CrossKitchen: July 2009 Archives

coffee.jpgMore than anything else (even chocolate), coffee is my vice.  Particularly now, having (temporarily) eschewed dairy, coffee is the one remaining food that I consume more of than I really probably should.  I love it so $#@*%# much.  I try to limit myself to only four shots a day (two in the morning, and two in the afternoon), but if I'm stressed out or an opportunity presents itself, I rarely turn down an opportunity for more.

Is it really all that bad?

When you talk about coffee and health, what you're really talking about is caffeine - which also includes tea (another favorite of mine), energy drinks and supplements (no.  just no.), and, in tiny doses, a handful of other foods.  As far as I can tell, the jury is still out on the health benefits/detriments of coffee and caffeine.  Depending on where you look and whom you ask, coffee is either a perfectly healthy dose of antioxidants (it does have quite a few) that can save you from Alzheimers, or it will give you heart attacks and raise your blood sugar levels.  Oh, and as far as exercise is concerned, it will reduce blood flow to the heart and/or lessen the pain, allowing you to push harder.  Every month or two someone posts a "Is coffee OK?" thread to the CrossFit nutrition forums, and it erupts into a war of opinions formed from some recent study or other.

So whatever.  Until someone comes up with something conclusive, you can pry my double americano from my cold, jittery, overcaffeinated hands.

How do you take yours?

One of the best gifts I have ever received was a fully automatic home espresso machine, given by my wonderful and understanding wife.  Push button: get espresso.  A logic both perfect in its simplicity and stunning in its effect.  For several years now, we've lived in a mild, darkly roasted buzz of contentment.

The machine is great, and we won't be giving it up anytime soon (we've already repaired it twice).  It does, however, have its drawbacks.  First of all, it's expensive to buy and, if it breaks, expensive to fix.  With all the moving gizmos and computerized whatnots it contains, there's a lot that can go wrong.

Drip coffee, the default choice of most Americans, is definitely a lot cheaper, and almost as easy to make.  The biggest downside is that, in comparison, it really doesn't taste very good.

Since we stopped dairy, we've been drinking our coffee black, and doing this has been eye-opening in more ways than one.  You see, cream does an excellent job of masking deficiencies in both bean and brew, so when you drink the pure stuff, you get more of the good as well as more of the bad.  And if it's bad, it's very very bad.  Cream also counters the acid that can dominate a hot-water brew--acid that is the primary motivator of that scrunchy-nosed wince you gave when I mentioned drinking black coffee.

Introducing cold-brew coffee

Even with the Italian wondermachine on our counter, we found that once our coffee cooled down a little, we would be grimacing at the bitter, acidic tang.  I had tried cold-brew coffee at Cafe Gratitude, and liked it, remembering something in their woo-woo menu  about how the cold-brew had less acid, so I let my fingers do the googling to see if it was doable at home.

Turns out it's really, really easy.  And soooooooo good.  Iced, hot or lukewarm, every sip is free from bitterness but full of flavor.  And it is powerful stuff, too!  I didn't know it was possible for me to feel the effects of caffeine anymore, but I made my first cup a bit too strong and spent the morning in a highly productive and somewhat bemused cloud.

You see, the extended brew time extracts about 90% of the flavor and caffeine elements, but only 10-15% of the oils and acids that make up the bite we associate with normal coffee.  It's the same drink in many ways, but remarkably different.  If you LIKE bitter coffee, you probably won't care much for cold-brew - it seems people either love it or are singularly unimpressed.  But if, like me, you love and accept coffee in ALL its glorious forms, then you should definitely give this a try.

Here's all you need to do to try it yourself.  Mix one part coffee (coarse grind) with four parts water in a container (I use one of those half-gallon glass jars with the flip-top lids).  Stir and let it sit overnight, in your refrigerator or on your counter.  10-12 hours is optimal, but anything over 5 hours will do.

In the morning, filter out the grounds.  I use an old french press I had sitting in a cupboard, but you could use a paper coffee filter or even a fine-mesh cheesecloth.

Be careful:  the resulting brew is concentrated coffee, too strong to drink as is.  You'll probably want to keep this in your fridge and dilute it again about 50% when you make your drink.  This stuff is awesome for iced coffee, as it's already cold so it won't melt your ice cubes.  Enjoy it with apple slices smothered with almond butter. 

captain-caveman1.jpgBarry Sears's Zone Diet is - by default if nothing else - the official diet of CrossFit.  It is what they taught me at my certification, and it is by far the most popular eating plan of the most performance-oriented CrossFit athletes. Within that population, however, there exists an even more hardcore dietary philosophy, espoused by CrossFit gurus at the highest level and followed by the most dedicated of athletes.

While Zone may be the official diet plan of CrossFit, it only deals with proportions. There is in fact a higher commandment, handed down by Coach himself in one of his earliest Journal articles and posted at - so ancient that he suggests you use "alta vista" for more information about it.  The commandment is this:

"Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds,
some fruit, little starch and no sugar."
And that's it. As it happens, this is a perfect synopsis of the paleo diet.

What is Paleo?

It goes by many names.  Mark Sisson brands his version "The Primal Blueprint."  Art Devany calls it "Evolutionary Fitness."  But the source of paleo is usually attributed to one man:  Dr. Loren Cordain.  Regardless of the source, however, the core philosophy is the same:  humans evolved over millions of years to thrive on a specific diet of things that could be hunted and gathered.  Then, about 10,000 years ago - an evolutionary eyeblink - the invention of agriculture changed everything.  And as agriculture was refined and industrialized, it became an ever-increasing part of our diet, bringing with it an ever-increasing list of ever-increasing ailments: everything from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, all the way to bad teeth.

The paleo response to this is simple:  don't eat anything that paleolithic man would not have eaten.  You wind up with a menu essentially like the one quoted above.  It sounds pretty great, actually, until you get into the details of what you can't eat:  No grains, sure, but also no beans, potatoes, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, sugar... or salt?!

It's not that simple, really

A couple points that I feel need to be made here, right up front.  While I agree with the fundamental argument of paleo, in common practice I find it to be both naive and drastically oversimplified.  First of all, evolution didn't stop 10,000 years ago.  Yes, it's a tiny fraction of time compared to 2 or 7 million years, but we haven't exactly been sitting on our evolutionary asses all this time.  We've gotten much better at digesting and processing foods that would likely have killed our ancestors outright.  Secondly, as far as I can tell, all the dietary restrictions of paleo are built around a series of intolerances that are not consistently represented across the population - that is, foods that are a problem for some folks, but not others.

A more nuanced take on paleo, therefore, would suggest finding those things that YOU are intolerant of, and cutting back on just those things.  Much better, right?  So, what are the candidates?

The Intolerables

This is the big one, so lets start here.  You see, the trouble with grains is that they pack a double wallop of dietary disaster.  First of all, they provoke a much larger insulin response than they really should.  This is true of whole grains as well as processed ones, though the processed ones are definitely worse.  Second, grains contain a group of antinutrients called phytates and lectins (most specifically gluten) that, in some cases, cause a severe autoimmune response called Celiac Sprue.  Not everyone has a severe response, but everyone shows some degree of inflammation from consuming gluten.  And the hyperinsulinism and toxicity feed off each other, compounding the damage wreaked by each.  Personally, I find the evidence persuasive enough that I eat very little grains.

We've covered this one.

The argument here is that these require some degree of processing/cooking/blanching in order to become edible, and many of the toxins present in the raw plant remain.  It's basically the grain argument again, with the same cast of characters:  beans are high in phytates and lectins, antinutrients that can cause some folks a lot of damage.  The biggest bummer?  Peanuts and Cashews are legumes.

I remember some authoritative and self-righteous vegan once telling me that humans are the only species that continues to consume milk after weaning, and the only one that consumes the milk of another species.  I don't know if that's actually true, but I can't think of any counterexamples off the top of my head.  Dairy and all of its many delicious, creamy byproducts are a result of animal domestication and agriculture, and therefore off the menu.  Plus:  lactose intolerance is a real thing, and not uncommon.

This one is so hardcore that it's controversial even within paleo.  Nightshades are a particular class of plant that includes potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers.  They contain a high concentration of alkaloids, which can impact nerve function and digestion.  Those who abstain say that they cause a kind of soreness/lethargy throughout the whole body.


Yeah, no kidding.  Cutting all that out would, in a word, suck.  Sure, you'd be safe from just about every autoimmune disease out there, but you'd also be a serious pain in the ass at dinner parties.  Better, in my opinion, to figure out which things really affect you and just limit those.  You don't even need to eliminate them completely - we're not talking anaphylactic shock as a consequence, here.  But at least you would know what digging into that ratatouille really means, so when you wake up aching the next day, you'll know why.  I hope it was worth it.

So how do you know?  Well, there's really only one way:  pick a thing, and stop eating it for a while.  See how you feel.  Measure your performance - does it go up or down noticeably after 2-3 weeks of rigorous abstention?  Reintroduce it, and see what happens.  If it's nothing, then yay!  You're all clear.  If you feel like a racehorse without it and a pile of horse crap after eating it, well:  sorry.  Now you have a story to tell at dinner parties when you have to explain why you're not eating whatever dish the hosts have lovingly prepared for you.  Jerk.

You see, if you've lived your whole life with a mild intolerance to a type of food, you likely don't even know it's there.  If you lived your whole life with a mild allergy to something in your environment, the constant mild aggravation to your system would just be background noise.  You'd be used to it.  Until you went on vacation somewhere else, and got a taste of life without those allergies - you'd suddenly feel phenomenal in comparison!  Same thing.*

Here we go...

So, in the interest of this personal experimentation, Rebecca and I have embarked on a journey of ridiculous difficulty:  30 days without dairy.  This was actually her idea - I swear!  At the end of which time, we shall down some cold, refreshing, achingly delicious organic milk, and pray that we don't feel a thing.

I am not a dietician.  CrossKitchen articles come from my personal experience, observations and research, and should not be construed as professional medical advice.

*Props to Byers for the metaphor.

New Club Records

"Grace" 1:57, 2nd
"Fran" 2:57, 2nd


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This page is a archive of entries in the CrossKitchen category from July 2009.

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