Natural Energy

Energy is important.

It's how our bodies function. There is an entire industry of products and techniques designed to help people obtain more energy. Apparently, a lot of us are either struggling with low energy or feel as though we want more energy to get through our day.

In biochem speak our body's energy source is ATP. Harken back to your biology class days and see if you can remember hearing the term 'cellular respiration.' Cellular respiration is the process (or rather series of processes) that allows our bodies to produce ATP. I'm not going to throw a bunch of charts your way, there are plenty of text books that can do that, but I am going to briefly explain the difference between helping your body create more energy and tricking your body into believing it's not tired.

Basically, I'm going to talk about the difference between Caffeine and B-Vitamins. 

Coffee versus Vitamins

I like coffee a lot and I consume it regularly. I've even chatted up its benefits multiple times before, such as here and here.

I absolutely believe that coffee can be a part of a healthy diet. Not surprisingly, though, that statement comes with several caveats and the need to understand exactly what coffee (or any other source of caffeine) is doing to your body.

So, let's back up and quickly revisit the science stuff.

The main piece of information that I want to impart to you is this:

Caffeine does not actually provide your body with energy. It prevents your brain from receiving signals that it is tired.

In our brains, caffeine passes into the central nervous system and actually blocks the uptake of adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical messenger (known as a neurotransmitter). Primarily, Adenosine sends the message that we are tired or sleepy. By preventing this transmission, our brains are tricked into thinking that we are not tired. Which means that we are not actually helping our body make more ATP, we are simply "turning off" (if you will) our sensation of drowsiness. That's not to say that caffeine doesn't do other good things. It also affects our dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrin, and acetylcholine all of which are also important neurotransmitters, often associated with our mood. That is why caffeine has been shown to relieve depression and improve alertness and muscle activity, even in the well rested. Still, this should make it clear that caffeine should not be used simply as a substitution for quality sleep. Caffeine can certainly be abused and you are not doing your body any favors by attempting to fool it into not feeling tired when you truly need rest. In moderation, however, caffeine can have real benefits. 

It is important to mention that not all caffeine sources are created equal. For example, caffeine pills can be extremely dangerous. High doses consumed quickly can cause heart palpitations or worse. Soda and energy drinks are absolute junk full of chemicals that are extremely unhealthy. Plus, some energy drinks have astronomical amounts of caffeine. Potentially dangerous levels. Coffee, tea, and raw cacao (along with other natural food sources) are certainly the best options. Be aware that different types of coffee and tea vary widely in their caffeine amount. For example, cold brewed coffee contains more caffeine than traditional brewing. Even different mega coffee chains swing wildly in their drip coffee's amount of caffeine. Also, if you're going the coffee route, try to buy organic and socially conscious brands. Coffee is one of those foods that can be harvested in really poor ways, from spraying tons of pesticides, destroying rainforest, paying terrible wages and processing with chemical flavorings. Brands that don't do these things will tell you.

Since it is not realistic to track all the milligrams of caffeine you are consuming each day (although having a rough idea by understanding how may cups of coffee you drink, for example, is a great idea), understanding it in the context of your body is a great approach. 

For me, this means making a conscious choice to not consume coffee every day. I switch it up with green tea on days that I am well rested. It means feeling in my body if I am consuming caffeine to feel good or consuming caffeine to not feel bad. Those are two different things. If we become addicted to caffeine and truly 'need' it everyday, it means we feel poorly without it (often regardless of our sleep).  I don't want to feel that way. If I consume a moderate amount of caffeine I want to then feel really great. I also try to keep an eye on times when I am using caffeine to get through a busy work week and recognize that I can consume more coffee for a few days, but then I need to make time for some quality self-care that includes adequate sleep. It's not always easy, but it is important for our overall wellbeing to not use caffeine as a permanent crutch. 

And that is the Caffeine Side of Things.

If caffeine doesn't actually help our bodies make more ATP, our cells main energy source, what does?

In the process of cellular respiration, there are 3 different cycles that happen: Glycolysis, Citric Acid Cycle (aka. Krebs Cycle, aka. TCA Cycle...I's silly) and the Electron Transfer Chain. You can nerd out on those cycles if you wish, but instead of delving deep into biology on this post, let's just say that at the end we get 36 ATP and within those cycles a number of co-factors play their part. Many of these co-factors are co-enzymes that are made from B-Vitamins. FAD and FADH are coenzymes that are made from B2, also called Riboflavin. NAD and NADH are coenzymes made from B3, also called Niacin. Those coenzymes are absolutely key to the whole process and you will see them pop up all over charts that explain cellular respiration. Other B vitamins play big roles too that contribute to the formation of ATP. B1 is essential to carbohydrate metabolism. B6 is necessary for amino acid (protein) and fatty acid (fat) metabolism. In addition to B vitamins, CoQ10 is another vitamin that is essential in cellular respiration. 

All of this is to say, that there is another approach for optimizing your energy that actually gets to the heart of the issue. In this case, the release of our bodies' energy source: ATP.

What do we do with this knowledge?

We consume food sources of the nutrients that play key roles in the release of ATP.

Food Sources 

Here's a few examples of food sources with high amounts of B vitamins. (CoQ10 is listed too). I put the name that you are most likely to see used on packages first, with the less common name in parenthesis. Some are generally referred to by their number, others their name.

B1 (Thiamin): Beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, seaweed, brewers yeast, egg yolk, bran wheat, fish, meat, asparagus

B2 (Riboflavin): Dairy, eggs, meat, legumes, leafy greens, mushrooms, almonds

Niacin (B3): Fish, meats, grains, seeds, legumes, mushrooms

B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Organ meats, dark meat turkey and chicken, brewers yeast , nuts and seeds, corn, avocado, sweet potato 

B6 (Pyridoxine): Meats, whole grains, legumes, nuts, avocado, blackstrap molasses 

Biotin (B7): Liver, eggs, soybeans, brewers yeast, fish

Folate (B9): Beans and legumes, liver, beets, cauliflower, green vegetables

B12 (Cobalamin): Liver, meats , seafood, dairy, eggs, seaweed

CoQ10 (Ubiquinone): Meat, poultry, fish, soy beans, nuts, fruit, vegetables, eggs and dairy products.

The take away should certainly be that eating a varied whole-foods diet is best.

Meats, fish, eggs, dairy, beans and legumes, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, other vegetables and even some fruits are all important sources of B vitamins. 

Another option is supplementing with a B-Complex vitamin. I especially recommend this for clients who are attempting to eliminate caffeine from their diets. It will really help with the transition period. A B-Complex is usually a better alternative to supplementing just one B vitamin as all of these vitamins work in tandem. And as always, make sure to buy quality supplements. Vitamins are not well regulated so many cheap varieties at convenience stores have been found to not actually contain the vitamins they claim, and even if they do, they often use less bioavailable forms of vitamins and lots of additives that are actually detrimental to our bodies. Go for professional grade lines and vitamins made from whole foods. For help with supplementation see a nutritionist. To work with me, check out my Work With Me page.



Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

The Bitter Truth

In my previous post I discussed the wine, chocolate, coffee debate as it is commonly discussed in popular literature. (Mainly, antioxidants and polyphenols.) I realized that what I didn't do was discuss one of the other ways to approach some of these foods. Wine doesn't really fit this topic, but chocolate and coffee certainly do.

So let's revisit.

coffee from urth cafe

I, like many Americans, love coffee.  I don't simply mean I like the caffeine, I mean I LOVE the taste of coffee.  So much so, that I drink my coffee black.  Of course, when I'm at a cafe, I also love a good latte (such as the one pictured above from Urth Caffe in Los Angeles before I lapped that baby up).  

It's interesting that Americans love coffee so much because, as it turns out, coffee is really the only bitter taste in most American diets.  

The Five Tastes are Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter and Umami.  (Umami means savory.)  The most lacking taste in most American diets is Bitter. With the exception of coffee, most Americans don't consume any bitter foods.  Why is this bad?  Because bitter foods do many wonderful things.

Here are some of the great things that Bitters do:

  • Stimulate digestion + Aid in digestion
  • Balance/regulate blood sugar
  • Have a "cooling" and "drying" effect  (Herbalists out there will understand that one)
  • Tonic for infections

While I am a proponent of herbal medicine and absolutely believe in the bottom two, most Americans are probably more interested in the top two. The number of people in America (and increasingly all around the world) with digestive issues and blood sugar problems is huge. Put simply, bitters get our digestive juices flowing and help to break down food. They also modulate blood sugar spikes- both up and down.  

What many people don't realize is that after eating a sugar-heavy meal, your pancreas will work really hard to send lots of insulin into the blood stream in order to get that sugar into your cells. Since there is so much insulin floating around concerned with getting the sugar out of the blood and into your cells, it will actually overshoot and pull too much sugar out of your blood causing reactive hypoglycemia. Your blood sugar will actually fall too low and you will have a sugar craving. Which, of course, is actually the last thing that your body really needs. That cycle can keep repeating itself and if you indulge sugar craving after sugar craving you are heading down a path towards Type II Diabetes. Overtime, your body will not be able to keep up and that is when you get insulin resistance and become hyperglycemic, and a diabetic. Not what you want.

What is something that can help?  Well first: try not to eat a load of simple sugars, but if you do...Bitters!

The taste of bitter will squash a sugar craving immediately.

Suddenly the concept of dessert coffee makes sense, huh?  It actually aids in your digestion and can overcome blood sugar disruption.  Of course there are a lot of other bitter tasting foods out there besides coffee.

True chocolate is actually bitter.  Vermouth is a classic bitter.  (See how much fun this is?!  We are talking about coffee, chocolate and alcohol again!)

Of course, one of the best bitter foods to add to your diet are bitter greens. Most greens are bitter and most American diets are thoroughly lacking in greens. There are also many herbs that have a bitter taste such as dandelion, wormwood and goldenseal. Incorporating bitters into your diet can help stop blood sugar swings and help your body properly digest your food. It's a pretty good deal. And just to be clear, you don't want to only treat bitters as a post sugar-indulgence tonic. Try incorporating them into your everyday meals and habits; your body will thank you for it.  Plus, if you'd like to see an herbalist, I'm sure he/she knows many types of various bitters to treat certain ailments.


Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Wine, Chocolate and Coffee

I'll be the first person to stand up and say that I love wine, chocolate and coffee. As Maria would say, these are a few of my favorite things.

These also happen to be a few of pop culture's favorite foods/beverages to discuss. 

Why? Because most of us love them. Unfortunately, they were categorized as vices for a while. Now, new studies seem to pop up every week that debate this old mentality and promote the health benefits of these popular foods.

Here's the real deal with wine, chocolate and coffee:

Wine, chocolate and coffee


Wine has been hailed as a great source of resveratrol, a known antioxidant. The idea is that resveratrol, as an antioxidant, is heart healthy. Resveratrol may increase HDL (the "good" cholesterol) and reduce artery damage. The thought is that red wine is the most beneficial form since it contains the most resveratrol. Unfortunately, all of these studies that concluded that resveratrol is beneficial have been done on mice, not humans. While mice studies are a good stepping stone, they in and of themselves, do not prove results in humans. Even more unfortunate are some new human studies suggesting that red wine consumption may have no effect on heart health.

Now, to be fair, it is incredibly hard to do controlled human studies. Therefore, proving causality when all of your subjects have varied genetics and are living different lifestyles is difficult as best. Yet, the fact remains that there is no proof that consuming alcohol of any sort, if you are not already consuming alcohol, is beneficial. Alcohol consumption in large amounts is still known to be bad for our health. Brain and liver damage being the common ones.

For those of us who already consume alcohol in moderation, however, I would suggest selecting wine (preferably red wine) as your drink of choice. It stands as the lesser of the evils, if you will. Red wine may offer some health-positive aspects that counter the health-negative aspects of alcohol.  Either way, moderation is still key. Drinking large amounts of wine (more than 2 glasses a day) is not a healthy habit. And in the same vein as my superfood post, do not suddenly start drinking wine if you weren't already drinking alcohol because you think it is a health drink. Drink wine only if you want to drink an alcoholic drink.

Personally, I think that drinking wine in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet. It is a part of mine. There are a lot of studies out there that say that wine drinkers have lower cases of various diseases than non-drinkers. Also, many of the Blue Zones (areas where people reach 100 at 10x the normal rate) are avid wine drinkers. But again, these studies may not be looking at the right component- perhaps many wine drinkers have some other common habit that is responsible for these results rather than the wine itself. Hard to say without a truly controlled group. 

Overall, if you like wine: drink it moderately and don't stress about it. Stress is probably the most important thing anyway. If a glass or two of wine is enjoyable for you, it probably is beneficial for you. If you don't drink alcohol, stick to water. 


Ah, chocolate. So delicious. So bitter.

I say bitter because real chocolate, aka. cacao, is bitter tasting. When people tote the health benefits of chocolate, they are referring to cacao, not some sugar-laden milk "chocolate" concoction. These health benefits include containing antioxidants and polyphenols. But again, in order to contain these anti-inflammatory properties, you must actually be dealing with real chocolate.

Think dark chocolate, or even more accurately: raw cacao. Some dark chocolates do contain a high percentage of cacao and a low amount of sugar. Others, however, claim to be dark chocolate, but are basically slightly more bitter versions of milk chocolate. 

Look for AT LEAST 55% cacao. Ideally, even more than that if you want any sort of healthy aspect. Raw cacao is the best. This powder (or nibs) is the real deal. Raw cacao is also a good sources of magnesium. Personally, I think it is delicious and regularly add it to such things as smoothies, chia seed bowls and raw desserts. It is not the same as chocolate powder, which is usually full of sugar and additives. But, raw cacao is still not a magic elixir. It is also a stimulant. Therefore, I don't consume it late in the day. Also, be mindful of consuming additional caffeine with raw cacao or even very dark chocolate. You may get an extra kick you weren't anticipating. If you are avoiding caffeine for a health reason, raw cacao and dark chocolate are not for you.

Raw cacao can be an acquired taste. If, however, you ditch the processed sugars from your diet, you will probably find raw cacao to be awesome.

So yes, again much like my superfood post, if you are into chocolate eat (very) dark chocolate. I think it is a great choice. But don't start consuming entire bars of chocolate a day as a health food. Unless you are buying 85% or higher dark chocolate bars, there will still be a fair amount of sugar, so dark chocolate should still be treated like a dessert. Raw cacao powder/nibs can be treated more like a healthy supplement, but bear in mind that it still contains calories. While I am NOT about calorie counting, it still behooves us to recognize that if we add a whole bunch of special ingredients to a smoothie for example, that smoothie could end up being the size of multiple meals. Just be mindful of portion sizes. It's very common for us to want to add lots of powders and seeds and whatnot, thinking only about the vitamin content and ignoring the fact that we just made a smoothie for two people.


This may be the one that gets the most headlines. After all, in America, coffee is certainly the most common breakfast beverage of choice. Heck, many people drink coffee throughout the entire day. Because it is such a staple in our daily routines, the idea that coffee could go from vice to healthy habit gets a lot of attention.

Here's the thing about coffee:

First of all, a frappuccino or caramel macchiato etc. is NOT coffee. Those are slightly coffee flavored desserts that contain some caffeine. They are flat out unhealthy. I'm not saying that you can never enjoy a Delicious Mildly Coffee-Flavored Sugar-Milkshake Thingy (I should probably trade mark that term), but you should never consume it and think, "I just had a cup of coffee."

No, no you didn't. You had a large sugary dessert. 

If you recognize this and consume your DMCFSMT as a rare treat and adjust your food choices accordingly, then you will be fine. But if you drink a DMCFSMT daily you are getting a crap ton of sugar and additives that could lead to health problems down the road.

So we need to deal with real coffee. Ideally, black or just with some cream or milk (or coconut oil). A tiny bit of sugar is okay, but be mindful. And for goodness sake: use a real sugar if you need to sweeten it, not artificial sweeteners. 

Secondly, coffee contains caffeine. Even decaf contains a little bit of caffeine.

Is caffeine an evil? No, but you can certainly overdo it and some people really should not be consuming any caffeine. If your adrenals are burnt out from chronic stress, lack of sleep, overwork etc. caffeine is not your friend. Your body needs to heal and regulate itself and continual stimulation by caffeine can cause hormone imbalances. Of course, the overworked, overtired crowd is usually the one that drinks obscene amounts of caffeine throughout the day, so you can see how that is bad news. 

So the first thing is to recognize if coffee is right for YOU. Not for everyone, for YOU. Remember, there is not one magic, "right" diet for everyone. 

If you feel as though you can handle some caffeine in your life, then drinking moderate amounts of coffee could be a part of a healthy diet. Coffee can increase metabolism, does contain a number of nutrients, and may offer some protection against Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, although the causal relationship has not been proven.

The biggest deal is to be mindful of how you take your coffee. Both in preparation in the home and before it even gets to the shelf.

There is a big difference in quality of coffee beans sold in stores. Often many beans are rancid or use massive amounts of pesticides. Try to buy organic, pesticide-free coffee. Buy good smelling coffee beans that don't have additives. Additive flavorings can cover up the smell of rancidity. 

Yes, organic, high-quality coffee costs more. But if coffee is a daily habit for you, it has a pretty big impact on your life. It's worth investing a few extra dollars into a bag to get coffee that actually contains the flavonoid antioxidants coffee should have while not containing the chemical residues it shouldn't. Also, if you make your coffee at home, it is significantly cheaper than buying it out; plus when you make it at home you have control of the quality and preparation. (There's also a whole topic here on labor treatment and fair-wage for coffee growers that's too big to go into right now since this is just about nutritional value, but for the record: coffee is an excellent food to purchase Fair Trade.)

In summation, I think that for many people coffee can be a part of their healthy diet. I think it should be consumed only in moderation since coffee is still quite acidic and constant stimulation is not good for our bodily systems. We also need to be extremely mindful of when we are drinking coffee and whether or not caffeine is good for us at all. We all metabolize caffeine differently; for some it can stay in our system for over 10 hours. Perhaps your 2:00pm coffee is affecting your sleep. Just something to consider. And if you are a stress-case, caffeine is not good for you right now. At least back down to green tea. Your body will recover in time.

Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.