Monday, October 25, 2010

Coffee - The Good, The Bad, The Delicious

 I love a good cup of coffee. Love the smell, love the taste, love the feeling of the warm mug in my hands. If I were to make a list of my top go-to mood boosters, coffee would forever be near the top of the list. There have admittedly been times in my adult life when I was drinking it excessively, and times when I've stopped drinking it all together. These days I have a cup or two (organic, of course :)) on most mornings, and every now and then a cup in the afternoon as well.

Some people will advise that you should avoid coffee outright - and for certain individuals that is indeed the best course of action - but for most of us, coffee is a perfectly healthy addition to our diet when used in moderation, provided you don't load it up with sugar and/or artificial creamers (more on that later). Its benefits, beyond its taste, are numerous.

Moderate coffee consumption (from 2 to 4 6-oz cups, depending on your source) can:

1. increase alertness and elevate moods

2. improve short-term memory, as well as increase work capacity and the ability to perform intellectual tasks more easily

3. improve physical endurance

4. reduce your risk of developing Parkinson's Disease, Alzeimer's, type 2 diabetes, and dementia

5. deliver heart-healthy antioxidants

6. reduce your risk of certain cancers

7. dilate your bronchial tubes, making it useful for asthma

8. naturally relieve pain, particularly headaches

9. increase your metabolism

10. reduce your risk of gallstones

That's the good news. Unfortunately, some of the very attributes that make it *good* for you can also have the opposite effect. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means that in addition to boosting moods, alertness, and performance, it may also raise blood pressure and respiration rate, and can cause heart palpitations in some people when consumed in excess. It can cause a jittery and anxious feeling. It increases the release of certain hormones. It can contribute to insomnia. And even in moderation it can be habit-forming, causing withdrawal symptoms such as headaches when you stop your use.

Everyone's body is different. As with any food or drug, if your body is telling you it doesn't like it, don't use it!

Avoid it completely if you have hormone imbalances, problems with colitis or ulcers, symptoms of Candida, anxiety or insomnia, or if you are taking contraindicated medications (ask your doctor)

A couple of final caveats:

~ Conventionally grown coffee beans are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so it is always worth the time and money to find a good organic brand, especially if you drink it frequently.

~ Always use pure, filtered water.

~ Loading it up with cream and sugar not only adds unnecessary calories, but also adds its own health concerns. Non-dairy "creamers" such as Coffee Mate are nothing more than hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, and chemicals. Avoid those completely. The same goes for artificial sweeteners (Aspartame, Splenda, etc) Please don't use them... in coffee, or anything else.  If you really need it creamy, use real milk or half and half, and make it organic.  And if you have to have it sweet, a small amount of real sugar - while not the healthiest choice - is always a better option than its artificial counterparts.  You can also sweeten with stevia, and use non-dairy milks such as almond milk.

If you're conscientious about it, make good decisions and use moderation, then by all means:  drink up and enjoy your morning cup (or two) of java... guilt-free.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hot and Spicy Tofu and Broccoli Stir-Fry

This is one of my favorite go-to vegan dinners. Lots of tender crisp broccoli and a spicy and flavorful sauce. It is also a great introduction to tofu, and one I'd even recommend to those with tofu trepidation. The key is to cook it until it has a skin on it, and is turning a nice golden brown.

The recipe as written does not make very much (2 to 3 servings), so I always at least double it for our family of 6.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package extra firm tofu, cubed
2 cups broccoli florets
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1/2 cup room temperature water
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
hot red pepper flakes, to taste (we serve it with more at the table too, so people can spice it up as much as they like)
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 (or more) cloves garlic

In a medium sized skillet, saute the tofu in the oil over medium high heat until it is lightly browned. Remove from the pan, place it in a bowl, and saute the broccoli in the same pan for a couple of minutes, just till it is bright green and tender-crisp. (You can saute them together, but I like to do it in two steps because it keeps the tofu more intact) Remove the broccoli from the pan. Combine the remaining ingredients in the pan and cook on medium-low heat until simmering one minute. Return the tofu and broccoli to the pan with the sauce. Cook and stir for another 2 minutes. Serve over brown rice.