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Coffee and tea and cocoa ... oh my!

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Ah, a cold night, a warm fire, and a hot cup of coffee or tea: the definition of coziness. But, how do you choose what to drink? Taste? Price? Health? Research is beginning to document that coffee, tea and even cocoa have health benefits, although there is some conflicting information due to the newness of the research. That said, let's explore some of the upsides and downsides of each choice, so you can settle by the fire with the perfect cup for you.

TEA FACTS:

* The botanical name for tea is Camellia sinensis.

* People have been drinking hot tea beverages for over 4,700 years.

* Tea contains over 4,000 chemical compounds, encompassing a large class of antioxidants known as catechins, which includes a smaller group called polyphenols, and--at least until new research comes in--the active ingredient currently being studied is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).

* A cup of green tea contains between 15 and 50 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the length of time the bag steeps.

IS THERE AN UPSIDE TO TEA CONSUMPTION?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, green tea is classified as a leading health-giving substance. Active ingredients include catechin and L-theanine. Catechin acts as an antioxidant molecule that scavenges and destroys free radicals, illness-producing molecules in the blood and brain. This essential process helps explain how green tea can function in so many ways in our body, i.e. fight cancer, decrease high blood pressure, and diminish inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, liver disease, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. All of these health conditions are caused, in part, by excessive free-radical production in the body (1).

The amino acid L-theanine, found almost exclusively in the tea plant, actively alters the attention networks of the brain. According to results of human trials announced in September 2007, John Foxe, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience, biology and psychology at City College of the City University of New York, found that theanine is absorbed by the small intestine, enters the blood stream and crosses the blood-brain barrier where it affects the brain's neurotransmitters and increases alpha brain-wave activity. The result is a calmer, yet more alert, state of mind (2).

IS THERE A DOWNSIDE TO TEA CONSUMPTION?

All tea leaves contain fluoride, and more mature leaves contain as much as 10-20 times the levels of fluoride as in the young leaves of the same plant (3). According to the Canadian organization Parents of Fluoride Poisoned Children, the fluoride content in mature green tea leaves is much higher than the maximum contaminant level allowed (4).

COFFEE FACTS:

* Coffee, botanical name Coffea arabica, has been consumed as far back as the tenth century, when Ethiopian highlanders first cultivated the coffee bean.

* Coffee contains hundreds of compounds, including substantial amounts of magnesium, potassium, vitamin B-3, lignans, and a class of antioxidants called polyphenols.

* One eight-ounce cup of coffee contains approximately 85 milligrams of caffeine, depending on how much coffee is used per cup of water.

* In the past two decades, there have been more than 19,000 studies conducted on coffee.

* According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans, on average, drink 1.64 cups of coffee a day.

WHAT IS THE UPSIDE TO COFFEE CONSUMPTION?

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the most clear-cut findings about the benefits of coffee come from a 20-year study that followed approximately 84,000 women and 44,000 men. Published in the May 2, 2006, issue of Circulation, the study concluded that drinking coffee isn't harmful to cardiovascular health and may even be somewhat beneficial (5). Dr. James Coughlin, a toxicology and safety consultant, says that some scientific evidence suggests that one cup of coffee can decrease the risk of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, kidney stones, gallstones, depression and even suicide by 50 percent. This may result from the antioxidant properties of the polyphenols, although firm, repeatable research has not yet borne that out (6).

It's also reported that coffee may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. This finding is based on a review of nine studies published in the July 6, 2005, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, but it conflicts with earlier evidence suggesting that coffee can reduce insulin sensitivity, which would increase the risk of diabetes. To confuse matters further, a study published in the February, 2006, issue of Diabetes Care found that decaf lowers the risk of diabetes, suggesting that something other than caffeine may be responsible for any protection coffee provides.

WHAT IS THE DOWNSIDE TO COFFEE CONSUMPTION?

Certainly there is a downside to drinking coffee: well-documented side effects include increased anxiety, insomnia, tremor and irregular heartbeat. Coffee can also irritate the digestive system, bladder and prostate.

In my work as a nutritionist, I've heard quite a few older women tell me they only had hot flashes on days when they drank coffee. One client couldn't believe me when I suggested that connection. Several months later, I met her downtown, where she came up to me and confirmed that her hot flashes disappeared when she stopped drinking coffee.

THE VERDICT--WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Whether you decide to drink coffee or green tea, cocoa or herbal teas, drink the best quality, preferably organically harvested and Fair Trade Certified, you can afford. By purchasing quality beverages, we can improve the health of our bodies, our soil, our water, our air, and our future. And, tune in to your own body. You know your body better than anyone else. The way coffee or tea affects you is your best guide to whether or not you should be drinking it and, if so, how much. After you're tuned in, when you curl up by the fire with a warm cup of whatever, you can truly enjoy the the warmth, closeness and the coziness of it all!

Sources: (1) New Scientist, 20 March 2004, www.foodnavigator.com/news/ ng.asp?id=66142, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 83, pp.355-361 / (2) http://sev.prnewswire.com/food-beverages/20070918/ NYTU00718092007-1.html / (3) www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ ng.asp?id=58604-calls-for-da / (4) www.bruha.com/pfpc/html/green_tea_.html / (5) www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA400146 / (6) www.sciencedaily.com/ releases/2007/04/070430125523.htm

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BEAN BASICS

If coffee's your thing, Kevin Price has you covered with these great java tips.

What should I look for when purchasing coffee?

When purchasing coffee, you want to purchase the freshest coffee available to ensure the richest flavor. Generally, you can tell if the beans are freshly roasted just by looking at them. Darker roasted coffee beans should have an oily sheen if they are fresh. Lighter roasted coffee beans will only have some of the oils on their surface. If the beans don't have any oil on their surface, then they are likely not fresh-roasted.

If you enjoy flavored coffee, flavor the coffee yourself after brewing with one of the available natural and organic coffee flavors you can purchase at many natural food stores. Generally, beans that are already flavored before you purchase them are lower grade coffee beans, since producers know the flavor added after roasting will cover up the lower grade taste of the coffee.

What does "shade grown" mean?

Coffee grows naturally in the shade; however, 70 percent of the world's coffee is now grown in full sun. The coffee industry has created hybrid coffee plants that can tolerate full sun and produce more coffee beans, which has led to the clear cutting of rain forests in order to grow more (heap coffee. Purchasing shade grown coffee ensures the coffee you are purchasing is grown in its natural environment, under the canopy of trees. An additional benefit is the flavor of shade grown coffee: since coffee varieties present in shade coffee farms are the older plants, they produce fewer beans more slowly, and consequently offer a richer tasting coffee.

Also look for organic coffee, since coffee is treated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and Fair Trade Certified" coffee, to ensure that the farmers growing and harvesting your coffee are treated ethically and paid a fair wage for their crop.

What region produces the best tasting coffee?

Even though coffee is believed to have originated in the Ethiopian region and that region still produces wonderful coffee, all coffee growing regions produce great tasting, high quality coffee, and all regions also produce low quality coffee. Low quality coffee is the stuff you generally get at a low price and is usually grown on huge coffee plantations and is not shade grown, organic, or fair trade. High quality coffee is typically grown on small family plots (usually less than an acre). Single origin coffee selections will have distinct flavors, whereas a coffee blend will contain several origins to give that blend a unique flavor.

Kevin is the owner of Blue Smoke Coffee Roasting Co., an area carbon neutral, craft coffee roaster), providing fresh roasted-to-order coffee using only organic, fair trade and shade grown beans.Visit www.bluesmokecoffee.com, or look for the coffee at New Bridge Market and Sprig in Asheville, The Happy Hiker and Whole Earth Grocery in Gatlinburg, TN, and the Chattanooga, TN, Greenlife Grocery.

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CHOCOLATE FOR ME, PLEASE!

Theresa Green helps you love hot chocolate even more by sharing its health benefits and new ways to enjoy the winter staple.

Traditional hot chocolate is a sugary concoction that may appeal to a sweet lover's taste buds, but what about those of us who want to receive the health benefits of chocolate without the negative side effects of milk and sugar?

The Mayans and Aztecs loved cacao, the bean chocolate is made from, and used to crush it and mix it with chili peppers to create a spicy, bitter drink they believed gave them sacred wisdom and knowledge. Only in the past couple of years has chocolate mixed with chili peppers become available in the United States.

Adding a pinch of cayenne and a dash of cinnamon to your hot chocolate is a great after meal drink because it helps with digestion and circulation.

Another delicious combination with your hot chocolate is a little ginger, cardamom and just a pinch of dove. This gives your hot chocolate a chai flavor and also is great for your digestive process.

And, of course, there's the all-time favorite, peppermint with chocolate. Just half a drop of peppermint essential oil to your hot chocolate gives a nice minty flavor and also the added health benefit of peppermint essential oil, another herb that is good for digestion.

If you have trouble relaxing and unwinding after work, try a cozy cup of cocoa with Kava Kava and a pinch of nutmeg. Kava Kava is an herb the Polynesian islanders drink to open up and relax. They say it helps to overcome shyness and relaxes the muscles.

Theresa Green is the owner of Primitive Chocolate. You can find Primitive's UliMana line of raw chocolate ready-to-be-heated-up-with-a-bit-of-milk mixes in the raw section at Greenlife Grocery and in the local honey section in Earth Fare (both regional natural foods markets). The mixes are made with raw honey, agave, organic raw cacao powder, organic cinnamon, organic vanilla bean and various spices.

Elizabeth Pavka, PhD, LD/N, sorts through the research about coffee and tea so you can feel even cozier with the beverage of your choice in hand.

Elizabeth Pavka, PhD, LD/N, is a wholistic nutritionist with more than 25 years' experience. She provides nutritional counseling, teaches classes, speaks before professional and lay audiences, and writes for local and national publications. You can contact her at epavka@main.nc.us or 828-252-1406.
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Author:Pavka, Elizabeth
Publication:New Life Journal
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Words:1935
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