So, at last week’s FITNESS Magazine Meet & Tweet, I attended a panel discussion titled “The Real Deal on Carbs, Cleanses and Caffeine.” Believe it or not, the crowd was kind of sparse – I feel like people were far more interested in the swag than the dialogue – but y’all know me. I’m nerdly… and I don’t turn down the opportunity to gather more info for BGG2WL. Considering how they had June DeMelo, FITNESS magazine’s nutrition editor; as well as Keri Gans, RD and author of The Small Change Diet (grrr, there’s that word again); and Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD and author of The Miracle Carb Diet (…and again…), I figured there’d be some valuable information worthy of sharing, here.

So…I recorded the dialogue.

I separated out the portion on coffee because I think its worthy of its own separate post, since so many people ask me about it. I feel like, far too little, people differentiate between “coffee” and “instant” coffee, coffee that you brew yourself and “coffee” that you get from certain places, or are even unwilling to say “a little coffee” vs the “all or nothing” approach.

Considering what I knew about coffee before I attended, I was glad to see some of what I knew to be confirmed…but lots of things weren’t touched.

Quoting the participants:

“There’s actually research that shows that a little bit of coffee before your workout can help you work out harder, longer, not feel the kind of the pain or difficulty and just a lot of research in general saying it has health benefits and that you don’t need to feel guilty in drinking it.”

Hmmm….

“There are, actually, so many health benefits now associated with intake of coffee and, [applause] I’m with you on that. Coffee can lower your risk to everything from Alzheimer’s to depression. Of course coffee’s been linked to reducing your risk for cancer, so there are some amazing health benefits associated with drinking coffee. Of course, you don’t want to exceed what is recommended, which is approximately 3 cups (24oz) a day, which is what they say is a safe amount for women. As far as the benefits for exercise, some studies do correlate if you drink approximately one cup of coffee before a workout, that your intake will enhance performance and that’s because caffeine is a stimulant. You will have energy. What I will warn you about is, if your workouts are longer than an hour, you will come crashing down. If it’s just a quick burst of energy, studies have shown that a cup of coffee is effective and is no different from an energy drink some people would have… it’s just not a good supply of long term energy. But there are health benefits, you do not have to stop coffee… except in two cases: 1) if you’re trying to get pregnant, more than two cups of coffee a day have been shown to reduce fertility by a rate of 40%; and 2) if you are pregnant, you should not drink more than one cup of coffee per day because it may increase the risk of a miscarriage, but pregnant women, have your coffee. It’s been known to be a mood enhancer.”

Double hmmm….

“What you want to be careful of, though, is not letting your cup of joe become a dessert. I think one too many people think “Oh, I can drink coffee,” but they’re not thinking about what they’re putting in that coffee. So, if we’re telling someone “Oh, have a cup of coffee for exercise, we’re not talking about some mocha frappucino something or other with whipped cream that’s five hundred calories. That’d be pretty silly if you’re going to work out and try to be healthy. So I think that what people really need to look at, is what they’re putting in their coffee. It’s one thing to have a tall black coffee, you know, a few calories, but then you start to add things… the coffee really starts to become more like a dessert. I also know, that if someone’s not a coffee drinker, it’s just like wine – you don’t need to become a coffee drinker. And there’s benefits, yes, from the caffeine, but a lot of it is the antioxidants that are in the coffee and not the caffeine. So, for instance, lowering the risk of diabetes can come from drinking coffee but it has, really, nothing to do with the caffeine but possibly the antioxidants. What I recommend, as opposed to having that cup of coffee before working out, is having a healthy snack. Keeping your body fueled properly throughout the day, in my opinion, is much more beneficial that drinking coffee all day. I mean, I love my coffee. I am a coffee drinker. However, I’m not using that for my fuel. I’m using food for fuel. So, before a workout, I’d much prefer to see someone have a piece of fruit and maybe some string cheese or maybe a yogurt and some fruit works, again, replete with energy.”

All are great quotes. I just…need to contrast them with this:

Scientists agree that caffeine activates the pleasure centers of the brain by slowing down the rate of dopamine reabsorption, thus making us feel peppy and good (cocaine and heroin do the same thing, but obviouslyl to a much greater degree.) Caffeine also provides a shot of adrenaline, so we feel charged up, while blocking reception of adenosine, another neurotransmitter believed to play a part in promoting sleep, making us feel sharp and awake. Now, once the adrenaline wears off, what’s next? Well, as any coffee drinker knows, we feel tired, in the dumps, irritated, and jumpy, and our heads hurt, too, since caffeine restricts the blood vessels in our brains, and we need a coffee to get our adrenaline levels back to the levels to which our bodies have grown accustomed. [source]

Coffee, it seems, is one of those things people either go for or don’t really care for, and I’m totally fine with that. That being said, all coffee is not created equal. There’s a reason why, even though there’s “instant” “coffee” (it dissolves in your cup!…?!??) there’s still a “brew your own at home” market. And, even though there are brands that are out here with catchy commercials and epic marketing, there’s still a market for people who like to have their beans ground right in front of them. There’s a reason why, for all of that.

I think the infographic above, courtesy of Good.is, covers fair trade and its importance pretty thoroughly. There’s easily another thousand words I could throw in here about this, but I’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say, when things come too cheaply, someone’s getting shortchanged in the end… and it’s usually the person with the fewest representatives and the smallest “voice” (read: least money.) You want to consume consciously not only for your health, but for the sustainability of our communities (yes, even the global community, as well).

As with all other things, the more manipulated it is by man, the less the benefit you can receive when it comes time to consume it. So instant coffee… that’s out. Nothing should be dissolving into your drink and creating “awesomey goodness.” That’s the height of hyper-processed food trickery. If it dissolves… it’s gotta go.

Processed coffees with branding, labels and other fancy schmanciness… let’s just say this. If you have a spot in your coffee section that allows you to portion out your own beans and grind them, then you should do that.The less the processing, the more of those antioxidants you’ll be receiving from your cup. There are different flavors available – they’re made in almost every way between “pouring ‘natural flavors’ on your beans” to “roasting the beans with fruits to give their flavor” – and often times, the flavors are good enough where you neither want nor need all the sugar and cream and goodness knows what else in your coffee. You can also add flavors to your own beans and roast them yourself. There are lots of coffee shops who will do that for you, as well.

That leads me to another point, that one of the RDs made above. What are you putting in your coffee? If it’s some form of artificial sweetener… let’s talk. Are you using raw sugar? Actual raw sugar? Unbleached? (No, not even those “bleached but coated in molasses after the fact” sugars will do.) Consider using something a little less…adulterated.

And what about those creamers? If you’re using a certain creamer brand, you can rest assured it’s not clean. In fact, it has trans fats in it. If you’re using a non-dairy creamer, again… rest assured, it uses trans fats. Coffee, though it may have antioxidants, is not essential enough to sacrifice “clean-liness” for it. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up that badly, a hearty piece of fruit does the job just as well as coffee… unless you’ve become addicted to it (which, considering how it has effects similar to other addictive substances, would make sense.) Try to stick with regular creamy substances to avoid the negative side effects of consuming mystery chemicals on a regular basis. Using creamer is, more often than not, a means of adding fat to the drink to make it more palpable – people can often be caught adding any member of the sugar/fat/salt trifecta to their food – so, I must say, coffee isn’t essential enough for the strife.

As a “clean” coffee habit can get kind of pricey – fair trade, flavorful beans, raw cane sugar, clean creamers – it’s easy to see why someone would simply tap out. To drink, or not to drink… that is the question.

That being said, I wish y’all could see the cup of coffee I have sitting beside me on my desk. Pardon me as I hug my island roast, complete with coconut milk. Swag my morning out.

I do it the el cheapo way because, quite frankly, I’m cheap. I invested in a french press. I use, maybe, one tablespoon of coffee each morning in the bottom of my french press and boil two hearty cups. Sometimes I use something to make it creamy, sometimes I don’t. I don’t add sugar, but I also don’t swallow my cup whole. It’s coffee, not kool-aid.

I also went to a coffee shop and paid outright for a full pound of coffee, ground especially for a french press. Because the press uses so much less coffee than a coffeemaker (and uses less electricity), I wind up saving money both ways. The pound of coffee has lasted me six weeks thus far, and I just got to the half-pound mark.

So…tell me. How do you do your coffee?