Crazy for Caffeine


When people first see me for a consult they often tell me, very proudly, that they have cut caffeine from their diet. I always ask, why?

After a roller coaster of bad press, caffeine, found in its natural form in foods like coffee, tea leaves (green tea specifically), kola nuts, and cocoa beans (chocolate), has been proven to possess true health benefitsTo be clear, natural caffeine is NOT the same as the synthetic form used in soft drinks, energy drinks, and medications.

According to coffee lovers all around the world and mounting research, caffeine sharpens your mind, provides a vital boost of energy, and makes you more alert. Most studies have found that 2-4 cups of coffee (300-400 mg) per day can:

  • Increase longevity in women
  • Protect against heart disease (Note: blood pressure increases with intake from caffeinated soft drinks, but not natural sources.)
  • Lower risk of breast cancer and type II diabetes
  • Reduce odds of developing dementia
  • Enhance endurance and performance during workouts by decreasing muscle fatigue
  • Recommendations range from 1.5 to 3 mg per pound of body weight
  • Increase metabolism (up to 7-15% of resting metabolic rate) and improve waistline
  • Lower chances of developing kidney stones and gallstones
  • Act as a mild-antidepressant, and is associated with fewer suicides

Just how much is too much? 
Caffeine is a stimulant that excites the brain and may cause dependency. Although most people can tolerate 200-400 mg a day without unpleasant side effects, some people are more sensitive than others. The way you react to caffeine depends on multiple variables such as the amount you typically consume as well as your age and weight. Older adults and men are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine. Like most substances, tolerance increases with use. Heavy caffeine intake – in excess of 600 mg a day - may cause headaches, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, drowsiness, nervousness, stomach upset, and a depressed mood.

My tips for caffeine consumption: 

  • Timing is everything. Caffeine is completely absorbed by the body in 45 minutes, but the effects of an average cup of coffee can last up to 3 hours, with traces remaining for 10 hours! Get a boost of energy early in the day and avoid drinking/eating caffeinated products after 2 pm.
  • Try caffeine from natural sources. Note: the longer the brewing time (for coffee and tea), the higher the caffeine content. 
  • If you know you are sensitive to caffeine, cut down gradually or try decaf. Note: decaf is not completely free of caffeine. 
  • Read labels. Labels are required to list caffeine in the ingredients but not the amount. Go figure. 
  • Be medication savvy. Some meds and supplements, such as antibiotics (cipro, noroxin), theophylline, amphetamines (Ritalin), pain relievers, cold medicine, and Echinacea, will increase the effects of caffeine. Talk to your doctor/pharmacist about whether caffeine might affect your medications.
  • If you are pregnant, limit yourself to 1-2 cups of coffee. 
  • Don’t ditch water. Caffeine has been proven to be a mild diuretic, but it still counts for your total water intake. Caveat: caffeine products should be calorie-free and natural.  Soft drinks don’t count!
  • Bone smart. Upwards of 300 mg of caffeine a day may accelerate bone loss, especially in elderly women. Mix your coffee with milk to counteract loss.  
  • Caffeine should NOT be consumed by children. Preliminary research suggests that children who consume caffeine on a regular basis, even as little as 28 mg of day, are more restless, meeting criteria for ADHD, and show symptoms such as trouble thinking clearly, lethargy, and anger. Caffeine is not a nutrient and therefore is not necessary for a balanced diet. Bottom line: don’t take the risk.
  • Plain, brewed            8 oz   102-200 mg
  • Instant                       8 oz   27-173 mg
  • Espresso                   1 oz   30-90 mg
  • Plain, decaffeinated  8 oz   3-12 mg 
  • Tea, brewed              8 oz   40-120
  • Green tea                  8 oz   25-40 mg
  • Black tea                   8 oz   40-70 mg
  • Dark chocolate          1 oz  12 mg
  • Soda                          12 oz   35-55 mg
  • Energy drinks            8 oz   80-300 mg
  • OTC Meds                1 tablet  60-200 mg

Check out the Center for Science and Public Interest for more details. 

What is your take on caffeine?

Written and photographed by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD 

Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr. 


Is Caffeine the World’s BEST Drug? RedBook Mag.
Caffeine. Medicine Net
Caffeine Metabolism. Energy Fiend
Willet W. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy.
Mahan S and Escott-Stump S. Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy.

Edited by TCabrarr

300 Shades of Green: Asparagus

I’m not going to lie; it took me a while to like asparagus. That said, it’s really good for you! It’s also incredibly versatile and can be used in lots of exciting ways. 

Asparagus is in season between April and June, so the perfect time to try it out is now! There are 300 varieties of asparagus, 20 of which are edible. The most common is green, with white and purple asparagus competing for second place. White asparagus is delicate in flavor and texture. It is grown underground, inhibiting the development of chlorophyll (green pigment) and is the most expensive. Purple asparagus is smaller and has a fruitier flavor. Its lush purple color is due to a phytonutrient called anthocyanin. 
Asparagus is a great source of vitamins A, B, C and K as well as folic acid, iron, potassium, and copper. It is also a good source of fiber and protein with 4-5 grams per cup! Asparagus is:   

  • Cancer-fighting and immune boosting. Both Vitamin A and folic acid are associated with reducing the risk of certain cancers. Vitamin C and glutathione (GSH), both antioxidants, are also associated with decreasing the risk of cancer. Asparagus is a great source of iron that helps strengthen the blood and prevent anemia.
  • Waist-minded. Each spear is only 4 calories or less.
  • Heart-healthy. Potassium helps to control blood pressure and folic acid reduces blood homocysteine levels, which are associated with reducing the risk of heart disease. It is also naturally low in fat and sodium.
  • Anti-inflammatory. Saponins are another kind of phytonutrient found in asparagus that have repeatedly been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Their intake has been associated with improved blood pressure, blood sugar regulation, and blood fat levels.
  • Bowel-friendly. Apart from being a good source of fiber (1 cup of asparagus = 3 grams of fiber), asparagus provides special digestive support by way of prebiotics called inulins that serve as the perfect food for probiotics.
  • Detox-a-licious! It is a mild diuretic and is therefore believed to rid the body of excess water and combat cystitis (urinary bladder inflammation).

How to buy?

Choose firm but tender stalks of asparagus with good color (green or purplish) and closed tips. Stalks should be rounded, and neither fat nor twisted.  

How to store?

Asparagus has a high “respiration rate,” which means that it’s highly perishable. You can offset this by storing it in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper or cloth towel. Use asparagus within a day or two after purchasing for best flavor and texture.

How to prepare/cook/serve?

Prepare: Thin asparagus does not require peeling, but you do need to remove the thicker skin at the bottom portion of the stem. To remove any sand/soil residues, wash asparagus under cold water. Always cook asparagus whole without first cutting.

Cook: You can boil, steam, stir-fry, or roast! Boil or steam until just tender (3-6 minutes depending on thickness). You can roast with olive oil for ~25 minutes Try this recipe, yum.

Serve: More ideas for this versatile veggie below: 

  • Blend into a soup
  • Roast on the grill with a sprinkle of olive oil and spices
  • Add to salad (cold)
  • Toss into freshly cooked pasta with olive oil and spices such as thyme, tarragon and rosemary
  • Chop into an omelet
  • Use in sandwiches or wraps
  • Sauté with garlic and mushrooms
  • Fancy-it up with recipes from British Asparagus

Alas, asparagus is not perfect. Asparagus is known for its distinct smell. At least 21 different substances have been proposed as the odor-producing substances from asparagus, but despite the mysteries of the urine odor, no research studies have suggested a link between asparagus consumption, odor, and health risk.

Purine-alert: if you have kidney problems or suffer from gout, limit or avoid asparagus consumption. Asparagus has a high purine content, which is then broken down to uric acid. Excess accumulation of uric acid can exacerbate these conditions.  

Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr

Photo by Benson Kua on Flickr


National Asparagus Month

World’s Healthiest Foods

Edited by TCabrarr

Is Gluten-Free Living Necessary for Everyone?

Celiac disease is no joke. About 1% of the population has celiac disease and some experts believe that up to 10% of people have gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which one cannot digest gluten, a waxy protein, found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats. An easy acronym to remember is: “W-BRO.”

While celiac disease can’t be cured, its symptoms can be controlled through a gluten-free diet. If one does not completely avoid gluten, the autoimmune response damages the small intestine, which slowly loses the ability to absorb the nutrients in food and can cause long-term malnutrition and other complications. Some symptoms include stomach discomfort or pain, bloating, pale, foul-smelling stools, unintentional weight loss and fatigue.

If you don’t have celiac disease, wheat is not inherently bad for you. However many people have adopted a gluten-free diet, swearing it helps with weight loss. Many products made with wheat can be low in nutrition or just plain bad for you. Eliminating them from your diet may indeed result in weight loss. But rather than restricting your diet so severely, make healthier choices. Opt for whole grains and limit your cookie and pastry intake. 

Whole grains have been a staple of the human diet since early civilizations. Asia and India are known for their rice, United States for its corn and South America for its quinoa. Whole grains are an excellent source of nutrition, as they contain essential enzymes, dietary fiber, iron, vitamin E and B-complex vitamins. In addition, their high fiber content helps slow down digestion and consequently provides long-lasting energy. 

Below are a few gluten-free grains that taste great, are incredibly versatile and have a high nutrient content:

  • Quinoa
  • Rice (wild or brown)
  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Teff
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat (aka Kasha) 

Do you think you may be sensitive to gluten? An elimination diet can help you identify specific food sensitivities that trigger digestive discomfort. Eliminate wheat for two to three weeks and note whether your symptoms resolve. Gradually reintroduce wheat back into your diet, preferably under the supervision of a health care provider who can help monitor your symptoms. 

What should you do when eating out?

  • Plan ahead and look up the menu beforehand to review your options.
  • New York restaurants are catering more and more to gluten-free diners, so feel free to ask your server about gluten-free menu items.
  • Ask for dressings and sauces on the side, or skip them completely. Vinaigrette is usually a safe gluten-free option.
  • Stay away from breaded appetizers and entrées as well as fried foods which may have been fried with gluten.
  • Remember, wheat free does NOT mean gluten free! 

During celiac awareness month, learn more about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet from reliable sources:

Celiac Disease Foundation 
Gluten Intolerance Group of North America - contains guides to restaurants serving gluten free foods, gluten free brands
Gluten Free Mall - an online source for gluten free foods
Gluten Free Living - a magazine dedicated to living a gluten-free life
Gluten Free Drugs - a list of medications that contain gluten
Celiac Sprue Association  

Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr

Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD

Photo courtesy of Andrea Nguyen on Flickr

Edited by TCabrarr

Ginger. The Zest of Life.

Anyone who knows me, knows I LOVE ginger. 

It’s something about the combination of spicy and sweet, but also about its awesome health properties. The rhizome or underground stem has been used as medicine in Asia and India over 2000 years. It can be used fresh, dried and in powder form, or as a juice or oil.

Ginger has countless uses. Mentioned below are those with the most historic and research backing. 

Stomach Discomfort: it can help soothe the intestinal tract by eliminating intestinal gas and relaxing your stomach. That’s why it’s commonly used for motion/morning sickness, colic, upset stomach, chemo-induced nausea, and loss of appetite. It has also been used as a mild-laxative. 

Anti-Inflammatory: ginger has antioxidant effect due to a compound called 6-gingerol, which is thought to help decrease joint pain in rheumatoid arthritis and pain in osteoarthritis as well as improve mobility if they consume it regularly.  

Immune Boosting: ginger has been known to keep a cold at bay, help with upper respiratory infections, and cough.  Researchers have found that it also has potent germ-fighting agents that help fight infection. 

Detoxifying: Aids in a good, healthy sweat. 

Morning Sickness Prevention: Studies have shown reduction in nausea and vomiting in some pregnant women. Note: It’s a must to share all herb-taking information with your doctor. 

Weight-management? The newest research suggests that ginger could play a role in weight management showing enhanced thermogenesis (faster burning of calories) and reduced feelings of hunger with ginger consumption. This is interesting, yet not completely solidified. Even though, 1 heaping teaspoon of fresh ginger is only 4 calories! 

HOW MUCH? The amount of adequate intake is unclear since the amount of active compounds vary. Yet, it is clear that both combined and continuous uptake produce increased benefits. Some guidelines based on Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database are:  

For nausea/gas/indigestion: 2-4 grams of fresh root daily (1 tsp) or maximum of 1 g of powdered root (2 ginger capsules or ¼ of a teaspoon) 

For morning sickness and arthritis pain: 250 mg 4 times daily (1 gram a day maximum). Talk to your doctor before taking ginger.

WHERE TO BUY? Fresh ginger root is available year round in the produce section. If possible, choose fresh ginger over dried since the flavor is better and contains higher amount of active ingredients. Make sure it is firm, smooth and free of mold. If you buy powdered form, store in the fridge for an extended shelf life. 

HOW TO PREPARE? Remove the skin with a paring knife or peeler. You can slice it any way you want. I’ve found that cutting it in smaller pieces strengthens the flavor. 

HOW TO MAKE GINGER WATER:  Boil 2 to 3 liters of water. In the mean time, remove and cut 3-5 inches of fresh ginger. Add to boiling water and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Cover pot for a stronger taste. Wait 5 to 10 minutes for it to cool.

Use ginger water for:

  • Tea. Add 1 tsp of your choice of sweetener, or not! (You can also buy Ginger Yogi Tea, delish!)
  • Ginger lemonade. Simply combine ginger water with lemon juice and a little Agave nectar. 

Use cooked ginger pieces in:

  • Rice, stir-fry, soups, pureed sweet potatoes, or sautéed veggies. 

Use both to make White Ginger Sangria. 

1-Make ginger water and strain most of the water until the pot is only left with a little water and ginger pieces. 

2-Muddle (fancy word for combine) the ginger with 1 tablespoon of sugar. 

3-Mix 1 bottle of white wine, 1 liter of ginger water, muddled ginger, 1 apple and 1 orange and let sit overnight. Before serving, add sparking water for fizzy effect. 

Even though ginger is generally recognized as safe (GRAS), talk to your doctor if you are taking blood-thinning, diabetes or high blood pressure meds. 

Medline Plus 


University of Maryland Medical Center