Sunday, May 21, 2017

Caffeine – how much is too much?

Caffeine – who doesn’t enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning? Whether a K-cup, Starbucks or Mr. Coffee, most people enjoy starting their day with a cup of coffee.  But in the news recently is the story of the teen who died, according to the coroner, from drinking too much caffeine.  So how much caffeine is safe to drink? Are there any health benefits to drinking coffee and other beverages that provide caffeine?

How much caffeine is safe to drink?

The teenager who died drank three caffeine drinks over a two-hour period, a large Mountain Dew, a latte and an energy drink. According to some reports, it is estimated that this was about 300 mg of caffeine – which should be safe for most people. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most adults can safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is about four 8-ounce cups of coffee. According to WebMD, drinking more than this can lead to some symptoms, such as insomnia, nervousness, increased heart rate, stomach irritation and other symptoms. The Mayo Clinic notes that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults. This would be the amount in four cups of brewed coffee or 10 cans of cola soft drink, or just 2 “energy shot” drinks. The Mayo Clinic notes that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult their doctor about caffeine.

FDA notes that moderate amounts of caffeine are not harmful. But what is moderate? For most of us that would be one to two, five ounce cups of coffee a day. But since we are all different, caffeine affects us differently depending on our size, gender, and how sensitive we are to drinking beverages with caffeine.

How much caffeine is too much?

According to FDA, experts agree that 600 mg of caffeine or about 4-7 cups of coffee or more a day is too much.

Is drinking coffee healthy?

A lot of research has documented good health benefits of drinking beverages with caffeine. WebMD notes people who drink coffee are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Coffee drinkers also have fewer strokes and some cancers. But it seems it is not just the caffeine in coffee that has health benefits as decaf also seems to help prevent diabetes. WebMD notes it may be the antioxidants in coffee, decaf or regular, that may help prevent diabetes. Or the minerals it provides like chromium or magnesium which help control our blood sugar levels. In the same article, WebMD stated that for women, coffee may actually lower their risk of stroke.

How much caffeine is in beverages?
The Mayo Clinic lists the caffeine content of coffee, soda and more. The math department the University of Utah has an extensive chart of the caffeine content of popular drinks. The charts below are adapted from these two websites.

Coffee drinks
Size in ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Brewed, regular
Brewed, decaf
Espresso, regular
Espresso, decaf
Latte or mocha

Tea Drinks
Size in ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Brewed black tea, regular
Brewed black tea, decaf
Brewed, green tea
Ready to Drink, bottled tea

Sodas, Soft Drinks, (Pop) 12 ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Coca-Cola Classic
Diet Coke
Mountain Dew
Red Bull (8.2 ounces)
Diet Pepsi
Minute Maid Orange
A & W Root Beer

I will continue to enjoy my cup of coffee every morning.  Or if you prefer, decaf or tea, drink those beverages.  As noted, it may not be the caffeine in coffee or tea that has health benefits but the antioxidants or minerals.  Learn how your body reacts to caffeinated drinks and what your tolerance level is.  Perhaps one cup is all your body can tolerate.  Perhaps coffee or tea interferes with your sleep if you drink it too late in the day.  Adapt your intake to your response to these beverages.

Sources: in the news recently, According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most adults can safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is about four 8-ounce cups of coffee., WebMD, The Mayo Clinic notes that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults. This would be the amount in four cups of brewed coffee or 10 cans of cola soft drink, or just 2 “energy shot” drinks. Mayo Clinic lists the caffeine content of coffee, soda and more, math department the University of Utah, image source: coffee cup

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Berries for Brain and Heart Health

Are there foods that “feed” the brain?  Well, berries have been found to promote brain health as well as heart health.  Which berries and what health effects do they have?
Our doorbell rang at 9 this morning.  Our neighbor was standing there with 2 quarts of strawberries he had just purchased at the Farmer’s Market.  Strawberries are not only loaded with many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, there are also one of the berries known to promote healthy brains.

Why are berries so healthy?

Berries are rich in antioxidants – in fact they have found that berries have some of the highest antioxidant levels of any fresh fruits.    Antioxidants aren’t vitamins or minerals but plant chemicals that protect the plant and have been found to have many health benefits when we eat these plants.   The differing color of the berries means they provide different antioxidants.  Berries that are red, blue or purple provide anthocyanin,  a strong antioxidant.  It is associated with promoting memory.  

Berries provide flavonoids – a plant chemical that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Scientists haven’t yet figured out why berries are so good for our brains but they believe these antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in berries are indeed good for brain health.

What do berries do for brain health?
  • Memory – I tell the students in my class to add some fruit, especially berries to their diet, for good memory.  Studies have found that young and old benefit from adding blueberries.  Blueberries improve memory, attention to tasks, and even increased blood flow to our brains.  (Environmental Nutrition, June 2017) 
  • Slow Down Brain Aging - as we age, our brains decline in function, but berries have been found to slow down this aging process.
  • Boost Your Mood – the flavonoids in berries have even been found to boost your mood.  Now who wouldn’t have a boost in their mood as they enjoy their first strawberry shortcake this summer season?
Berries and Heart Health6 healthiest berries suggests we sprinkle some blueberries on our yogurt and add some strawberries to our smoothie for heart health. Berries are linked to a lower risk of heart attacks. 

Some berries to try for brain and heart health: 

Blueberries – a super food.  Promotes good memory and heart health.  Good source of vitamin C and fiber. Enjoy fresh or buy frozen to add to smoothies or pancakes.
Strawberries – Loaded with vitamin C, good source of folate, and may prevent the build up of plaque in our arteries. 
Raspberries – good source of fiber.  A half cup of raspberries provides 4 grams of fiber.  Also provides vitamin C and the mineral, manganese.  Another berry that promotes heart health.
Blackberries – another berry rich in antioxidants to promote heart health.  Try a blackberry jam on a whole grain English Muffin.  

As berry season comes to your area, enjoy some fresh berries this season.  Add some fresh or frozen berries to a smoothie or add berries to your yogurt.  But eat them regularly to obtain the most benefit.

Blueberry Oat Smoothie  (adapted from)  Makes 2 Servings
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups frozen blueberries
1 yogurt 5.3 ounces, non-fat blueberry Greek yogurt
1 banana
½ cup coconut water
2 T. honey – buy some locally grown honey
  1. In a blender, process oats for 30 seconds.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and puree until blended.
Nutrition facts 340 calories, 2.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat and 0 mg of cholesterol, 10 mg protein, 75 g carbohydrates, 8 grams fiber,  only 50 mg sodium, 410 mg potassium, 95 mg calcium and 17 mg vitamin C.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Nutrition in the News

Some interesting research and articles in the news.  Do you like guacamole or adding some avocados to your salad?   Good for your overall health and especially good for your eyes.   Have small children around?  Cut up those grapes and cherry tomatoes.  Do you enjoy some KFC?  Healthier KFC is coming soon.

Avocados – in the June 2017 edition of Consumer Reports they noted the following question: “Someone told me avocados are good for your eyes.”  True or False?
So true.  Consumer Reports notes avocados are rich with two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin.  Both are great for healthy eyes.  Dr. Lipman, Consumer Reports’ Chief Medical Advisor stated, “..they are thought to filter the blue UV rays from the sun – which can damage these eye parts – helping to prevent macular degeneration and possible cataracts.”  
Other vegetables that are also good for eye health are those that are dark green such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and zucchini.  But avocados are especially good for eyes because they also have a healthy fat that helps us absorb the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.  Moreover, the fat in avocados may also help protect against macular degeneration.  So enjoy some guacamole or add some avocado to a salad or include in a smoothie. 

KFC – enjoy fast food?  Coming in 2018, KFC will be serving chicken that has NOT been raised with antibiotics.  Anytime we buy chicken to cook at home, we look to find chicken that is hormone and antibiotic free.  Consumer Reports acknowledges that they have been asking restaurant chains to stop using meat or chicken that is from meat suppliers that use antibiotics.  I like the KFC grilled chicken so I am glad to know it will soon be without antibiotics.

Choking and young kids (5 and younger)  – parents should remember to cut up whole grapes and cherry tomatoes as these pose a choking risk for young children.  Most parents are aware that small toys can pose a choking risk but so can some foods. Grapes and tomatoes are healthy, just remember to cut up whole grapes and cherry tomatoes before serving to a small child. The Archives of Disease in Childhood noted a 5-year-old boy ate whole grapes at an after-school club and choked.  Cutting grapes in half or even in fourths can prevent choking.  Other foods like hot dogs and carrots shouldn’t be cut up into “coin” shapes but into smaller pieces.  KidsHealth offers good information on preventing choking in young children.  They advise that soft foods like cheese cubes, hot dogs, sausages, grapes and caramels can cause choking.  Harder foods such as sunflower seeds, raw carrots, popcorn and raw apples and pears can be a problem for kids younger than 4 years old. 

So enjoy some guacamole or add some avocados to your salad for good eye health.  Know that KFC will be offering antibiotic free chicken in 2018.  And for those who have smaller kids, remember to cut up foods into small pieces.