Daily Nutrition

Yogurt: Mother’s Little Helper

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I like to grow microbes in food. Gross? No, delicious actually.  I used to work in biotech and my job was to grow cells in vessels to make drugs used in clinical trials. Now I ferment stuff in my kitchen, different bugs, same concept. This blog is about fermented foods, probiotics and how to make one of my favorites: yogurt.
Fermented foods are good for you. Humans have been fermenting food for a long time. It was discovered that cheese making was happening in Northern Europe in 7000 BC! From the well known yogurt to kimchi, a fermented cabbage, and sauerkraut, its european counterpart, to the lesser known natto, a fermented soybean from Japan, you can basically ferment anything and everything. Most fermentations use bacteria but yeast can also be involved in the process such as in kefir, kombucha, and beer and wine of course. Fermented food does preserve longer and some of the fiber that could be an irritant to the gut becomes pre-digested thanks to all the little bugs feeding on them. These bacteria, which we also call probiotics, when in the form of a little pill, can colonize your gut and help with IBS and other intestinal issues. If you think about it, we have more bacteria in our body than our own cells and they control much more than we think, talk about alien abduction! Ingesting probiotics has been shown to relieve symptoms of colds and flu,  they are being developed to cure C. Difficile, this hard to get rid bacterial infection, and guess what, the type of bacteria that lives in your body can actually predict if you are going to be obese…Check out this company from San Francisco: Ubiome. For a decent price you can analyze your microbiome and see how it compares with other people. This is on my to do list BTW.  Some compare our gut microbiome to a second brain and these bacteria can actually help with depression and anxiety. They can modulate the expression of  GABA receptors which helps to decrease anxiety, a little bit like a Valium aka mother’s little helper (but different mechanism)! And that is why I eat loooots of yogurt.
Probiotic quality can be variable, the content is not exactly what is shown on the label or it is not very active, so you need to look at the quality control behind it. The strain that you choose is also very important if you want help with a particular issue whether gut, skin or brain related, so be careful and look at the science or ask a good health practitioner. However, for health in general why not make your own probiotic-like food: yogurt.
Yogurt is really simple to make. First you need some really good quality milk. Full fat from grass-fed cows is the best in my view. Here is one study, although done in mice, to show how superior grass-fed milk is. The fact that the composition is higher in plant Omega-3s (alpha linoleic acid) is a good thing…Here is a review on how full fat milk reduces diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
What about homogenization? Some say that reducing the fat droplet size by homogenization can result in an increase in fat bound to casein and whey proteins resulting in increased allergies and risk of cardiovascular disease. It is not proven yet. But me, I’m always a fan of the less processed the better so if I have a choice between the two then I’ll go with the non-homogenized.
Here is my choice:
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Where I live I get this milk from the Strauss Family creamery. (Top Secret: This milk can also be found at TJs in my neighborhood under Cream on top milk. Much cheaper) Let’s get back to our yogurt. First you want to heat up your milk to 160-180 F to kill any unwanted bacteria that could “contaminate” your culture. If your milk is fresh from the farm, you can bypass this. Even if it has been pasteurized to remove a lot of the bacteria, as soon as milk is processed and bottled the bacterial count starts going up again while still being very safe to consume. You need to let your yogurt cool down to 110F before putting your culture in.
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To culture my yogurt, I like this yogurt maker. It is basically a heated container that keeps the temperature of your yogurt at around 110F. Before I put the milk in, I add my little packet of culture. I like this one which is very mild and soft. You need to reuse a new packet every time. Might not be the most  economical way but it is still cheaper than most yogurt and the best quality you can have. That is your best option, if you are not making yogurt very often. If you are ready for the once a week regimen, you can try this Greek yogurt starter which is reusable. By that, I mean that you use 4Tbsp of your week old yogurt to reinoculate your next batch.
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Don’t forget to stir and then let it sit for 4-8 hours. Yes it can be variable because this is not an exact science, we don’t know exactly how many bugs we started with, the temperature might be a little off, etc. You know it is ready when you swirl the container gently and the yogurt swirls with it, it is loosely set. You have to refrigerate it before eating. Here you see the yellowish cream on top.
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It is always good to drain your greek yogurt so it gets thicker. I drain it in this container for 2-3 hours in the fridge and what you see at the bottom is whey. Whey consists of the water soluble milk proteins and goes down with the liquid with some of the lactose,  while the casein the other major milk proteins coagulates during fermentation and stays with the fat.  Are you concerned about the environmental impact of all that whey that gets dumped in the environment? Well there are a lot of things you can do with it. You can add it in soil to grow your tomatoes, you can substitute it in a recipe instead of buttermilk, you can use it to cook rice, soak nuts and grains, ferment vegetables, you get the idea.
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Here it is. So basically your Greek yogurt is more concentrated in protein (mostly casein) and fat with less of the lactose. What is not to love.  Note that casein is an excellent recovery protein for evening workouts as it digests more slowly and supplies some of the good amino acids for a long time while you sleep…

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Good night! Here is to your health, gut health and what comes with it, performance.

Sports Nutrition

Are You High on Caffeine?

End of January 2015, are you still on track for your new years resolution? For some it might be losing 5 pounds or stop drinking, for me it is to quit caffeine and write my first blog ever on caffeine effect. I’m still on track to post my first blog ever but did I totally quit caffeine? Not really and here is why.
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Maybe you don’t know it but caffeine is highly addictive for certain people. And that applies to me. Caffeine is everywhere. Apart from the obvious, coffee, it can also be found in colas, energy drink and a lot of sports bars and gels.  A cup of coffee can have up to 200mg caffeine, Gu gels vary from 20mg to 40 mg, one of my favorite Pocket Fuel Cold Brewed Coffee Gel has 70mg and Clif shots have a more decent potency with their double espresso at 100 mg. Caffeine can also be hidden in the form of other ingredients such as yerba mate, kola nut, green tea extract, just to name a few.
Caffeine is a plant alkaloid similar to what is in cocaine, nicotine, morphine. All of these being classified as stimulant. The difference is that it is legal, like nicotine. Why? It does create a dependance but it is not life threatening, it can however be life disturbing when you don’t have your cup of joe in the morning. For me, if I did not have access to coffee for a couple of days that would mean seriously bad migraine.
So what makes caffeine so special. A couple of things you might be interested to know without getting too much into the rocket science. First and foremost caffeine stimulates catecholamines. What it means is that it releases adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine, and also indirectly cortisol. This hormonal mix creates the fight or flight response and it is believed that this is why it decreases RPE or perceived effort. It also lowers the threshold for muscle excitation. Adrenaline stimulates lipolysis and glycogen utilization, your whole body metabolism gets primed. It is not surprising to see caffeine in most weight loss supplements, as it also decreases appetite through the mechanisms I just mentioned. Most studies show very favorable effect for caffeine. It reduces the time trials in endurance sports in general and increases time to exhaustion during strength training. Who would have known that something so ubiquitous would have such nice effect? Yet I feel it is pretty underutilized.
But studies do vary in their results. And it has something to do with the subjects and how naive were they to caffeine. Because the more used to coffee you are, the less effective it is, you get a blunted output of cathecolamines. Therefore most studies use 24-48 hours with no caffeine or even up to 4 days to desensitize subject. It probably works, but it might not be enough for certain people and it is also probably why such high doses of caffeine are needed, that is 4-6 mg/kg, 30 to 60 minutes before exercise or 200 to 300mg of caffeine for me. For some people it can take up to a month to get rid of the habituation and then caffeine can only be used once or twice a week to really see the benefits.
Another important point is that most of these studies use a placebo but between you and me it is pretty hard not to know that you just had the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee. And as I will explain in another post the placebo effect is a really strong one. If I convince you that caffeine works and have a cup of coffee before your ride, you WILL go faster. Crazy.
So why did I decide to quit caffeine? So I could try it as an ergogenic during training and racing and really know if it was working. It took me a month to get off it. For some people going cold turkey might work but it did not for me, for the reason I mentioned earlier. I gradually decreased my amount to finally go caffeine free coffee. I really like the taste of coffee and it is some sort of ritual so I still have it in the morning in the decaffeinated form. I use this decaf bean from Bulletproof. They claim that they use a mycotoxin free bean and they use the Swiss water process to take out caffeine, which is a chemical free process compared to decaf you can get at Starbuck and the likes. It is more expensive though…
So now here I am caffeine free! And I feel like I’m in rehab, some days it is hard. But being caffeine free made me realize how sleep deprived I was. Also, I realized how caffeine was making me nervous and gave me the jitters. Now I have a large cup of coffee usually on Saturday morning before my big ride of the week, it is probably at about 150 to 200mg. Sometimes I do the Bulletproof thing, which is no longer a secret as Runner’s world and The New York Times published articles on this. It consist of coffee, a tablespoon of butter and MCT oil. Good stuff. After that I feel like superwomen. 6:30AM Saturday morning and I am ready, I start jabbering so much that my husband asks me what is wrong with me, I feel euphoric, I am hot and sweaty (literally). Hop on the bike and I hammer those pedals. Zone 3 feels like zone 2, my watts are up the roof, it is working. After 2 hours, I feel a little bit of a slump, I go for another dose (Pocket Fuel Cold Brewed Coffee Gel, 70 mg). I’m a junky. I crank up the music in my ear buds and smile for the rest of the ride. Is the effect real? Is it placebo? Maybe a little bit of both
Here it is my first blog. Hope you like it!