Gym goers and fitness fanatics around the world swear by coffee and its caffeine properties to enhance their performance and accelerate their results. But is drinking coffee good or bad for you? We investigate.
What are the benefits of drinking coffee?
Coffee could well be described as one of the healthiest things on the planet. Drinking coffee has multiple proven health benefits and it's no wonder it's such a widely consumed beverage around the world.
Coffee contains caffeine which is a stimulant, and research has shown that it can improve memory, mood, energy, and even reaction times. This means that if you are feeling a little lethargic or suffer from a generally sedentary lifestyle, a cup of coffee in the morning could set you up for a productive and happy day at work.
Studies have also shown that caffeine can boost your metabolic rate by 3–11%, meaning it can help you to burn fat and lose weight as part of a healthy lifestyle and calorie-controlled diet. It can also improve physical performance, so a cup of coffee about half an hour before a big training session or race could help you achieve a new personal best or win a race you've been working hard towards.
Finally, coffee contains high levels of antioxidants which are proven to combat free radicals in the body and fight against the effects of aging. Some people even get more antioxidants from coffee than from fruit and vegetables.
So, it's safe to say that coffee is very good for your health and when consumed in sensible quantities without heaps of sugar and cream, it is one of the healthiest things you can add into your diet.
Caffeine as a pre-workout
Caffeine is often a main ingredient in sports supplements and specifically 'pre-workout' drinks and mixes. This is because caffeine is a stimulant which can improve reaction times, alertness, and energy levels – all things which are beneficial during a workout, race, or sports game.
Caffeine is an effective energy-boosting supplement that works best when taken one to two hours before your workout. However, the human body adapts very quickly to the effects of caffeine so it's a good idea to cycle your intake so that you can maximise the benefits and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Coffee health risks – caffeine withdrawal symptoms
Despite all of the amazing health and performance benefits that coffee has to offer, unfortunately it does have some drawbacks too. The human body is an incredibly adaptive machine, but this can sometimes have negative effects, including reduced reaction to the stimulant over time and withdrawal symptoms.
Some of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include headaches (which can also be caused by too much caffeine), irritability, rapid heart beat, and muscle aches. Other negative side effects of too much caffeine include confusion caused by over-stimulation of the brain, heart burn caused by the acidity in coffee, and increased blood pressure when used as a pre-workout before rigorous exercise.
As with anything, it is important to exercise caution and not overdo it. Keep your intake limited to one cup of black coffee a day and don't rely on it to get you through the day or on pre-workout to get you through your exercise regime.
Chances are you have a rough idea what the Atkins diet is, and now you're hearing people talk about being on a 'keto' diet. But what does it mean? Is it an effective way of losing weight or just another fad diet?
What can you eat on a ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is an extreme low carb diet plan which aims to aid weight loss through achieving a state called 'ketosis'. When your body is in a state of ketosis, it burns fat as fuel instead of carbohydrate and the theory is that this is a good way to drop body fat. However, it is an extremely complicated and scientific process and must be followed very strictly for it to work.
With regards to what you can eat, the keto diet is strictly high fat, low carb. To be more specific, nearly no carbs at all. As soon as you slip and eat a small amount of carbohydrates, your body will snap out of ketosis and you will pile on weight due to your body storing the carbs. Ketosis is a state our body adapts to naturally when food supplies are low; it is a form of starvation mode. Whenever the body is in starvation mode, it naturally wants to hold on to as much energy as possible because it thinks there's a low food supply. So if you slip up or eat a snack, you'll hold on to it more so than if you were not following a keto diet.
A typical keto meal plan will consist of eggs, bacon and other fatty meats, double cream and other high fat dairy, and vegetables. You strictly cannot eat any sugar so that means no fruit or junk food, no starch so no potatoes, beans, or legumes, and no grains so no bread or cereals. It is a ridiculously tough 'diet' to stick to and it is advised that you should employ the help of a trained physician or medical professional as it is so complicated. This is not a diet to be taken lightly and it is strongly recommended not to follow it if you have not done proper research first.
Is the ketogenic diet safe?
The ketogenic diet was actually originally created as a way of controlling and treating epilepsy, and diet regimens like this have been used for hundreds of years. When modern treatments and anti-epileptic drugs became more widely available in the early 20th century, the use of extreme fasting diets declined. However, people began adopting this regimen for weight loss and interest has spiked in recent years, especially following the fame of the notorious Atkins diet.
There are a lot of negative side effects to being in a state of ketosis. Most infamously is the bad breath you will suffer. You will also suffer from increased urination as ketosis is a natural diuretic and this will also lead to suffering from an extremely dry mouth. It is also highly likely that you'll suffer from the 'keto flu' which has symptoms including headaches, nausea, fatigue, and cramping. As the ketogenic diet employs a lot of fasting, be prepared to be very hungry a lot of the time too!
In answer to the question, "is it safe?" the answer is only if it is followed properly. Any type of fasting or extreme change in diet should be monitored by a healthcare professional otherwise it could be potentially dangerous. If you still want to try this diet after reading the above, make sure you do your research first and are fully prepared.
How many carbs can you eat and still be in ketosis?
If you limit your carbohydrate intake severely by eating less than 15g per day, you will enter ketosis more quickly. You can eat up to 25g of carbs per day and still be in ketosis. Any more than this and you risk snapping back and storing fat. Your total carbohydrate intake should be no more than 5% of your total daily calories. You should have 75% fat and 25% protein. This is really not a recommendable ratio of macros and you should proceed with extreme caution.
A day doesn’t go by when I don’t see a new fat-burner, superfood, or other health-promoting supplement on the market. With the global supplement industry expected to reach nearly $300 billion by 2024, it begs the question, is all this pill-popping and powder-blending really necessary?
Firstly, just to clarify, there is no official definition of the term ‘superfood’ but for the sake of argument we can say it is used to describe foods that pack a lot of nutritional benefits into a small quantity of the food. These foods are nutritionally dense compared to foods described as having 'empty calories' like most junk food, which contains very little nutrition for a lot of calories.
Here’s a rundown of some popular superfoods and the verdict on whether they’re fat burning heroes or will simply burn a hole in your wallet.
If the theory that cider vinegar helps with weight loss is true, the idea behind coconut vinegar is the same. It won’t magically burn fat, but vinegar of all types slows down the absorption of carbohydrate, lowering the Glycaemic Index of a meal slightly so it may make you feel fuller for longer. Also, there has recently been a lot of research into gut bacteria and the link to obesity and blood sugar regulation as well as other conditions, so if you’re consuming a ‘live’ coconut vinegar with the probiotics intact, it will contribute to a healthy gut. It’s also a virtually calorie-free way to dress salads, and reducing calories is key when trying to burn fat.
This is more known for its anti-parasitic properties and so some people consume it when trying to treat intestinal parasites, but it’s the substance Thujone in the tea that proposes fat loss. However, thujone has yet to be proven safe for consumption, and in the US wormwood can only be sold as a food substance if ‘thujone free’.
Pomegranate is a nutrient-dense fruit full of fibre and antioxidants. Like all fruit juices, though, removing the seeds and pulp removes the fibre that benefits your bowel and heart, and keeps you full. Drinking juice of any kind means you’re consuming calories from sugar, albeit natural sugar, without satisfying your appetite. There are no magic fat burning properties to pomegranate juice, but a whole pomegranate is a much more fat-loss friendly food than a chocolate bar or piece of cake!
Cinnamon is very slightly thermogenic (meaning it boosts the metabolism), but not nearly enough to actually have an effect on weight loss. Its main benefits come from helping to keep blood sugar levels stable. This will lower the effect sugary and carbohydrate-rich foods have on your blood sugar levels, reduce a subsequent ‘crash’, and therefore reduce the hunger and cravings that can accompany a crash. If this means you’ll not eat the sugary foods you’re craving then cinnamon may be helpful in this way. Cinnamon is also a calorie-free way to slightly sweeten foods without adding sugar.
Peppers contain capsaicin, a thermogenic compound found in some spices, which slightly elevates metabolism after consumption. One study found that about half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper either mixed in food or swallowed in a capsule helped normal-weight young adults burn about 10 more calories over a four-hour period, compared to eating the same meal but without the red pepper. 40 calories burnt is not going to make a difference to fat loss, however some people experience a slightly suppressed appetite when eating chillies which may help indirectly if it leads to consuming fewer calories.
Research in mice suggests that curcumin, the active yellow compound in turmeric, may help prevent regaining lost fat by discouraging the formation of new blood vessels in fat tissue. However, more research needs to be done as this doesn’t mean it will have the same effect on humans, and if it does, a high enough dose would be needed to have any effect. Turmeric in itself has many beneficial properties such as being a powerful anti-inflammatory and may be beneficial in preventing age-related brain disorders such as Alzheimer's. Turmeric is about 3% curcumin, and most studies showing benefits used at least 1g curcumin/day. So you’d have to eat 30g of turmeric to get the same effect, much more than your average curry, but it’s still a very healthy spice to include in your diet wherever possible.
What should you eat to lose body fat?
There is no one food that will cause fat loss directly. The only thing that causes weight loss is burning more calories than you eat.
What foods keep you full longer?
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, so protein should always be kept high when trying to lose fat, both to keep you full and to help prevent losing muscle. After protein, whether you prefer more fat and lower carbohydrate or lower fat but higher carbs, or a mix of both is down to personal needs and preferences. Going either very low fat or low carb is not usually helpful for anyone though so don’t cut either out completely.
Low Glycaemic carbohydrates are better choices than high GI ones for keeping you full, so eating fresh fruit like apples is much better than dried fruit like apricots, and muesli will be more satiating than cornflakes.
Fibre slows down digestion and absorption, which keeps you full for longer. Fibre absorbs water to form a gel like substance which is slow to move through the gut and so keeps you feeling full. Fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains are good sources of fibre.
Water and water-rich foods like fruit, vegetables and salad. Water is essential for virtually every body process including fat-burning, and fruit and veg fill you up with very few calories whilst also contributing to water and fibre intake.
How do you speed up your metabolism?
Foods that increase the metabolism slightly are termed ‘thermogenic’. The most well studied of these is green tea, and the active compound in green tea, EGCG, is found in many weight loss products. The effects are so small you’d have to consume an unrealistic amount to influence weight loss without changing other areas of your diet, but it is at least studied well and is safe for most people to use unlike most phoney supplements which have no proof they work and could even be harmful. Taken as a drink, green tea provides antioxidants, an energy lift without the post-coffee slump, and may suppress appetite and cravings slightly in some people.
Certain spices are also slightly thermogenic; capsaicin in hot chillies is one such extract, as well as cinnamon and ginger. Cinnamon can also help keep blood sugar stable so you’re less likely to get a sugar crash and crave sweet, energy-dense foods. Adding chilli to a stir fry or sprinkling cinnamon onto porridge are both easy ways to use these, though again they won’t make up for a diet containing too many calories for your needs.
Caffeine: we all feel more energetic after a cup of coffee, and it’s for this reason it’s used often in fat-burning supplements and pre-workout supplements – it stimulates your body to release fat from cells to be used as energy as well as stimulating your adrenal glands. Unfortunately your body does become accustomed to it and you won’t get the same effects if you use it regularly, and increasing caffeine consumption can be detrimental to health. However if a cup of good quality coffee occasionally is going to make you do that workout you would have otherwise have skipped, then for most people it can be helpful, just don’t start relying on it or drink it too close to bedtime.
Protein requires more calories to be digested than fat or carbohydrates, so consuming more of your calories from protein will increase the amount you burn. For every 100 calories of protein eaten, 20-35 of those calories will be used up just digesting the food! Carbohydrates are next at 5-15%, and lastly fat is easiest to digest, using only up to 5% of the energy consumed. Interestingly, adding fat to protein (for example tuna and olives or a piece of salmon which contains both), is the most satiating meal combination, more so than protein alone.
Which foods give you energy?
NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, and refers to the unconscious moving about we do during the day, from getting dressed and tidying up to fidgeting while sitting down. Studies show that reducing calories too low or getting insufficient nutrients and energy to feel at our best reduces the amount of NEAT we do, so without even thinking we’re less active and so burn fewer calories. For this reason consuming a nutrients rich diet that does not leave you running on empty will provide you with the get up and go you need to stay active throughout the day as well as take part in more formal exercise.
Want to burn fat without spending a fortune and rattling as you walk? Eat in a calorie deficit, but not so much that you have no energy to move around or workout. Consume lots of filling protein, fibre, and water rich foods. If certain food and drinks reduce hunger and cravings for you (such as drinking green tea) then great! But they don’t work for everyone. It’s not flashy but it works; good food, in the right amounts, and getting enough exercise and you’ll be saving both your health and your bank balance.
Pollyanna Hale is a personal trainer and nutritionist who helps Mums get in shape without sacrificing family life. www.thefitmumformula.com
Why should we eat coconut oil?
Eating fat does not make you fat. In fact, consuming a steady amount of fat throughout the day lets your body know that it does not need to hold on to fat because there is a plentiful supply in the environment and therefore you could actually lose weight by eating more fat.
Coconut oil is a unique type of fat because of its combination of fatty acids which have a positive effect on the metabolism. Coconut oil contains medium triglycerides (a type of fatty acid) which go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick source energy instead of being stored in the stomach as belly fat.
How do you make bulletproof coffee?
It's very simple to make coffee with coconut oil. Just follow these steps!
- Add one teaspoon of organic coconut oil which has been at room temperature to the bottom of your coffee cup.
- Add instant coffee granules or brew your coffee if you like the posh stuff.
- Pour the coffee over the coconut oil and stir to ensure the coconut oil melts into the coffee to create a creamy mixture.
Why is junk food so addictive? When does it stop being an occasional treat and start becoming something you can't stop thinking about?
Why are certain foods addictive?
Unnatural foods change the way the brain reacts when you are eating and this is why you end up with cravings. Our brain works on a reward system and when we eat something we like, our brain signals that we should eat more of it, whether that's because it was nutrient-dense or just because it tasted good.
There are different tricks that food manufacturers use to make you want to eat more of their food. For example, foods that melt in your mouth signal to your brain that you're eating less and stop you feeling full so that you eat more.
The harmful effects of junk food
A 2001 study in medical journal The Lancet found that the more junk food you eat, the more you need to get the same buzz as before, and so it spirals out of control. Eventually, you seek out the foods because of the way they make you feel, not even because they taste good or even because you're hungry. Have you ever gone to get fast food even when you're not hungry, and then realise it doesn't even taste that good? And yet you crave more? That's because of the way the chemicals affect your brain.
What are the symptoms of food addiction?
- Getting cravings even if you're already full.
- Not being able to stop eating even when you become full.
- Feeling guilty after eating (but then eating again anyway)
- Hiding food from others
- Making excuses to eat more
- Getting anxious, stressed, and even angry when food is restricted
How to get back on the right track
Being addicted to junk food is the same as any addiction, and it can be best to just cut it out altogether. It will be hard at first, but your brain will need time to rewire and relearn how to react when you eat.
Every taste is an acquired taste at first, but some are just easier to acquire than others. If you hate broccoli when you first eat it, keep trying until you do like it. Eventually, your body will realise all the nutrient-dense benefits it's giving you and you'll start to actually like it.
It will take more than just willpower to get over your addiction as it is affecting the actual chemicals in your brain. Set small, manageable goals like cooking from scratch and only eating out once a week.