Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is There Danger Lurking in Your Tap Water?

According to Unicef, lack of access to clean water kills children at a rate equal to a deadly jumbo jet crashing every four hours.  You may be thinking, “Thank goodness, that’s not something I need to worry about here in the U.S.!”

But hold on a sec; before you assume your own tap water supply is safe, don’t forget there may be real risks in your own water supply – risks that don’t make the evening news but that could make you sick.

Common problems with tap water additives

Fluoride in water – good or bad?
We all know the reasons that municipalities add fluoride to water supplies; as we’ve been told for decades, the fluoride helps prevent tooth decay.  But is fluoride served up via tap water safe for us? Doubt grows in the scientific and healthcare communities. Here’s why:
  • Fluoride is naturally dangerous to humans, only considered safe in miniscule quantities. But when it reaches us by tap water supply, the amount we consume is controlled by the amount of exposure we have to fluoridated water. Not only do people drink different amounts of water, but we get it in other beverages, in foods, and in fluoride-containing toothpastes and mouth rinses, which can add up.
  • We are also being exposed externally to fluoride when we are bathing, showering, or doing dishes.  Long-term exposure to higher levels may cause skeletal fluorosis: a buildup of fluoride in the bones, which can lead to joint stiffness and pain, or even to weak bones or fractures in older adults. Some reports show that up to 41 percent of American children between 12 and 15 have some form of dental fluorosis.
  • A 2012 Harvard study confirmed several dangers from fluoride, including neurotoxicity, negative impacts on memory and learning, and adverse affects on cognitive development in children.
  • The ADA reports a connection between fluoridation and cancer.
  • The US National Toxicology Program found evidence of fluoridated drinking water causing osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
  • As many as 25 studies indicate that fluoride can reduce your IQ.

While not all study results agree, enough show evidence of risk that it’s becoming increasingly hard to disregard the concerns.

Chlorine – added for your good, but also presenting health risks

To protect drinking water from disease-causing organisms, water suppliers often add chlorine to drinking water. But is it safe?

Not all Contaminants purified at the plant

Drugs get through municipal water treatment

An Associated Press investigation found a number of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.

According to the report, these can end up in your tap water because most treatment plants are not capable of removing all drug residue. When we take pills our bodies absorb some of the drugs, but the rest passes through and is flushed down the toilet. Even though the wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes, the treatment doesn’t catch all the contaminates, which can then end up back at drinking water treatment plants.

Pipes between water treatment plants and your faucet

Even if you’ve got a state-of-art water treatment facility in your community, the water passes through great distances in pipes before it reaches your tap.

  • Does your home have copper pipes?  Studies show that copper pipes can be a risk to your health. Excess copper in your body can produce stomach or intestinal distress.  And if you have the genetic disorder Wilson’s disease, you are even more sensitive to the effects of copper.  Newer pipes present the greatest risk because, over time, mineral scale linings will coat the copper pipes, reducing copper dissolution in water. But the mineral lining can take years to form.  Read more about copper health risks from the EPA.
  • If you don’t have copper pipes, you may still be at risk if there are any pipes between the water plant and your home with lead.  The EPA says lead is often used in household plumbing materials and water service lines. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder.  Lead health risks include delays in physical and mental development and measurable deficits in attention span and learning abilities in babies and children. In adults, it can increase blood pressure or cause kidney problems.

Other Water Contamination Issues

Other tap water contamination issues include:

Solutions to Avoid Tap Water Risks

With so many known potential dangers within your tap water, here are actions you can take to protect you and your family:
  • Bottled water. While bottled water reduces risk, its problems include high cost and the pollution impact of the discarded bottle.
  • Water supply services. Though not as cheap as tap water, getting large jugs of water from a local supplier is cheaper than small bottles and produces less waste. Be aware that water has a shelf life, and can develop mold over time.
  • Purify your tap water. A simple carbon-based water filter, though not able to remove all contaminants, will absorb chlorine and other contaminants. A more expensive reverse osmosis filter in your home is much more effective at contamination removal.  Both types require maintenance to stay functional.
To summarize, before you think that unsafe drinking water is someone else’s problem, do your homework. Consider getting a home test kit, or employ one of the straight tap water alternatives above to be safe.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Money Matters for Kids

Your kids are probably getting great grades in school and can teach you all about the latest technology. But have you ever questioned where they’re learning about money matters? Typically, handling finances in life isn’t a subject that’s covered in school. By demonstrating good money management and teaching the value of a dollar, your kids can grow up to be adults with healthy money management skills.

Why is it important to teach kids about money?

The idea of “needs versus wants” is an important lesson for kids to learn early in life. Your kids won’t just wake up as adults one day with the ability to exhibit good money management skills, so it’s important to start teaching them about finances from an early age.

How can you effectively teach kids about money?

Teaching kids about money is a little like SHOW and TELL.

Demonstrate good money management yourself. Kids learn more by what you do than by what you say. Exhibiting good judgment as it pertains to financial decisions is key.
Explain why you’re making a certain decision about money. In order to process how to make sound financial decisions, children need to understand the reasoning behind a decision.
Put it on paper. A worksheet for kids that incorporates categories for earning, spending, and saving is a great way to teach kids about finances.
Share books relating to financial matters. Reading stories together about money matters is another idea for teaching kids about money. Check out this list for ideas.
Encourage kids to make their own money. Nothing teaches the value of a dollar to kids like earning it themself.

Ways for kids to make money:

Help children start a small business of their own based on their interests. Kids interested in pets might start a pet sitting service; those who enjoy crafts might start making specialty accessories in school colors to sell at school events. Of course, parental involvement and supervision is recommended.
Encourage your children to start saving extra or “found” money, like the change in the washer or in the sofa cushions, for a specific goal such as a day at the water park.
Organize a garage sale or attend a flea market, with your kids setting up a table of their own belongings to sell.

Frugal living tips that help kids learn about money:

Preparing meals at home versus dining out. Calculate the cost difference of the meals and share with your children.
Include your children in small financial decisions. For an upcoming party, let kids in on the budget you’re working with. Allow them to help determine what is important and what can be sacrificed in order to stay within the budget.
Clip coupons together. Make a game of using coupons by having children participate in food shopping, searching for items associated with coupons, presenting coupons to the cashier, and viewing the sales receipt to discover savings.
Plant a garden together. Calculate savings from growing your own fruits and vegetables for your family to enjoy.
Check out games and mobile applications that provide interactive ways to teach good money management skills.

By incorporating sound financial decisions in your daily life and incorporating frugal living concepts, you will be teaching the children in your life key concepts for money management.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Medicine Cabinet in Your Kitchen

Ordinary kitchen spices are good for so much more than flavoring your favorite dish.  Some of these common seasonings and herbs show promise for cancer treatment or prevention. Others aid in stomach issues, drug detoxification, virus prevention, weight loss, appetite management, pain control, and blood pressure regulation. A few more have proven antibacterial, antimicrobial, or anti-inflammatory properties.

The surprising health benefits of 6 common kitchen spices, herbs, and seasonings

That many kitchen spices are good for you is less surprising when you consider that herbs and spices derive mostly from parts of plants, such as the berries, bark, seeds, leaves, or roots of plants – which are also the sources of many pharmaceuticals.

To get you started on this whole new way of looking at your spice rack, we investigate the health benefits of six spices – allspice, basil, caraway, cardamom, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon.

Health benefits of ALLSPICE

Allspice, so called because its flavor is often defined as a combination of spice flavors (cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg), lends more than its delightful flavor; allspice is a virtual medicine cabinet because of its many bioactive agents such as flavonoids, phenylpropanoids, phenolic acids, and catechins.

What that gets you: antioxidants, anticancer benefits, anti-inflammation reduction, analgesics (painkillers), antimicrobials (kills or blocks microorganisms), antipyretics (fever reduction), and even tumor-blocking properties. Allspice has been shown in studies to have anticancer properties, influencing carcinogen bioactivation.

Health benefits of BASIL

The popular basil herb does wonders for bringing out the flavor in Italian and Asian recipes. But studies have also shown that sweet basil is chockfull of antiviral, antioxidant, and antibacterial  properties.

As well, basil has been shown in these studies to reduce the frequency of genetic mutations and counteracts the formation of tumors – important cancer-fighting properties.

Health benefits of CARAWAY

Do you like caraway seeds? Turns out that they like you too! Sure, you can use caraway to spice up rye breads, cakes, stews, cheeses, meat dishes, sauerkraut, and more.  But the essential oils from caraway seeds and its oleoresins are highly effective antioxidants, shown in studies to be more effective than the synthetic antioxidants butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene. Looks like mother nature got it right. What’s more, this study showed that caraway oil had positive effects on skin tumors, reducing the number of carcinomas.

Are you fighting lesser problems than skin cancer? Caraway is also used by many to aid in relief of digestive problems, to loosen up phlegm, fight bacteria, and help control urination.

Health benefits of CARDAMOM

The herb Cardamom – part of the ginger family – is often found in Indian recipes and in some European dishes. But did you know it’s also a powerful antioxidant?

Cardamom research shows that it scavenges radicals and inhibits chemical carcinogenesis, functioning as a deterrent to cancer.  Testing showed that it has positive effects against colon cancer due to its anti-inflammatory characteristics and its ability to aid in blocking cell proliferation.

The chemicals in cardamom also benefit those with gas and stomach or intestinal spasms.

Health benefits of CAYENNE PEPPER

The hot chili cayenne pepper, also known as red pepper when you buy it in powdered form, is not only hot stuff for recipes but it’s hot stuff for your health.

  • Weight loss: Much research has shown that cayenne pepper can help you lose weight.  Some studies suggest that it does so by reducing your gut’s ability to absorb calories. Others show that it appears to reduce fat tissue or that it revs up your metabolism.A more recent study from South Korea’s Daegu University, suggests that capsaicin stimulates  fat-degrading proteins. In effect, eating peppers eats your fat.
  • Killing cancer cells: The property that gives cayenne peppers it’s heat on your tongue – Capsaicin – appears to also be capable of killing cancerous cells. A 2006 study reported in Cancer Research suggested that capsaicin caused prostate cancer cells to shrink and die.
  • Improve digestion:  Hot peppers with capsaicin can bolster your digestion by increasing your stomach’s digestive juices. It’s antibacterial properties can also help you to overcome diarrhea when it is caused by bacterial infection.
Cayenne pepper is also used for pain relief to clear lung congestion.

Health benefits of CINNAMON

Cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant, and a good source of iron, fiber, manganese, and calcium. Benefits:

  • Cinnamon has been shown in studies to be effective in reducing colon cancer risk. Some research has shown that as little as a daily half teaspoon of cinnamon is sufficient to reduce risk.
  • Cinnamon lowers blood sugar levels, and has been used to help those with type 2 diabetes to respond better to insulin.
  • Cinnamon’s anti-microbial properties make it capable of stopping the growth of bacteria and fungi, and is often used to treat Candida yeast. 
  • Cinnamon improves vascular health, aiding in heart health.
  • A 2004 study showed that the smell of cinnamon can boost brain activity. In the study, test scores improved simply by chewing cinnamon flavored gum.
  • Results from a 2005 study and a 2006 study showed that cinnamon can suppress the growth of gastric cancer, lymphoma, and pancreatic cancer.

Many of these herbs and spices are also available in tablet form.  But if you can get them fresh, you’ll also be benefiting from their live enzymes and greatest nutrient density.

In follow-up articles, we’ll tackle the rest of your spice rack.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Get Physical!

And yes, you can do it to an Olivia Newton John song! But more importantly, you can get physical in your life. Winter is finally past – the weather is turning balmy. No more hibernating!

The time has come to get out there and move your body. And before you doubt whether or not you have the time or money to invest, I have awesome news: exercise requires much less time than you think, and it doesn’t need to break your budget.

It’s natural to become less active in winter: between the cold and the lack of sun, we often hide out. But as spring brings us fragrant showers and extended daylight, the desire to get out and move increases. So take advantage of this energy, and let’s talk about movement!

Too tired to exercise? If you are feeling low on energy, investigate some meditative practices, like yoga or Tai Chi. Exercise isn’t only about getting your heart rate up. It’s about moving your body, stretching your limbs, and feeling lighter in spirit. There are many different kinds of yoga, countless brands of meditation, so consider what might work best for you. And if the price seems prohibitive, check out your local YMCA, recreational center, and even your local yoga loft. Many of them offer discounts; some offer free or low-fee classes with new teachers. Online options abound, so you can enjoy your practice at home for a fraction of the cost.

Ready to get muscled up? The new craze in fitness is Crossfit. While it’s a company name, Crossfit is also a culture of people looking to get strong while enjoying a social environment. It’s not for those who don’t want to work hard: every workout will push you harder than anything you’ve ever experienced before.  But workouts are done in a group, with a leader. And the end results are amazing. Crossfit gyms are located all over the United States, and you might be surprised to find one very close to you. They are not traditional gyms, so I suggest visiting one before signing up. Crossfit-like gyms are popping up as well, and they have similar workouts, but are often less expensive.

Prefer to tighten, tone, and have fun doing it? Group fitness may be the ticket! If you like to dance, there’s Zumba. If self-defense has been your passion, check out kickboxing. If you like to try something new every week, investigate the many classes that are on the schedule at your local gym. And if getting out to the gym isn’t a possibility for you right now, videos are available online for a small fee. And if the quality of the video isn’t a big deal, YouTube has many free videos that you can browse.

Wanna go it old-school? Bodyweight exercises, walking, and running are great ways to move the body. Walking can be just as valuable as running for your heart health and body movement. And using only your bodyweight to train your muscles can be surprisingly effective. Skip the gym – you can keep your body in top shape at home! Check out Zuzka Light and You Are Your Own Gym author Mark Lauren for ideas on what might work best for you.

Belonging to a gym is not a requirement for health, but moving your body and maintaining your flexibility is. You don’t have to spend hours every day working out – short, effective routines can be just as valuable. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s fun! When we enjoy exercise, we’re more likely to do it. So try some different classes, discover what works best for you, and come back and let us know what you love!

Contributing Writer

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Look at Multivitamins

Multivitamins have been in the news recently. Some reports claim they don’t work and are a waste of money; other reports indicate they can actually be dangerous. So, what do you really need to know about multivitamins?

Do multivitamins offer any benefits?

Many scientists, in general, believe multivitamins are unnecessary, and stress the importance of eating a healthy diet instead.

How do multivitamins fall short?
According to a report published December 17, 2013, in the Annals of Internal Medicine:

Won’t ward off heart disease.
Multivitamins aren’t useful in delaying memory loss.
Not tied to a longer life span.

How can multivitamins be useful?
According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition:

Assisting with overall wellness.
May increase energy level in those taking them.
To fill nutrient gaps.

Who can benefit from taking multivitamins?

Despite the recent controversy over multivitamins, there are some individuals who benefit from taking supplements, according to this site:

1. Women who are pregnant.
2. Children.
3. Individuals who have certain illnesses where the body has an inability to get or use the vitamins it needs.
4. Individuals who are found to be deficient in particular vitamins, despite eating a well-balanced diet.

Are there any risks of taking multivitamins?

When taken properly, multivitamins should not present a risk to most individuals, according to most experts. However, when individuals take higher dosages than called for, serious injury can result. Here are some samples of certain vitamins that may be dangerous in excessive amounts:

Vitamin A:  This vitamin may cause a number of harmful side effects, both short-term and long-term, if consumed in high amounts. For a complete list, of side effects, visit this site (
Vitamin C:  Taking 2,000 mg. or more may increase your risk of kidney stones.
Vitamin B6:  Taken at high levels, this vitamin may cause nerve damage.

What side effects might vitamins cause?

An upset stomach. This can usually be avoided by taking vitamins with food.
An unpleasant taste. There are a variety of capsules, chewable tablets, and liquid forms available as well as flavors, to help avoid this side effect.

Can you get your vitamins directly from food?

1. Many experts believe you can if you consume a well-rounded, healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh greens, vegetables, and fruits.
2. Yet, others argue that foods you’re consuming may not contain the same nutrients they once did. This is based on the nutrient content of the soil foods are grown in. Also, experts point out that a proper planting rotation schedule may or may not been observed by farmers.
3. Certain individuals may not be able to get the proper nutrients directly from foods, regardless of their diet and/or the nutrient content of foods (see above).

How to take multivitamins effectively:

Always consult with your physician or health provider.
Be aware of and follow the maximum daily limits for vitamins and supplements.
Stay informed of new updates and information regarding vitamin consumption.

Multivitamins may or may not be advised for you and your family members, based on how and why they’re being consumed. Be an informed and educated consumer, and always consult with your physician about what’s best for your family.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Five National Police Week Family Activities

May 11-17 is National Police Week 2014, a time of special recognition to law enforcement officers and especially those law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty while trying to save and protect others.

National Police Week activities for families

For parents, National Police Week is a powerful opportunity to increase your children’s awareness of police officers and the important role they play in protecting U.S. citizens every day, sometimes even at the cost of their own lives.

Activity #1 – Make an Officer’s Day

A way to show your appreciation for your local law enforcement agency, and to involve your kids, is to make cookies or other treats, and deliver them with your kids to your local police station. Have your children make thank you cards to go along with this visit.  Your local police will appreciate this more than you know.

Activity #2 – Learn About Famous Law Enforcement Officers

Many children’s books deal with the subject of police officers and law enforcement. Some you may be able to find at your local library include:
  • A Day at the Police Station by Richard Scarry
  • Police Officers on Patrol by Kersten Hamilton and R.W. Alley
  • A Day in a Life of a Police Officer by Linda Hayward
Websites are a rich source of information about law enforcement and police officers.  Here are just a few:
  • Officer down! The Officer Down Memorial Page honors fallen officers. With each officer listed, the site provides a bio of the officer, explaining how he or she died. This level of detail will make this week more significant to your older children.  For your younger children, consider crafts, such as coloring, that focus on honoring the fallen officer.
  • Find a local police hero. To see a list of fallen officers, see this state-by-state list of 286 officers who have died in the line of duty – 34 line-of-duty deaths in 2014 alone! Maybe there’s an officer on that list near your town that you and your kids can learn more about.
  • Watch a police documentary. Many movies honor law enforcement or memorialize famous police officers. Good examples from Biography Channel include Eliot Ness, Donnie Brasco, Wild Bill Hickok, and Wyatt Earp.
  • Google Frank Serpico. Yes, Serpico is not just a famous movie, but also a real life police officer. There’s plenty of online information about him.
  • Find a celebrity cop!  You and your children may be amazed at the number of famous people, such as actors, rock stars, and sports stars, who are or have been law enforcement officers.  This site highlights them, including Ted Nugent, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Elvis Presley, Dan Akroyd, and Lou Ferrigno.
  • Learn About Important Dates in Law Enforcement History.

Activity #3 – Police Officers in the Classroom

Talk to your school’s principal or your child’s teacher about about National Police Week. They may be able to arrange for a police officer to visit the school or classroom to talk about careers in law enforcement, do a question & answer session with the kids about a day in the life of an officer, or to talk about police safety matters that involve children.

Activity #4 – Learn First Hand About Law Enforcement Careers

There’s a good chance that you, your friends, your pastor, or your school principal personally knows a police officer. Consider inviting one over for dinner, or out for a coffee: a chance for them to share with your family what it  means to be a police officer and what a career in law enforcement can be like.

Activity #5 – Fundraise for Police

Whether you create a fundraising activity as a family, as a neighborhood, as a school, or participate in existing fundraising activities, involving yourself or your children in generating funds to support fallen officers or other nonprofit law enforcement efforts is an effective way to make a difference.

As for existing fundraisers, you can commit during National Police Week week to participate (running, riding, or walking) in the  2014 Law Enforcement Ride & Run to Remember, taking place in October 11 and 12.  Events include a 3K walk, a 5K run, and a 55-mile or 30-mile bike ride in Maryland and Washington D.C. 

If you’re not a runner, walker, or rider, you can still participate as a donor or volunteer.  If you want to participate but can’t make it to the D.C. area for the event, no problem; there will also be a virtual version of the 2014 Law Enforcement Ride & Run to Remember  that lets you participate from wherever you are.

Other organizations you and your kids can create a fundraising effort for include:

Your participation and fundraising will honor the contribution and sacrifice law enforcement officers make every day.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 9, 2014

Is Coffee Good for Me or Is Coffee Bad for Me?

New research and information reveals unexpected benefits of coffee and risks of coffee

After our two recent articles How to Make Better Coffee at Home and Storing and Brewing Techniques for the Perfect Cup of Coffee, the question may have crossed your mind, “But is coffee good for me, or is it bad for me?”

It’s a fair question, and not easy to answer, since recent news reports tout newly discovered coffee health benefits … even as other reports proclaim the risks of drinking coffee. 

Can they both be right?

When statistics show that coffee is the world’s most popular hot beverage and that 90 percent of U.S. citizens have some form of caffeine every day, it’s time to look closely at the research and see if coffee is actually good for you … or not.

Research supporting the health benefits of coffee

Yes, evidence shows that you can experience health benefits from consuming coffee.  For example:
Benefit #1: Coffee reduces risk of death?
I cannot help but take issue with the title of the report “study finds that coffee drinkers have lower risk of death.” I’m willing to bet a year’s salary that no amount of coffee will help you beat mortality. 

That said, a 2012 National Cancer Institute report indicates that coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections.

The scientists stopped short of claiming that coffee makes you live longer, and way short of claiming that you can achieve immortality from drinking coffee.
Benefit #2: Coffee reduces Parkinson's risk and dementia risk
A Mayo Clinic article reports that coffee’s health benefits include protecting you from the risks of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and liver disease – even liver cancer.  Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health reports that drinking 3-5 cups coffee per day at midlife can decrease your risk of dementia by about 65 percent at late-life. 
Benefit #3: Coffee boosts memory and concentration
Not only is it possible that coffee reduces dementia risk, but many studies have shown that the caffeine in coffee can improve your cognitive functioning and even reduce depression. So, coffee can not only elevate your learning but your mood!
Benefit #4: Coffee aids weight loss
Many studies, including this one, indicate that you can boost your metabolism by drinking coffee, or any other caffeine beverage, by as much as 11 percent. Sure, the study is nearly 20 years old, but that coffee is still fresh, right?

Besides, a 2002 study shows that caffeine increases fat burn by as much as 10 percent if you’re obese and up to 29 percent if you’re lean.

This adds a whole new meaning to the term Skinny Latte, don’t you think?

Research on the risks of coffee

If you enjoy coffee as much as I do, you’ll want to stop reading right here. As the following research shows, not all the research on coffee smells like roses – in fact, some research suggests you may be pushing up daises if you keep drinking coffee!
Risk #1: Coffee can shorten your life?
I’m sure the irony of this statement did not escape you in light of Benefit #1 above, which suggested the opposite: that coffee can potentially extend your life.  But indeed, a 2013 study shows that drinking four or more cups of coffee daily is enough to increase your risks of having a multitude of health problems and even increase your mortality risk.

And the difference is hardly negligible. Those averaging more that 28 cups of joe weekly are 21 percent more at risk of mortality from health issues than those who drink less coffee.

Young men: turns out you’re not as tough as you’d like to think; the study showed that your risk of increased mortality begins at an even at lower rate of consumption than women – expect a whopping 56 percent mortality risk boost from the drinking the same amount!
Risk #2: Coffee’s caffeine poses risks for some people
Even if coffee can benefit some us, the rest of us need to think twice before that next sip. For example:
  • If you’ve got high blood pressure, diabetes, or osteoporosis, studies indicate that caffeine can make matters worse.
  • If you are naturally susceptible to addictive behaviors, be aware that caffeine is physically addictive and can cause dependencies.
  • As well, Mayo Clinic reports that two or more cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in some people.
  • In fact, coffee can also exacerbate conditions of insomnia, heartburn, or anxiety. 
  • Caffeine can interfere with certain medications. 
In short, if you’re in great health, coffee may be great for your health. But otherwise…. not so much.
Risk #3: Coffee can increase bad cholesterol levels
Are you an espresso drink fan?  Bad news: Another new study shows that a high consumption level of unfiltered coffee – and that includes all espresso-based drinks, including lattes, Americanos, and just about every other coffee drink on the Starbucks menu except drip brewed – can create a mild elevation in cholesterol levels. Because the effect is mild, it is likely not a health concern unless you already have a problem with your cholesterol levels.

Beyond these three big risks, you should also know that, because of the way most coffee is processed, it contains mycotoxins, which are loaded with adverse health effects (DNA damage, cancer, kidney damage, gastrointestinal disturbances, reproductive disorders … the list goes on). 

Conclusion – buyer beware, buyer enjoy

Life is rarely black and white. Running is good for your health, unless you get run over by a car. Religion is good for your soul, but may alienate you from your friends. And “patience is a virtue,” but they also say that success comes to those who seize the moment.

And so it is with coffee as it is with many other things in life; there are good things and bad things that can come to those who partake.  Consider your individual health issues and moderate your coffee consumption accordingly. Also consider drinking coffee in moderation (under four cups/day) to benefit from the benefits while reducing the risks.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Storing and Brewing Techniques for the Perfect Cup of Coffee

In the first part of our interview with coffee barista Chris Bayer, we learned his secrets for choosing your coffee beans wisely. Now that you've made a good selection and brought it home, there's still plenty to do to make your coffee taste great… and plenty you can do to mess it up! Bayer’s tips below on storing coffee and brewing coffee will ensure that what you sip will be unforgettably good.

The best way to store your coffee

Now that you’ve got your coffee home, what is the best way to store it – shelf, fridge, or freezer?

Ask three coffee fans and you’ll likely get three different answers. 

One thing’s for sure, according to Bayer: “I definitely recommend that you do not store your coffee in the freezer.  Freezing can damage the natural oil soluble compounds in the coffee, changing the flavor, and not for the better.”

As for the choosing between storing coffee at room temperature vs. refrigerator, “It won’t make much of a difference, at least in my case, because I never buy more than a ten day supply of coffee, because I definitely taste the difference between freshly roasted coffee and that which has aged even just two weeks. Within two weeks, the difference between coffee stored in the fridge vs. coffee stored at room temperature will be negligible.”

Bayer does advise that, if you buy your coffee in larger quantities, you may find slight freshness advantages over time if you store it in the refrigerator.
Whole bean coffee vs. ground coffee storage?
How important is it to buy the bean whole instead of ground, or to store it ground vs. whole bean? Let’s face it, it’s a lot more convenient to pre-grind your coffee (or buying ground coffee) instead of grinding the bean daily in a coffee grinder when you’re ready to brew it.

Convenient, yes. But Bayer advises against pre-grinding and storing the coffee beans ground. “Keep in mind that the enemy to coffee freshness and flavor is air – oxidation,” Bayer says.  “The moment you grind the beans, the volume of air-exposed surfaces has just gone up exponentially. And more air exposure means more oxidation, making the coffee taste stale much sooner.”
Airtight is right!
Speaking of oxidation, “One of the best ways to keep your coffee fresh longer is to store the coffee in an airtight container,” Bayer says. “This keeps oxidation to a minimum – especially important if buy your coffee pre-ground.”

This begs the question, Why then is coffee sometimes sold in paper bags, or with a foil bag with an air vent?

Here’s why: “For the first few days right after roasting, the coffee beans need to ‘breathe’ – to have a way of letting their naturally occurring but volatile gases escape,” Bayer explains.  By the time you’ve bought the coffee, unless it’s fresh off the roaster, the beans have likely had time to breathe, and can be transferred to an airtight container when you get home.

The best way to prepare your coffee for brewing

One of the big mistakes coffee drinkers make at home is over-grinding the beans or under-grinding them. “This will take some experimentation to get right,” Bayer says. “You don’t want the coffee ground too fine for, say, the Chemex brewing method or if you’re using a French press. But you don’t want the grounds too course for espresso or regular pourover brewing.” 

The general rule is that, if your coffee brewing method is faster (such as when using an espresso machine) you’ll want to use a finer grind so the coffee captures more flavor faster. By comparison, the water in a drip coffee maker will be passing slowly over the coffee and needn’t be as fine.

The best way to brew coffee

Here’s where personal taste matters most. “For my taste buds,” Bayer says, “the French press style isn’t the way to go.  But if you like the coffee oils to infuse your coffee more, and don’t mind the grounds that inevitably end up in the coffee, French press may be the way to go for you.”

Bayer’s preferred process is called the Chemex pourover.  You can learn more about pourovers here and the Chemex pourover method here. But briefly, the pourover method typically involves putting the grinds in a cone-shaped plastic form (or glass with Chemex) and then pouring the water over the coffee grinds, which drip through a paper filter and then directly into a coffee mug or small carafe.  Bayer says, “Pouring the water by hand, you can choose to do so slowly, which brings out more of the flavor.”

If you choose the pourover method, “Wait a few seconds after the water finishes boiling  before pouring the water over the coffee – a method referred to as ‘just off the boil,’” Bayer says. The theory is that boiling-hot water in pourover can scald the beans, negatively changing the flavor characteristics.
But don’t let it sit too long, especially if it’s “cooking” on a burner/warmer. Bayer cautions that the coffee loses its aromatic quality when it sits too long after brewing.  It’s the oxidation thing again; sitting in a pot for hours alters the flavor. Enjoy it fresh!

Better-than-standard cuppa joe

You can always throw it together the way you’ve always made coffee, if you just need the morning boost. But, “You  get out of it what you put into it,” Bayer says. “Have fun with it; enjoy the process!”

There is one risk in following these coffee making tips; going out for a cup of coffee will never be the same.  “Once you’ve learned how to make a really good cup of coffee in your own kitchen,” Bayer warns with a smile, “you will likely be disappointed when you know how much better a cup of coffee can be!”

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer