Friday, June 1, 2007

Caffeine and Weight

The findings regarding caffeine and weight loss seem to change daily. While nothing is conclusive, a recent study shed some light on caffeine intake and long term weight change in both men and women. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2006, followed 18,416 men and 39,740 women from 1986 to 1998. Caffeine intake was initially assessed in 1986 and then reassessed every two to four years. Weight for each participant was recorded at baseline and then again in 1998. The study did find a lower mean weight gain in participants who increased, rather than decreased, their caffeine consumption. However, due to the nature of the study, it is impossible to assume that higher caffeine consumption actually causes weight loss as many other factors may have been involved; rather caffeine is simply associated with weight loss. Moreover, in men, the association between caffeine intake and weight was mostly present in younger participants. In women, the association was stronger in those who had a higher body mass index (>=25), who were less physically active, or who were current smokers. This study does lay the groundwork for future research, but for now there is no reason to run out and load up on caffeine. The best advice is to stay active and eat a balanced diet.

Coffee Beverages Exposed

With spring in full swing, and summer just a few short weeks away, we now find ourselves strolling outside as we delight in the beautiful weather. Oftentimes, these strolls are accompanied by jaunts into a coffee shop or an ice cream store to get a frosty treat. While many may feel that opting for the coffee is the healthier or least caloric choice, many times this is not the case. A serving of vanilla ice cream (which is ½ a cup) is only 145 calories, while a serving of a blended coffee beverage (16 oz) can range anywhere from 180 to 580 calories! The following chart gives a breakdown of some of your favorite coffee treats:

Product Serving Size(oz) Calories Total Fat(g) Saturated Fat(g) Carbs(g) Sugars(g) Protein(g)
Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino Blended Coffee – no whip 16 260 3.5 2 52 44 5
Starbucks Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino - whip 16 580 22 13 86 65 14
Dunkin Donuts Coffee Coolatta with Milk 16 210 4 2.5 42 40 4
Cosi Arctic Latte 16 530 16 unknown 94 unkown 6
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Ice Blended, Mocha, with non-fat milk and regular powder 16 390 7 4.7 58 39 11
Caribou Coffee Coffee Cooler 16 220 4 4 46 40 2

Luckily, you can mimic some of these frosty beverages while also cutting down on the calories.

Basic Blended Coffee Base*
Serves 2

1¼ cup strong coffee, chilled
1 cup skim milk
3 packets artificial sweetener (i.e. splenda, equal, etc.)
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 cups ice

  1. Put everything in a blender and blend until desired consistency.
  2. Serve.

Calories per serving: ~95

*To flavor your blended coffee, try adding a teaspoon of sugar-free vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate, or caramel syrup. These flavorings will provide additional sweetness, so you may want to decrease the amount of artificial sweetener or sugar in the recipe.

The Lowdown on Energy Drinks

In 1997, with the introduction of Red Bull, energy drinks began as a significant category in the US market. Since then, the market has grown by 50% almost yearly, and the energy drink market now totals more than four billion dollars. Clearly, this indicates that many Americans are consuming these caffeine laden trendy beverages, but are they really that good for us?

What is an Energy Drink?
Energy drinks, such as Red Bull, Monster, Cocaine, and Hype Energy, are beverages that contain large doses of caffeine, sugar, taurine, and other legal stimulants like ephedrine, guarana, and ginseng. These energy drinks may contain anywhere from 80mg of caffeine for 8 oz (about the equivalent of a strong cup of coffee) to 250mg. Energy drinks purport to have “functionality”, including increasing concentration and cognitive performance of the consumer. The basis of these statements, however, lies in inconclusive data, from a limited number of studies. To de-bunk some of these claims, we will breakdown the most common ingredients.

Caffeine is one of the main active ingredients found in energy drinks. In spite of extensive research, the evidence with regard to the health implications of caffeine is inconclusive. There is, however, some evidence that high acute intakes of caffeine are associated with tachycardia (fast heart beat) and acute increases in blood pressure. Too much caffeine may also cause nervousness, irritability, and insomnia. The longer term risks, or possible benefits, of caffeine on cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are less known.

Guarana, a native South American plant, contains guaranine, a substance that is chemically similar to caffeine with likely comparable stimulant effects. There is very little information regarding the effects of guarana, and in the US, it is unregulated. As a result, many health professionals are wary of guarana-containing products.

Taurine is a normal metabolite in the body that is synthesized from the amino acid cysteine or other sulphur or cysteine containing compounds. Taurine, which is naturally present in the diet, has been shown to have beneficial health effects, including decreasing blood pressure. No published studies have found any negative physiological effects of high intakes of taurine in healthy adults. However, there have been no conclusive studies regarding taurine’s interaction with the other stimulants in energy drinks.

The Dangers of Energy Drinks
While none of the common active ingredients in energy drinks seem to be particularly harmful alone, there has been limited research studying the combination of these ingredients on health. Energy drinks’ stimulating properties have been anecdotally reported to increase heart rate and blood pressure, dehydrate the body, and prevent sleep. These effects may be particularly harmful if the drinks are used in sporting contexts. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Vitamin Water, have certain compositional requirements with regard to carbohydrates, electrolytes, and osmolarity. Energy drinks, on the other hand, do not have these requirements and because they contain caffeine, a known diuretic, they can greatly dehydrate an individual, whereas in sporting events or exercise, they would be needed to rehydrate. In addition, socially energy drinks are now used as mixers for alcoholic cocktails. The danger in this lies in the fact that energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant. As a result, the stimulant properties of the energy drinks can mask the feeling of intoxication and can lead a person to drink well beyond the safe limit. Finally, though not necessarily dangerous, energy drinks contain loads of sugar, and therefore contain numerous calories. Thus, consuming energy drinks, especially in place of water, can lead to weight gain.

Healthier Alternatives
Instead of relying on energy drinks to wake you up, there are numerous lifestyle changes you can make to boost your energy naturally.

  1. Eat breakfast. Eating something in the morning can rev up your metabolism and start your day out right.
  2. Eat every few hours. Oftentimes we get tired because our blood sugar drops too low. To prevent the drop, try and eat a healthy meal or snack every few hours.
  3. Drink water. If you’re dehydrated, you will feel fatigued. Get your 8-10 8 oz glasses to keep you awake.
  4. Decrease sweets. Consuming products high in sugar will lead to a peak in blood sugar and then a major drop. The drop is what leads to feelings of fatigue. If you cut out sweets, you’ll avoid the blood sugar swings.
  5. Exercise! Getting your blood flowing and getting into shape will increase your metabolism and stamina.
  6. Sleep. You’ll always feel tired if you don’t get your Z’s. Try to slow down and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night.