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    Archive for the ‘coffee’ Category

    Thinking Organic? Think Beyond Fruits & Vegetables

    When it comes to organic food, the vast majority of attention is focused on fruits and vegetables.  The Environmental Working Group, for example, provides their handy “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” guides every year — the former details the fruits and vegetables one should aim to buy organic if/when possible (due to their high pesticide loads); the latter lists produce that contains minimal to low pesticide loads and is therefore less concerning.

    Considering the fact that the average conventional apple is sprayed with 36 pesticides — and grapes with up to 34 — it certainly makes sense to prioritize organic choices.  However, too often, other foods are left out of mainstream organic “conversations”; foods that people may consume more often — and in higher amounts — than fruits and vegetables.

    Continue Reading »


    Who Said It?: Reveal

    perricone_oprah_5-300x230“Coffee has organic acids that raise your blood sugar, raise insulin. Insulin puts a lock on body fat. When you switch over to green tea, you get your caffeine, you’re all set, but you will drop your insulin levels and body fat will fall very rapidly. [You will lose] 10 pounds in six weeks [if you replace coffee with green tea], I will guarantee it.”

    This quote comes from Dr. Nicholas Perricone, specifically from a 2004 appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show.

    As with other doctors who are a staple on the media mogul’s program, Dr. Perricone is a source of nutrition soundbites that are TV-friendly, albeit not entirely accurate.  Never mind, of course, that Dr. Perricone is a dermatologist who for many years was invited to sit on Oprah’s couch to dispense nutrition advice.

    Let’s examine Dr. Perricone’s statements piece by piece.

    “Coffee has organic acids that raise your blood sugar.”

    True, coffee raises blood sugar levels ever so slightly.  The same can be said about plenty of healthful foods — nuts, seeds, beans, fresh fruit, whole grains, and root vegetables.  This concept of “raising blood sugar”, by the way, is nothing more than the glycemic index.

    Additionally, if Dr. Perricone is so concerned about coffee’s glycemic index, why is he such a fan of wild blueberries, which raise blood sugar levels more?

    “When you switch over to green tea, you get your caffeine, you’re all set, but you will drop your insulin levels and body fat will fall very rapidly.”

    This, of course, assumes you are drinking coffee and green tea on their own, without any milk — dairy or otherwise — or sweetener.  Add dairy, almond, soy, oat, or any other milk to your tea and your blood sugar will rise to some degree.

    If you like your tea plain but accompany it with food (whether it’s oatmeal or a chocolate chip cookie), this talk of “dropping insulin levels” also becomes a moot point.

    The above statement also makes the erroneous assumption that weight loss is simply about dropping insulin levels, rather than lowering caloric intake.

    It is absolutely possible to lose weight while eating foods with high glycemic indeces, provided that calories are also being lowered.

    Allow me to clarify.  It is true that plenty of fiberless and overly processed foods — white flour, white sugar, refined grains — raise blood sugar levels significantly.

    However, fruits are far from low-glycemic.  In fact, ice cream has a lower glycemic index than watermelon.  If weight loss was your goal, would you consider a cup of watermelon or a cup of Ben & Jerry’s to be the wiser choice?  Not to mention — have you ever heard of anyone gaining weight as a result of drinking unsweetened black coffee?

    Remember, too, that a food’s glycemic index can be altered by a variety of factors.  A potato’s glycemic index, for instance, is different if you eat it with its skin and top it with olive oil than if you peel and mash it.

    “[You will lose] 10 pounds in six weeks [if you replace coffee with green tea], I will guarantee it.”

    If this were a money-back guarantee, Dr. Perricone would have to file for bankruptcy.

    The notion that all it takes to lose 10 pounds — in six weeks, no less! — is a switch from coffee to green tea is not only science fiction, it is also infuriatingly misleading.  Talk about setting people up for failure.

    Of course, this “promise” wasn’t met with an ounce of skepticism.  Oprah vouched that she would give this a try, and the audience responded with applause.  Because, as we all know, if “a doctor on TV” says something, then it MUST be true (even though sixty percent of doctors in the US don’t have a single nutrition course built into their medical school curriculum, and thirty-five percent can take one course as an elective).


    Who Said It?

    QuestionMark-300x2991Coffee has organic acids that raise your blood sugar, raise insulin. Insulin puts a lock on body fat. When you switch over to green tea, you get your caffeine, you’re all set, but you will drop your insulin levels and body fat will fall very rapidly. [You will lose] 10 pounds in six weeks [if you replace coffee with green tea], I will guarantee it.

    I will reveal the answer — and explain why this statement raises my blood pressure — on Wednesday.


    You Ask, I Answer: Coffee and Cholesterol

    espresso_vivaceYou recently blogged about the health benefits of coffee.  My sister, though, pointed out that coffee is bad for cholesterol, especially since it raises LDL cholesterol levels.

    Is that true?

    — Vanessa (Last name withheld)
    (City withheld), NV

    Yes and no.

    Filtered coffee is not a concern.

    Espresso-based drinks are slightly different since two particular compounds (cafestol and kahweol) are not filtered out.  These compounds — oils found on the surfaces of coffee beans — do indeed raise LDL cholesterol.

    This is only a concern for people already living with certain conditions (ie: hypercholesteremia) or who consume very high amounts of unfiltered coffee.

    Still, two shots of espresso a day are nowhere near as damaging for heart health as a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber, or a sedentary lifestyle that also includes smoking.

    Besides, an unsweetened cappuccino after dinner is a better choice than a filtered coffee spiked with six pumps of syrup and topped with mountains of whipped cream.

    I don’t see any reason to fear coffee.  If anything, all the research I have seen points to it contributing a good amount of health benefits (from lowering blood pressure to decreasing diabetes risk).


    You Ask, I Answer: How Much Coffee?

    cappuccinoYou recently tweeted that 16 to 24 ounces of coffee a day are linked to a lot of health benefits.

    Does that figure refer to drip coffee?

    If so, how many espresso shots is that amount of black coffee equal to?

    Also, is going above the 24 oz figure bad?

    — Travis (last name withheld)
    La Jolla, CA

    The vast amount of research on coffee concludes that 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine a day provide plenty of health benefits for adults — from lowered diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease risk to cardiovascular protection.

    If you’re more of a latte drinker, consider that your average espresso shot contains 100 milligrams of caffeine.

    This means, then, that a single Starbucks venti latte fully provides health-promoting levels.

    Does surpassing the 300 milligram mark pose health risks?  No.  In fact, large-scale studies (some almost two decades long) saw even higher percentages of decreased disease risk in subjects who drank 500 – 600 milligrams of coffee each day.

    However, many individuals find that much coffee difficult to tolerate (they may develop gastrointestinal symptoms, heightened anxiety, or sleep disturbances).  This is also a good time to point out that pregnant women are strongly encouraged to keep their daily caffeine intake below the 200 milligram mark.

    If you find that you are able to tolerate that much caffeine on a daily basis, though, there is no reason to worry or cut back.

    Keep in mind that a lot of these benefits assume you are having unsweetened — or very lightly sweetened — coffee.  If your lattes are a vehicle for 3 tablespoons of added sugar, you aren’t doing yourself many favors.  This is precisely why coffee is much preferred to energy drinks high in caffeine.  Some of those drinks provide as much sugar as a can of soda.

    Similarly, coffee-based desserts (i.e.: Frappuccinos) are certainly not the desired way to consume caffeine.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    dunkin-donuts-cup-400x300A large Dunkin’ Donuts mocha coffee (black coffee with mocha syrup) contains 11.5 teaspoons of added sugar.

    Context time!  If this is your morning coffee order, that means you are drinking:

    • An additional teaspoon and a half of sugar than you would from a 12-ounce can of soda
    • As much sugar as in nine Oreo cookies
    • As much sugar as 44 mini marshmallows
    • The equivalent of a large cup of coffee sweetened with eleven and a half packets of sugar

    Even a small mocha coffee contains two tablespoons of added sugar in the form of flavored syrup.

    What truly disturbs me is that these preposterous sugar levels are considered “normal”.


    Just ‘Cause It’s Made With Pumpkin Doesn’t Mean It’s Healthy

    pumpkins-main_FullAs autumn proceeds to pepper foliage with orange and red hues, drop temperatures, and add a unique crisp to the air, food chains roll out their traditional seasonal offerings.

    As you can see below, the Fall season brings plenty of nutritional frights!

    • Au Bon Pain pumpkin muffin: 530 calories
    • Au Bon Pain large pumpkin latte: 40 grams of added sugar (as much as a can of Coca-Cola; 160 additional calories)
    • Dairy Queen small pumpkin pie Blizzard: 570 calories, 12 grams saturated fat (60% of a day’s worth)
    • Dunkin’ Donuts pumpkin muffin: 630 calories (130 more than a large order of McDonald’s french fries)
    • Dunkin’ Donuts large pumpkin latte: 44 grams of added sugar (11 teaspoons, or 176 additional calories)
    • Starbucks pumpkin scone: 480 calories, 9 grams (almost half a day’s worth) of saturated fat, 38 grams of added sugar (9.5 teaspoons; 152 additional calories)
    • Panera Bread Company pumpkin-shaped shortbread cookie: 12 grams saturated fat (as much as a tablespoon and a half of butter)

    Enjoy responsibly.

    Any time you purchase a flavored coffee, make it a small, and skip — or ask for half — the whipped cream.

    Similarly, these gigantic baked goods are better off in the “no more than once a week” category.

    The key is to plan accordingly.  If sharing isn’t an option, then make that baked good your only sweet of the day, and be sure that your lunch and dinner that day mainly consist of a protein and plenty of vegetables (ie: grilled fish and sauteed broccoli, three-bean chili, seitan or chicken with a baked sweet potato, canned tuna or grilled chicken over a colorful salad, etc.)


    Numbers Game: Answer

    McCafe latte2Before a customer adds a single sugar crystal to it, a McDonald’s large non-fat vanilla latte contains 9.25 teaspoons of added sugar just from the vanilla syrup.

    For comparison’s sake, a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains ten teaspoons of added sugar.

    Keep in mind, too, that a standard sugar packet contains a teaspoon of the sweet stuff (meaning this latte already comes sweetened with 9.25 packets of sugar).

    In this particular case, the vanilla syrup tacks on an additional 148 calories to this coffee.

    Ordering a regular McDonald’s large latte and sweetening it with two whole packets of sugar saves you 116 calories!

    Remember — our palates are extremely susceptible to training.  On average, it takes anywhere from 21 to 25 days to get used to new flavors or reduced amounts of sugar and salt in one’s diet.

    I can tell you from personal experience that my tastebuds are saturated by foods I once perceived as “not very sweet.”

    Ten years ago, I was a Starbucks caramel frapuccino fiend.  If you’re keeping score at home, that’s caramel syrup + whipped cream + ribbons of caramel drizzle on top.

    I have since become much more aware of my sugar intake, to the point where my tastebuds no longer enjoy extreme sweetness.

    I was recently at a Starbucks where one of the baristas walked around with a tray full of sample-size caramel frapuccinos.  I decided to try one, for old time’s sake.  After one sip, I was done.  I could not believe how cloyingly sweet it was!

    While there is no reason to completely cut out added sugar from your diet overnight (or at all, really), everyone can benefit from reducing their intake.

    I recommend keeping track of the amount of added sugar in your diet (the naturally occurring sugars in a glass of milk or a handful of raisins is irrelevant) over the course of three days.

    If, on average, your intake is between 28 and 32 grams, you are in good shape (FYI — the average adult in the United States consumes 90 grams.)

    Otherwise, aim to get as close to that figure as possible.

    If your average intake is closer to 90 grams, make it a goal to lower that figure by ten grams each week until you get to your desired mark.

    For the record: in 2002 I kept track of my added sugar intake for three days (for a class project) and I averaged 104 grams a day!  So, believe me, I’ve been there.


    Numbers Game: Who Needs A Sugar Packet?

    mc-donalds-latte-230Before a customer adds a single sugar crystal to it, a McDonald’s large non-fat vanilla latte contains ______ teaspoons of added sugar just from the vanilla syrup.

    a) 6.5
    b) 8
    c) 9.25
    d) 11.5

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Saturday for the answer.


    You Ask, I Answer: Calories in Starbucks Iced Coffees

    shaken_coffee_lgAccording to the calorie information at Starbucks, a venti iced coffee has 130 calories.

    How can this be?  It’s just coffee and ice!

    Are they assuming people are adding a certain amount of milk and sugar?  That seems silly, though.

    — Theresa (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    According to Starbucks’ strict coffee-making guidelines, baristas are supposed to add simple syrup (AKA liquid sugar) to orders of plain/black iced coffee.  Yes, even if you don’t ask for it.

    In that case, a Venti would get 31 grams/7.5 teaspoons/124 calories’ worth of sugar.

    However, in my nine years of consuming iced Starbucks coffees in New York City (and other Northeast states), I have yet to be handed a sweetened iced coffee.  Trust me, I would be able to tell, since I do not like to add sweeteners to my coffee.

    Your mileage may vary, though.  Some baristas may specifically ask you if you want your iced coffee sweetened or unsweetened.  Some, though, may follow company policy to a “T” and sweeten it for you.

    I recommend you ask your local barista if their store automatically sweetens all iced coffee orders.

    Again, if you never add sweetener to your coffee, you would obviously notice.

    However, if you assume you are getting unsweetened coffee and automatically add two sugars to it before taking a sip, you may not be aware that your Venti cup may already contain as much sugar as a can of Coke!


    Vocab Bite: Coffeetrocity

    crunch-beauty3Cof-fee-tro-ci-ty [kof-ee-tros-i-tee]


    1. a cloyingly sweet, calorie-laden coffee-based beverage
    2. a coffee-based beverage that more closely resembles a milkshake or soda float


    I just saw an ad for a new coffeetrocity: an iced latte made with half & half and caramel syrup, topped with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and chocolate chips.


    You Ask, I Answer: Caffeine & Calcium

    Is it true that coffee causes osteoporosis?

    — Linda (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    Before I answer, allow me to get something off my chest.

    Statements like “[insert name of food here] causes [insert disease/condition here]” are tremendously inaccurate.

    If someone ever tells you that a food causes a particular disease, promise me your “BS” alarms will go off.

    Unless you are talking about foodborne illness issues, food as a whole does not cause disease.

    Rather, it is particular components in certain foods that, when consumed consistently over long periods of time, can elevate one’s risk of developing a certain condition.

    This reminds me of absurd statements like “ice cream makes you fat.”

    While a 600-calorie sundae every day after dinner will surely result in weight gain, a one-scoop ice cream cone every Saturday night is no cause for concern.

    “Ice cream makes you fat” wrongly categorizes 150 calories and 900 calories of the same food as nutritionally equal.

    Similarly, saying that “coffee causes osteoporosis” is too broad a statement. At the very least, whoever is making such a statement should identify what specific component in coffee is believed to affect bone mass.

    Which brings us to the question at hand.

    Since caffeine is a diuretic that results in a higher-than-normal excretion of calcium in urine and feces, some people jump to the conclusion that, therefore, caffeine intake is related to osteoporosis.

    However, studies have demonstrated that the average cup of coffee — 8 ounces and approximately 150 milligrams of caffeine — increases calcium excretion by a practically insignificant 5 milligrams (remember, you should be getting 1,000 milligrams a day).

    To balance this out, all you need to do is add a single teaspoon of milk to your coffee.

    Keep in mind that all the studies looking at caffeine’s effect on calcium levels assume people drink black coffee (an 8-ounce latte, meanwhile, contains two thirds of a cup of milk!).

    Another concern with caffeine is that it inhibits intestinal absorption of calcium. While true, our bodies are smart and make up for this by increasing calcium absorption at the next meal.


    You Ask, I Answer: Instant Tea/Coffee

    [Do the health benefits you mentioned about tea and coffee] apply to instant [varieties]?

    — Corey Clark
    Via the blog

    To a certain extent.

    Freshly brewed teas and coffees have higher amount of antioxidants and polyphenols, but instant varieties still deliver their share.

    Keep in mind that products like General Foods International Coffees (pictured at left) are coffee drinks mixes — NOT instant coffees.

    These products contain more sugar, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavors than they do coffee!


    You Ask, I Answer: Tea & Coffee

    I’ve read a lot about the supposed health benefits of tea (especially green) and coffee [in regards to] cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease [risk].

    Any hard data on this?

    [If so, do the health benefits] apply to all kinds of teas and coffees?

    What about decaf varieties?

    — Corey Clark
    (location withheld)

    There is plenty of data in the scientific literature showing the health benefits of coffee.

    Coffee beans contain a wide array of antioxidants, polyphenols, and health-promoting compounds.

    Consistent consumption of 16 to 24 ounces of coffee a day has been linked with decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

    Additionally, the antioxidants in coffee have been shown to reduce inflammation and inhibit cellular tumor growth.

    What these studies basically show is that healthy individuals (although not pregnant women) who drink coffee regularly do not need to be concerned with cutting it out of their diet for health reasons.

    That said,the percentage of the population that is sensitive to caffeine should certainly avoid it.

    Luckily, both caffeinated AND decaffeinated coffees and teas share the same amount of flavonoids and antioxidants.

    Speaking of teas, all varieties (green, white, and black) offer plenty of flavonoids and antioxidants. Herbal teas, however, offer significantly lower amounts.

    The biggest issue with these beverages is what people are putting into them (syrups, tablespoon upon tablespoon of sugar, mounds of whipped cream, etc.) that often turns them into calorie, sugar, and fat-laden drinks that do more harm than good.


    You Ask, I Answer: Caffeine and Pregnancy

    My friend and I are both pregnant, but the advice we have gotten about caffeine [intake] during our pregnancy is very different.

    My doctor was vague. He said that caffeine “once in a while” was okay.

    Her doctor said she should refrain from having any.

    Isn’t that too strict?

    — Marcia (last name withheld)
    (location withheld)

    Unless there are specific conditions that put your friend at a high risk for miscarrying, I am not sure I understand the reasoning behind the “completely abstain from caffeine” recommendation.

    Although liberal consumption is not recommended for pregnant women, it is believed they can safely consume up to 200 milligrams of caffeine per day without placing their developing fetus’ health at risk (the main concerns being a higher risk for miscarriages as well as problems with cellular development).

    Sticking to less than 200 milligrams of caffeine each day isn’t really too difficult.

    A 12 ounce can of Coca Cola, for instance, only contains 35 milligrams.

    Your average 8 ounce cup of green tea adds 50 milligrams to your day, and a 16 ounce latte (that’s “grande” if you speak Starbucks) clocks in at 150 milligrams.

    For those who like a stronger cup of Joe, the average 8 ounce cup of percolated coffee clocks in at anywhere from 130 to 200 milligrams of caffeine.

    Other sources — like coffee ice cream or a chocolate bar — offer very little caffeine (anywhere from 10 to 25 milligrams per serving.)

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