March is about nutrition and caffeine

cortadosMarch is National Nutrition Month and Caffeine Awareness Month.  Coincidence??

Alas, Caffeine Awareness isn’t about celebrating caffeine. It’s about being “mindful” of caffeine. In other words, it’s a Food Police thing. Something called the CaffeineAwareness.org has taken on the noble mission of warning us about caffeine.  Well someone had to do it.  You’re encouraged to spend the month of March being mindful of caffeine.  If that’s not enough awareness, you can spend the other 11 months reading their helpful book “Life Without Caffeine.”

Is there a nutrition-caffeine connection?  Caffeine is not a nutrient.  It’s an alkaloid, found naturally in dozens of plants, and acts as a mild stimulant.  When you consume caffeine, it’s broken down and the metabolic byproducts are excreted.  This process depends on an enzyme system that can ramp up or down, depending on your usual caffeine intake.  People who rarely consume caffeine might feel “sensitive” to the effects because their caffeine metabolism isn’t ramped up.  Someone who typically has a high daily intake is much less sensitive to the effects, because caffeine metabolism is chronically revved up.

There is a vague connection to nutrition.  Caffeine can boost energy utilization, and that effect can help endurance athletes, but the effects are minor.  Caffeine can help stifle appetite for some people, and it’s a common ingredient in weight loss supplements.  It’s added to soft drinks and some “energy” products.  Unfortunately, these are products that appeal to kids, and

According to information compiled by Red Bull from USDA diet surveys:

  • 98% of our caffeine comes from beverages. Perhaps the other 2% comes from chocolate?
  • 85% of people in the US consume a caffeinated beverage daily
  • 165 mg is the average daily consumption
  • 64% of our caffeine intake is from coffee; 2% is from energy drinks; the rest is from tea and soft drinks

NNM2016yellowI would have been interested in the range of daily intakes.  The recommended “safe” daily limit for an adult is 400 mg.  Certainly plenty of people consume more than that.  A 16 oz coffee has 330 mg.  I was happy to see that a double shop of espresso has less than half that amount: 150 mg.  Which means a flavorful Americano (espresso + hot water) has less caffeine than a run-of-the-mill large brewed coffee.

Caffeine and Kids

The suggested limit for kids is 2.5 mg/kg body weight per day.  That means an adolescent boy who weighs 100 lbs shouldn’t consume more than about 110 mg of caffeine in a day.  If he drank 3 cans of cola a day, he’d reach that limit. But frankly he shouldn’t be drinking 3 cans of cola on any day.  The limit would be higher for teens who weigh more, and who might also be likely to drink more caffeinated beverages like coffee drinks, energy drinks and soft drinks.  Soft drinks and energy drinks are frequently marketed by using the stimulant properties of caffeine as a coolness factor. Some kids might think that stuff gives them an edge in sports, or to stay awake long hours.

National Nutrition Month

The theme for National Nutrition Month 2016 is “Savor the flavor of eating right”.  I’m all in favor of flavor, whether from food or coffee.  The point is that healthy food should be delicious, not grim and off-putting.  Unfortunately, there’s a widespread belief that healthy food tastes bad.  Of course, if you’ve spent your life drinking soft drinks and eating processed food, you’ve been trained to like those tastes.  Energy drinks like Red Bull have a strange flavor, but apparently people have now learned to expect weird flavors from energy drinks.  As if the flavor itself indicates energy.  So if you can learn to accept something like that, you can learn to savor the flavors of healthy whole foods that have far more health benefits than a manufactured caffeinated beverage.

 

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