Caffeine is consumed in many forms around the world yet questions remain about its health benefits

The World’s Most Popular Drug: Caffeine

CAFFEINE IS CONSUMED IN MANY FORMS AROUND THE WORLD YET QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT ITS HEALTH BENEFITS

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

Have you had your first cup of coffee yet today? If so then you’ve ingested about 100 mg of caffeine. If you’re on your second or third cup of coffee, you’re close to the recommended upper limit for daily caffeine consumption. For many that leads to a love-hate relationship with all things caffeine. People love the way they feel when they have and hate the way they feel when they don’t.

But is caffeine really that bad for us?

Caffeine has been in our diets since the first cup of tea was sipped in China in 10th century BC. Since then, the history of the world can be traced to the distribution of caffeine-rich tea from Asia, coffee beans from Africa and cocoa from South America. Today caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world.

To help you deal with your caffeine habit, I’ve prepared a Q/A to report on the latest research.

Are there any health benefits to caffeine?

Yes, caffeine is an antioxidant and helps fight the free radicals found in the body that attack healthy cells and cause disease. The anti-inflammatory effects of caffeine also improve immune function and caffeine can help with allergic reactions by its anti-histamine action.

Does caffeine increase the risk for heart disease?

No, several large studies found no link between caffeine and elevated cholesterol levels or increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Caffeine does cause a temporary rise in blood pressure in those who are sensitive to it, but more research is need to determine if it increases the risk for stroke in people who have hypertension.

Can caffeine cause osteoporosis?

No, not if there is adequate calcium in the diet. Consuming more than 700 mg a day may increase calcium losses in urine, but adding one ounce of milk to a cup of coffee will replace these losses.

Is caffeine a diuretic?

Yes, caffeine will increase the need to urinate, but it does not lead to excessive fluid losses. The amount excreted is not greater than the amount of fluid contained in the caffeine-containing beverage consumed.

Is the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee always the same?

No, the amount can differ widely from cup to cup brewed from the same brand and among different brands. Even decaffeinated coffee contains some caffeine.

Are there any groups that should limit their intake of caffeine?

Yes, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists pregnant women should have no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day, or the amount of caffeine in about 12 ounces of coffee. Women who drink larger amounts than that appear to have an increased risk of miscarriage compared to moderate drinkers and non-drinkers.

Is caffeine safe for children?

Yes, in moderation. Studies suggest that children can consume up to 300 mg of caffeine a day, although some children may be more sensitive than others its stimulant effects. The introduction of energy drinks containing caffeine has made it easier for children to get more than they should.

Are coffee and tea the main sources of caffeine in the diet?

Yes, but other sources include cola beverages, chocolate, energy drinks, over-the-counter pain relievers, cold medicines, and some “diet” pills.

Is caffeine addictive?

Maybe, depending on how you define addictive. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can cause mild physical dependence if used regularly. If you stop consuming it you may experience withdrawal symptoms including headache, anxiety, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. It does not, however, interfere with your physical, social or economic well-being the way additive drugs do.

When did you first experience the effects of caffeine?

Cheese sandwiches can be made ahead and frozen for delicious grilled cheese sandwiches anytime

Want a Quick Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Just Load Up Your Freezer

This post was written as a guest blog for Family Goes Strong. You can read the original copy here.

CHEESE SANDWICHES CAN BE MADE AHEAD AND FROZEN FOR DELICIOUS GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES ANYTIME YOU WANT ONE

Did you know you can make a delicious grilled cheese sandwich from a frozen cheese sandwich? Well you can! Think of it like a frozen pizza, only these are heated on a griddle or skillet.

That information will come in handy if you ever find yourself with extra bread and cheese that you’d like to use up before taking a vacation. It’s also a useful tip when serving a crowd or planning ahead for days when you run out of other meal options.

Why not assemble a stack to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day on April 12th?

Bread and cheese are two ingredients found in most households, and the possible combinations of the two are endless. There are many nutritional possibilities for that combination as well.

Choose Your Cheese

Deciding what type of cheese you want to use is a matter of taste. From sharp to smooth and tangy to nutty, there is a lot more than yellow American out there. And don’t forget the flavored cheeses, like horseradish, tomato basil, and jalapeño.

You can use any form of cheese – sliced, shredded, grated, crumbled, string, or spreadable – to make a great freezable sandwich. Thin layered slices will melt more evenly than thicker slices. Reduced fat cheeses and those with less sodium offer healthy options for everyone. There are also lactose free cheeses, though most natural cheeses contain minimal amounts.

Select the Slice

Don’t settle for sliced bread when a round sandwich thin, soft roll, pita pocket, or hot dog bun will work just as well. But do avoid breads or rolls more than an inch thick since they will be fully toasted before the cheese melts.

Expand the variety and nutritional value by using whole wheat, multigrain, rye, pumpernickel, raisin or sourdough to surround your cheese. This is also a great way to use up bread that is a day or two old and not as tasty without toasting.

Follow These Steps

To assemble:

  1. Use 2 ounces or 1/4 cup shredded cheese per sandwich
  2. Cover one slice of bread or side of roll or bun with cheese, spreading to edges
  3. Cover with other slice of bread or top of roll or bun
  4. Label zip-top or self-sealing bags with the date and type(s) of sandwiches made
  5. Put each assembled sandwich into a labeled bag and remove air before closing
  6. Place bags in a single layer on a flat baking pan or tray
  7. Put pan in freezer for an hour or until sandwiches are firm
  8. Place sandwiches in larger freezer bag, remove air before closing and store in freezer for up to 3 months

To grill:

  1. Remove sandwich from bag and spread outsides with thin coating of soft spread margarine
  2. Heat flat-top griddle, double-sided grill or skillet depending on how many you are cooking at once
  3. Cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes per side, or until cheese melts and bread is golden brown

Now you can easily make a grilled cheese sandwich for one or a crowd!

Milk and cheese are great sources of protein, too

 

Kitchen makeover means a healthier diet in the New Year

Kitchen Makeover Means a Healthier Diet in New Year

FOLLOW THESE STEPS TO GIVE YOUR KITCHEN A HEALTHY MAKEOVER FOR THE START OF THE NEW YEAR

There is no better time than the first day in the first week of a brand new year to make a fresh start on the road to healthy eating. And there’s no better place to take the first step on that journey than your kitchen. January 1st is a perfect time to clean out your cabinets, purge your pantry and rid your refrigerator of any foods that might sabotage your diet in 2012.

Let me lead the way to your kitchen makeover!

The first thing you must consider is whether you alone can take control the contents of your kitchen? If not, you will need to include the other decision makers in your household before undertaking this project.

Next you must have a clear vision of what types of foods your new eating plan includes. Does it allow pasta sauce in a jar or just canned tomatoes to make your own sauce? Can you eat tortilla chips if they are made from organically grown corn, yet still snack chips? Will you be able to use any of your collection of bottled salad dressings, or must they all go?

Once you have those guidelines in place, you’ll need a large trash bag for the food you’ll dispose of and a sturdy box for the food you can donate. And you’ll need a pad to begin writing your shopping list of the better-for-you replacement foods you’ll need to buy when you’re done.

Starting with the cabinets, cupboards and pantry, remove everything in a jar, bottle, can, box, bag, or pouch. Immediately discard anything opened that does not “belong” in your new food plan. Then put the unopened versions of any unwanted foods in the donation box.

Now make a list of the items you’ll need to fill in the gaps with the good stuff.

The final step is to wipe down the shelves before returning just those foods you want to see on your plate at future meals.

With that done you’re ready to tackle the refrigerator and freezer. Start with containers stored on the shelves in the doors of the refrigerator. Remove everything from those shelves, sort it, discard what you don’t want, clean the shelves and return the items you want to keep. Don’t forget to add the foods to your shopping list you want to replace. Next empty the drawers and do the same thing. Then you can clear out the open shelves and lastly, hit the freezer.

This is just one step towards better eating habits, but it’s a giant step. You can’t continue your habit of eating a bowl of ice cream in front of the TV every night if there’s no ice cream in the freezer. And you can’t establish your habit to eat more brown rice and whole grain pasta if they aren’t in the cupboard.

Wishing you a satisfying journey on the road to good nutrition!

Good nutritional values can be found in the interior of your grocery store.

Healthy Eating on a Budget

YOU CAN STILL MAKE HEALTHY FOOD PURCHASES WHILE CONTROLLING YOUR FOOD BUDGET

Finding healthy foods to eat while sticking to a tight budget is not a difficult as you may think. Grocery stores circulars feature deeply discounted items each week to attract customers and good values can be found in every aisle all year round if you know what to look for.

The hard part is changing your shopping list to match what’s on sale or a good bargain. But if you’re trying to save money and eat well, it can be done. Let me show you how.

The biggest myth handicapping people who want to shop smart on a budget is the notion that all of the best foods are found on the perimeter of the store. That’s simply not true! Perishable foods that have high turnover and need to be closer to receiving docks or refrigerated storage areas are around the perimeter.

For example, fresh produce is found on the perimeter. Good deals can often be found on seasonal produce, but fresh is not always best. It is, however, more expensive, other than staples like potatoes, onions and carrots whose prices don’t vary much. Fresh produce becomes even more expensive it spoils before you eat it.

Frozen and canned vegetables and fruit, dried fruit, and canned or bottled 100% fruit and vegetable juices offer good nutrition at a good price every week of the year. Why not replace a green salad with a bean salad using canned lima, kidney and string beans or combine fresh carrots with canned pineapple for another low cost salad option?

Fresh meats, poultry, eggs and milk products are also found on the perimeter walls of the store. It is worth taking advantage of sale items in the meat case if you have the freezer space to store them when you get home. Fresh eggs remain one of the best nutritional values in the store at 20 cents apiece, while individual containers of flavored yogurt are among the worst. It’s far more economical to buy a quart of plain low fat or fat free yogurt and add a spoonful of jam.

You can build everyday menus around the good values found in the interior of the store if you by-pass the more costly versions packaged for convenience, and stick to the basics. These include:

  • Brown rice
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Oatmeal
  • Yellow cornmeal
  • Popcorn kernels
  • Bagged dry beans
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned salmon
  • Sardines
  • Evaporated milk
  • Nonfat powdered milk
  • Canola oil
  • Whole wheat flour

Of course, you must be willing to learn some new cooking skills and a few new recipes so you can prepare things from scratch, but that provides further nutritional benefits. It’s worth it if you want to make an investment in your health and your wallet at the same time!

How are you saving money at the grocery store?

Numbers matter for weight control, healthy diet and physical fitness

Weight Control, Healthy Diet and Fitness are All a Numbers Game

MAKING SURE ALL THE NUMBERS ADD UP RIGHT ARE IMPORTANT FOR WEIGHT CONTROL, A HEALTHY DIET AND PHYSICAL FITNESS

I’ve written about some of the important numbers involved in weight control and balanced diets before. Things like the difference between serving sizes and portion sizes and the grams of protein you need each day. But there are more numbers you need to know for good nutrition and physical fitness. Many more.

Unfortunately, self-control and mindful eating are not enough. If you want to lose, gain or maintain your weight or strive for a healthier diet and fitter body, you’ve got to watch the numbers. Here are some that matter most.

Calorie level? This is based on your age, height, and weight and activity level – all important numbers to know. If you do, you can figure out your daily calorie requirement here.

Number of Food Groups? 5 + 1 + “extra calories” are what we get in the latest USDA eating guide, ChoseMyPlate.

Number of servings per day from each group? Varies based on calorie level. The ranges for adults are:

5 – 8 ounce equivalents of Grains, with at least ½ as whole grains

2 – 3 cups of Vegetables, with specific amounts per week for the 4 subgroups

1 ½ – 2 cups Fruit

3 cups Dairy

5 – 6 ½ ounce equivalents Protein Foods

5 – 7 teaspoons oils

120 – 265 Empty Calories

Serving size? Varies with each food and each food group, but includes numbers of ounces, cups, tablespoons, teaspoons and counted pieces, like 3 pancakes or 16 seedless grapes.

Amount of aerobic activity? 2 hours + 30 minutes per week at a moderate level or 1 hour + 15 minutes at a vigorous level based on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

Steps or Miles per day? 10,000 steps a day counted on a pedometer, which is equivalent to approximately 5 miles, can be an alternative way to get your aerobic activity according to Shape Up America!

Amount of strength conditioning? 2 days a week working all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms), with 8-12 repetitions per activity that counts as one set.

As you can see, there are many numbers involved in reaching all the goals for a healthy diet and fit body. Fortunately, if you make a habit of eating right and staying active you won’t need a calculator to get through your day!

Check these related articles to help you get your numbers to add up right.

Protein in the Diet – How Much is Enough?

Getting Enough Protein from the Foods You Eat

Serving Size, Portion Size and Body Size Are All Connected

Daily protein requirements can come from plant and animal sources.

Getting Enough Protein From the Foods You Eat

Protein is available from plant and animal sources

If you read my November 4, 2011 post, Protein in the Diet – How Much is Enough?, then you should have a good idea of how many grams of protein a day you need at your current age, level of activity and state of health. Now let’s see how you can make the best food choices to deliver those 50-150 grams of protein a day.

What foods provide the best protein?

That’s really a trick question since all sources of protein are equally beneficial to the body. It was once believed that the protein from animal sources was better because it contains all of the essential amino acids, but that myth has been laid to rest. Protein from both plants and animals provide everything we need to stay healthy as long as we eat enough of it. And there is no need to combine certain foods at a meal to create “complete proteins,” either. Your body collects all of the amino acids from all of the food you eat so it can recombine them to make the new proteins you need.

How much protein is in a serving?

This is where it helps to know what the standard serving sizes look like for foods in each food group. ChooseMYPlate.gov provides detailed explanations of that. Using those serving sizes and the number of servings per day recommended in the 2000 calorie/day food plan in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, here’s where your protein would come from:

Daily Servings/Food Group Grams of Protein

2 cups Fruit 0 – 2

2 ½ cups Vegetables 4 – 8

6 oz. Grains 12 – 18

5 ½ oz. Meat, Beans, Nuts 32 – 38

3 cups Dairy 24

TOTAL PROTEIN 72 – 90 grams

The ranges vary for each group since some foods are higher in protein than others within each group. But worth noting is that if you choose the higher protein foods from the vegetable and grain groups you can get as many as 26 grams of protein a day from those sources in your diet.

You can also include more plant proteins by selecting the beans, nuts and seeds options from the “meat” group. Doing so gives you all the other benefits they come packaged with, like fiber and phytonutrients, without the saturated fat and cholesterol that comes with the protein found in most animal foods.

Bottom line: You do not have to count on just the meat and dairy foods to get all the protein you need.

Junk food not the problem, imbalanced food choices are.

Guess What? There Are No Junk Foods!

5 Simple Truths help avoid the junk food mindset

It’s the catch-all phrase used to describe anything edible that’s blamed for the rising rates of chronic disease and obesity in this country, but what exactly is junk food? Given the frequency the term is used, I’ve never heard a satisfactory definition of junk food, or the criteria for labeling a food or beverage as such, that can help people make eating decisions.

Maybe we need a food group for junk foods to know which ones they are and how many servings a day we can have?

Some people say junk foods provide empty calories, or ingredients that are unhealthy, or are overly processed. Well that implies everything we eat is supposed to be full of nutrients. Ever look at the nutrition facts for iceberg lettuce? It’s pretty empty. And what about nutritious foods, like eggs, that also happen to have a lot of something in them that isn’t so good for us, like cholesterol. Are eggs a junk food? What if we eat something just because it tastes good. Should chocolate chip cookies be banned?

Blaming individual foods, beverages and ingredients for what’s wrong with our health and trying to ban certain foods as a way to fix the problem just doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t work, either. First, there is simply no way we could ever make a definitive list of all “junk foods”, and even if we did, thousands of new food items enter the marketplace every year making “the list” obsolete very quickly. Second, people eat for many reasons, not just to meet their nutritional needs. Celebrations, rituals and traditions of all sorts are based on eating certain foods, and that is an important part of every culture.

So if you’re still trying to figure out if something belongs on the junk food list du jour, here are 5 Simple Truths to help you put it all into perspective:

  1. No food is bad for you unless the food is bad – as in unfit to eat. It’s the quality of your total diet – everything you eat and drink throughout the days, weeks, months and years of your life – that determines your nutritional well-being. (Exceptions apply for those with diseases or allergies for which special foods must be consumed or avoided.)
  2. There are no fattening foods or foods that make you gain weight. The calories in everything we eat are all equally available to be used as energy or stored as fat if not used. Some calories come packaged in foods with many other nutrients, but if we eat more of them than we need, the nutrients will not make us healthier, but the calories will make us fatter.
  3. There is no perfect diet, or diet plan. Instead of shopping around for the next best diet, start paying attention to what you now eat and how that stacks up against the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Then you can begin to fix your diet one food group at a time using ChooseMyPlate.gov.
  4. People come in different sizes and so should their food. There is no one serving size that’s right for all of us, so don’t count on that food label to tell you how much you should eat. The serving size listed on packages is just a reference amount for the rest of the nutrition information found on the label. Eating too much of something that’s good for you is a much bigger problem than eating a little bit of something that isn’t.
  5. Hypocrisy is the worst nutrition message parents and other care-givers can deliver to children. It sounds like this: “No you can’t have that junk food, it’s not good for you,” one day and then, “You can have that junk food because it’s your birthday, a holiday, we’re on vacation…” on another. It’s far better to teach them how to enjoy all foods in moderation and set a good example for how to do it, one chocolate chip cookie at a time.