bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Will coffee reduce your risk of death?


Image from pixabay, used under a creative commons licence

I must say, the headlines stemming from this study were baffling. Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that the risk of mortality is 100% in everyone? I suppose there’s the off-chance that someone will find a fountain of youth or become a vampire or something but given how unlikely those scenarios are, it’s safe to say that we’re all going to die.

And yet, last week many articles were proclaiming that coffee would reduce the risk of death. Reduce the risk of death, during the time frame of the study, sure. Eventually though, regardless of how much coffee you drink you’re going to die. Sorry if this comes as a surprise.

Let’s be clear, the study was observational so, as with most nutrition research, no conclusions about causality can be drawn. Despite the fact that the researchers found a reduced risk of death (during the study) among coffee drinkers, this doesn’t mean that the coffee was responsible for that reduced risk.

It’s important to note that when the researchers included smokers in their analysis, they actually found that heavier coffee drinkers were more likely to die than those who drank less coffee; likely due to the fact that coffee and cigarettes tend to go hand-in-hand for many smokers. Once they removed smokers from their analysis they found an inverse relationship between coffee consumption and risk of death from cardiovascular disease, neurological disease and suicide. There was no relationship between coffee consumption and risk of death due to breast cancer or colorectal cancer. Take away: if you smoke, coffee won’t provide you with any protection from developing lung cancer and respiratory diseases. Even if you don’t smoke, coffee won’t protect you from some forms of cancer and many other causes of death.

The association between coffee consumption and reduced risk of dying as a result of the aforementioned causes held when the sample was stratified for things such as BMI, physical activity, alternate healthy eating score, sex, and cohort. This suggests that coffee may reduce the risk of death from these causes (during the study) independent of many other risk factors. However, we don’t know how much protection against death from these causes drinking coffee actually affords us. The relative risk is not stated in the paper.

Drinking coffee, regular or decaf, may provide you with some protection from specific causes of death. It’s also looking likely that there are more benefits to regularly drinking coffee than there are harms. Regardless, coffee will not keep you alive forever.


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Why McDonald’s hipster cafe is a scary development


Did you know that McDonald’s is running a “hipster” café called The Corner in Australia? Apparently, after failed attempts to add more nutritious items to the regular McDonald’s menu, McDonald’s has decided to make the effort to capture the more health-conscious consumer by starting a new operation.

It’s difficult to say whether or not the food actually is more nutritious than the traditional McDonald’s fare. They don’t have the nutrition information posted online and seem only to have a facebook page. According to reviewers in this article the food is more upscale than that at McDonald’s. However, it still has that mass manufactured quality to it. Nothing truly artisan about it.

Okay, so without knowledge of the nutrition information, what’s my issue with this Corner Café? You know I must have an issue with it or I wouldn’t be blogging about it! My issue is the domination of our food industry by just a few players.

In grocery stores we see more and more small, quality, ethical companies being purchased by the giants. Starbucks is notorious for swooping in, saturating markets, and edging out the competition. We have Monsanto controlling most of the seeds used to grow our food. McDonald’s is already the most ubiquitous “restaurant” in the world. Now we have them masquerading as a local coffee shop. Allowing giant companies to own (read: control) our food is a dangerous road that we’re already pretty far down.

When there aren’t enough players in the game prices can be driven-up and quality can be neglected. We also run the risk of disaster if something happens along the food supply chain if everything’s coming from one place.

Maybe I’m being alarmist; maybe not. Personally, I’d rather err on the side of caution and support a local café rather than McDonald’s.

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Getting your caffeine in the shower


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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More about butter and coffee and so-called experiments


After seeing Mondays blog post on buttered coffee, a friend sent me a link to another blog post about adding butter to coffee. Unfortunately for me, I was reading the post on my phone, skimmed through the middle, and read the end conclusion that you should “TRY IT!  You won’t be sorry.” As it turned out, that quote was from an earlier post, which in my haste and on my iphone, appeared to be a continuation of the first post. This lead to a long and painful “discussion” on twitter with the author of the original post.

The author actually did reach a (somewhat) similar conclusion to that reached by Lindsey: “I think that the potential long term increase in cholesterol-related counts, despite my low carb diet, would ultimately be unsustainably unhealthy…for me.” This was on the basis of a personal case study in which he maintained his regular diet and changed nothing other than the addition of four tablespoons of grass-fed butter to his morning coffee.

Now, the author also states that he leads a healthy active lifestyle: eats mainly paleo, strength trains, and does and jiu jitsu. After removing the butter from his coffee he saw an improvement in his blood work. Even though I’m glad that his results supported our conviction that adding copious amounts of butter to one’s morning coffee is a nutritional nightmare, I still don’t think his experiment holds much credence. He admits that this was not a double-blind study. However, I don’t see this as being the issue here. The issue is that it’s an experiment with one participant. Yes, the results are interesting but they’re unlikely to be applicable to the vast majority of the population. Most people don’t consume diets similar to his. Nor do they exercise regularly. Imagine what the results of the blood panel of the average North American drinking Bulletproof coffee in an effort to lose weight would be after a month!

The only people I can see experiencing any benefit from consuming coffee with butter would be those suffering from anorexia or other conditions leading to excessive weight-loss.

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From mice and CGA to humans and coffee: I won’t be forsaking my Bodum just yet


Now that everybody’s all in a tizzy about the latest evidence that coffee is bad for us maybe it’s time to actually look at the study. News reports are stating that “five cups of coffee or more per day linked to weight gain, increased diabetes risk”. Not exactly.

The study used mice as subjects. As discussed before, mice are not humans and results in mice may differ significantly from results in humans. In addition to this, the study didn’t actually look at coffee consumption. No, they looked at the effect of one component present in coffee. That’s like taking sugar out of an orange, giving it to mice, and then stating that oranges are making us obese. One of the greatest obstacles for the supplement industry is that individual nutrients and other substances contained in foods do not have the same effects when they’re consumed in isolation. That’s why us dietitians are always yammering on about it being best to get as many of your nutrients as you can from whole foods.

Yet another issue with the study is that they used three groups of mice: one fed a “normal diet”, a second fed a “high-fat diet”, and the third fed “a high-fat diet + CGA” (CGA is chlorogenic acid, the component in coffee that they were studying). They only looked at the effects of the CGA on mice consuming a high-fat diet. Thus, we don’t know what effects of CGA might have been on mice consuming other types of diets. Admittedly, the mice taking the CGA fared worse than the mice on the high-fat diet alone. However, as the headline pointed out, the negative consequences of CGA consumption were only seen in mice consuming the equivalent of CGA from five or more cups of coffee a day.

This study tells me that CGA in isolation, in relatively high quantities, in mice consuming high-fat diets, may contribute to weight gain and associated risks. A great deal more research is needed before we can draw any similar conclusions regarding human consumption of coffee. For now, take this dose of reality and wash it down with a good cup of coffee.