bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Teaed off: Are there pesticides in your cuppa?


A recent article in Natural News reported that a number of Celestial Seasonings brand teas “contained potentially dangerous levels of multiple pesticides”. This article was based on a report released by Glaucus Research back in February of this year. It’s important to note that Glaucus Research is “highly critical of Hain Celestial. Though Glaucus Research is an investment firm that specializes in short selling and one which stands to gain financially if Hain Celestial stocks go down”.

In response to the initial report by Glaucus, Celestial Seasonings issued a statement of Safety Assurance. Telling consumers that they had promptly had their teas tested for pesticide residues by an independent lab and had found that pesticide levels of all teas tested were within acceptable amounts.

So, who to believe? The company that stands to profit from plummeting sales of Celestial Seasonings teas? Or Celestial Seasonings which stands to lose from plummeting sales. It’s a pity that we can’t do our own pesticide residue testing at home, as I’m not inclined to have faith in either party here.

What’s a tea drinker to do? The article in Natural News suggests that rates Twinnings Tea as an A (Celestial Seasonings received a D). However, Twinnings actually has a C on the rank a brand site. Regardless, the brand ranking is based on sustainability, not food safety, making it somewhat irrelevant to the discussion. Not that I’m saying sustainability is unimportant (of course, it’s highly important) I’m just saying that if you’re worried about pesticides in your tea, that site isn’t going to be of any assistance.

I found this 2010-2011 report on pesticides in coffee, juice, and tea by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that doesn’t state specific brands tested but does tell us that 75% of teas sampled were compliant with regulations and: “Oolong tea contained the highest percentage of samples with pesticide residue violations at 75% followed by white tea at 50%, green tea at 32%, herbal and black tea at 20% each, and other tea at 12%. Detectable pesticide residues were found in all types of tea sampled.” However, the CFIA goes on to state that the level of pesticides found in the teas did not pose any risk to the consumer.

It seems that the risk of pesticide consumption has less to do with the brand than with the variety of tea. I think that you’re likely to consume at least some quantity of pesticide when you’re drinking a cup of tea and you just have to decide if that risk is worth it to you.


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The DL on “green coffee extract”

Sorry about the hiatus there over the weekend. Don’t worry; I wouldn’t abandon you like that! I was just busy driving halfway across the country for a workcation. During my travels I noticed a new pair of “Refreshers” beverages that Starbucks is promoting. The Very Berry and Cool Lime Refreshers™ Beverages allow you to “rethink how you energize” with green coffee extract. They give coffee haters a way to enjoy coffee without any of the actual taste of actual coffee.

I was curious what this “green coffee extract” was so I picked-up one of their little brochures. It turns out that green coffee extract is… wait for it…. caffeine! That’s right, just good old fashioned caffeine. The fact that it comes from green coffee beans is completely irrelevant except to Starbucks clever marketers. I hate to break it to you but these “moderate-calorie” afternoon pick-me-ups still contain 70-90 calories in a grande (that’s about 66-86 more calories than a grande black coffee) all of which come from sugar. If it’s the caffeine boost you’re looking for, these drinks have considerably less caffeine than brewed coffee or espresso. Refreshers™ are no replacement for coffee. If you don’t like coffee you’re much better off with tea than you are with these beverages.

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Do caffeinated beverages cause dehydration?

Myth 35: Drinking tea causes dehydration.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“It’s a popular belief that tea is dehydrating because it has caffeine, but the level of caffeine you get from drinking moderate amounts of tea, even strong tea, doesn’t dehydrate you. Tea is actually 99.5 percent water and counts towards your fluid intake for the day, so it can help keep you hydrated… How or cold, tea is also hydrating and, with no added sugar, is calorie-free and tastes great.”
What I say:
Interesting how this myth centres on tea, no mention of coffee, and Lipton is one of the Nutrition Month sponsors this year. Coincidence? I think not. Anyway… Setting that aside, this statement by DC is all true. It is a common misconception that coffee and tea are dehydrating. Coffee and tea actually both count towards your daily total fluid intake. You can drink up to about 6 cups of coffee before the caffeine is going to have a dehydrating effect on you. Coffee and tea also have numerous health benefits. Coffee may have anti-cancer properties (caffeinated coffee has been linked to reduced rates of liver, colon, breast, and rectal cancers). Coffee may protect men, but not women, against Parkinson’s disease, and it may also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Health Canada has endorsed three health benefits from drinking tea: tea is a source of antioxidants, drinking tea can increase alertness, and tea may help maintain or support cardiovascular health. Health Canada tends to err on the side of caution so there may indeed be more health benefits associated with drinking tea. It’s important to note that these benefits are associated with black coffee and tea with nothing added. While you may still see health benefits from drinking tea or coffee with added milk or milk alternative you’re likely to see more negative health consequences than benefits if you’re drinking tea or coffee loaded with cream and sugar and especially if you’re drinking desserts masquerading as coffee as you see at many coffee shops.

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How about a nice cup o’ aluminum and fluoride

I was reading this blog post from Free Form Fitness blog last week and was a little annoyed. The author states that black and green tea contain fluoride and aluminum so “if it’s not good in larger doses it’s not good in smaller doses either and I would rather avoid it and kick it off the super food list.” First, I don’t think there should be a super food list. As I’ve mentioned before, a case can be made for nearly every whole food to be included in this list. It’s pretty meaningless hype. That aside, I think that this article leads to fear mongering. It’s absurd to say that because something is bad for you in large amounts that you shouldn’t consume it. Too much of  anything is bad for you! It’s all about moderation. As far as the limited research on the subject shows, up to four cups of most varieties of tea, are safe for all ages to consume in relation to fluoride content. As for aluminum, according to the National Cancer Institute “there is no evidence of any aluminum toxicity associated with drinking tea”. My verdict: don’t be discouraged from consuming a cup or two of tea a day if it’s something you enjoy. Just don’t start guzzling gallons of green tea just because some celebrity has touted it as the next cure-all and magical weight loss formula.


Caffeine Champion

I recently had a conversation that irked me. Someone I had just met said that he was going to go home and have some green tea to wake up. I expressed surprise as green tea does not have a particularly high caffeine content. He insisted that it has more than coffee. My friend piped up with the fact that I’m a dietitian. He said he has friends who work in tea houses. I countered with the fact that I used to manage a small chain of coffee shops. He said “I bet you didn’t sell a lot of tea.” I said “touche” and let it go as clearly this was not an argument I was going to win. Anyway… Just in case you’re wondering… The caffeine content of tea and coffee can vary considerably, mostly due to the method of preparation. On average though, coffee is the caffeine leader at roughly 95 mg per serving (which is a tiny 8 oz). In close second is black tea with an average 88 mg per 8 oz. Coming in third is green tea, at a mere 32 mg per 8 oz. Vindication. Regardless of caffeine content, there are different health benefits related to each when consumed in moderation, and detrimental effects when consumed in excess.