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Healthy Holiday Gifts

December 8, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

The holidays are rapidly approaching. It’s officially crunch time for shopping for those special gifts for beloved family, friends and mates. In the coming weeks, I’m going to share some health promoting gift ideas that I’ll personally be giving out. I want to start by telling you a little bit about my mother’s recent birthday. Selecting a gift for her is always a challenge because she absolutely refuses to offer any suggestions about what she might enjoy. Her feeling is that she has doesn’t need any more “stuff”. So typically we’ll give my parents concert or theater tickets or a gift certificate for a new and interesting restaurant. But this year, my wife and I came up with a different type of present. We wanted to choose something that we knew Mom would genuinely enjoy and, more importantly, actually use. In addition, we’re always looking for innovative ways to improve the health of those we love. By combining these two goals, we were able to find the perfect birthday gift – something that would keep on giving for an entire year.

The one thing my Mom loves and can’t get enough of is really good coffee. So Mom’s gift was a one year subscription to a “coffee of the month club”. For the next 12 months, Mom will receive a pound of “organic, fair trade coffee” from different parts of world. This gift not only provides a pure source of high quality coffee, but it also supports farmers who grow their crops in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. There are a number of coffee clubs such as this currently in operation. Based on our research we selected to order from a family-owned company called Grounds for Change. Please note that have no financial connection to this outfit and our experience with them is exclusively this first and only purchase. Thus far, I can tell you that the first month’s batch of coffee arrived promptly and has subsequently received my parents seal of approval. (1)

As far as I’m concerned, an ideal present almost always has a few distinct qualities: a) it has to be something that evokes joy in the recipient; b) it hopefully, in some way, works to improve their life; and c) it’s best when it’s something that they wouldn’t otherwise buy for themselves. The right gift is capable of not only celebrating a life, but also enriching it in a physical and emotional/spiritual way.

Every month, I find numerous positive studies about coffee in the scientific literature. However very little of what I read ever makes the nightly news because it’s often considered too specific or technical in nature. But it’s exactly that type of research that I like best. I love the process of connecting lots of small dots in order to put together a larger, more meaningful picture. Here are some of the finer points about coffee that scientists have discovered lately:

  • A new study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry examined the effects of drinking coffee along with high fat meals. The researchers evaluated the consequences of adding either decaffeinated, regular coffee or no-coffee to the diets of mice over an 8 week period. Both forms of (instant) coffee provoked a decline in fatty tissue and reduced liver inflammation. These changes are consistent with a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, a condition in humans which combines elements of poor blood sugar control and cardiovascular disease. (2)
  • Scientists from both Italy and the United Kingdom have recently determined that antioxidants in coffee and red wine (polyphenols) appear to be helpful in reducing the amount of dental plaque found on the surface of teeth and below the gum line. These beverages likely accomplish this by “inhibiting the adhesion” of harmful bacteria and directly exerting “antimicrobial activity against oral bacteria”. (3)
  • A Japanese trial published in November provides preliminary evidence that “continuous” coffee consumption may help control allergies. Allergic mice who were chronically fed coffee demonstrated a decrease in immune response when exposed to allergens. The coffee didn’t eliminate the reaction after exposure but, rather, helped prevent/reduce the allergic response when provided beforehand. Therefore, it is proposed that components of coffee may be useful for managing allergic reactions in a preventive capacity. (4)

Antioxidant Activity of Coffee, Tea and Wine

FRAP
(mmol Fe2/L)
TRAP
(mmol Trolox/L)
TEAC
Coffee (Espresso) 129.38 66 36.54
Coffee (Decaf Espresso) 93.01 45.82 26.96
Coffee (Brewed) 96.40 59.57 30.29
Coffee (Instant) 108.56 52.37 32.48
Tea (Black) 10.09 4.87 3.60
Tea (Green) 18 7.63 6.01
Wine, Red (Sauvignon) 23.90 11.73 8.95
Wine, White (Pinot) 3.72 2.10 1.68
FRAP = Ferric Reducing Antioxidant Power
TRAP = Total Radical-Trapping Antioxidant Parameter
TEAC = Trolox Equivalent Antioxidant Capacity
Source: J. Nutr. 133:2812-2819 (a)

Several studies of late have strengthened the case for using coffee acting as a cardioprotective agent. A new trial published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains that coffee may help normalize inflammation (C-reactive protein) in overweight, postmenopausal women not receiving hormone replacement therapy. This is a population that is generally believed to suffer from excess inflammation and is at high risk for heart disease and stroke. In this instance, it’s possible that coffee’s beneficial effect may be due to a newly discovered phytoestrogen known as trigonelline. Other experiments indicate that a component of coffee, chlorogenic acid, may be the key to promoting healthy arterial and endothelial health. If proven in human studies, these effects would allow for improved circulation and perhaps lower blood pressure. As a matter of fact, a group of Japanese chemists are currently attempting to find a way to amplify the hypotensive (blood pressure lowering) effect of coffee. (5,6,7,8,9)

I’ve grown accustomed to drinking my coffee black. But every once in a while I enjoy adding some heavy cream (yes, actual cream – not skim milk or non-dairy creamer) and a touch of sweetener to the mix. I always opt for organic, non-homogenized cream and a stevia-based sweetener that includes a prebiotic derived from chicory root, inulin. I find that the combination provides a pleasant degree of sweetness without much of an aftertaste. In addition, it’s becoming quite evident that stevia and inulin are not only very safe, but they may also play an important role in supporting healthy digestion and immune system function. Part of the way that inulin accomplishes this is by increasing the populations of healthy bacteria in the colon. What’s more, a brand new experiment indicates that having plentiful levels of probiotics (healthy bacteria) in the colon assists the body to better absorb the antioxidants found in coffee. Based on this news, I can heartily continue enjoying my brew of choice and recommend it to you with even greater gusto. (10,11,12,13)

Be well!

JP

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10 Comments & Updates to “Healthy Holiday Gifts”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Morning JP,

    oh yes: organic coffe is the best ever! better taste, longer raosted, fair trade and healthy.

    Greetings,
    Nina K.

  2. toni Says:

    thanks for the information, your blog is very good and interesting

  3. JP Says:

    Indeed, Nina! :)

    I’m enjoying a cup as I type this. Cheers! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  4. JP Says:

    Thanks, Toni! I appreciate your kind words! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    Was glad to see instant coffee rate so well. Living alone, I usually opt for instant.

    I notice that asparagus and spinach also rated well. Frequently include both in my salad.

  6. JP Says:

    I use an instant coffee most of the time too, Iggy. :) I’ve found a few organic brands – one that I can buy at the local markets and one that that’s only available in health food stores or online.

    Asparagus and spinach are a few of my favorite veggies. So good for you!

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Sai Says:

    Good Day JP!

    Excellent Information! The most you present it reminds me of my grandma (who lived 99 years and had never went to a doctor – no need). It also reminds me how far we have come off from healthy foods. What is your thought on this product (since you posted Stevia with inulin) http://www.nowfoods.com/Products/ProductsAlphabetically/M009832.htm

    Please advise!

    Best Regards

    Sai.

  8. JP Says:

    Hello, Sai! Thank you! :)

    I’m honored to share your grandma’s philosophy! 99 years with no doctor says a lot! We should all be so fortunate!

    I think that’s an excellent product. I’ve used it myself and think the inclusion of chromium could make it particularly advantageous in your attempt to better control your blood glucose. I can’t make any promises but chromium has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in some studies.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. yoda Says:

    I like to use SweetLeaf Sweetener stevia! The powder is blended with soluble inulin fiber! I also like experimenting with their flavored liquids and I’ve used this stevia in baking and the baked goods turned out well!

  10. JP Says:

    Good day, Yoda!

    I’ve yet to try their flavored liquid extracts. I’m happy to hear that they’ve worked out well for you. Anything that increases the accessibility of stevia is good by me. :)

    The reason I usually opt for the Now Foods brand is because a few of their products use organic stevia (and one combines it with organic inulin).

    http://nowfoods.com/Products/ProductsbyCategory/Category/M103566.htm?cat=Stevia%2c%20Organic

    To the best of my knowledge, Sweatleaf doesn’t currently uses organic ingredients. Please correct me if I’m misinformed.

    Be well!

    JP

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