8 reasons why you should drink coffee (and when you shouldn’t)

When I’m asking my patients about what they eat and drink through the day, they often shamefully ‘confess’ that they are coffee drinkers. The good news is that coffee in reasonable amounts might be one of the healthiest things you can do.

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Scientific research shows that in the short term, caffeine increases alertness, concentration, vigilance, improves mood, reduces perception of pain and increases time to fatigue when exercising.

For long term health benefits, coffee has anti-cancer, anti-obesity, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties.

New research shines some light on the mechanisms behind these health benefits – it seems that there are links between coffee and the health of the gut microbiota. Higher coffee consumption is associated with increased richness and evenness of the gut microbiota in the lining of the digestive system, and higher relative abundance of anti-inflammatory bacteria.

8 fascinating coffee and caffeine facts: 

  1. Caffeine is absorbed rapidly and totally in the small intestine in less than 1 hour
  2. Caffeine is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called cytochrome P450 oxidase. Depending on your genetics, some people have more of this enzyme than others, therefore this affects sensitivity.
  3. It can help the bowel to contract – helpful for constipation, not so helpful if you are prone to diarrhoea!
  4. In women, the metabolism of caffeine is slower during pregnancy, as well as when taking oral contraceptives. This means that the effects of caffeine isn’t broken down by the liver as quickly, so the effects are felt for longer.
  5. Cigarette smoking doubles the rate of caffeine clearance by increasing the liver enzyme activity. This means that the effects of caffeine wear off more quickly. This may be one of the explanations for the higher rate of caffeine consumption among smokers.
  6. Coffee reduces the absorption of Levothyroxine – this is a common medication for hypothyroidism which should ideally be taken on an empty stomach
  7. Excessive caffeine intake may increase ‘unstable’ bladder in women i.e. suddenly being desperate for a wee
  8. The belief that coffee is dehydrating is not true for habitual coffee drinkers. If your body is used to drinking coffee the effect on urine output should be minimal (unless your bladder is sensitive to caffeine – see previous point). Obviously if you drink a lot of any fluid you are going to wee more).
cup-latte-coffee

Any negatives of caffeine to be aware of?

  • Increased anxiety – many people with depression/anxiety/stress find that coffee can make it much worse
  • Insomnia – if you are sensitive to caffeine, you may need to to keep coffee for the morning
  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhoea – common in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

So, it’s best to know your own body and how much caffeine you can tolerate. If you have a good tolerance, limit yourself to 4-6 cups per day (maximum of 2 cups if pregnant). If you suffer with diarrhoea, anxiety or insomnia, then try cutting coffee out for a few days to see if this helps!

Right, time for a cuppa!!!!!

KFC – can fast food be fit food?

Call it a mid life crisis, but I’ve recently started stoking up the social life with a night out every fortnight or so. With only weeks to go until my 39 turns to in to forty, and with significantly more childcare on hand (thank you parents, sister and cousins!) it would be silly not to.

Usually a conversation in the pub eventually gets to “what do you do?”, or hilariously (well, it seemed the funniest thing I’d ever heard after a few Bushmill Mojitos): “What is your role in life?”

When I tell people that I am a dietitian, a lot of people ask the ‘Which Is Better’ question e.g.  “gin with slimline or fat tonic?”, “Guinness or beer?” or “what’s the least bad thing to have from the take-away”.

So takeaways: can fast food be fit food?

Purely for research purposes, today, I attended one of the best fast food joints Bangor Ring Road has to offer: KFC@Balloo.

What was the healthiest/least ‘bad’ thing on offer?

I had been slightly terrified that I was going to have to get one of those great big buckets that used to be advertised on TV in the 80’s. How things have changed! It felt like a chorus of angels had descended when I spotted the KFC Rice Box. It looked remarkably similar to the boxes you can get in Leon – a healthy fast fast food mecca in snazzy London.

 

 

Original Recipe Rice Box: in a box, there was a large portion of rice, a crispy chicken fillet, some salad (lettuce and tomatoes), a dollop of tomato chutney on the rice, and a splash of creamy dressing on the lettuce.

 

KFC Rice Box Adult Recommended Intake per day
Calories 500 2000
Fat 17 70
Saturated Fat 2.3 20
Carbohydrates 64 260
Protein 28 50
Salt 2.5 6

 

  • Taste: It was quite tasty indeed. The chicken wasn’t at all dry, the rice was flavoursome, the lettuce was crispy and the tomatoes great too (I am clearly not a food critic with extensive foody vocabulary!)
  • Nutrition:
    • the rice provides a good source of carbs (although there was a bit too much for me so I left about half).
    • great amount of protein from the chicken
    • the chicken has been deep fried so higher in fat than a grilled fillet, unfortunately KFC doesn’t have this option. I guess that’s reasonable as the joint is has ‘fried chicken’ in it’s name.
    • the salad provides about one of your five a day of fruit/veg
    • Horribly high in salt, giving you almost half of your recommended daily salt intake. The salt is probably what makes the rice so tasty.

KFC Nutrition Guide

How to ‘health it up’:

  • add a bottle of water
  • add a side of corn on the cob to double your veg intake
  • only eat half the rice, unless you’re very hungry or have just been working out
  • remove the crispy skin from the chicken
  • DO NOT add any more salt
  • DO NOT add chips or Coke

As a post sport/exercise/workout recovery meal, this is pretty good. It provides a decent amount of carbs, protein, and veg. The salt can be a good thing if you are a heavy sweater.

So how does it compare to healthy restaurant Leon’s box? Well, Leon has lots of different versions, but typically, there isn’t a massive amount of difference when comparing calories and overall fats. The KFC one is higher in salt and carbs (probably due to the big portion of rice), but as a positive KFC is higher in protein. Leon’s usually also contain healthy fats from avocado, olive oil and seeds.

Would I get this again from KFC? Yes, sure I would. Thumbs up 🙂

Smoothie Bowl

6216be92664c268834e07ac1a29edd4aThis is something I make in seconds for my kids as a very healthy pudding. They love it. It’s somewhere between ice-cream and a smoothie. For me, I sometimes have it as a breakfast. I add a handful of oats, and if I’ve just had a bike or run, a scoop of protein powder.

Why it’s great:

Yogurt: calcium, protein, good bacteria for the digestion Berries: antioxidants,
phytonutrients and fibre. Oats: for slow release energy, soluble fibre, B-glucan cholesterol lowering, carbs for replacing muscle glycogen stores post workout. Protein powder: 20g extra protein post workout for muscle recovery and maintenance, also keeps you feeling full up for longer. 

Ingredients:

  • frozen berries: 1 big handful per person
  • Oats: 1 small handful per person (about 30g)
  • Natural yogurt: 3 tablespoons per person
  • Honey: 1/2-1 teaspoon per person

Method: whizz up in a blender, in my blender I’ve to give it a shake every few seconds to get all the ingredients down to the bottom.

Eat with a spoon!img_1066.jpg

If you use a flavoured yogurt, there’s no need to add honey as it should be sweet enough already.

 

Here’s what I used this evening……

Trans Fats – what do I need to know?

I’m always being asked about fats…….”which fats are good” or “which fats are bad”. While it is clear that we all need to include some fat in our diets to remain healthy, not all fats are equal.

What are trans fats?

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Trans fats are the baddies, the grizzly little gremlins of the food world. They are:

  • Artificially produced as an ingredient for biscuits, pies, cakes and fried food
  • Produced when vegetable fats are subjected to a very high temperature e.g. takeaway foods
  • Naturally occurring in small amounts in dairy e.g. cheese and cream

Health concerns about these fats has recently led to many UK manufacturers reducing the amounts of trans fats in foods. In 2006 United Biscuits, who produce McVities, KP and Jacobs ranges, removed trans fats from their products. Marks & Spencer, as well as many other supermarket chains, also banned the use of trans fats in own brand products.

Why are trans fats bad for me?

Trans fats raise levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and reduce the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also increase levels of another form of blood fat called triglycerides. All of these effects of trans fats can raise your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Trans fats appear to increase risk of CHD more than saturated fats, and so are potentially worse for our health.

How do I know if a food is high in trans fats?

ConfusedYou need to check ingredients lists for partially hydrogenated fats.

A ‘hydrogenated fat’ does not contain trans fat, only ‘partially hydrogenated fats’ contain trans fats. If a food product contains partially hydrogenated fats or oils, it will almost certainly contain trans fats too, and the higher up the list the fat or oil appears, the more trans fats the product is likely to contain.

Many manufacturers now avoid using hydrogenated fats or have reduced the amount of trans fats in their products to very low levels.

 Unfortunately for takeaway food in can be harder to tell as nutrition labelling may not exist. Big takeaway companies like McDonalds have removed artificial trans fats from their menus, however, small takeaway outlets may still use trans fats for cooking.

Take home message……

The good news is that in the UK intakes of trans fats are on average lower than the guidelines. In the last 20 years, levels of trans fat in food have reduced considerably.

However as part of a healthy diet, you should aim to keep the amount of trans fats to a minimum. In general trans fats may be found in takeaways, cakes, biscuits, hard margarines, pastry, pies and fried foods, all of which are the types of foods to limit when choosing a healthy, balanced diet.

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