Thursday, August 25, 2016

Are mycotoxins ruining the health benefits of coffee? A fair-balance discussion

Does the coffee you drink every day have mycotoxins? Yes, according to researchers. Mycotoxins are naturally occurring mold toxins found in susceptible grains, nuts, beer, wines and coffees.  Their presence and concentrations depend on various conditions---humidity levels, temperature, rainfall and storage conditions.

 There are dozens of types of mycotoxins; however, regulators and health advocates are most concerned about ochratoxin A (OTA). OTA is naturally occurring and highly prevalent. Medical researchers have linked excess OTA exposure with liver cancer, renal failure and neurotoxicity that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease.

If every person on earth were tested for OTA, 100% of us would test positive. It’s not whether we are consuming OTA, but how much we are consuming. The OTA-in-coffee issue has stoked controversy and disagreement between those who are concerned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is too lax, and those who point to evidence (from Europe) showing that most commercial samples of coffee have only 2% to 3% of the level regarded as safe.

The coffee I am drinking is a popular commercial brand,
and it probably contains mycotoxins. Despite that, available
data leads me to believe that the benefits of drinking coffee
outweigh the risks of ochratoxin A exposure. 
 Also, we know that decaffeinated coffee has more OTA than caffeinated coffee, because caffeine protects coffee berries and beans from mycotoxin infestation. We also know that roasting helps decrease the amount of OTA---but it does not eliminate it.

The mycotoxins-in-coffee controversy has been growing since around 2000 when researchers started to publish their fndings. Widely different approaches to analytical batch testing have made it difficult to determine how much OTA is present and whether it exceeds regulatory guidelines.

After years of being maligned, coffee has undergone an image revolution. Instead of being publicly linked with breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and various types of psychological disorders, coffee has now been established as beneficial for many different organ systems.

However, recognition of coffee as something other than a helpful vice is relatively new. Historically, coffee has gotten a bad rap. At various times, coffee has been associated with cancer, infertility, “neurasthenia”, miscarriage, and heart attacks. In one memorable editorial published in Science Magazine in 1890, a researcher suggested that people who drank large amounts of coffee suffered from widespread bodily inflammation, had an intense aversion to work of any kind, and could die if denied coffee.


So the pendulum has swung from negative to positive in terms of the public perception of coffee, but the issue of mycotoxins and OTA is far from resolved. Researchers continue to refine OTA testing techniques while coffee growers and others involved in the business seek to optimize conditions to decrease the level of OTA in coffee---since it will most likely never be completely eliminated from the global coffee supply.  

On the upside, all of the positive research on coffee shows that benefits related to coffee consumption exist despite the problem of OTA contamination.  In fact, drinking coffee is associated with a decreased risk of liver cancer, AD and Parkinson’s disease---the three things that researchers have targeted as potential outcomes of OTA exposure.

You can be sure that at least some of the coffee you consume has traces of OTA, but you can also be sure that coffee is being more aggressively tested by regulators worldwide, and that coffee growers and others in the business are taking measures to decrease the threat of naturally occurring toxins in our beloved brew. 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

CRUSH your workout with coffee and stave off multiple sclerosis too...

Yesterday I was so excited to tell you about Mountie’s that I forgot to share the latest health benefit that I just discovered---a long-term benefit related to coffee’s neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory properties.

Drinking coffee over a period of years decreases the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease in which the immune system attacks the protective coating of the nerves. Total risk reduction based on two large-scale studies---one in the U.S. and the other in Sweden, is about 30%, but the magic number to attain that benefit is six cups of coffee a day.



The connection between coffee and MS makes sense, given the well-established connection between increased coffee consumption and decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Long-term benefits are great, but sometimes instant gratification is what we all want. You can instant benefits from drinking black coffee (no milk/no sugar), according to Men’s Fitness. Long story short: Coffee can help you CRUSH your workouts. How?

Studies show that drinking coffee before a workout not only revs you up to go longer, harder and stronger---but it also increases your metabolism, because the coffee prompts your body to rely on fat cells for energy, rather than glycogen, the body’s normal default source of energy.

Pre-workout coffee also decreases muscle soreness during weight training, so you can do more reps, with higher weights. The net effect of adding coffee to your workout is being more fit, and ultimately having a better body.

But I would argue that the long-term benefits of coffee are even more important than the short-term benefits, though they are all interrelated. The long-term benefits---decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, liver cancer, and of course, Parkinson’s and MS add up to something wonderful---a potentially longer, higher quality life.



Monday, August 22, 2016

Meet me for coffee at Mountie’s---this place has what it takes to make it in Montclair

Sunday, August 21, was a full-spectrum summer day: bright, hot sun in the morning, followed by an uncomfortable onslaught of humidity in the afternoon, until the sky opened and it rained. Then finally, we had a perfect summer evening, with a mellow post-rain vibe in the air, a cool breeze blowing and the anticipation of nighttime.

That was the context in which Mountie’s Eatery had their soft opening. My first impression was that this is a pleasant, clean, well-organized space, despite the fact that not all of the ingredients are in, and some of the final touches are still to come. That’s why it’s called a soft opening.



Mountie’s Eatery, which is named after the Montclair High School’s Montclair Mounties, looks like it could be a chain, but it’s not, according to the owner Sam, and his son, Omar. Sam owns a restaurant in Warren, NJ—the flagship location for his unique style of eatery---called Pita, Grill and Crepe. He also has several restaurants in Pennsylvania.

The basic concept behind Mountie's is savory plus sweet. It's the kind of place where you might order a chicken/spinach/hummus crepe for dinner, followed by baklava and Lacas Fair Trade coffee---a coffee that Sam says is "a quality coffee at a decent price."

Whatever happened to Manhattan Bagel?
The Manhattan Bagel Company, which formerly occupied the 250 Bellevue location, didn’t have a chance. It is a chain. There are better places in the neighborhood to get bagels---good, homemade, bagels and good coffee at locally owned shops. I refused to even walk in to M.B. It was empty most of the time. The only people who dared go in do not live in Montclair.

The fact that the franchiser had the chutzpah to roll in and open up shop right next to Java Love, a café that has been in town for about four years and just opened a location on Church Street, was insulting in and of itself. But in the end, it was poor judgment and doomed to fail.

Sam made a decision to name his new eatery “Mountie’s” as a nod to the community. “I did not want to directly compete with the established hummus/pita places in Montclair,” he said. “They have good offerings and we want to complement what’s available in the neighborhood,” he said.
Jackie’s Grillete, Falafel Hut and Four Seasons are all established and get plenty of foot traffic. You can see the bustle on their outdoor patios as people eat their falafel sandwiches happily. Mountie’s in contrast brings a different offering (and will also have outdoor seating).

Satisfying a needy palate with quality offerings
Of course, there are Mediterranean/Middle Eastern offerings at Mountie’s. They serve these things, along with lamb burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches on brioche with avocados, greens topped with apples, walnuts and veggies---and a fruit smoothie for your kid.

 There is fresh fruit in a large bowl, along with beautifully displayed baklava and little decorative jade lions adorning the counter.  And the main supporting column, which happens to be next to the coffee/drinks counter is a blackboard where kids (and adults) can doodle and draw and get creative any way they want to.

Mountie’s is actively engaging with customers as they come in, seeking feedback. Honestly, the quality of the food alone is enough to make people come back again, even though Mountie’s is clearly in ramp-up mode trying to get ready for the increased foot traffic that will come as temps cool down and people start to spend more time at the Bellevue Theater in the evening.

Some bonus offerings…
A couple of major bonuses worth mentioning: Mountie’s has wifi, two televisions hanging overhead (the television thing though me a bit admittedly…They will probably be off much of the time I suspect). And then of course, there’s the blackboard---and the location. Of course.  I predict that Mountie’s will be a wonderful place to sit, have a hot coffee and watch the leaves turning.

GO MOUNTIES!




Meet me for coffee at Mountie’s---this place has what it takes to make it in Montclair

Sunday, August 21, was a full-spectrum summer day: bright, hot sun in the morning, followed by an uncomfortable onslaught of humidity in the afternoon, until the sky opened and it rained. Then finally, we had a perfect summer evening, with a mellow post-rain vibe in the air, a cool breeze blowing and the anticipation of nighttime.

That was the context in which Mountie’s Eatery had their soft opening. My first impression was that this is a pleasant, clean, well-organized space, despite the fact that not all of the ingredients are in, and some of the final touches are still to come. That’s why it’s called a soft opening.



Mountie’s Eatery, which is named after the Montclair High School’s Montclair Mounties, looks like it could be a chain, but it’s not, according to the owner Sam, and his son, Omar. Sam owns a restaurant in Warren, NJ—the flagship location for his unique style of eatery---called Pita, Grill and Crepe. He also has several restaurants in Pennsylvania.

The basic concept behind Mountie's is savory plus sweet. It's the kind of place where you might order a chicken/spinach/hummus crepe for dinner, followed by baklava and Lacas Fair Trade coffee---a coffee that Sam says is "a quality coffee at a decent price."

Whatever happened to Manhattan Bagel?
The Manhattan Bagel Company, which formerly occupied the 250 Bellevue location, didn’t have a chance. It is a chain. There are better places in the neighborhood to get bagels---good, homemade, bagels and good coffee at locally owned shops. I refused to even walk in to M.B. It was empty most of the time. The only people who dared go in do not live in Montclair.

The fact that the franchiser had the chutzpah to roll in and open up shop right next to Java Love, a café that has been in town for about four years and just opened a location on Church Street, was insulting in and of itself. But in the end, it was poor judgment and doomed to fail.

Sam made a decision to name his new eatery “Mountie’s” as a nod to the community. “I did not want to directly compete with the established hummus/pita places in Montclair,” he said. “They have good offerings and we want to complement what’s available in the neighborhood,” he said.
Jackie’s Grillete, Falafel Hut and Four Seasons are all established and get plenty of foot traffic. You can see the bustle on their outdoor patios as people eat their falafel sandwiches happily. Mountie’s in contrast brings a different offering (and will also have outdoor seating).

Satisfying a needy palate with quality offerings
Of course, there are Mediterranean/Middle Easter pita-enclosed offerings at Mountie’s. They serve these things, along with lamb burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches on brioche with avocados, greens topped with apples, walnuts and veggies---and a fruit smoothie for your kid.
 There is fresh fruit in a large bowl on the counter, along with beautifully displayed baklava and little decorative jade lions adorning the counter.  And the main supporting column, which happens to be next to the coffee/drinks counter is a blackboard where kids (and adults) can doodle and draw and get creative any way they want to.

Mountie’s is actively engaging with customers as they come in, seeking feedback. Honestly, the quality of the food alone is enough to make people come back again, even though Mountie’s is clearly in ramp-up mode trying to get ready for the increased foot traffic that will come as temps cool down and people start to spend more time at the Bellevue Theater in the evening.

Some bonus offerings…
A couple of major bonuses worth mentioning: Mountie’s has wifi, two televisions hanging overhead (the television thing though me a bit admittedly…They will probably be off much of the time I suspect). And then of course, there’s the blackboard---and the location. Of course.  I predict that Mountie’s will be a wonderful place to sit, have a hot coffee and watch the leaves turning.

GO MOUNTIES!




Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Coffee House Scene in Montclair Just Got Groovier

Groov Café and Juice Bar: 127 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ 07042

Groov Café has been in town now for a little more than a year---and it has carved out a niche among cafe-groupies, vegetarians, musicians and lots of people who simply want reliable wifi and a good cup of coffee.

Groov Café is a nice complement to Trend Café and Coffeehouse downtown, Java Love uptown and the two major Starbucks locations. And now folks who live on Midland and environs (as well as everyone at School of Rock) have a walkable coffee destination besides Starbucks---which feels like a schlep when you’re coffee-deprived.

Groov Café is like a breath of fresh air in a town that values coffee, community and culture. This centrally located café (with parking in the back!!) has all of that on top of a vegetarian menu featuring mega-burritos, ramen, quinoa wraps, muffins and bowls of steeping hot pho that are so large you need a ladle and a very strong slurp-muscle.

How about the café/juice bar offerings. This is when the options get interesting. First the juices: There is every imaginable combination of fruit and vegetable juices available (name a fruit!), along with an almond milk or banana base.

And in what can only be considered an act of grace, the owner, Greg Williams, has put a special item on the menu---the Espresso Blast Super Smoothie, made with almond milk, espresso, banana, honey, cacao and maca. Imagine the perfect synergy between espresso and maca---a watercress-like vegetable with an earthy, nutty taste.

And if you're feeling toxic, Groov has a special juice cleanse regimen for you!

Need any more energy?
At its core, Groov is a café. The coffee is as good as it is straightforward. Self-served via carafe, it’s reliably hot and brewed with locally roasted beans. Espresso-based drinks are available upon request.

As interesting as the menu are the people. With Greg Williams, long-term Montclair resident/computer genius/entrepreneur/mentor at the helm, Groov is staffed by musician/chef/activists and fire-throwing/hula hoopers of international acclaim.

There is music everywhere---ranging from folk, to funk, jazz, indie, rockabilly and a lot of groove-rock a la the Grateful Dead. Almost any night of the week, there’s an open mic, or a musical event, or just people hanging out in this beautiful space.

Feeling inspired yet?                                       
So what does it feel like to sit down at Groov? Good. Really good. Groov is a refurbished storefront on Valley, with high tin ceilings, stolid wooden furniture and eclectic art featuring a painting of Satchmo, sculpture, objets d’art, numerous tchotochkes and a Civil War map.

Dozens of bottles of hot sauce
That’s right. It’s here. Hot sauce and coffee---coffee and hot sauce. Talk about a metabolic boost. On top of the mantel in the main café space there are literally dozens of bottles of hot sauce, ranging from sweet chili, to burning hot. Greg picks up hot sauce wherever he goes. Why? Because people love hot sauce, and it’s perfect for dousing a homemade empanada.

Light literally pours into Groov during the day, and at night the streetlights and ambient sounds waft in to create a sense of adventure, which is heightened by all of the creative, interesting people around. Sometimes it’s evocative of the 1970’s, or the 1990’s, or 2016---with a hint of the future thrown in.

It’s all going down at Groov. So what are you after today---a nice bright workspace, a place to coffee-klatch with your peeps, a place for a sweetly romantic tryst, someplace to read Dr. Seuss to your kid while drinking a smoothie, a place to chill and listen to music while reading a book, a place to get your flirt on, or recover from an intense workout that left you drenched in sweat? How about a really good cup of coffee?

If you answered yes, to any of the above, Groov is your spot. See you there!



Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hello Longer Life, Goodbye Confounding Factors

Last Monday, I woke up to an amazing cup of hot Gevalia bold, as well as a bold ‘more good news about coffee' headline strewn across social media.

Per the NYT (9-16-15): “Well: Coffee tied to lower risk of dying prematurely.”

The story was picked up everywhere. After years of reading one coffee study after another suggesting that coffee has health benefits of some sort, the results of this observational, Harvard-based study with more than 200,000 individuals included as part of the analysis, were undeniable:

3 facts: Coffee is good for you. Not drinking coffee is worse than drinking coffee. Coffee-drinkers are healthier and live longer.

This study, which was published by Dr. Ming Ding and his colleagues at Harvard in this month’s issue of Circulation analyzed 30 years of data---enough time to know whether a person lived a long life or died prematurely.

More coffee equals more life
The results in short:
·         One to 3 cups of coffee per day=8% reduced risk of death
·         Three to 5 cups=15% reduced risk of death
·         5+ cups=12% reduced risk of death

Specifically, higher levels of coffee consumption were correlated with lower levels of death from heart disease, stroke, neurological diseases, diabetes and suicide.

The smoking factor
When Dr. Ming and his colleagues looked at the data head-on, the benefits associated with coffee were modest. For example, preliminary results showed that people drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day had a 7% lower risk of dying.

But---and this is a very important ‘but’---when the researchers took smokers out of the equation, suddenly the longevity benefits associated with coffee consumption emerged. Even smokers benefited modestly from coffee, but only a little and not significantly compared with non-coffee drinkers.

Why? Because the effect of smoking (and the related increased risk of death) is so powerful that it trumps the effects of potentially health-enhancing behaviors, including drinking coffee.



Confounding factors
Smoking is what is known as a ‘confounding factor,’ meaning it skews clinical trial data and needs to be taken out in order to see the picture more clearly. For years, during the 1800’s and 1900’s, there were numerous studies showing that coffee was bad for health, and could lead to cancer, heart attack and even death.

Then statisticians and other quants started to notice blips in the data that were too obvious to ignore. They started to parse the data more carefully and factor in the role that confounding factors play in any health-related study. Suddenly a different picture emerged---and along with it a growing evidence base extolling the health benefits of coffee.

So now we know.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Coffee-Questing: A Mad Dash to Moon Doggie


Mid-November has been unseasonably warm---much to the delight of people everywhere grappling with the inevitable darkness that comes with the onset of winter, as well as the bleak darkness of the current news cycle. We can only speculate that among the 127 people killed in Paris last Friday, some of them were out enjoying a cup of coffee, while basking in the splendor of an unseasonably warm Parisian evening. It was in the midst of this everyday joy that tragedy struck. We also know that undoubtedly among those also killed by terrorists in Lebanon and Kenya recently, there were also many coffee-lovers.

While lots of commentary has been focused on the horrors of terrorism and the tenuous quality of day-to-day life, we will add to the cacophony by saying how precious life is. Even the opportunity to grab a cup of coffee from a renowned small cafe in Maywood, NJ on a balmy Monday night is special---a chance to simply be a coffee-loving human sharing a universally beloved brew on the first day of the workweek, well that's something wonderful.

A Moon Doggie Monday

On Monday, November 15, a friend of mine and a fellow blogger, George, suggested that I join him on a short trip from Montclair to Maywood to try the coffee at Moon Doggie. George is on a quasi-quixotic quest to visit the 98 coolest coffee shops in New Jersey (based on a NJ Monthly Magazine round-up). So far, he's hit about 35---and I was honored to accompany him to #36.



En route to Moon Doggie, George offhandedly suggested that I check the closing time. Experience has taught George that neighborhood coffee shops tend to close on the early side, especially during the week. We cut it close, but we were determined to get there before it closed at 5 pm. We made it with three minutes to spare.

Moon Doggie is an unassuming, independently owned neighborhood coffee shop in a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare with head-on parking. Once inside, we noticed the eclectic decor and the comforting icons of coffee-drinking---mugs, pastries and muffins, mid-century consumer art and pop culture that celebrates the American coffee-drinking experience. Being Americans who like to drink coffee, we decided to partake.



Self-serve coffee for the coffee connoisseur

Once Dave the barista handed us our cups, we headed over to the deceptively straightforward coffee-dispensing canisters. George found the Guatemalan coffee to be flavorful and sufficiently hot in contrast to the New Moon Coffee, which was not hot enough. Nonetheless, the New Moon coffee was redeemed by its smooth, spicy body.

I agreed wholeheartedly with George's assessment, so I had a bit of both and left with a cup of hot Guatemalan. We also shared a pumpkin spice muffin, which was huge, homemade, healthfully concocted and the perfect blend of pumpkin and spice.



The takeaway

Overall, it was worth the hustle that it took to get there. In addition to the friendly neighborhood vibe and the accommodating barista, Moon Doggie gave us a warm spot to chill and enjoy a good cup of coffee, if only for a few precious minutes.

Next time you're in Maywood, check out Moon Doggie!