bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Getting your caffeine in the shower

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Have you ever heard of caffeine-containing body wash and soap? I’d heard of using coffee grounds as a fat-reducing, exfoliating scrub before (spoiler: rubbing coffee on your body will not help you lose weight, it does exfoliate quite nicely though but also makes a mess in the tub). Anyway… Until last month I’d never heard of caffeine-containing body wash. Silly me, I should have known that it would exist.

Upon hearing about it, naturally, my first question was if we could even absorb caffeine topically. As it turns out, yes, we can. Of course, my next question was whether or not one could absorb enough caffeine from a body wash to have any appreciable effect. Short answer: probably not. The study in the previous link showed that about 50% of caffeine applied topically can be absorbed through hair follicles and caffeine shows-up in blood after only five minutes of topical application when follicles are open. A nice warm shower would ensure that your follicles are open for maximum absorption. However, I don’t know about you but I don’t really want to stand around for at least five minutes to get a little bit of caffeine from my soap. I’d hazard to guess that for the amount of time that most of us spend covered in soap suds that we’d absorb very little caffeine from our soap.

While caffeinated soaps and body washes may make a fun gimmicky gift for the caffeine aficionado in your life, if you really want to keep them awake you’re better off giving them some good old-fashioned coffee beans.


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Would you “do the dew” for breakfast?

Well, I honestly didn’t see this one coming: Pepsi has launched a new Mountain Dew breakfast beverage called Kickstart. In the official press release the company states: “Kickstart presents a fresh alternative to the age-old morning question of “coffee or juice,” by offering the best of all worlds. It combines the great taste of Mountain Dew with five percent real fruit juice and just the right amount of caffeine.” Ummm… what? This sounds like neither coffee nor juice to me. Coffee is so much more than caffeine and 5% juice does not sound much like orange juice to me.

Clearly I’m out of touch with the average Pepsi consumers who told the company “they are looking for an alternative to traditional morning beverages”. Even if this is what they were asking for, I’m not sure that 5% juice and 92 mg of caffeine in a soda were exactly what they had in mind.

Kickstart will be available in stores (at least in the US, I’m not sure about Canada) toward the end of the month in both orange citrus and fruit punch flavours. Personally, I plan to stick with my coffee.


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ISSN fumbles the ball on energy drinks

Earlier this month the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) released a position stand on energy drinks. My immediate assumption was that they were going to discourage their use. I, foolishly, assumed this because the use of energy drinks may be linked to a number of deaths, as well as other dangerous side effects.

The actual position stand stated that they may be beneficial to athletic performance due to the caffeine content. Although users should be aware that calories consumed may outweigh calories burned when using these drinks. They cautioned that children should not use them without parental supervision and education on the potential side effects. Seriously?! That’s it!!? I have heard about parents pushing energy drinks on their children prior to sporting events. I don’t think that parental approval is a reasonable measure. How do they expect parents to be appropriately educated regarding the risks? Especially when their own statement primarily extolls the virtues of energy drinks.

I’m extremely disappointed by this statement. The ISSN is a respected organization and they wasted a valuable opportunity to take a stand against the use of energy drinks. At a minimum, I think that energy drinks should be regulated like cigarettes and should only be available to people when they’re at least 18 years of age.


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Regulating energy drinks

I was pleased to read that Doctors Nova Scotia is pushing for a ban on the sale of energy drinks to minors (i.e. anyone under the age of 19). They’re also calling for better labelling of energy drinks. In my previous life as a public health dietitian in Ontario this is something I wanted to push for. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in our operational plan for the year so I never had a chance to (ah, bureaucracy).

I’ve been told stories of parents feeding every drinks to their children before sporting competitions. I’ve also heard from parents of children suffering adverse reactions (seizures, death) following the consumption of energy drinks. Children do not need these high levels of caffeine. Health Canada recommends no more than 2.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight a day. This amount can be easily exceeded with just one energy drink. They can contain up to 400 mg of caffeine.

One of the tricky things about energy drinks, under the current legislation, is that they only have to list the added caffeine on the label. All of the caffeine that comes from “natural” sources like yerba mate. Also, as with any food or beverage, you need to make sure that the serving size corresponds with the amount that you’re actually consuming. If there’s two servings per can and you drink a whole can then you’re getting (at least) twice as much caffeine as is listed on the label.

I hope that Doctors Nova Scotia are successful in their bid to change the regulations surrounding energy drinks. People can complain about nanny states all they want but until they’re grown-up (or in the case of adults act like grown-ups) then a nanny may be just what they need.


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The case for coffee

I recently tweeted a link to an article about the health benefits of drinking coffee. In return, I received a request from a friend to write about the benefits of coffee on my blog. As the aforementioned article didn’t appear to be all that exhaustive, and I’ve been lacking in the inspiration department lately, I decided to honour his request. By the way, if you ever have any suggestions for blog topics please let me know!

After being sidelined by google scholar producing a recipe involving coffee and Capt’n Crunch Cereal as the top hit (what the heck?!) I found a decent review article: Coffee and its Consumption: Benefits and Risks. The authors and journal both appear to be legit. So, what does this article tell us about coffee? For one, there have been quite a few studies examining the relationship between coffee and various types of cancer and most of them found conflicting results. Coffee and bladder cancer? Increased risk? No association? Decreased risk? I don’t know! Studies found all of these results. So far, it seems that coffee consumption results in a reduced risk of liver cancer. However, there was an increased risk of prostate cancer associated with coffee consumption. Those were the only two types of cancer that didn’t have conflicting study results (yet).

Early studies show that coffee consumption may help to prevent or at least slow the progression of type 2 diabetes. I would also like to add the caution that coffee is not going to make-up for a poor diet and lack of physical activity. In fact, consumption of coffee alongside a fast food breakfast may actually increase blood glucose.

Epidemiological studies have shown a decreased risk of Parkinson’s Disease in male coffee drinkers. Sadly, the same benefit has not been found for female coffee drinkers.

The relationship between coffee and headaches is a bit of a double-edged sword. Coffee consumption can ease a headache. However, regular coffee drinkers may experience headaches if they reduce their consumption. Also, it’s the caffeine in the coffee that’s providing the benefit in this case, not anything inherently unique to coffee.

The dark side of coffee? Excessive consumption can make you jittery. It can also negatively affect your sleep. Coffee can irritate the stomach and some people may experience heartburn as a result of coffee consumption. Dark roast coffee and espresso may be more easily tolerated than medium and light roasts (1). Consumption of more than three cups of coffee a day increases the risk of spontaneous abortion in pregnant women during the first-trimester and early in the second-trimester. Also, caffeine consumed by pregnant women is passed on to the fetus in the womb.

Unadulterated coffee is a pretty healthy beverage. It only contains about five calories per cup and it counts towards your daily fluid intake. However, adding things like cream and sugar can quickly turn it into a high-calorie, high-fat drink. How you brew your coffee also makes a difference. If you’re like me (a bit of a coffee snob), and use a french press every day, or only drink espresso-based beverages, you’re getting more LDL-cholesterol (that’s the bad kind) raising chemicals in your cup than coffee drinkers who use a paper filter. Try to keep your coffee simple and add as little as possible to it. Enjoy it guilt-free, odds are the benefits of coffee outweigh the risks.

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