How to Make Fruit Yogurt at Home

I made a batch of homemade fruit yogurt tonight. It's pretty easy and it's low calorie and healthy.

Get a container of unsweetened plain yogurt (Greek style if you want more protein), a bag of organic frozen blueberries, and a packet or two of Stevia sweetener.

Put some frozen blueberries in a microwave safe bowl, just enough to cover the bottom (fruit on the bottom). Microwave the blueberries about a minute, until warm, and then remove from the microwave (obviously).

Add the Stevia sweetener and enough plain yogurt to fill the bowl about 3/4 full. Stir it all up with a spoon and voila!

It tastes just as good if not better than store bought fruit yogurt with much less added sugar. It's also cheaper, especially if you buy yogurt and frozen berries (any frozen fruit will work) in bulk.

Try it and leave a comment here about your results.


How is Imitation Crab Meat Made?

The salad bar at work was out of hard boiled eggs, my usual protein source for lunch. Instead, I added some of the less desirable grilled turkey strips and some imitation crab, wondering just what exactly comprises the latter.

I discussed this with my GF Deborah a bit as we ate in the work cafeteria.

“I am pretty sure I looked this up once before,” I say, examining a chunk of the textured something at the end of my fork. “I think it’s basically whitefish that they process and then add food coloring to make the fake skin.”

I decide the making of this “seafood” substitute is worthy of a little research, since it is always good to know what one is putting into one’s body.

My description is not too far from the truth. Imitation crab is made by processing ground up white fish flesh into crab meat shaped and colored bits, with particular emphasis on making it resemble the leg meat of snow crab or Japanese spider crab.

Also known as crab sticks, or kanikama in Japanese, imitation crab has its origins in Japan and usually does not contain any crab, except perhaps as a flavoring agent. Due to the lack of actual crab meat, some places forbid use of the moniker “crab sticks” due to labeling laws. So alternate names often used are Krab Sticks (the one letter substitute apparently meets compliance specs), Ocean Sticks, or Sea Legs.

The most common white fish used to make imitation crab is Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) from the North Pacific. The ground up flesh is mixed with fillers, including wheat, egg whites, and other binding agents to give it its rubbery texture. Crab flavoring (either artificial or derived from actual crabs) is added and after processing into the proper shape, red food coloring is applied to the surface to make it resemble actual crab meat.

That’s pretty much it. It does not sound too horrible. After all, it is still mostly actual seafood. Some forms might even be OK for people with allergies to shellfish, though that is total speculation on my part. Conversely, people with allergies to eggs, wheat, and/or red food dye might want to avoid imitation crab.



Green Coffee Bean Extract and Chlorogenic Acid (CGA)

As I was perusing my girlfriend's gloriously well stocked vitamin supplement drawer for something good, I came across a bottle of Green Coffee Bean Extract (Life Extension brand).

"What does this do?" I asked her.

"It's supposed to boost your metabolism," she replied. "I haven't used it in a while."

"Does it have caffeine?" I asked, thinking perhaps that was the energy boosting constituent.

"No, I don't think so," she replied. That was enough compulsion for me to begin researching green coffee bean extract (GCBE) for this blog.

I am always on the lookout for non-stimulant based energy boosting supplements, since my life demands a lot of energy for writing and music, as well as surviving the day job that underwrites my writing and music. My supplement of choice for unlimited energy supply with no side effects is the herbal supplement Rhodiola rosea, a non-stimulant adaptogen, but I'm open minded.

Here's what I uncovered...

Green coffee beans are a rich source of chlorogenic acid (CGA), an antioxidant believed to have beneficial metabolic effects in humans, particularly with regard to improving sugar handling and lowering blood pressure (SOURCE). CGA appears to be readily bioavailable in humans (SOURCE) and it is most popularly used as a weight loss supplement (SOURCE). CGA may slow absorption of sugar from the digestive tract into the blood, lowering blood sugar and subsequent insulin spikes (SOURCE). If you are a proponent of the Paleo Diet, this might correlate with weight loss. However, the evidence is not super strong for a weight loss effect from GCBE. Nor is it likely an energy booster.

In a small but well controlled study of 30 overweight people, CGA fortified instant coffee incorporated into the diet over 12 weeks caused significant weight loss in CGA consuming individuals, as compared with subjects consuming un-enriched instant coffee (SOURCE). In another arm of the same study, CGA slightly reduced glucose absorption in 12 healthy volunteers (SOURCE).

Green coffee bean extract might be a valuable addition to a low carbohydrate diet. In rodent (but not human) studies, CGA was shown to lower body weight (SOURCE) and reduce fat absorbed from the diet and stored in the liver (SOURCE).

A 2011 review of clinical trials on GCBE reported that their may be a small weight loss effect, but that the studies were often flawed (SOURCE).

When coffee beans are roasted, chlorogenic acid in the beans is decreased, which is why green coffee beans are used to make CGA rich supplements, rather than roasted coffee beans. I suppose if roasted coffee beans were a good source, coffee drinkers would go insane with glee.

Green coffee beans do contain caffeine, but some commercially available green coffee bean extracts advertise as being derived from decaffeinated green coffee beans, which contain far less caffeine than regular coffee beans (but still some). A popular internationally recognized brand of GCBE is called Svetol, originally from France, and it comes from decaffeinated green coffee beans (SOURCE).

As I often tell my readers, the supplement industry is poorly regulated, so it is impossible to know how much caffeine a GCBE product has, regardless of labeling. But assuming a quality manufacturer like Life Extension has compliant labeling, whatever energy boosting effects this supplement has (probably none) are probably not derived from caffeine, although related alkaloids cannot be ruled out.

Green coffee bean extract appears to be safe (SOURCE). Conversely, direct CGA consumption by humans appears to increase homocysteine levels, a marker of cardiovascular disease, in the blood. However, there is no strong evidence that the elevated homocysteine levels due to CGA increase cardiovascular risk (SOURCE). Obviously, if you are sensitive or allergic to coffee, use your head and avoid taking a GCBE supplement.

With those caveats, I will once again quote my mom on her view of generally recognized as safe nutritional supplements: "Can't hurt, might help."

A good green coffee bean extract should list either green coffee extract or Svetol® on the label and contain at least 45% chlorogenic acid (SOURCE).

Lastly, don't believe anything about GCBE's weight loss effects that come from Dr. Oz. His study has been debunked. It was flawed and the evidence was super weak (SOURCE).


1. What’s the Deal with Green Coffee Bean Extract?
2. Dr. Oz Tries To Do Science: The Green Coffee Bean Experiment
3. Does Green Coffee Bean Extract Work? A Detailed Review


Life Extension Rhodiola

I have always been a big fan of the adaptogen Rhodiola rosea as an herbal supplement. I haven't found a good source of it since I left the vitamin company, the only US distributor of the MediHerb Rhodiola/Ginseng product, which worked gangbusters, but is only sold to health practitioners, not retail.

My girlfriend subscribes to Life Extension nutritional supplements and recently hooked me up with a small bottle of their Rhodiola (without Ginseng) product to try.

Wow. It's phenomenal. I took one this morning with breakfast and my mind has been laser focused all morning and I have tons of energy (but no jitters). Placebo effect? It cannot be ruled out. I am just a case study (N=1), so there is no scientific credence to its effectiveness. But placebo effect or not, I am full of mental energy. Even the Chinese food lunch I had with my work team has not resulted in the usual afternoon food coma.

It's no wonder the bottle has a black label warning that the LE Rhodiola should not be taken by manics or manic depressives.

Rhodiola is not a stimulant in the traditional sense. It is an adaptogen, something that gives you extra focus and resistance to stress. In the old days, it might have been called a "constitutional." Life Extension's marketing says it boosts metabolic ATP production in cellular mitochondria.

Could be...nutritional supplements are notoriously unregulated and while I don't know how well Life Extension does under analytical testing, it's probable some Rhodiola supplements are spiked with additives that act as stimulants. I need to look into that.

Anyway, I am pleased with the Life Extension Rhodiola supplement thus far.


Neither Sitting Nor Standing

I jerry-rigged a standing workstation at work a few months ago. I put the twin flat screen monitors and keyboard on a shelf that was the right height to look directly at the screens and type on the keyboard fairly ergonomically. I read somewhere that a standing workstation is better for health and comfort than sitting at a desk. I don’t find the standing workstation to be perfectly comfortable, but it is definitely better than sitting. My lower back gets a little stiff if I stand in one place too long, but when I sit in one place too long, I have even more issues, with leg discomfort and hunching my shoulders.

I want to say the average person burns 65 more calories a day at a standing workstation. If I had my druthers, I would have a walking or biking workstation, where I could actually move and burn more calories while on the job. This would probably help with the lower back stiffness. When I go to the gym and use the treadmill or exercise bike, I often watch Coursera video lectures on topics I am interested in or read Kindle books. I would have no problem exercising while working. I would just worry about getting the keyboard sweaty.

In truth, I don’t like sitting or standing at work. I want to be moving. Maybe I need to consider a career in fitness training or lifestyle coaching. My life is very good, so I think I have the cred to offer lifestyle advice. But it’s really pretty simple and I don't think it is that hard to do. The basics are as follows (I may have missed a couple things):

1. Avoid debt. Debt is slavery and ruins lives.

2. Eat a healthy, whole food diet. The Mediterranean or Paleolithic diets are good options. Avoid processed foods, dairy, refined grains and empty carbs. Don’t worry about meat and fat too much, just make sure it is healthy (organic or game meats, good fats like olive oil).

3. Exercise. I prefer passive exercise, like walking to the grocery store, riding my bike to work, lifting heavy music equipment when I play shows with my band. But if passive exercise isn’t an option for you, do active exercise (go to the gym or walk on a treadmill, etc.) as early in the day as you can. You get busy later in the day, so if you wait to exercise, the time tends to get away from you or you get too tired out to exercise. Morning workouts also energize you for a good part of the day and make your brain work better and stay alert. Science proved this some time ago.

4. Get good sleep and rest often.

5. Avoid negative people. This one isn’t always obvious, but negative or overly dramatic people will suck the life force right out of you.

6. Don’t smoke, take drugs, or drink too much alcohol. Obvious stuff. There is no high better than life, provided you follow these guidelines. Exercise can give you a natural endorphin high that makes everything feel better. Now, if you are a teenager, you aren't going to listen to any adults. I know this. So experiment. But then realize these things are considered really dumb by everyone except losers and Millenials, and move on.

7. Avoid stress. This often goes hand in hand with many of the above. Your mind and body are like a vessel and this vessel can only hold a finite amount of stress (such as financial stress due to debt or personal stress due to negative people or physical stress due to smoking and poor diet and lack of exercise) before it spills over and causes health problems. Diet and exercise increase the volume of this vessel allowing you to handle stress better. Good sleep helps empty the vessel before it gets too full. Science has proven that stress is really the leading killer of people, because it causes the body to release stress hormones that damage bodily functions. Because stress is caused by all of the above, all of the above are killers.


Natural Sleep Aids - Insomnia Cures

One of the best natural sleep aids I have found to date is the Sleep formula from Now Foods.

I used to work at a job that was really stressful before I quit it for the benefit of my health and well-being. But while I was working there, I would have bad episodes of insomnia, waking up in the night with anxiety and my mind racing at full speed, such that I could not fall back to sleep. It was an exhausting three months at that job.

One day, I bought some Sleep formula from Now Foods via the Vitamin Fun House and started taking some right before bed. It worked immediately, giving me much more restful sleep.

After I quit that horrible job and found a much less stressful one, I had less need for an herbal sleep aid. However, I sometimes still require it.

For example, I sometimes foolishly drink a cup of coffee in the evening and by bed time, my mind is still amped up too high to fall asleep.

Another example is that I am also a semi-professional musician and when I perform on stage, I get an adrenaline rush that is also hard to quell once the show is over and I need to go home and sleep.

When I am not amped up, but just need a bit of relaxation to help me fall asleep, one capsule (half the recommended dose) of Sleep does the trick. When I want to really sleep soundly and deeply, two capsules puts me into a virtual coma.

Now, it is possible this is all placebo effect. But the fact that two capsules knocks me out better than one suggests there is something to it. Remain skeptical of any online claims about insomnia cures, including this one. I have no vested interest in this product. It can't hurt and it might help, so give it a try if nothing else seems to be doing it for you and you don't want to switch to hard drugs just yet.

The nice thing about the product is that I feel rested after a sleep induced by Sleep. It's not a drug. The herbs it contains are soporifics, like hops and valerian, that make you drowsy (Note: Hops is actually related to marijuana).

Sleep by Now Foods is a quality herbal sleep aid I feel I can endorse as a veteran nutrition researcher who understands the problem of finding quality supplements in the unregulated supplement market.

I can only report what I observe and this seems to work for me. If you are looking for something to calm the mind and assist in sleeping better, give this a try.


Airborne Supplement As a Cold/Flu Preventive?

On New Year's Eve or shortly thereafter, I picked up my first mild cold or flu bug of the winter. It started as a dry cough, followed by nasal congestion and drainage, leading to a sore throat. I had some mild body aches, which made me think it was a flu virus.

I decided to throw my usual armory or over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu remedies at it, so I drove to the nearby HyVee and perused their pharmacy section for some good options.

One of the available remedies was Airborne, a supplement of vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts advertised to support the immune system, help defend against free radicals, and promote overall health. The FDA forbids supplement manufacturers from making any cure or prevention claims on supplements unless clinically proven, and indeed, as a cold and flu remedy, Airborne has no strong clinical science to support its efficacy, per se. In fact, the maker of Airborne lost a class action law suit on claims it was making about the cold fighting powers of its product.

But the new generic advertising message was still quite clear...it can't hurt and it might help.

Given that the stuff was fairly cheap, I thought, "what the heck?" and bought a 10 count vial of the dissolvable tablets (lemon flavor) for about $5 (their marketing worked on me!).

I followed the directions, dropping an effervescent tablet into a glass of warm water every 3-4 hours and used the drink to chase down my other OTC remedies: Benadryl or Claritin for nasal decongestion, Robitussin DM for cough suppression, ibuprofen for the mild aches and probable fever. I sucked on Ricola herbal lozenges for my scratchy throat and also used (sparingly) an oxymetazoline based nasal spray at night so I could breathe through my nose while sleeping.

This barrage of OTC remedies seemed to do the trick and after about three days, the cold had been knocked back substantially and I was on the mend. That was a fast recovery compared with most of the colds I get around this time of year. They usually last seven to 10 days, or longer. But I had received a flu shot a few months ago, and that may have limited the intensity of the infection, if it was in fact a flu bug.

I have no way of knowing if the Airborne supplement had any impact on my cold whatsoever, but I did glance at the ingredients list and it contained a lot of things I knew (from my eight years in R&D at a vitamin company) were anecdotally reported to fight colds and flu.

Most notable, of course, was the high vitamin C content (about 1667% of the recommended daily value per tablet). Growing up, my mom would always megadose my sister and me with vitamin C whenever we got sick, though I don't recall it ever doing much good. Airborne also contains decent amounts of vitamins A and E (can't hurt...might help).

Of the minerals in Airborne, zinc is the one most closely associated with fighting colds and there is some mild clinical evidence for its efficacy when taken preventively or in the early stages of a cold. Airborne also contains selenium, a trace element with mixed effects on immunity. Selenium tends to be deficient in the general population and is essential for the function of many antioxidant enzymes used by the immune system. So there is a logical (if not clinical) case to be made for including selenium in the formula of the Airborne supplement.

Airborne also contains Echinacea, an herb long associated with immune support. Though not conclusively proven to be clinically effective against colds, Echinacea does appear to influence the immune system and may act as an adaptogenic herb, strengthening the immune system when taken preventively.

It is unlikely that Airborne does much to cure colds and flu. However, taken preventively during the cold and flu season, it might bolster immune defenses against colds and flu, thus minimizing the intensity and/or duration of colds and flu.

It can't hurt and it might help...

MORE INFORMATION: http://www.forbes.com/2009/10/12/cold-flu-treatments-lifestyle-health-swine-flu-h1n1.html