Tea and Coffee vs Water

There has been some debate about how much water one should drink each day, and whether or not beverages like coffee and tea count towards that amount. As most of us know, coffee and tea contain caffeine, which is a diuretic, and diuretics do the opposite of hydrating you.

A cup of coffee has about 200mg of caffeine. A cup of tea has quite a bit less (40-100mg), depending on the strength of the tea. However, the general consensus as of late is that, despite the caffeine, these beverages still count towards your fluid intake for the day. The reason is that, although caffeine is a diuretic, the amount in a strong cup of coffee or tea is simply not enough to dehydrate, and there will still be a net gain of fluid.

Although coffee and tea may be equal in their hydration factor, tea still gets the upper hand for your health. A recent sutdy in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that drinking tea is not only as good as drinking water, but possibly better, as it may carry extra health benefits in protecting against heart disease and some cancers.

The beneficial ingredients in tea are flavinoids, polyphenol antioxidants that are found in many plants (including tea leaves) that protect against oxidative cell damage. Other benefits were found to be bone strengthening and protection against tooth plaque, due to the flouride content. Researchers from this study recommend 3-4 cups of tea per day to help reduce the risk of heart attack.

One thing not mentioned in this article is the difference between types of tea. Different teas have different amounts of processing and, therefore, have different degrees of health benefits, with green tea found to be the strongest. More on that in another post…

>*This particular study was funded by the Tea Council, which usually leaves me extremely skeptical of a study’s results. However, this is not new evidence nor is it the first time these findings have been reported

Movie Popcorn Calories

Movie popcorn is notorious for Calories. It’s a nutritional deviant, and one of the worst!
We all know it’s bad, but just HOW bad is it?
Popcorn starts out as a pretty healthy treat. It’s a whole grain that is naturally high in fiber, and fat free. A few handfuls of air popped popcorn is a great snack. Unfortunately, the bright yellow stuff at the theatre leaves the stuff nearly unrecognizable.
In Canada, Cineplex theatres have switched from using coconut oil (high in saturated fat), and now uses non-hydrogenated Canola oil for popping its corn – a better choice it terms of oils. Empire also uses Canola.
The numbers:
Cineplex (no butter):
Small popcorn – 480 Calories
Regular – 780
Large – 1,120
Adding Becel loads another 160 – 270 Calories on top, and butter will set you back about another 190 – 320 Cals.
Empire (no butter):
Small – 360 Cals
Regular – 530 Cals
Large – 730 Cals
Adding Becel at Empire will load another 220 – 370 Calories on top, and butter, about another 250 – 420 Cals.
Empire’s sizes are a bit smaller (1-4 cups less, depending on the size) than Cineplex, and therefore you will get slightly fewer Calories, however, they use about 2-3 times as much sodium!! A medium popcorn will get you 370mg of salt at Cineplex, but a whopping 1090mg at Empire. Empire’s butter pumps are also a bit bigger, so adding butter will do more damage.
And let’s not forget the pop. A regular pop will run you from 150 Calories (11 tsp sugar) for a small, up to 450 Calories (31 tsp sugar) for a Large. Yuck!
If you must indulge (and we all do now and then) – keep these things in mind to minimize the damage:
Skip the butter. The popcorn at movie theatres is already yellow with butter flavour, without the extra fat pumped on top. It may be a touch change at first, but you’ll get used to it – I promise!
Go for a small, or better yet, the kid’s size! One of my favourite tricks for portion control is ordering kid’s sizes. Most kid’s sizes actually used to be adult sizes years ago, but companies have over sized and super sized everything over the past few decades.
Just say “no” – to candy! Most theatres only sell the largest packages of candy. If you must have the candy, pick up a small package from the corner store before you go – you’ll save money and Calories!
Skip dinner! Well, ok, I’m not advocating you regularly fore-go a balanced meal for a night at the movies (and even by doing so, you will still definitely be going over your fat and Calorie budget for the day), but a night of movie popcorn does not constitute a “snack”, so cutting back on something during the day isn’t a bad idea.

MSG Facts

I got one of those email-circulated nutrition myths the other day. This one was not about aspartame or margarine, it was MSG (monosodium glutamate), and as usual, it was full of misinformation. This email suggested MSG is in everything we eat, and is responsible for everything from headaches to the obesity epidemic.

Yes, MSG is everywhere. It is often listed as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” or any other number of names on ingredient labels, which can be confusing. Is it possible that some people experience stomach issues, headaches or other reactions to MSG? Sure. MSG can it cause some mild to moderate reactions for people with an MSG intolerance, but is MSG the route of all these huge health issues? Likely not.

What is MSG?

MSG is a sodium salt from a naturally occurring amino acid, glutamate, that is used as a flavour enhancer. MSG used to be derived from seaweed extract or wheat gluten, but is now usually made using bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates (similar to how beer and wine are made). Commercial MSG is made from fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses. In water, it dissociates into sodium (a natural salt) and glutamate (an amino acid that is made in our bodies). Most foods with MSG are foods we should stay away from anyway. MSG is found most abundantly in packaged and fast foods that contain many other additives and less healthy ingredients than MSG.

The studies quoted in the email were all done in rats. When it comes to studies, we have a rating system for determining how relevant they are, and animal studies are very low on the list and don’t hold much weight. Studies with animals, especially rats, are never able to be directly extrapolated to humans. We are very different species with different metabolism processes. What happens to a rat when given a certain substance does not mean it causes the same effect in humans. It’s only a preliminary study.

Secondly, one would have to read these studies in depth to find out 1) if the study design is valid, and 2) what dose were the rats given? The amount of MSG needed to add flavour to our foods is extremely minimal. The rats in these studies are often given mega-doses that humans would never even come close to taking in, even if we drank nothing but soup, salad dressing and gravy all day.

Health Canada states that the safety of MSG has been reviewed by regulatory bodies and food scientists worldwide, and does not pose a health risk to consumers. The FDA concluded in 1995 that MSG is safe for most people when eaten in customary amounts. Food scientist, Harold McGee states that after many studies “toxicologists have concluded that MSG is a harmless ingredient for most people, even in large amounts”. In addition, Health Canada states there is no evidence to support that MSG is related to obesity. For the few small studies that found that high MSG intake may be associated to a higher Body Mass Index, I would dare to argue that the results are not be due to MSG, but rather the fact that people eating higher amounts of MSG also likely have a higher intake of packaged and fast foods, and therefore, also Calories and fat.

Even without MSG added in foods, we are regularly exposed to glutamates which occur naturally in food. In fact, glutamate makes up 10-25% of our protein sources. Interestingly, people with sensitivities to glutamates in MSG have been found to be sensitive to both those from MSG, and those naturally occurring in foods.

In short, we are not able to draw conclusions from these small, preliminary studies, and it’s unfortunate they get blown up in the media and circulated around the internet. These studies simply don’t hold enough clout. The reason the general public doesn’t hear about it is not that anyone is trying to hide anything, it’s because the current research is not considered strong or valid enough to make a conclusion.

Environmental Detriments of Bottled Water

After I wrote this post discussing the environmental detriments of bottled water, I didn’t think I’d be writing another bottled water post anytime soon. Then, I saw a Nestle Pure Life water commercial and I couldn’t contain myself. Like most Nestle water commercials, this ad glamorized bottled water and stretched the truth. It specifically targeted moms,  suggesting that bottled water is a necessary component of a healthy diet for kids. While I couldn’t find the exact ad, I did find this similar one:

Nestle says “We believe that clean, high quality water is critical to human and environmental health.” I absolutely agree with that statement. And as the ad above says, we should be drinking more water and less sugary beverages. But who says that water needs to come from a bottle? There is a place for bottled water, and that is where the local water is unsafe to drink. Here in most parts of North America, we are lucky to have access to free flowing, clean, safe drinking water in our taps. Yet, people are lining up to pay for water that was bottled and trucked in from a small town in the mid-west U.S.

But Nestle’s blatant misleading doesn’t stop at “health”. Upon researching for this post, I stumbled upon Nestle’s ‘commitment to the environment and sustainability’. The Nestle Canada’s President’s Message states:

When you walk into your favourite grocer and buy any one of our bottled water products, you should have every confidence that you are doing the right thing from a health perspective as well from an environmental standpoint.

While our packaging (bottles, caps, plastic wrap and cardboard are 100 percent recycle, we are encouraging local and provincial governments across Canada to work with us and our industry partners to find ways to recycle more plastic bottles.

The problem with bottled water is much bigger than the packaging. Even if 100% of bottles were recycled, the simple fact that bottled water is removed from one location, bottled in an energy intensive plant, and shipped thousands of miles away makes it unsustainable and environmentally liable. Not to mention the millions of plastic bottles that are made from non-renewable fossil fuels. No matter what Nestle is doing in terms of ‘sustainability’, it is more environmentally costly than walking to the sink and pouring a glass of water from the tap.

Back to the health washing for a moment, the message goes on to say:

Bottled water is proving to be very helpful at a time when obesity and diabetes are on the increase amongst all Canadians, but particularly young Canadians born after 2000. Almost 30 percent of them are overweight or obese, are susceptible to diabetes and may be the first generation of Canadians whose life expectancy may be shorter than their parents’.
In no way is bottled water superior to tap water, and to allude that there is any connection between consuming more bottled water and lowering diabetes risk or improving health or nutrition, is false and misleading.

Would you buy bottled air? Seriously, think about it. Why pay for something that is harmful to the environment, has zero health benefit, and is available (for next to FREE) in your own tap? Despite what Nestle would have you believe, the bottom line is that bottled water is not healthier, ultimately, it takes a toll on our environment and that does have a direct negative impact on our health. Bottled water is not only unnecessary, it’s an indulgence. Check out the video below to get the “story of bottled water”.

For all you water connoisseurs who prefer the taste of filtered water, a simple tap filter or filtered jug will do the trick.

12 Nutritional Supplements To Keep Your Heart Healthy

Anyone age 50 or older needs a strategy for preventing heart disease.  Heart Disease is the Number 1 killer in the U.S., responsible for 40% of all deaths.  As state in my previous blogs, we all know Obesity and poor lifestyles in diet and exercise are a major factor in this epidemic.  Nutritional supplements, though, are a critical component in any plan to improve our heart’s health.

After reviewing numerous sources, I have come up with a composite of the most recommended heart health supplements that everyone, particularly those of us “mature” folk, should consider.   Most can be safely taken in any combination. However, red yeast rice and high-dose niacin should be taken under medical supervision.  In no particular preference the supplements are:


  • Fish Oil
    If you’re not eating at least two servings a week of a fatty fish such as wild salmon or sardines, you should take 1000-3000 mg daily of fish oil . Research shows that fish oil’s omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of a heart attack by more than 30%. by reducing inflammation that can cause harmful clotting, reduce high triglycerides that can lead to fatty liver, reduce the risk of clogged arteries after angioplasty or bypass surgery, lower your risk for an irregular heartbeat, lower blood pressure and reduce your risk for stroke. 
  • CoQ10
         This energy-producing substance is concentrated in heart muscle, but with age, the levels drop. Getting extra CoQ10 is important if you take a statin drug, since these drugs deplete CoQ10. It’s also essential if your heart is weak. Taking CoQ10 after a heart attack significantly lowers your risk of another heart attack. It can improve symptoms such as shortness of breath, swelling of feet, enlarged liver and trouble sleeping in people with congestive heart failure.   
  • Red Yeast Rice
         Like statin drugs, red yeast rice reduces cholesterol levels. It contains the same active ingredient as statin drugs such as lovastatin, it also contains sterols, isoflavones and monounsaturated fatty acids, all ingredients that provide additional heart protection.  Due to increased risks for liver damage, particularly for diabetics, red yeast rice should only be taken after consulting with your doctor. 
  • Vitamin D
    People with low vitamin D levels are more likely to have the risk factors that cause heart disease: type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Vitamin D also affects how well your body absorbs two minerals important for a healthy heart: calcium and magnesium.  Many experts now recommend 2,000 IU or more a day of vitamin D. 
  • Resveratrol
    Resveratrol is the anti-aging component of red wine.  It promotes cardiovascular health by helping to prevent blood clots and may help keep your heart healthy by limiting the effects of cardiac fibrosis, a hardening of the heart tissue. Use a daily supplement of 400mg of standardized resveratrol extract.
  •  B vitamins
    Folic acid, B6 and B12 have been used to reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a toxic biochemical that can harm blood vessels and cause cholesterol to stick to blood vessel walls. Niacin, another B vitamin, is sometime prescribed for treating high cholesterol. It acts on high cholesterol differently than statin drugs and is a first choice for people who need to increase their HDL.  Medical supervision is recommended for Niacin consumption due to its risks to skin and liver.
  • Vitamin E
    Vitamin E helps prevent blood platelets from sticking together, a big factor in blood clotting; stop oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a factor in hardening of the arteries; lower blood pressure by promoting production of blood vessel relaxing nitric oxide, and inhibit cholesterol production in the liver.
  • Garlic
         Garlic extract can preserve elasticity in blood vessels and slow the development of atherosclerosis. It can modestly reduce blood pressure and high cholesterol. 
  • Flavonoids/Antioxidants
    Flavonoids are found in berries, red wine, chocolate, nuts, onions, apples and citrus fruits. They reduce the inflammation associated with heart disease, improve the ability of blood vessels to relax, strengthen capillaries and act as powerful antioxidants. Some of the best sources of flavonoids are, acai extract and goji berry extract, pomegranates, blueberry, bilberry, cranberry, and grape seed extract..  Green Tea is especially noted by nutritional experts for its ability to improve cholesterol levels.
  •  Magnesium
    Magnesium is essential for the proper function of the entire cardiovascular system. It can improve energy production in the heart, dilate coronary arteries, and reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
  •  Chromium
    Chromium may reduce LDL and increase HDL. Typical changes are small but important since each 1% decrease in total cholesterol carries a 2% reduction in heart attack or stroke risk, and every 1% increase in HDL carries a 4% decrease in risk.
  •  Vitamin C
    Vitamin C may help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. It also is associated with lower total and LDL cholesterol, and higher levels of HDL.