
[3] http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2004/nutrition.html
[4] http://www.upmc.com/Services/sports-medicine/newsletter/Pages/ice-after-exercise.aspx
[5] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/really-the-claim-an-ice-bath-can-soothe-sore-muscles/
[6] http://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-omega-3-health-benefits
[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187
[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20300014
[9] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/how-massage-heals-sore-muscles
[10] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/29108.php

Roma Tomato Pasta

Roma Tomato PastaWhen you’re dying for carbs, this healthy dish delivers – with flavor to spare

Whole grain foods are often perceived as being healthy, but not particularly tasty. The carbs associated with pasta dishes often get a bad rap, too. But the right carbs, in the right amount and at the right time, are as important to building muscle as consuming protein. Additionally, modern whole grain pastas are much more flavorful, have a much better texture, and contain many vital nutrients. The USDA, in fact, recommends that people eat at least three servings of whole grains, such as those found in pasta, every day.

This month’s recipe will show you that, with the right ingredients and simple preparation, whole wheat pasta can taste great and fit into a lot of muscle-building diet plans, including carb cycling and carb back-loading.

What you’ll need
• Large pot
• Kitchen knife
• Spatula
• Wooden spoon
• Sauté pan (approx. 12 to 14 inches)

Ingredients
½ cup red onion, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, minced
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 cup balsamic vinaigrette
1 tbsp chili paste
1 cup roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
3 cups whole wheat pasta, cooked
2 cups watercress, chopped
½ cup fresh mint, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
Optional: low-fat shredded cheese

Directions

1) In a large bowl, toss onion, parsley, garlic, vinaigrette, chili paste, tomatoes, and grape seed oil; mix well. Over medium-high heat, pour the mixture into a large sauté pan, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until onions are translucent, stirring continuously.

2) Bring water to a boil in a medium pot (large enough to accommodate about 3 cups of cooked pasta). Cook pasta until it reaches the desired tenderness. Drain, and set aside until sauce is finished. You can add a splash of grape seed oil to the pasta to keep it from sticking.

3) Once the onion-tomato mixture has cooked, remove half the liquid and add cooked pasta and watercress. Cover and reduce heat to low. Allow pasta-vegetable mixture to simmer for 4 to 5 minutes; remove from heat and uncover. Portion to bowls and finish with mint and basil. If desired, you can also sprinkle a little low-fat cheese on top. To boost the protein content, add a couple of slices of grilled chicken.

Yields: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 bowl
Calories 101, Carbs 17g
Protein 3g, Fat 3g

What and When You Should Eat

Clock
It’s not just what you eat but when you eat that matters. The perfect food for one situation may be horrible for another. Nutrient timing is a science that athletes use to try to get the most out of every calorie they consume. Not everyone needs an athlete’s level of efficiency, but all of us will benefit from a basic understanding of nutrient timing.

This is 911, need-to-know info only. To keep you focused on the big picture, I’ll begin with an example at the extreme end of nutrient timing. If the average Joe followed the same diet as an Ironman triathlete, he’d likely have type 2 diabetes in a matter of months. Conversely, if someone tried to complete an Ironman on even the healthiest version of a low-carb diet, that person would either be forced to quit or die. This is not just because either diet would mean eating too much food or too little food. Different foods cause the body’s metabolic process to react in different ways; and various activities should be fueled using various means.

Let’s begin by looking at our possible fuel sources:
Carbohydrates
Are fuel only. They aren’t stored in body tissue, only in the blood and liver as glycogen, which needs to be burnt off. They are essential for high-level functioning like running fast, lifting heavy things, and thinking. They are digested and put to use by your body very quickly. If you eat more than you burn, your body will convert them to be stored in adipose (fat) tissue.

Proteins
Called the body’s building blocks. Hence, you need them to rebuild tissue that breaks down daily. You digest proteins slowly, and at a certain point, your body just can’t assimilate them. Therefore, it’s important that throughout the day you eat foods that are high in protein.

Fats
Help regulate all of your bodily functions. They are dense and contain over twice the calories of proteins and carbohydrates. While they are vital for our health, it’s easy to eat too much of them, which will result in unwanted fat tissue on your body. You digest fats slowly, and fats will also help slow the digestion of anything else you eat. Fats are also your backup fuel source, though they can’t be put to use right away the way carbs can.

Fiber
Categorized as a carbohydrate, it is not a source of fuel as it has no calories. It’s the indigestible part of a plant and is of vital importance in your diet because it regulates the absorption of the foods you eat. It also helps us feel full. Most of us don’t eat enough fiber, and that’s a big part of the obesity problem.

Alcohol
Not really a food source but something we tend to consume. It has nearly twice the calories of proteins and carbs (though it lacks fuel) and digests rapidly. Its only healthy function is that it seems to make us happy. Studies indicate this is a good thing, as those who consume alcohol generally live longer than those who don’t, but from a purely nutritional standpoint, it’s not so hot because you’re getting calories without any upside. Its use should be strategic and regulated for best results.

Now let’s look at the various situations we face daily, at least on most days—hopefully.

Relaxing
This is when we’re sedentary both physically and mentally. In a relaxed state, you burn very few calories because your body is engaged as little as possible, hence the relaxing.

Sedentary work
When we’re at work or school. Our bodies aren’t moving, but our brains are engaged. The brain runs on glycogen, which is blood sugar fueled by carbohydrates.

Low-level exercise
Like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, or going for a walk. This breaks down body tissue, so you’re burning calories, but it’s not intense work. Therefore, it can be fueled by your stored body fat. Your body tries to fuel its low-level outputs by mobilizing fat stores because this saves its limited glycogen for emergency situations.

High-level exercise
Fueled by glycogen. When you really have to get after it, all sorts of hormones go to work, and your body burns its blood sugar. Body-tissue breakdown is rapid, and your stored blood sugar (glycogen) won’t last much more than an hour.

Sleep
A very active time. Deep sleep is where your body works the hardest to repair itself. You need nutrients to make these repairs, but it’s better if you aren’t mucking up the process with digestion. This is why you hear that you shouldn’t eat too much at night. It’s best to eat early to allow most of the digestion to happen while you’re awake, thus allowing your body to use all its energy for recovery during sleep. It is worth noting here that it’s better to eat before bed if you need the nutrients—don’t skip them. Your body can’t repair itself without nutrients, and recovery from breakdown is why we eat in the first place. Next, let’s take a look at an important word you need to know: insulin.

Insulin
Wikipedia tells us that insulin “is a hormone that has extensive effects on metabolism and other body functions, such as vascular compliance. Insulin causes cells in the liver, muscle, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood, storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and stopping use of fat as an energy source.” Okay, that’s a little scientific, but look at all the things we’ve already referenced: hormone, glycogen, metabolism, and fat as an energy source. Even if you don’t fully comprehend “vascular compliance,” you can tell that insulin is something important in today’s discussion.

Sure enough, it’s the only hundred-dollar word we need to know today. Your body’s insulin response is the main reason you want to eat certain foods at certain times, to do certain things.

Putting it all together
Now let’s take what we’ve just learned and put it to use. For most of us, nutrient timing is pretty simple. The next thing to consider is what you’re going to be doing or what you just did. As I said before, what you eat should be based on this. You’ve probably heard about the evils of sugar, or maybe even the glycemic index. Using the science of nutrient timing, you can turn sugar into something healthy because it’s the only thing that transports nutrients into your blood quickly enough to be of service during and after hard exercise.

Essentially, sugar or other easily digested carbs (the less fiber the better) promote an insulin release. This speeds the transformation of carbohydrates into glucose in your blood. As your glycogen stores are depleted during exercise, recharging them with sugar minimizes the damage done by the breakdown of tissue during exercise. Therefore, sugar, the oft-vilified ingredient, is actually your body’s preferred nutrient during times of excessive stress and tissue breakdown.

Pretty cool, huh? The bad news is that this miracle nutrient is not good for you when you’re not doing intense exercise, which for almost all of us is most of the time. In fact, sugar’s very bad for you because the insulin response that was so fabulous for you when you were bonking (glycogen depleted) is not so fabulous for you when you’re sitting in front of the boob tube.

Remember this from the Wikipedia definition of insulin, “stopping use of fat as an energy source”? That’s bad when you’re sitting around. Remember how one of dietary fat’s responsibilities is to fuel you during low-intensity exercise? Well, when sugar causes your insulin to spike, it cuts off that process. Now not only are you not burning body fat for low-level outputs, you’re trying to force your body to use its glycogen. Double bad.

Unless you’re exercising, sugar intake should be minimized. During these times—which is most of the time—your diet should consist of a mixture of proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates. The latter are natural sources of carbohydrates that generally come with fiber, which regulates the insulin response. Whole fruit, a simple carbohydrate by definition because it contains fructose (a sugar), always contains fiber and, thus, can be treated as a complex carb. Fruit juice, and other such stuff, is processed; it, along with processed complex carbohydrates like white rice, can cause an insulin response, so these types of foods should be used more like sports foods than staples.

It’s also important to note that combining all these different nutrients slows sugar’s ability to incite insulin into action. Therefore, a little sugar like a dessert after a well-rounded meal is buffered by the meal. The calories and lack of decent nutrients (processed sugar is devoid of most nutrients, except for energy) still count toward your overall diet, but at least you don’t have to worry about an insulin spike.

So the main point of this article is very simple. You should eat small, well-rounded meals most of the time. These should include some proteins, some fats, some fiber, and some carbs. During (only if it’s a long workout) and after hard workouts, you should supplement your diet with sugar or simple carbohydrates. After this, you should go back to eating well-rounded meals again.

Sports nutrition has evolved this process even further. In nature, foods are generally slow to digest. Nature’s great sports foods are things such as bananas and figs. These are sugary but still contain fiber and other nutrients. Science has found ways to make foods that are even more efficient during sports. These basically manipulate pH levels and process the sugars to speed them into your system. Outstanding when you need it. Terrible when you don’t.

They’ve even taken this a step further by finding a ratio of other nonsugary nutrients (like protein) that can be transported by the sugar to give you a further benefit. Beachbody’s Results and Recovery Formula uses this science. When you’re bonking during a hard workout, it speeds nutrients that are essential for quick recovery into your system as quickly as possible.

I can’t stress how important it is that sports fuels be used for sports performance only. Gatorade, soda, and all sugar candies (hey, no fat!) all function as the poor man’s sports foods. Unfortunately, those perusing the Quick Stop generally aren’t trying to fuel up after doing Plyo X, and therein may lay our obesity trend.

In case the topic is still a bit fuzzy, let’s use the above logic on the examples in the intro: An Ironman athlete is doing intense exercise for 10 to 12 hours or more. During this time, that athlete is mainly burning glycogen, which is gone after an hour or so. The athlete burns stored fat, too, but this is limited in its effectiveness. To race, the athlete must replenish with sports foods because they contain the only nutrients that the athlete will digest fast enough to help. To complete an Ironman, especially at your physical limit, it may take 5,000 calories coming mainly from sugar.

This is a sports-specific diet only. Someone trying to eat that way during a viewing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy would be lucky to stay out of the emergency room. Conversely, if you tried to maintain a 25-mph speed for 8 hours on your bike while munching on raw spinach and lean steak, you’d bonk so hard you’d be praying to get yanked from the race at the first checkpoint. That should cover your 911 on nutrient timing. Next time, we’ll move on to the topic of supplements. Are they magic pills, overhyped placebos, or something in between?

Coffee, Tea, and Caffeine

Coffee, Tea & Caffeine
Today we discuss the most popular drink in the world: coffee. I don’t actually know where these statistics come from, but since we mainly want to discuss one ingredient, caffeine, I’ll lump coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages into the same discussion so that we’ll be sure to address something that’s pertinent to almost all of you. Coffee and tea have been around for the entirety of recorded history, so no matter what science tells us, we begin this edition with some time-tested knowledge that people don’t go around dropping dead over the stuff, nor will it get you banned for cheating when you win at the Olympics (unless it’s too much).

Coffee and tea are probably the most controversial substances we consume. Unlike, say, soda, candy, chocolate, and fast food—which we know are detrimental to our diets—studies swing both ways over the benefits and dangers of our morning cup of java. But whatever the outcome, we drink the stuff with an almost ritualistic glee. If you drink neither coffee nor tea, you’re an outsider in almost any culture on the planet.

Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks
First off, let’s talk about the difference between tea, coffee, and other drinks laced with caffeine. Coffee and tea are both very simple products made from mixing ground-up plants with hot water. So they’re both 100 percent natural, contain approximately zero calories, and have a few nutrients. What they do contain is caffeine. A lot of it. Coffee has nearly twice as much caffeine as tea, but the amount varies by type and the brewing process. As a general rule, trendy green teas have less caffeine than black teas, which have less than coffee. Figure that for each cup of coffee or tea you consume, you’ll get between 50 milligrams and 200 milligrams of caffeine.

Both have other assorted nutrients, mainly antioxidants, all of which are quite healthy. The downside is that both are acidic to the point that habitual consumption can cause stomach problems in some people. But the main hit or miss with folks when it comes to coffee or tea is the caffeine. After this, their choices are usually made by taste, ritual, or the culture they live in. Caffeine gives you a jolt of energy, which we’ll discuss later, and because of this, many other beverages now come with a healthy dose of the stuff. Most sodas have some caffeine, but the big trend today is toward turbocharged “energy drinks,” a topic for another day. These are often nasty concoctions of sugar, caffeine, and other assorted legal uppers designed to amp you sky-high and provide the illusion that you’re having a good time. They may work, at least for a short time, but they are basically just time bombs of euphoria. When you crash, you crash hard.

Can coffee or tea make you fat?
There is one place we have a definitive answer on this subject, and it’s that neither of these drinks will make you fat. In fact, they should do the opposite. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it affects your metabolic process at a heightened level. Translation: it makes you go to the bathroom more often. It also elevates brain activity, which, technically, should make you less hungry. This is why caffeine is often added to diet aids.

The only things in coffee or tea that can make you fat are the things you add to them. The menu at your local Starbucks contains stuff that makes coffee merely a side dish, if that. And traditional drinks such as Thai iced tea are only tea in name. Therefore, just because something calls itself “coffee” or “tea” doesn’t mean that’s all there is to the story. Like with most foods, reading labels is important. We’ll talk more about coffee drinks next time.

The latest research
Coffee has been in the headlines a lot recently. You may have caught the headlines a while back stating that it could give you a heart attack. Or maybe you caught the study touting it as a superfood, which came out at the same time! Certainly, you’ve heard that it’s a banned substance by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) due to its performance-enhancing qualities. But then why, you wonder, did you just see a headline saying you should avoid it prior to a workout? And what about that study stating that if you drank enough coffee, it would stave off the effects of all that alcohol you consume?

Coffee, tea, and caffeine are perhaps the most widely studied things we put into our bodies (over 19,000 recent recorded studies), yet no definitive stance can be found on the stuff. If this seems odd, we must consider the fact that studies need to be funded and a lot of money can skew a study to say this or that—a subject I touch on often in my blog. At any rate, let’s wade into some of the more recent headlines and try to make some sense out of them.

Will coffee give you a heart attack?
Apparently it will—if you’re “at risk for heart attacks,” according to a syndicated article that was all over the Internet a while back. But what does this mean? The article begins with the vague line about how coffee may trigger a heart attack in some people. If you delve deeper, the water becomes muddier, so, tired of sifting through their muck, I went to the source.

For over 4 years, a large Costa Rican study examined the relationship among 503 nonfatal heart attacks. The study found that most of the subjects drank coffee prior to having the heart attack. In the stats, it appeared that light coffee drinkers were at more risk than heavy coffee drinkers. This, as you might suppose, caused some confusion. Looking deeper into the abstract, we see that the researchers think that the coffee/heart attack relationship stems from a rare gene variation in some people. They also stated that their research was “far from conclusive.” The report on Yahoo!® made no mention of the gene variant and, instead, went with the more alarmist “those at risk” line because “who isn’t, right?” The study also clearly stated that most of the population was at zero risk from drinking coffee.

The bottom line of the study was that most of the population was not at risk, and the few that might be, also may not be. So, for now, I’ll side with Dr. Robert Eckel, former president of the American Heart Association, and remain “unconvinced.” Furthermore, a study done over 2 decades using 120,000 subjects concluded that there was no relationship between even heavy coffee drinking and heart disease. This study, done in part by the Harvard School of Public Health, showed that there was no link between heart disease and a daily intake of six or more cups of coffee per day. It also stated the risk was the same for those who consumed less than one cup of coffee or tea per month. This study also addressed the Costa Rican findings, stating they were “possible” but “require confirmation.”

Can you lose your gold medal?
Not anymore. In 2004, the IOC removed caffeine from its list of banned items. Prior to that, athletes could be busted for drinking about five or more cups of coffee. Certainly, this means that some highly regarded scientists once thought it was an ergogenic (a performance enhancer). But was it removed because it was found to be ineffective, as there are now better ways of “cheating,” or because the coffee lobby contributed to the IOC? Time may or may not tell, but one thing’s for sure: many people believe caffeine enhances performance.

A recent Swiss study, however, refutes it, at least in one sense. The study of 18 individuals showed that coffee prior to exercise restricted heart blood flow by 22 percent. Obviously, this would be a detriment to performance, but again, the research is far from conclusive. For one, the study used regular coffee drinkers, and participants were not allowed to drink coffee for 36 hours prior to the experiment, so their results may have had to do with a coffee-withdrawal effect. And two, no study of 18 people can be anywhere close to conclusive. But it’s interesting, for sure, and certainly much more will be done. I’d keep an eye out for more on this.

But again, there’s a lot more science showing that it has positive physical effects, even if they stem from better brain function. An Austrian study using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to assess memory skills showed that there was a marked improvement in motor skills and memory after subjects ingested 100 milligrams of caffeine. The study cautioned that the progression was not linear (meaning that more is definitely not better). But the test concluded that caffeine was a a performance enhancer.

According to physiologist Terry Graham, PhD, of the University of Guelph in Canada, “What caffeine likely does is stimulate the brain and nervous system to do things differently. That may include signaling you to ignore fatigue or recruit extra units of muscle for intense athletic performance.” And as to whether this better aids strength or endurance sports he adds, “What’s amazing about it is that unlike some performance-enhancing manipulation athletes do that are specific for strength or endurance, studies show that caffeine positively enhances all of these things.”

Is coffee a superfood?
This would depend, I guess. We’ve seen some downsides, and I’ve yet to mention two others. One, it’s addictive, and two, it’s been linked to insomnia. Performance-wise, sleep is crucial for your body to recover and recharge itself. No matter its benefits, if coffee negatively affects your ability to rest, it’s not going to help you much.

Yet, analyzing data—of 126,000 people and gathered over 18 years—has led to an almost astonishing number of likely health benefits, including lowering your risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and colon cancer; improving mood; appeasing headaches; and even lessening the risk of cavities. In some cases, even the “all things in moderation” cliché was put to the test. For example, drinking one cup to three cups a day reduced type 2 diabetes risk by single digits, whereas drinking six or more cups per day slashed men’s risk by 54 percent and women’s risk by 30 percent. Maybe it’s just because coffee makes you want to get up and do something; those participants who reduced their risk may have exercised more. These findings have been routinely backed up by further studies. At least six studies indicate that coffee drinkers are up to 80 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, with three showing the more they drank, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can cut your risk of gallstones in half, provide a 25 percent reduced chance of contracting colon cancer, and offer a whopping 80 percent decline in liver cirrhosis risk. So abundant is this research that caffeine is added to certain medications to treat headaches, mood, asthma, and now Parkinson’s disease.

So is it time to hit Starbucks?
Since, as I’ve said before, this isn’t Politics class, I won’t tell you not to, but I’m certain that your local organic, fair-trade, mom-and-pop coffeehouse with the open mic on Thursdays will have better coffee anyway (wink). Back to the subject, coffee or tea certainly don’t seem to be harmful as a part of your diet. The problem with them, I suspect, is more often what we add to them. So if you enjoy your morning or afternoon (maybe skip the evening) ritual, then by all means indulge. Just keep it traditional, pure, simple, and forget the word Frappuccino was ever invented.