Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Java Jeopardy

I love coffee! Coffee coffee coffee! I know caffeine is considered a drug, but I'm sorry - I will never give it up! I don't really drink and I've never done a drug in my life - so, if coffee is the worst crime I commit - I'm OK with that! What I'm not okay with though is having something that I enjoy so much cause sever damage to my body. As I started my organic journey, I made a point to take an extra hard look at the things I consumed and interacted with daily. I read through articles and studies on coffee and its accompaniments, and I realized just what kind of damage it was doing. Thankfully though, there are a lot of really easy ways to avoid finding yourself in java jeopardy!

Coffee Beans

Most of the coffee consumed in our country was grown outside our country where the USDA does not regulate pesticide use. As a result, bags of beans fill our grocery store shelves and coffeehouses, like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, contaminated with a wide range of terribly toxic chemicals. We're talking chemicals that you need to dress like an astronaut while using and that have caused hundreds of deaths, illnesses, cancers, miscarriages and more. You may think, "Meh, it doesn't take many beans to make my one or two cups a day - how bad can it be?". You wouldn't be alone. 

Many people approach, not only coffee, but many food products this way. What you fail to realize though is that the repeated exposure on a daily to weekly basis causes a constant state of contamination in your blood, cells and especially your tissues. Because the toxins are introduced into your system frequently, your body does not have time to detoxify. Many of these toxins enter the body and are stored in the fat where they sit and contaminate the cells around them, causing those cells to act out of character, which ultimately results in health issues that may surface down the road. To avoid the dangers associated with conventionally grown coffee beans, you want to consume USDA-Certified Organic Coffee and Espresso only. You can use EatWellGuide.org to search for organic coffeehouses near you. Many Whole Food stores now have Allegro Cafes where you can order any coffee drink imaginable, made with 100% organic ingredients - even carrageenan-free almond milk!!! (more on that in a minute). Starbucks does carry one organic coffee blend, the Kona Blend, which you may be able to convince your barista to brew for you. Otherwise, if Starbucks (or Dunkin, Wawa, etc.) is your go-to, I suggest buying a bag of an Organic blend and brewing it yourself. 
(BONUS: When you grind and brew your own coffee it tastes better AND saves you a ton of money!)

Milks/Creamers/Non-Dairy Milks

So, we now know how important it is to drink only Organic Coffee. But, let's face it, most of like to jazz up our coffee with at least some milk or cream, right? To keep you from contaminating that just brewed organic java, there are some murky milk situations you want to avoid. 

I don't have to tell you to stay away from coffee-mate-like creamers! One look at the label shows concoctions of MSG, petroleum based additives, carcinogenic substances, GMO's and more! Lucky for us we've learned to spot most of those toxic elements, right? But milk can be a little sneakier. Most typical American coffee chains do not use organic hormone-free milk. As I've detailed in an earlier post, cows treated with hormones secrete pus in their utters and are consequently also injected with antibiotics. So, when you purchase your milk or are served coffee each day, you are also getting a dose of hormones, pus and antibiotics, all of which pose serious risks to your health, including increased risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers.

A significant number of milks and creams you would typically get in your coffee can also contain a toxic additive, carrageenan. Carrageenan is added to products like low fat milks, soy milks, creamers, sour creams, cottage cheese and more to prevent separation, thicken and add texture. Scientists have urged government agencies and food manufacturers not to allow Carrageenan in our food supply for more than 40 years. It causes intestinal inflammation, IBS, diarrhea and potentially colon cancer.

Despite overwhelming evidence and repeated testimony by experts like Dr. Joanne Tobacman, who have devoted their careers to the study of the additive and its effects on the body, lobbyists and major corporate interests have prevailed over our health and safety. What is particularly troubling is the cast of characters at play. At the the 2012 meeting, parent companies of Earth’s Best, Rice Dream, Westsoy, Santa Cruz Organics, R.W. Knudsen, Stonyfield, Organic Valley, Horizon and Silk were the primary opponents to the removal of carrageenan from the food supply. As has been seen with many controversial additives, chemicals and processes, corporate profits often lead companies, even those we thought were acting in our best interest, to resist the change and sneak in a toxin or two for the sake of making a profit (instead of just going back and reformulating to keep the customer happy and healthy). Remember, for a product to be USDA Certified Organic, only 95% of its contents need actually be organic, which is how organic product manufacturers get away with including the toxic additive. 

Luckily though , a number of great organic companies DO operate with our best interest in mind. The great team over at the Cornucopia Institute put together a shopping guide detailing which brands are carrageenan-free. After taking a look at the list, you'll notice a few of the original resistors have seen the light and now offer some carrageenan-free options. 

Lesson here: Stay away from flavored creamers. Use only organic milks and creams. Seek out carrageenan-free soy-milks, almond-milks, rice-milks, skim-milks, etc. Your body and belly will thank you!

Sweeteners & Flavors

I have to say, I feel badly for coffee drinkers who have been around long enough to see the rise and fall of so many sweeteners and flavor enhancers - most of which boasted health and caloric benefits only to end up causing sever health problems. It's left a lot of people and coffeehouses alike really, really confused. You walk over to the condiment bar at any coffee join you're going to see white sugar, raw sugar, Sweet'n low, Splenda, maybe Equal, maybe some honey, more and more are offering agave nectar, a few, Stevia. Then there is the flavor options - Caramel, Mocha, Vanilla, Skinny Vanilla, Lite Mocha and on and on. 

Sweetening my coffee (and other foods, for that matter) the safest way possible has been a learning experience - and I've made just about every mistake under the sun. Ultimately, I've settled on using organic stevia right now and I avoid ANYTHING with high fructose corn syrup in it (Sorry, guys - this stuff is on those chocolate and caramel drizzle sauces atop your favorite fancy drink). One of my greatest resources, Dr. Mercola, by way of mercola.com, breaks down your best bet when sweetening:
  1. Use the herb stevia.
  2. Use organic cane sugar in moderation.
  3. Use organic raw honey in moderation.
  4. Avoid ALL artificial sweeteners, which can damage your health even more quickly than fructose.
  5. Avoid agave syrup since it is a highly processed sap that is almost all fructose. Your blood sugar will spike just as it would if you were consuming regular sugar or HFCS. Agave's meteoric rise in popularity is due to a great marketing campaign, but any health benefits present in the original agave plant are processed out.
So, while it isn't as cut and dry as we'd all probably like it to be, these are some really beneficial guidelines to live by. Some other great suggestions are raw organic molasses and maple syrup. ( When baking, I use organic unsweetened apple sauce and bananas as a natural way to sweeten - a little off topic but thought I'd share. ) It gets much more complicated, yet at the same time, simpler, when we look at flavors.

Back in the day, I lived for Dunkin Caramel Iced Coffees and Starbucks Skinny Vanilla Lattes - but look at what is in that stuff:

  • Caramel Flavor at Dunkin Donuts
    • INGREDIENTS: Water, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Caramel Color. 
      • Glycerin is a by-product of making bio-diesel. Propylene Glycol is used in anti-freeze, paints and varnishes - now that is disgusting! It has been banned in food products in the EU and other countries around the world. Tests have shown it to cause cell mutation, central nervous system depression, seizures, arrhythmias, nephrotoxicity, among other side effects. Natural & Artificial Flavors can mean a lot of things and almost ALWAYS means there is MSG in there which damages your brain cells, creates a food addiction and shuts down your appetite controllers - keeping you coming back for more and more!
  • Starbucks Sugar-Free Vanilla Syrup
      • Natural & Artificial Flavors almost certainly means there is MSG lurking around in this stuff, same as the Dunkin syrup above, which damages your brain cells, creates a food addiction and shuts down your appetite controllers. Maltodextrin is an artificial sweetener that is created by blasting cornstarch (GMO corn) with acids and enzymes. Its side effects include allergic reactions, unexplained weight gain, bloating and flatulence, rash, asthma, itching and difficulty breathing. Sucralose, a more recent favorite among artificial sweeteners is made by introducing chlorine to sugar (that is why they say it is "made right from sugar). I don't know about you, but I don't want a dash of chlorine with my coffee every morning and afternoon! I always had a feeling that history was going to be a great indicator on this one, and, as I predicted, like saccharin and aspartame before it, Sucralose is beginning to raise some serious concerns. Just last month the CSPI downgraded this sweetener from "Safe" to "Caution".
Needless to say, you won't catch me drinking EITHER of those drinks anymore. And it isn't just those flavors. Nutritional information for Starbucks syrups and Dunkin flavoring is all available on their websites. Those drinks were part of my daily routine, sometimes in the morning before work, nearly religiously after lunch. I started to add it up in my head - carrageenan, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, maltodextrin, propylene glycol - every single day - building up inside of my body - what is this doing to me? I wasn't sticking around the find out. (See what I mean, more complicated ingredients and chemicals - but easy decision!) 

Some of My On-The-Go Basics for Staying on Track
As is any change, it was difficult to remove these pieces from my routine, but only for about a week. By then, I had adopted a new routine of grinding and brewing my own coffee every morning and bringing a cup or two along with me to work. In doing so, I've not only saved myself from toxins but I also saved myself a ton of money!

Back then, if you had suggested that I make and bring my own coffee drinks to work instead of just stopping at the local spots, I would've told you that it sounds much tastier and easier to do the latter. What I've come to find though is that its waaayyyyyy less expensive, just as easy and even tastier than the chemical concoctions I got so accustomed to. It's really empowering to say no to convenience and yes to being in control. Now, every morning I get up and do the following, in order:

Enjoying My Homemade Coffee at Work
  • Turn on pre-filled kettle
  • Take dog outside
  • Scoop organic coffee beans into grinder & grind
  • Pour into french press
  • Pour boiling water over french press
  • Serve myself a cup of coffee with homemade almond milk
  • Pour the rest into mason jar for the office
  • Go enjoy my coffee and watch the news!

Nothing I did required straying from my typical morning routine - and out of it I was able to not only my morning brew but also an afternoon pick me up! 

Give it a shot!

Create Your Own

I make everything from basic organic coffee to lattes and cappuccinos to blended coffee drinks. When you have the basic tools, namely a grinder, french press (or moka, percolator), espresso machine and blender, the sky is the limit!

Simply brew freshly ground espresso.

Lots of steamed milk, foam and then espresso. This drink is heavier on the milk than say, the cappuccino. I like to use my homemade almond milk that I've already flavored with a vanilla bean. You can also use a little organic vanilla or almond extract!

Grind and brew fresh organic espresso
Steam organic milk or homemade almond milk (my fav!) Keep the balance at 50-50
Flavor with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg!

A shot of espresso with a dollop of foam

Blended Coffee Drink:
I've used coffee and I've used espresso. Either way this is delicious! Grind and brew your java of choice, add to blend with ice and almond milk - and Voila! Some great variations I've tried include adding in a banana, a dollop of fresh pumpkin with cinnamon and nutmeg, some cacao powder - but really you can make this drink your own by playing around and experimenting!

Give it a shot!

Eliminate the toxins without eliminating one of your favorites - both you and your body will be all the better because of it!


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