Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Not Until I’ve Had My Coffee…

             What is your caffeinated beverage of choice-- Coffee, tea, soda, or the ever more popular energy drink? It’s interesting, and a little sad, how many people forget that the soda they drink actually contains caffeine (of course there is always the caffeine free option) but to me this is the same silliness as people forgetting to include beverages to their total caloric intake! Today let’s take a closer look at caffeine. Who knows, it might wake you up more than your morning coffee.

I’ve always wondered where the caffeine comes from in energy drinks. People typically think of natural sources: the coffee bean, the cocoa bean, or the tea leaf. Did you know that if a drink lists ‘caffeine’ as an ingredient that it means it is the synthetic form? I didn’t! How do they make the synthetic form? Through the chemical synthesis of urea! Yes, urea is the main nitrogen containing compound in the urine of humans and mammals but not to worry—no one is putting tinkle in your drink. Urea can also be made from inorganic material in the lab. Urea is used to manufacture plastics, adhesives, plywood, and industrial feedstock. It can also be chemically altered to create a synthetic  and more potent version of caffeine. This equates to quicker absorption in the body, a quicker spike, and a harder crash. Want to read more information on synthetic caffeine? Of course you do—go here.

I know what everyone who cannot live without their caffeinated beverages is thinking: Please say it isn’t bad for me! I don’t know anyone who drinks more caffeine than my dad. Eight to ten cups of coffee a day, with his supplemental daily can of Mountain Dew. As a health science student I tend to believe that caffeine, even if it is from natural sources, like any other food or drink— should be consumed in moderation. To answer this question, let’s break down the natural caffeine containing drinks:

Green Tea:
-May help prevent heart disease and certain cancers through antioxidants (flavanoids such as ECGC)
-May boost the metabolism and help you maintain a healthy weight
-In the November 2011 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a study showed that green tea catechins may decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Black Tea:
-May reduce the risk of stroke
-May reduce the risk of lung damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke (oh really?)
-Like green tea, black tea also contains antioxidants but to lesser extent

-coffee drinkers have a lower rate of type 2 diabetes (hold the sugar please)
-reduced risk of Alzeimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
-reduced risk of liver cirrhosis, gallstones, and colon cancer

The downside to drinking too much caffeine.
You didn’t think you were getting away Scott-free did you?

-Sleep disturbance
-Withdrawal headaches
-Blood pressure and breathing rate increase
-Upset stomach and heartburn

How much is safe to drink?

It depends on the individual. Typically, 2 to 4 cups of a brewed caffeinated drink is not harmful (200-300 milligrams) according to the Mayo Clinic. Listen to your body. For example, if I have more than one cup of coffee in a day I will experience headaches, anxiousness, and have trouble getting to sleep at night. My dad on the other hand drinks the aforementioned entire pot of coffee and he has no trouble falling asleep. Makes me wonder if he is getting restful sleep though.

There is a lot of research out there, so what is my suggestion? Moderation, my fellow foodies. If you aren’t already a caffeine addict, you don’t have to start frequenting Starbucks in order to get the health benefits listed above. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (yes, I’m going there) are all excellent sources of antioxidants and can also aid you in preventing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. If there is anything else you would like to know about caffeinated beverages my dear reader, don’t hesitate to ask. Just not until I’ve had my coffee…
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