Nutrition can be…controversial. Everyone seems to have something to say about food, whether it’s composition of nutrients, where their food comes from, pesticides, eating regimens, and much more. This is exciting – people care about their food. It’s a great time to be in the nutrition field. However, there’s so much misinformation out there, who are you supposed to look to for credible information?
These fact sheets are a great way to read about popular nutrition topics, such as cholesterol, fat, and soy, and get the research-backed facts to make informed decisions.
Also, Happy RD Day to a few of my favorite RDs, Charlotte, Lori, Elieke, Jackie, and Lisa! Keep on keeping on and encouraging health. I’ll be back with your regularly scheduled WTF Wednesday next week :).
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.
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
brightens up the morning!
Some potential adverse effects:
may increase blood cholesterol levels
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).
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.
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.
When it comes to barriers of adopting a healthy lifestyle, money is usually at the top of the list. While true, if you only shop at high-end stores, purchase premium products, and go for the special labels (i.e. gluten-free), you’ll end up forking over more money for your eats, it doesn’t have to be this way. The misconception that eating healthy is a costly endeavor has gone on for far too long. In fact, your mind may just be playing tricks on you.
A recent paper from The Ohio State University investigated the perception of believing foods that cost more must be better for you through a series of studies. For one study, researchers told participants about a new food ingredient that boosted eye health. When the ingredient was said to be expensive, the participants felt they should be more concerned about their eye health. However, when the same ingredient was said to be cheap, participants no longer felt eye health was an important concern for them. This demonstrates that simply the price tag impacts our perception of what’s nutritious and what health issues we should be concerned about.
In another study, participants were told about a new product, “granola bites,” which was subsequently given a health grade of either an A- or a C (side bar: hate the concept of giving foods letter grades, but we’ll get into that another WTF Wednesday ;)). After the participants were given the information, they were asked about how much they thought the product cost. Participants that were told “granola bites” received an A- rated the product as more expensive versus the participants that were given the C grade. Interesting how the belief that more expensive food = healthier holds up here.
The researchers also did a study with breakfast crackers. When participants were told a breakfast cracker was expensive, they rated it as healthier than a breakfast cracker that cost less. Turns out, the breakfast crackers were exactly the same.
The researchers then wanted to see how this perception of health = expensive held up when it came to making choices. Participants were asked to pick out a healthy lunch and were shown 2 options with the ingredients listed: a chicken balsamic wrap and a roasted chicken wrap. The researchers found the ingredient list didn’t matter. When the chicken balsamic wrap was listed as costing more, participants were more likely to order it. However, when the roasted chicken wrap cost more, it too had a greater chance of being selected.
In the next study, participants were asked to pretend they were selecting a trail mix at the store and they were given 4 options, all listed at various prices. One of the trail mixes was labeled as “Perfect Vision Mix.” Participants either saw this trail mix marketed as “Rich in Vitamin A for eye health” or “Rich in DHA for eye health.” The “Perfect Vision Mix” was also listed as either an average price or the most expensive choice.
Participants that saw the trail mix with the Vitamin A believed it was vital in a healthy diet, regardless of how much it cost. Meanwhile, participants that saw the trail mix with the DHA felt that it was healthier when it was listed as the most expensive price than when it had the average price tag. This is most likely because people have heard of Vitamin A, so they weren’t using the price to justify its importance in a healthy diet. On the other hand, DHA is less familiar, so the participants were probably using the price tag to weigh in on how healthy the trail mix was.
Building on this study, the researchers told participants that DHA was important in lowering risk of macular degeneration. When the price of the trail mix was expensive, participants felt macular degeneration was a crucial health issue. However, when the price tag dropped, participants didn’t feel as worried about macular degeneration.
For the last study, participants were asked to review a new bar with the slogan, “Healthiest Protein Bar on the Planet.” Participants were told the bar would cost $0.99 or $4, and that the average price of protein bars was $2. Then, they were able to read reviews of the bar. When participants were told the bar cost $0.99, they read way more reviews than when the bar was said to cost $4. Why? Perhaps because they were in disbelief that the healthiest protein bar could only cost $0.99.
The takeaway from these findings is we gotta get rid of the misconception that healthy food costs more money. Otherwise, food companies are just going to hike up the prices. Keep an eye out for a post on budget-friendly grocery shopping soon :).
1. Read the ingredient list: Look for products with ingredients that are mostly recognizable.
2. Compare labels: When choosing between products, look at the Nutrition Facts Label and compare values for different nutrients. Generally, choose products lower in saturated fat and sugar, while higher in vitamins and minerals.
3. Consult the experts: Research different products and ingredients before hitting the store. See what various nutrition experts (i.e. PhDs, Masters, and/or Registered Dietitians) say about a certain item. Use original research articles to learn more about different food components. Ask questions. Reach out and contact nutrition experts/Nutrition PhD students, we are here to help :).