WTF Wednesday – Why Hate on Coffee?

Coffee seems to be one of those misunderstood foods. One day it’s great for us and the Starbucks sales boom, the next day it’s awful and everyone’s swearing off coffee.

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There is some truth to this, so for this week’s WTF Wednesday we’re going to dive into the mixed results from coffee research.

Adults in America drink a whole lot of coffee; it’s the second most consumed beverage (water is #1, hollaaa). Coffee doesn’t just have caffeine, it has hundreds of biologically active compounds and we haven’t even identified all of their functions yet! Due to its popularity, research has been dedicated to exploring the effects of consuming this beverage. Is it good? Is it bad? So far the evidence shows coffee can have a wide range of health effects.

Some potential benefits: 

  • may lower risk of type II diabetes
  • can help with weight loss/management
  • reduce depression
  • brightens up the morning!

Some potential adverse effects:

  • may increase blood cholesterol levels
  • increase anxiety
  • cause difficulty sleeping
  • may even induce heart palpitations

But, overall an emerging body of literature suggests habitual coffee consumption may be neutral to beneficial regarding risk of a variety of adverse cardiovascular outcomes (i.e. Coronary Heart Disease, Congestive Heart Failure, arrhythmias, and stroke).

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So what exactly are these bioactive compounds in my coffee? I don’t like the sound of that. I know bioactive sounds scary, but this just means these compounds can have an effect on your body. These compounds include the familiar caffeine, a potent stimulant, diterpene alcohols (like cafestol and kahweol, please don’t ask me to pronounce these because I’m 99.9% sure I do it wrong), which can increase blood cholesterol, and chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory molecule. Coffee also contains vitamins and minerals, like niacin, magnesium, and potassium (we all need more potassium!). Although caffeine is the most widely studied molecule found in coffee, the effects of coffee cannot be reduced to the isolated effects of the caffeine it contains.

Let’s examine some of the findings:

Research has shown coffee (caffeinated and decaf) can lower the risk of type II diabetes by improving insulin signaling.

However, research has also found unfiltered/boiled coffee, like my beloved French-Press coffee, has higher concentrations of diterpene alcohols, which have been shown to increase your blood cholesterol levels by down-regulating bile acid synthesis. This leads to cholesterol not being recycled and made into bile acids, leading to higher levels of cholesterol in your bloodstream. This happens in this type of coffee because the diterpenes are extracted from the coffee beans by the prolonged contact with hot water. If you don’t have high blood cholesterol levels, it’s not enough of an increase to be concerned about and this increase vanishes after a few weeks of not consuming unfiltered/boiled coffee (note: this effect is not seen in brewed/filtered coffee (what most people drink) because of the shorter contact with the hot water and retention of diterpenes by filter paper).

High levels of caffeine (>750 mg/d) may increase urine output and urinary calcium and magnesium excretion.

Coffee intake, at high volumes and in at risk individuals, may be associated with bone loss, lower bone density, or fracture.

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This is just the beginning of coffee research. To have a better understanding of the impact of coffee on health outcomes, we need more (and higher quality) clinical data, along with more knowledge about the compounds within coffee.

There still is a lot unknown about coffee, but overall the current research indicates that moderate coffee consumption, typically 2-4 cups per day, fits well with a healthy balanced diet and active lifestyle. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans included a coffee recommendation for the first time. These guidelines suggest that 3-5 cups of coffee a day is fine if you choose to drink coffee, but don’t pick up a coffee habit because of this!

Keep in mind that there are discrepancies for what constitutes a cup of coffee (in the literature and in real life!). I would recommend sticking with the 8 fl. oz size, which is the amount in a Starbucks short cup. Also, everyone has different caffeine sensitivity levels. I’m super sensitive to caffeine and spent the last 3 years drinking a cup of caffeinated French-Press coffee every morning, but recently switched off the caffeine (maybe I’ll write about this in another post? :)). The good news is that decaf coffee provides these benefits too.

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Are you on board with coffee? Why or why not?

What’s your favorite coffee drink? I’m a sucker for lattes!

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WTF Wednesday – The Sugar Detox

One item in our food supply has been under attack.

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Seemingly, this ingredient didn’t do anything wrong. It made cookies taste good, made bitter foods, like coffee, bearable, and sometimes just put a darn good smile on our face. So how did we end up here? For this week’s WTF Wednesday, we’re talking about the sugar detox your friends, relatives, and that neighbor down the street have embarked on.

Let’s start from the beginning. Sugar is the general name for a group of molecules that fall under the class of nutrients, called carbohydrates. The sugars that have been getting the bad rep lately are fructose, found in fruit, and sucrose, commonly known as “table sugar.” Oh, and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which is a mix of two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose, and used widely by the food industry…we’ll go there later.

Sugar has been a common ingredient in our food supply for a long, long time. It’s what gives food that amazingly sweet taste! We are wired to enjoy foods with sugar because the taste is, well, delicious, aaaand the sweetness signals that this food is a source of energy (a.k.a. calories). Sugar can be pretty awesome because the monosaccharide, glucose, which is the major sugar found in our body and food supply, is the exclusive fuel for our brain (side bar: when we don’t eat enough carbohydrates, our body can make a limited amount of glucose from breaking down muscle and produce ketone bodies from fat stores to fuel our brain…but this is super not ideal). However, besides calories, sugar lacks other nutrients making it a nutrient-poor food.

Sugar can be found intrinsically in foods, like fruit and milk, or it can be added to foods, like baked goods, soda, yogurt, and all sorts of unsuspecting goods, like bread, tomato sauce, ketchup, etc. HFCS came into play when the the food industry started using a mix of glucose and fructose sugars to sweeten foods because it was cheaper than cane sugar (sucrose) and tasted sweeter. Sugars that have been added to foods were given the name “added sugars.” Due to studies showing that higher consumption of sugar may be linked to metabolism problems and weight gain, sugar, especially added sugars, have gotten a ton of buzz in the past couple years.

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Added sugars have been hit hard because they’re not found “naturally” in certain food items, so they’re seen as removable. Also, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the top sources of added sugars are sugar-sweetened beverages (I’m looking at you, soda and juice), as well as snacks and sweets. We can all agree that we feel less than optimal after eating too many nutrient-poor foods (candy) and not enough nutrient-dense foods (veggies and hummus).

The current recommendation for added sugars is to limit our intake to less than 10% of our total calories. So if you’re consuming a 2,500 kcal diet, you’re aiming for less than 250 kcal from sugar. There are 16 kcal in 1 teaspoon of sugar, so roughly you’re limited to about 15 teaspoons. Since carbohydrates provide 4 kcal per gram, you’re looking at ~60 grams. If you were to go for 2 glasses of sweetened iced tea, you’re done. Forget getting a cocktail. That’s way too easy to go overboard.

Hence, here we go with the sugar detox. People are attempting to completely remove sugar from their diet. Some are just removing added sugars (added sugar is sneaky and hides in foods, so this will be difficult), others are attempting to remove both intrinsic and added sugars (eek, bring on the low energy). The problem here is similar to my previous post. Banning foods is not a sustainable strategy to teach good nutrition.

Sure, we can all put more effort into choosing foods that provide more nutrients, instead of relying on sugary snacks for a quick energy source. But we also can’t forget that the sugar, glucose fuels our brain. Fruit is also a great source of different nutrients, including certain vitamins and minerals, water-soluble fiber, and phytochemicals (that have antioxidant properties). Plus, fruit tastes good, so it’s easier to adopt eating fruit into the diet.

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Eating is all about creating a pattern. Healthy eating is about creating a pattern centered around nutrient-dense foods, with the allowance for the occasional treat. Don’t bother with starting the New Year with a sugar detox. Instead, practice these sustainable nutrition strategies to lower your sugar intake:

1. Choose Carbohydrates Wisely: Go for whole-grains, like oats, brown rice, barley, buckwheat, and whole-wheat couscous. These whole-grains will provide fuel for your brain and body, while also giving you other nutrients. Plus, you cook all these yourself, so you avoid mystery sweeteners that appear in pre-packaged foods.

2. Sugar-Free Hydration: Make water your primary drink of choice. You can add citrus or cucumbers and mint for added flavor, or even go with seltzer for a pop! As for alcohol, your best bet is vodka with seltzer and lime wedges.

3. Calculate Your Energy Needs: Find out your estimated energy requirement using a tool, like the USDA SuperTracker, to figure out roughly your calorie recommendation for the day. From there, calculate your sugar allowance of 10% of total calories.

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Have you ever tried a sugar detox?

What are your food goals for the year?

 

Views on Whole 30

A New Year brings in a new slate and extra motivation to tackle challenges, especially when it comes to health. Along with the usual health resolution suspects, like eat better and exercise, I’ve been seeing more and more resolutions to do Whole 30.

Wait, what the heck is Whole 30? Whole 30 is essentially a fad diet. It’s a plan you adopt for 30 days where you eat only certain foods while excluding others. The eating plan is marketed in a desirable way where you’re told to only eat “real” foods that are found in nature, non-processed, and nutritious.

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That sounds pretty good, why are you being such a Debbie Downer? Ahem, glad you asked. While yes, encouraging consumption of nutrient-dense food is awesome, the problem is Whole 30 promises you benefits beyond which nutritious food can provide, while labeling certain foods as “off-limits.” Whole 30 promises to “change your life” by “removing aches and pains,” “giving you energy,””improving skin, digestive, and allergy conditions,” and more. The catch? All you got to do is eat these certain foods and completely remove dairy, legumes, grains, added sugar, alcohol, MSG, and more for the next 30 days.

What’s wrong with that? Completely removing foods from the diet teaches people to associate these foods as “bad” or “unhealthy.” These foods aren’t going away anytime soon, so avoidance isn’t a sustainable strategy. Instead, it’s best to teach people how to successfully include foods they want to eat in their diet, along with how to enjoy the more nutrient-dense foods. Sure, we can all eat less added sugar, but life would really, really suck if we never enjoyed foods with added sugars. In a healthy diet, there’s always room for a home-baked chocolate chip pumpkin muffin when you really want it. Foods should never be labeled as “off-limits.” Eating a varied diet provides good nutrition, while at the same time fulfills personal and cultural preferences. There’s a reason holidays have certain foods and you can expect certain dishes to show up at family gatherings. Food nourishes the body, as well as the soul. Plus, foods like dairy, legumes, and grains are great sources of certain nutrients.

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But they said Whole 30 can change my life! I mean, food is pretty great and all, but making promises like that is misleading. Incentivizing people that Whole 30 can do things, like remove aches and pains, is not accurate, nor is it grounded in science. Someone, show me the research that says adopting Whole 30 will cure the ache in my back. True, people have reported feeling anecdotally better after doing Whole 30, but there’s so much we don’t know about these people, like their lifestyle before they adopted this way of eating, genetics, personality, and more. Also, the placebo effect is alive and well.

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Okay…so now what do I do about being healthier this year? Glad you asked! Here are some ideas for sustainable health improvements:

1. Eat more vegetables: Add in vegetable side dishes with dinner, sneak veggies into omelets, look for veggie-packed recipes for inspiration, always leave the grocery store with a few different veggies in your basket (that you like!), try new ways of prepping veggies to see what you enjoy (i.e. roast, steam, stir-fry, spiralize, etc.), test out a new veggie each month, and more. Keep track of how many cups of vegetables you eat a day and aim for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation of 2.5 cups daily.

2. Adopt Meatless Monday: Going meatless at least one day a week will help lower your saturated fat intake, as well as encourage you to be creative with vegetarian dishes. You may even discover a new dish that becomes a staple in your diet. Plus, decreasing meat intake helps contribute to environmental sustainability, since meat production uses a whole lot of energy.

3. De-Plug: Commit to a “no electronics” rule during meals (or at least during 1 meal a day). Forgoing technology while you eat minimizes distractions, so you pay more attention to hunger and fullness cues. Eating while doing a stressful task, like checking the never-ending emails, stimulates the “flight-or-fight” response, which interferes with eating (i.e. overeating, under-eating, upset stomach, etc.). Food is one of the best parts of life. Enjoy each bite.

4. Move More: Want to be more active? Set a concrete goal, like workout 3 times a week, and schedule it in your calendar. Need fitness motivation? Try a new exercise class/workout or bring along a buddy!

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What are your thoughts on diets, like Whole 30?