Dear Mark: Coffee Alternatives for Liver Health, Vitamin C, Gelatin vs Collagen, NAC, My Favorite Way to Cook Greens, and Potato Starch Breading

Inline_DM_04.10.17For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering several questions. First, if a person can’t have coffee but wants the benefits it provides to liver health, what else can they try? Next, what role does vitamin C play in glutathione production? Then, I explore how gelatin and collagen differ from each other, followed by a quick description of NAC. After that, I give my current favorite method for cooking greens, and end with a discussion of how breading meat with potato starch changes the meal.

Let’s go:

What is it about coffee, exactly, and can you get the same effect from other foods? Coffee is out for me because I am so highly sensitive to caffeine.

For one, coffee is the primary way we get our antioxidants and polyphenols. You’ve got the satin-pantsed, Tao Te Ching-quoting set eating half their weight in goji berries and the paleo set binging on 99% dark chocolate, but most Westerners get the majority of their polyphenols through coffee. That’s true for Japan, Spain, Poland, and many other countries.

Two, caffeine itself has hepatoprotective effects.

Anything with caffeine is out for you. So, tea won’t work either. You need to look for things with polyphenols known to improve liver health. Luckily, many exist.

Decaf may work. One study found that people who drank decaf had lower liver enzymes, though a more recent study found that caffeinated but not decaf was associated with lower rates of liver cancer. Both studies are observational and thus limited in impact. But decaf is generally quite good for the liver. At worse, it’s neutral.

Anything purple/blue/black will help. Those colors indicate high levels of polyphenols, and things like blueberries and purple potatoes, which are high in these colorful polyphenols, show clear hepatoprotective effects. When rats are given a toxin that normally produces liver damage, blueberry protects them. When healthy white adults with borderline hepatitis drink a purple sweet potato beverage every day for 8 weeks, their liver enzymes improve.

Chocolate is good, too. Go for the dark stuff with high cacao content. Studies—albeit mostly in vitro ones—suggest a protective effect. When liver cells are exposed to celecoxib (the active drug in Celebrex), which can cause liver cancer, adding cocoa extract protects them by preventing apoptosis and inducing autophagy. In existing cancer cells (lung, in this case), however, cocoa increases apoptosis and protects against progression.

That’s a good start. Tough to go wrong with any of those.

What about Vitamin C supplementation? I understand it is necessary to help your body generate glutathione.

Can’t believe I forgot about vitamin C. Thanks for reminding me.

Yes, vitamin C can boost glutathione production, particularly if you’re already deficient. For instance, one study took subjects with verified vitamin C deficiency, gave them extra vitamin C, and tracked the glutathione content of their white blood cells. It went up. This is really important, because white blood cell glutathione protects the cells from free radical damage as they go about their business protecting us from immune insults.

I only knew about muscle meat, I didn’t know about the eggs! Also, I’d like to know if gelatine works or if collagen would be better. Thanks!

They have the same effects once you ingest them. Gelatin needs to be dissolved in hot liquid (unless you like choking down powder that coats your throat), while collagen hydrolysate dissolves in cold liquid.

What is NAC

N-acetyl-cysteine. A fairly common supplementary source of cysteine that upregulates glutathione production.

I would like to see some new recipes for cooked greens.

This was a response to my request for ideas for the blog. More are coming, but here’s a quick one I really like:

  1. Get several fistfuls of red kale. This is the heartiest variety, in my opinion. You can treat it almost like collards. Chop it up into 1 inch strips.
  2. Sauté chopped garlic and shallots, and maybe some chile peppers, in the fat of your choice. I either use butter, avocado oil, or olive oil.
  3. When the garlic/shallots are soft and thinking about browning, toss in the kale. Sauté that until slightly wilted. Add salt and pepper.
  4. When the garlic/shallots begin to brown, drop in a big gob of extremely gelatinous bone broth. Personally, I find that most store bought bone broths don’t cut it. You either have to make it yourself, or find a premium bone broth dealer (for what it’s worth, this one is my favorite).
  5. Reduce the broth with the cover off. The key is timing it so the broth reduces into syrup just as the kale reaches optimal consistency.
  6. Finish with some fresh lemon juice.
  7. If you don’t want to mess with chopping garlic, shallots, and chiles, garlic powder and cayenne work well.

In my experience, even ornery toddlers and extreme supertasters will eat this stuff.

I’ve left another comment, but thought of this: I often cover meat in potato starch and fry them, making a sort of breading. Is that a bad, good, or neutral thing to do?

Frying potato starch will create acrylamide, a potential carcinogen. French fries and potato chips are some of the foods highest in acrylamide, which may partially explain why eating lots of them tends to correlate with poor health. You can reduce its formation, though. Certain spices and plants like clove extract and grape polyphenols inhibit acrylamide formation during the cooking of starches. Rosemary, too, can reduce it. I’d imagine other antioxidant-rich plants, herbs, and extracts would have similarly inhibitory effects. Next time you prepare your potato starch breading, include some ground rosemary. 

You’re going to absorb more of the cooking fat, which will increase the amount of energy you take in. Frying at lower heats absorbs more oil, so stick to higher heat for short bouts.

You’re also going to increase the carb content. Not by much, but by some. Next time you do this, measure how much potato starch you use and how much actually ends up on the meat. A tablespoon of potato starch has 10 grams of carbs, or 40 calories.

You won’t get any resistant starch (unless you lick the dredging plate). Applying any significant heat to potato starch destroys the resistant starch entirely.

Thanks for reading, folks. If you’ve got anything to add, do so down below. Take care!


TAGS:  coffee, dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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24 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Coffee Alternatives for Liver Health, Vitamin C, Gelatin vs Collagen, NAC, My Favorite Way to Cook Greens, and Potato Starch Breading”

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  1. Another greens recipe (so simple it’s almost not a recipe, but everybody seems to like it, including my 5-year-old). Tear chard leaves into pieces, leaving stems for another use. Wash, then put them – still wet – in dutch oven over medium heat. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until wilted. Remove lid and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Chill, then serve dressed with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper.

    1. I do the same but with green mangold (white silverbeet) or Turkish spinach which is the softest and silkiest available and I eat it hot or cold. You can sauté it with some olive oil, add some eggs and cover until the egg whites are set.

      Another favorite is red cabbage which I never see mentioned. I sauté some chopped garlic with olive oil in a wide pan, add the red cabbage (cut into strips) and cook until wilted while tossing occasionally. I then add a little balsamic vinegar, mix and serve. In the old days I used to serve it over a toast of artisanal Italian bread but that’s obviously of the menu.

  2. I was very sensitive to caffeine as well, but last summer I figured out that milk protein was causing me brain inflammation (and perhaps leaky gut was causing the digestion problems with the milk protein… haven’t figured that out for sure). This inflammation was in turn causing extreme caffeine sensitivity. Once I cut out milk protein, I was able to consume caffeine normally, and now I enjoy cold brewed coffee nearly everyday. This maybe something to consider experimenting with.

    1. I would second the idea of leaving milk out of the equation. However, I dislike the taste of black coffee and therefore never drink the stuff. I tried using heavy cream for a while. It was delicious that way but still upset my GI tract. Some people can’t handle the oils in coffee and can’t drink it in any form, including decaf. I’m probably one of them. The caffeine in tea doesn’t bother me, although I mostly stick with low-caffeine varieties of green tea.

  3. I do almost exactly that with greens (I love purple kale). For variation you can follow that recipe but add toasted pine nuts and some soaked raisins at the very end- the extra crunch + tiny bit of sweetness makes it amazing. Another variation is to add some anchovies when sautéing the garlic. Leftovers, should you have any, are good in scrambled eggs.

  4. You said >>Reduce the broth with the cover off. The key is timing it so the broth reduces into syrup just as the kale reaches optimal consistency.>>
    Can you give us an approximate idea how long – 5 minutes; 30 minutes; or what?

  5. So much good stuff here! I’m fine with coffee, but nothing wrong with adding some blueberries and dark chocolate for their polyphenol content! The greens recipe sounds amazing…I was doing something similar but without the broth. As far as gelatin and collagen, I’ve had great results with both but typically stick to the collagen for the way it dissolves so easily. Even in hot liquids I found the gelatin to be hard to dissolve. And then if your drink gets cold it turns into jello which is a little weird.

    1. I bloom gelatin in warm water and let it soak until there are no dry bits of gelatin left in the mix, then add it to the recipe.

    2. I bloom the gelatine in minimal fresh orange juice (1/2 orange) and eat it with a teaspoon…slides down easily. This is on a non-broth day.

  6. I’ve upped my coffee consumption for my liver health since Mark’s post the other day, but I see that Mark said ‘anything purple/blue/black’ so I’m thinking that Beet Kvass, as well as being beneficial to heart health, is also going to be beneficial to liver health? Also, it’s SO easy and cheap to make at home, would be good for those that have problems with caffeine? (as well as everybody else)

    1. Yes, I love Beet Kvass….and so simple to make…
      Slice 2 medium organic beets thinly or chop into 1inch cubes. Place in a clean quart mason jar with 2tsp sea salt and 1/4 cup of whey (I strain my hi-fat yogurt and use that) top up the jar with room temperature filtered water and set on kitchen counter in a warmish spot for 2 to 3 days…then keep in fridge and enjoy. Sometimes I will have a small wine glass of kvass with dinner.( I get leg cramps from wine!) I use the leftover beets in salads or soups.

      1. I just go with the salt – I don’t add the whey. I sometimes add garlic, turmeric or ginger, or all 3. I often drink it 1 part kvass with 1 part fizzy mineral water. Yum!

  7. I love the concept of greens with beef broth. I often prepare seared cap steak over a bed of arugula. The heat and juices from the steak wilt and season the greens. One other trick with hearty greens as a side dish is to wilt them in a sauce pan with a little cream then fold in some goat cheese with kale, feta with spinach, Gorgonzola with Arugula. Etc. A little cheese flavoring goes a long way and I never seem to make enough. There are never leftovers.

  8. Fave way to prepare greens (and generally kid-approved, depending on which green – my kids detest different ones LOL):

    Mince 8 ounces or so of bacon, fry till fat is rendered and bacon is desired crispness, add greens of your choice shredded or sliced into ribbons and desired seasonings (we like Todd’s Dirt or Penzey’s Bavarian). This works especially well in the InstantPot, where you can start on Saute and then add the greens and then switch either to Slow Cook or Steam (less time than you think, and release the pressure manually) with a little more liquid of your choice; I find steaming w/broth (or some leftover brine from a corned beef roast!) makes for super-succulent cabbage.

    As a previous poster suggested, toasted pine nuts & raisins (we sometimes use currants) are yummy too: I start w/the fat and add raisins, garlic, and pine nuts and cook till garlic is starting to brown and raisins are plumping, then add greens (this works well w/spinach) and some broth.

  9. “Healthy white adults with borderline hepatitis…” hmmm, not exactly what I would label as healthy, but then again, I’m no scientist. Haha

  10. Good stuff here, as usual! Personally, I prefer collagen over gelatin. But for some quirky reason, I add it to my hot liquid such as bone broth and coffee.

    I love coffee in copious amounts but have traded some of my daily cups of coffee for green tea.

    Dark chocolate and blueberries are always favorites too!

  11. Most people that are sensitive to caffeine are also very sensitive ( or more so) to chocolat since its active ingredient acts in a similiar manner to caffeine.
    Two small squares of dark chocolat before 9.00 am and I have difficulty sleeping that night. The effects seem to 24 hours.

    1. Chocolate also has regular old caffeine! An 85% dark bar has 40+ mg in a 3.5oz bar, almost half a cup of coffee. Definitely right out for anyone with caffeine sensitivity.

  12. I use crushed pastured pork rinds as a breading for my chicken and fry it up in pastured pork lard. It’s nothing short of amazing. Beyond juicy and beyond flavorful.

  13. I make “breaded” chicken with equal parts almond meal and shredded unsweetened coconut, a little sea salt. Dip the chicken pieces in egg, dredge in the almond topping, and pan fry in a bit of coconut oil.

  14. Hi Mark, I liked your post. Thanks for letting us know about an alternative of coffee. Your best part is that you always answer the questioned asked by the readers. Adding above mentioned snacks are interesting. I’ll definitely try and also recommend others.

  15. Thank you for the information. I love the flavor of tea and coffee, but until now I felt somewhat guilty when I drank it. I thought the caffeine in it was so damaging that even though there were health benefits it provided there was no point in drinking it. Well, I appreciate it more now. I’ll continue to drink it in moderation. I like herbal teas too.