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?

Marsala Chai fills kitchen with scent of holiday spices

Simmer Some Holiday Spices in Masala Chai

This blog was written as a guest post for The Skinny on Low Cal site. You can access the original post here.

The biggest competition on Thanksgiving Day doesn’t happen on a football field for me. Instead it’s a battle between the spices taking over my kitchen. The heady bouquet of sage and thyme takes an early lead in the day, but the intoxicating aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg always wins when it’s over.

Now I’ve discovered a way to surround myself with that scent all year long by making Masala Chai!

“Chai” is Hindi word for tea and “masala” chai is simply spiced tea. Traditional recipes for this ancient Indian brew are made by a process called decoction. It involves gently simmering loose black tea, assorted whole spices and a sweetening agent in a mixture of milk and water, then straining it before serving.

Popular versions available today include pre-seasoned tea bags that can be steeped in hot water so you can add the milk and a sweetener of your choice. Chai can also be purchased as a dry instant mix or liquid concentrate to prepare as iced tea or a shake. And when you’re in your favorite coffee shop you can even find chai latte made with steamed milk.

If you’re ready to try making Masala Chia at home there are endless ways to create your own signature version. The type of tea and spices you use will deliver that inviting fragrance and zesty flavor (especially if using pepper and ginger), while your choice of sweetener and milk will enhance the flavor and control the calories.

TEA – loose or bagged: black, green, white, oolong or pu-erh tea from Camellia sinensis plant; flavored tea such as Earl Grey or jasmine; herbal infusion teas such as rooibos or chamomile

SPICES – whole or ground: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel, ginger (dried or fresh), peppercorns, star anise

MILK – whole, reduced-fat, low-fat or fat-free: fresh cow’s milk, powdered milk, canned evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk (replaces milk and sweetener), soymilk, almond milk

SWEETENERS – powdered, granulated or syrup: white or brown sugar, honey, molasses, date sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar, agave syrup, no- and low-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame, stevia, sucralose

MASALA CHAI

Serving Size- 2 cups

INGREDIENTS

1 cup water
1 cup fat-free milk
2 teaspoons loose tea leaves or 1 tea bag
1-2 teaspoons spices: ¼ tsp. cinnamon + ¼ tsp. clove + ¼ tsp. nutmeg + 2 black peppercorns + 1 thin slice fresh ginger
1 packet low calorie sweetener, equal to 2 teaspoons sugar

DIRECTIONS

1. Combine water, milk, spices and sweetener in a pot and heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until just below a boil. Be careful not to boil the milk.
2. Turn off heat, cover and let simmer 2 minutes.
3. Pour through strainer into individual tea cups or teapot to serve.

TIPS: Stainless steel or nonstick pots work best for even heating. Keep heat at medium-high so milk doesn’t burn. A combination of fresh and dried spices can be used. Strain immediately for best flavor. Refrigerate unused portion.

Registered dietitian and nutrition expert Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN has more than 30 years of experience counseling patients and teaching at the university level. She is also the author of two books on nutrition. Follow her on Twitter @EverydayRD

At first sing of a cold, try these home remedies to get some relief

Home Remedies to Treat the Common Cold

KEEP PANTRY STOCKED WITH INGREDIENTS FOR HOME REMEDIES TO TREAT THE COMMON COLD

Winter has arrived and with it comes the official season of the common cold. Since there is no cure for it, our only option is to treat the symptoms for the 5-7 days a cold usually lasts. There are plenty of over-the-counter drugs to help with the hallmark nasal congestion, scratchy throat and coughing that accompany a cold, but they are not your only source of relief.

Many home remedies can do the trick.

Non-drug remedies include foods, teas and herbs. Many things have been relied upon and passed on from one generation to the next, but there is scant evidence that the most common remedies for the common cold actually work. The best thing about many home remedies is that they are served with a strong dose of TLC.

The natural remedies that do work have been found to provide measurable relief from some of the symptoms or to shorten the duration of your cold. That’s reason enough to stock your pantry with one or more of these products so you are prepared at the first sign of sniffles, sneezing or a runny nose.

It is also important to remember that some people may be allergic to herbs and supplements and they may change the way other medicines work, so talk to your doctor or pharmacist before trying an alternative treatment.

Home Remedies That Work and Why

  1. Soup – Not just chicken soup, but any steaming bowl of soup can help loosen congested nasal passages and provide needed fluids and salt to fight the infection brewing within.
  2. Fluids – Juice, tea, soda and water, whether sipped hot or cold, provide replacement fluids to keep the immune system strong. Fluid losses increase during a cold if the body temperature is elevated by a fever or mucous losses are greater due to sneezing, coughing or a runny nose.
  3. Zinc – If taken within the first 24 hours of feeling sick, supplemental zinc can make your cold symptoms less severe and go away faster. Zinc may prevent the rhinovirus that causes many colds from multiplying in the nasal passages and throat. The best dose and whether the zinc should be taken as a lozenge or syrup are unresolved.
  4. Saltwater – Gargling with a mixture of ¼- ½ teaspoon of salt dissolved in 8 pounces of water can temporarily relieve a sore and scratchy throat. The same mixture added to a neti pot can be effective in rinsing clogged nasal passages.
  5. Honey – When added to hot tea or lemon water, honey can soothe a sore throat and suppress a cough long enough to help you fall asleep. Gargling with a cooled honey tea can also help coat and relax throat membranes.

Maintaining a strong immune system is the best defense against catching a common cold or being down with it for long if you do catch one. But that is a year round job that involves eating a nutritionally balanced diet, getting regular exercise and sleeping 7-8 hours a night.

The good news is if you can get that right you can avoid a lot more than the common cold!