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The Caffeine Conundrum

What is caffeine?

To many, it is synonymous with energy, alertness, the jolt you need to get moving and grooving.

But what is it really?

It’s a crystalline compound (C₈H₁₀N₄O₂) that stimulates the central nervous system of the consumer. Caffeine is quickly absorbed into the blood stream and broken down by the liver. The resulting compounds primarily effect brain function, through bypassing the effects of the neurotransmitter responsible for relaxation – adenosine. This phenomenon increases the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine, boosting blood adrenaline levels.

 

Bottom line: Caffeine stimulates the brain and results in a heightened nervous state of alertness and focus.

Primary sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, and cacao. Approximately 80% of the world’s population (90% of North American adults) consume at least one caffeinated beverage every day. Coffee is the boost-beverage of choice for the vast majority of North American consumers. With approximately 100mg of caffeine per cup, it can provide the surge of energy needed to seize the day.

 

The effects of caffeine have been analyzed by many – with results indicating positive nutritional and functional benefits. Caffeine elevates cognitive alertness, which has been shown to increase memory retention for up to 24 hours. Consumption prior to a workout can decrease inflammation and increase muscle torque. It has also been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels, leading to stable insulin sensitivity and a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The stimulating properties of caffeine can also fire up your metabolism, aiding in weight management. Antioxidants and polyphenols in coffee, tea, and cacao also provide nutritional benefits.

These results seem fabulous. Increased energy and a myriad of other benefits? We should all be chugging cup after cup of coffee. Right? Not necessarily. 

As with most things in life, the greatest benefits are realized through consumption in moderation. The recommended caffeine threshold for an adult is 300mg per day. The equivalent of two Tall brews from Starbucks. Sipping on a small cup of coffee at the start of your day could provide the benefits discussed above. However, the average American consumes over 3 cups throughout the day. So what happens when the scale tips toward the dark side of caffeine excess? 

The stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system caused by caffeine shifts the body into a fight-or-flight state of awareness. The smaller boost provided by a single cup of coffee can be beneficial in the morning when your hormones are primed for higher cortisol levels. However, continual stimulation can send the system into overdrive. Extended periods of heightened adrenaline cause physiological issues such as high blood pressure and heart rate as well as psychological downsides. Caffeine excess can increase the propensity to irritability, anxiety and panic. The problem does not lie with the chemical compound of caffeine itself, but rather continual consumption which repeatedly activates and overrides the nervous system without allowing for adequate recovery. The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is the subsystem which regulates hormones and manages stress. Over time, the heightened cortisol levels disrupt the normal patterns of other hormones, bypassing the HPA axis and ultimately causing dysfunction. The result is adrenal fatigue. The HPA axis can no longer properly manage the effects of caffeine, so it shuts down – draining energy instead of boosting it. 

So what can be done? How can the benefits of caffeine be achieved without the risk of excess? For many, the answer lies in tea. The polyphenols and antioxidant properties found in coffee are also present – sometimes to an even greater extent – in various forms of tea. The world of tea also offers a vast range of choices. Different flavors. Different benefits. Different caffeine levels. At 40mg per 8oz cup, black tea contains the highest level of caffeine. With only 20mg per cup, white tea offers the least. Herbal infusions such as chamomile are caffeine free. Mindfully choosing and brewing a cup of tea can give your nervous system a gentle boost without causing detrimental fatigue.

How to Make Almond Milk

Homemade almond milk.

It sounds so fancy. So bougie. And so complicated.

But guess what: It’s not.

Only a couple ingredients.

Less the five minutes of active work.Sounds pretty fabulous to me.

But still – Why make almond milk if you can just buy it from the store?
1. No artificial stabilizers.
2. Smaller batches for less waste.
3. More bang for your buck – get almond meal too.
4. Less expensive in the long run.
5. Sustainable option – no cartons get trashed.

Those are pretty solid reasons if ya ask me.

So let’s get to it.

The process starts with soaking raw almonds for at least 8 hours.

I typically do this overnight on Friday to make a fresh batch on Saturday mornings.

Use a jar at least double the volume of the almonds – they will swell as they absorb some water.

When the soak-time is up, drain and rinse the almonds.

Add them to your blender with fresh water, a pinch of salt, and maybe a splash of vanilla.

How much water?

About 4 to 5 cups per 1 cup of pre-soaked almonds.

You can always adjust this ratio for your batch size.

Example: If I soaked 1/2 cup of almonds, I would add 2 – 2 1/2 cups of water.

To make the milk, blend on high for 2 minutes, then strain through a nut milk bag.

A nut milk bag? Yep. I’s finer and more durable than a cheesecloth. I love mine from Ellie’s Best!

Squeeze all of the liquid out until you are left with this nut pulp.

But don’t throw it away.

Use it to make almond flour!

Spread onto a cookie sheet and dehydrate in a 200 degrees oven for about an hour. Then pulse in a blender to break up the chunks.

Now you have almond meal to use in recipes.

Happy nut milking!

Homemade Almond Milk

Cost-effective, delicious, and easier than you think!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 4-5 cups water
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla *optional

Instructions

  • Soak the almonds for 8 hours / overnight.
  • Drain and rinse the almonds.
  • Add to a blender with the fresh water, salt, and vanilla.
  • Blend on high for 2 minutes.
  • Pour through a nut milk bag over a large bowl. Squeeze all of the moisture out of the almond pulp.
  • Transfer the almond milk to a glass jar and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Notes

Save the pulp to make almond flour!
Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake at 200 degrees for about an hour. Then pulse in a food processor to break up the dried clumps.

Quick Guide to Flour Swaps

It’s no secret that gluten-free baking can be tricky.

All these random flours that aren’t actually flours?

Do you really need all of the exact types of flours the recipe calls for?

It’s confusing.

So here’s a quick guide to acceptable swaps that generally work.

*Note: Every recipe is different. Swap at your own taste bud risk.

Almond Flour

made from blanched almonds; lighter in color than almond meal

best to incorporate in portions (i.e. swap 1/2 flour for almond); some recipes can handle a 1:1 for wheat swap, but density will be effected

paleo / grain-free

Almond Meal

made from unpeeled / un-blanched almonds; more course than almond flour; could be subbed for almond flour with the understanding the texture will be different

tip: make your own by saving and dehydrating leftover almond pulp from homemade almond milk

paleo / grain-free

Amaranth

ancient grain from the same botanical family as wheat and rice; higher protein content

more dense than wheat, chickpea, and oat

not grain-free

Arrowroot

called flour and powder; made from plant roots

can be used in place of cornstarch as a thickener; works well in frying batter

paleo / grain-free

Brown Rice

avoid gritty texture by purchasing finely ground varieties

more dense than white rice flour; comparable to wheat and oat flours

not grain-free

Buckwheat

actually a fruit…!

more dense than wheat, chickpea, and oat; distinct brown color

not grain-free

Cassava

unprocessed cousin of tapioca starch, making it paleo

swap for starches in some recipes; potential to swap for rice and oat flours

paleo / grain-free

Chickpea

also called Garbanzo Flour; distinct flavor

fairly easily swapped for wheat, oat, and quinoa flours

not grain-free

Coconut

DOES NOT SWAP WELL

the most absorbent flour in existence; swap at your down risk

paleo / grain-free

Corn Flour

hearty and dense flour; be mindful of grind

potential to swap for wheat and oat if it suites the recipe

not grain-free

Corn Starch

starch from ground corn

primarily used as a thickening agent; can be swapped with arrowroot powder

not grain-free

Flaxmeal

ground flaxseeds; chock full of healthy omega-3 and fiber

swap in portions (i.e. 1/4 flour for flaxmeal) for most recipes; others may tolerate 1:1 swaps

paleo / grain-free

Oat

just ground oats; most wheat-like flavor

can swap for wheat, chickpea, and  flours

not grain-free

Potato Starch

different than potato flour; less dense

possibel to sub for arrowroot in certain recipes

paleo / grain-free

Quinoa

medium-density flour with a distinct flavor

swaps well for wheat, oat, and chickpea flours

not grain-free

Tapioca

also made from the cassava root, but bleached and processed

possible to sub for arrowroot and cassava

grain-free

White Rice

gritty texture – be sure to get finely ground; different than sweet rice flour

beneficial for fluffiness in baked goods; use in conjunction with oat, chickpea, or quinoa

not grain-free

Guide: Build a Grocery Budget

You clicked over to this site for a reason. And making it past the first couple sentences of this article means you’re somewhat motivated. So, what is your motivation?

Are you ready to adopt a more economically sustainable lifestyle? Do you want to reduce food expenses and stick to a budget? Looking to be more organized? Are you just a budget nerd who likes to read my finance rambles for fun? All of the above?

Great. You’re on the right track.

Now whenever budgeting seems tedious, remember your WHY and you’ll stick to your WHAT.

It’ll help you stick to your HOW MUCH.

I’m guessing most of you probably have some semblance of a budget to start out. Fabulous.

If you need a quick refresher, just remember the basics:

INCOME – (FIXED COSTS + VARIABLE COSTS) = SAVINGS

Using that simple equation, we’re going to flesh out your unique food budget. Let’s call this your foodie formula.

AVAILABLE INCOME

(FIXED COSTS: membership costs, subscriptions, etc.

+

VARIABLE COSTS: non-perishables / online, grocery, dining out, miscellaneous extras)

= SAVINGS

Here’s an example of what a fleshed-out foodie formula could look like:

I’ve created a blank Foodie Formula Template to help you lay out your expenses and determine a bottom line.

The first step is understanding your available income. This would most likely be your remaining income balance after “life costs” like rent, insurance, etc. are removed. Calculate this total and then spread into weekly allowances.

To determine a specific food budget, we need to start by outlining your food-related fixed costs.

What are your reoccurring expenses related to food? Is it a Thrive Market membership? A Misfits Market delivery? Maybe you like curated boxes of tea from Sips By to show up at your doorstep?

Write them down. Divide by 4 to amortize the costs across the weeks of the month.

Moving on to variable costs. As the name suggests, these are variable. They can (and will) change. In order to get the most accurate estimate, check out your historical expenses for the past month. Bucket them into the following categories:

  1. Non-Perishables / Online Purchases
  2. Grocery Store Visits
  3. Coffee / Beverages
  4. Dining Out
  5. Miscellaneous

Add the totals from the above categories and divide by 4. This will approximate your weekly variable budget.

You have an income allowance, measured fixed costs, and approximated variable expenses. Take a minute to fill out the foodie formula template.

What’s left in the bottom box?

  1. Negative Number: Whoops. You’re overspending. Revisit your subscriptions. Are they all absolutely necessary? What about that large latte budget. Does it really need that much buffer? Tweak and reconfigure until that negative balance disappears.
  2. Positive Number: Congrats! You have a sustainable, balanced foodie formula. You can now use these values as measurable check points when tracking your budget.

Wow. Don’t you feel organized? Energized by investing time into your financial health? I hope so.

Always feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, etc. Shoot me an email or message me over on Instagram!