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!

WTF Wednesday – When Your Mind Plays Tricks on You

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 :).

 

–>Shop Smart:

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 :).

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Throwback to the first year of grad school, hollaaaa

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How do you make food purchasing decisions?

Have you ever purchased something more expensive because you felt it was healthier? (I have! *blushes*)

WTF Wednesday – Since When Did Everyone Become a Nutrition Expert?

It’s nearly impossible to scroll through your Facebook newsfeed or Instagram feed without encountering someone posting something about nutrition. It’s great that people are caring about what they eat these days…but sometimes it can do more harm than good. This brings me to the theme of this week’s WTF Wednesday: Since when did everyone become a nutrition expert?

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to form your own opinions about health issues and nutrition topics. To each their own. The pitfall is when these opinions are not grounded in science and are marketed to the mass public to seem like the truth.

We need to be wise consumers. We need to think critically. The age-old saying holds true, especially when it comes to nutrition:

“If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

So what to do when people are posting about juice cleanses “detoxifying” their body or about some miracle ingredient that promises everlasting health?

  1. Hold your horses: Read the article, listen to the news story, read the Facebook post. Then do it again. Most nutrition stories are posted in a sensational way to deliberately hook you in. Break this appeal by re-reading the article multiple times. Now we can start dissecting the claims.
  2. Science the sh*t out of it! Probably the best line from “The Martian” movie and it certainly applies here. Does the article reference an original research study? If so, go to the actual study and read it. If not, Google search the nutrition topic to find the original research or search in a scientific database, like PubMed. Many journals are open access, which means you don’t need a subscription to read the articles. If you’re a student, most universities provide students with access to almost all journals and the librarians are great at helping you locate an article if you can’t find it.
  3. Think critically: Read the original research paper. Investigate the journal it was published in. Was the journal peer-reviewed? “Peer-reviewed” means the research paper was sent to multiple experts in the field to review and provide comments/feedback. This process decides if the paper is credible, adds to the scientific literature, and should be published. It’s a rigorous process that is lengthy and can make even the toughest scientist shed a tear. But, it makes the paper better and means the paper has been thoroughly reviewed before it’s published. If the research was published in a journal that was not peer-reviewed, then it’s not held to the same high, rigorous research standards and you need to take the conclusions with a grain of salt.
  4. Consult the expert: Does the source of the original post have a Masters/PhD in Nutrition from a reputable university and/or is a Registered Dietitian (RD)/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)? The Masters/PhDs degrees mean the person has been through research training, so this person can provide feedback on the quality of the research design and interpret what the study concludes. The RD/RDN credential means the person has completed a dietetic internship approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, passed the Registration Examination for Dietitians, and renews this license annually. RDs/RDNs are able to provide nutrition advice and diet plans, so they are the people you want to consult with when trying to tune up your diet or have questions about a new diet trend.

The nutrition field is constantly growing and changing. New findings are released every day and the technology boom has given more people access to this information. It’s up to us to sort through what’s out there and make informed decisions.

Find credible sources. Reach out to faculty and researchers. The professor I work under creates Fact Sheets about many different topics in nutrition here.

We’re here to help bridge the gap between the lab bench and the community and we want to do this together.

Eat Responsibly!

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What’s the latest nutrition news story you heard? What did you think of it?

WTF Wednesday – The Gluten-Free Apocalypse

By now you’ve probably heard something about a gluten-free diet. But what the heck does that even mean?

Contrary to popular belief, gluten doesn’t exist in nature. Huh? Let me explain. Gluten is made up of 2 proteins: gliadins and glutenins. These 2 proteins are found in wheat, rye, and barley. When they come together with water, gluten forms. Gluten doesn’t exist in oats, but due to cross-contamination with other grains in North America, oats here may contain gluten. Except for Cheerios because they got on that gluten-free bandwagon real fast.

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Look at that huge dough ball of GLUTEN (front and center, like the star of the bread show)

Gluten isn’t the devil (except when it comes to Celiac Disease, we will get to that), like you may have heard. In fact, it’s one of the best things because it gives dough elasticity and that doughy-feel. I am a proud supporter of bread.

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This is what happens when you make bread with only gluten…a masterpiece explosion! But it doesn’t taste good…so don’t do it

However, gluten is actually a dangerous thing for people with Celiac Disease. Consuming gluten-containing products causes the body to “attack” itself leading to damage of the small intestine. This is bad news since the small intestine is the primary site of nutrient absorption. Damaged small intestine = poor nutrient absorption = nutrient deficiencies (i.e. iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, etc.), among other serious health effects. Currently, the treatment for Celiac Disease is to avoid gluten.

Only a very small percentage of Americans have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, so what’s the deal with everyone hating on gluten? It all began when a study was published in 2011 suggesting non-celiac gluten intolerance is a thing, but the precise mechanisms/biomarkers for diagnosis are unknown.

This sparked the gluten-free market explosion. Companies started re-formulating their goods to be gluten-free, making gluten-free versions of already existing products, or plastering that “gluten-free” label on products that never contained gluten in the first place, like nuts. It was heyday for people with Celiac Disease, since previously there were very few gluten-free products and of that many tasted like cardboard/were probably cardboard.

Why the sudden interest in avoiding gluten? Well, many Americans consume what’s known as a “Western Diet.” This means red meat galore, dinners out of a box, and laughing in the face of vegetables. The Western Diet is linked to a long range of health complications. Plus, all that saturated fat, salt, and lack of fiber doesn’t make you feel very good. Hello, feeling sluggish and tummy aches. With this news of non-celiac gluten intolerance, many felt they could attribute these symptoms to gluten.

Since there used to be barely any gluten-free products on the market, people with Celiac Disease couldn’t eat most things that came in a box. Instead, they had to rely on foods that naturally have no gluten, like fruits, veggies, nuts, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc. All the good stuff. People noticed this type of diet and lifestyle led to people looking more trim than the average American. They wanted in. Hence, the gluten-free diet industry explosion.

However, in 2013 the same research group released another study saying they couldn’t find evidence to support their initial finding of non-celiac gluten intolerance. Although there currently are no ways to diagnose/define this gluten-sensitivity, there still are people who anecdotally feel better on a gluten-free diet. I’m sure we will see more research to come in this area.

Until then, here’s the takeaway (for those without Celiac Disease, since you should listen to your doctor and not me):

  1. Eat your fruits and veggies! Seriously, they are super awesome for providing your body with essential nutrients and giving your body the fuel it needs. Plus they have fiber, which keeps you regular (a.k.a. smooth sailing in the bathroom).
  2. Save your money: Gluten-free products are more expensive and many are not fortified with required nutrients, like B-vitamins and iron. Gluten-free does not mean whole-grain, so many don’t have much fiber and we all know how good fiber is for us.
  3. Center meals around veggies and lean protein. Make a tofu-veggie stir fry, bake salmon with a range of vegetables, look up different vegetarian recipes to get creative. The Moosewood Cookbook is great inspiration.

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Do you follow a gluten-free diet? What are your reasons for doing so?

What are your thoughts on “gluten sensitivity?”

 

WTF Wednesday – Drunkorexia

Hi friends! I’m starting a new blog series: WTF Wednesday, where we will explore controversial/bizarre/unique nutrition topics. The aim of this feature is to clear up misconceptions and shed light on what’s happening in nutrition. If you have any requests for topics, feel free to leave a comment or email me at nutritionphdeats@gmail.com. Here we go!

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WTF is “drunkorexia?”

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Drunkorexia is an emerging trend, especially among college students, that involves combining diet-related behaviors with excessive drinking. These behaviors include restricting food intake, over exercising, or binging/purging.

The goal is to compensate for alcohol’s empty calories. Alcohol calories are not freebies-there are 7 calories per gram of alcohol, which means ~125 calories in 5 fl oz of wine, ~150 calories in a can of beer, and ~100 calories in a vodka shot. Not only is 7 calories per gram a fairly hefty amount (there are only 4 calories per gram in protein and carbohydrates), but there is essentially no redeeming nutritional value in alcohol, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. (however, red wine does have bioactive chemicals from the skin of grapes and beer has a small amount of B vitamins and certain minerals).

Drinking on an empty stomach leads to getting drunker faster, since there is no/not enough food in the stomach to help absorb the alcohol and slow down the transfer of alcohol into the bloodstream. This could lead to negative alcohol-related consequences, including nutritionally.

Alcohol impacts our nutrition in a few different ways:

  1. Drinking alcohol replaces the nutrient-dense foods you could be eating instead. Drinking also lowers inhibition, making that late night Taco Bell run seem a lot more appealing and can lead to over-eating. If you give me a glass of wine and cheese, you better hurry in and grab some before the cheese is gone ;).photo
  2. Alcohol lowers the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, such as thiamin, folate, and vitamin B12, which could up your chances of a nutrient deficiency. This is especially important if you are a vegetarian or vegan, since it’s difficult to get enough vitamin B12 without eating animal products (side note: take a B12 supplement if you do not eat animal products, please & thank you :)).
  3. Wonky things happen with metabolizing vitamins A and D when alcohol is thrown into the mix. Most Americans, especially women, have low vitamin D levels. If you choose to consume alcohol, get your vitamin D well before you have that beer.
  4. Alcohol is a diuretic – it causes you to pee faster! This leads to more zinc, potassium, calcium, folic acid, and magnesium ending up in your urine instead of being used in your body. Potassium and calcium are nutrients of concern, which means many Americans already do not meet their need.

If you choose to drink, counteract the drunkorexia:

  • Stick to one drink per hour and alternate rounds with water, seltzer, or club soda. Ask the nice bartender to add in some lemon and lime wedges (even cherries) for added flavor, plus it looks pretty.
  • Eat, eat, eat. Keep your regular meal times (especially on drinking days) and stock up on nutrient-dense meals. Make sure you have something in your stomach before that glass of wine. Center meals around veggies and add in a side of whole-grains and lean protein. Example: Bake salmon with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, toss in broccoli and mushrooms, and add 1/2 cup of whole-wheat couscous to your portion.IMG_6064
  • Get your vitamins and minerals:
  1. Whole grains are a good source of thiamin, folate, and zinc;
  2. Vitamin D is found in eggs, salmon, and mushrooms;
  3. Vitamin A is in red/orange-colored fruits and veggies;
  4. Meat and shellfish have zinc;
  5. Potassium is found in fruits and veggies;
  6. Calcium is in dairy products, tofu, and broccoli;
  7. Vitamin B12 is in animal products (supplements are recommended for vegetarians and vegans);
  8. and dark leafy greens, nuts, and dark chocolate houses magnesium.
  • Hydration is major key (thank you DJ Khaled). But seriously, when you’re thirsty drink water. Water helps with fluid balance and keeps our bodies running.

Let’s stop this trend before it fully catches on. Down with the drunkorexia, drink responsibly.

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