‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Coffee & Tea-ter Tottering Over Caffeine

For Pie Hole's parting post of 2013, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to produce a piece about something I do pretty much every time I write an article... sip a steaming hot cup of tea, English Breakfast is my usual poison. Tea drinking often stirs up a 'brew'-haha of sorts. One day tea is better than coffee, caffeine is good, next day it's bad, then it's all things decaf, followed by tea antioxidants, but wait: what about coffee? Let's pour over the evidence about these much loved beverages.
Camillia sinesis

Tea, after water, is the most consumed beverage in the world. In the US, coffee is more consumed than tea, they've always got to be a bit different. Tea is brewed from a shrub native the China and India: the Camillia sinesis. Green tea is a lightly processed version of C. sinesis, compared with black tea and oolong tea that are fermented and semi-fermented, respectively.

A recent meta analysis (combination and analysis of independent studies) reveals that tea, especially green tea, decreases the risk of stroke and depression, and improves levels of glucose, lipids, blood pressure and weight. That's a pretty tall order, with a splash of milk.

Unsweetened tea contains no calories. It stimulates mental and physical energy, increases satiety and basal metabolic rate (the minimum energy your body needs to function). Tea plays host to more than scones, jam and cream. Rather, compounds like antioxidants, caffeine and other stimulants like L-theanine, which suppresses appetite and increases thermogenesis (heat production). Interestingly, consuming hot tea, but not cold tea, is inversely associated with obesity, waist circumference and inflammatory markers.

There is growing research to suggest tea plays a role in digestive health by influencing gut microflora (the 'good' bacteria in your gut). Preliminary research also suggests the compounds in black tea play a role in either the prevention of, or recovery from diarrhea. Certainly not a topic to pooh-pooh.

But what about coffee, and caffeine for that matter? First, coffee: It's a complex beast that contains over 1,000 biologically active compounds including:
  • Caffeine - a potent central nervous system stimulant than can effect sleep
  • Diterpene alcohols - shown to increase serum cholesterol
  • Chlorogenic acid - an antioxidant that increases glucose metabolism, however at high levels it promotes insulin resistance

Coffee is kind of a mixed bag in terms of health benefits... Similar to tea, coffee intake is inversely associated with risk of stroke, type II diabetes, heart failure and some cancers. Interestingly though, it doesn't improve blood lipids, where tea does.

Now, caffeine. There's often a debate as to whether tea or coffee contains more caffeine. You read it here first: A standard 8oz (235ml) cup of black or green tea contains 14-64mg of caffeine, where 8oz of generic brewed coffee contains 95-200mg. So there you have it, tea is the lower caffeine option. On that note, research shows high levels of caffeine can cause anxiety, insomnia and bone loss due to increased urinary excretion of calcium and magnesium.

Finally, a summation of this evidence into something (somewhat) useful:
  • Both tea and coffee offer numerous health benefits
  • New research recommends keeping coffee consumption below an average of 4 cups/day due to high caffeine levels and potential adverse health effects
  • This is a rapidly developing 'watch this space' area of research, so stay tuned
    This is me in the morning. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Breathe Easy: Even When You Have Gas

Home cooking, it’s healthier and cheaper than eating out: it’s creative, it’s a great way to play with your food… Yes, I’m a big advocate and fan of cooking. I recently heard an piece on NPR (where news matters) about stoves and worrisome pollutant concentrations. Of course this warranted further exploration. So join me as we clear the air on this topic.

In the US, 34% of homes have gas burners. It turns out, these are notorious for emitting pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. That’s right, cooking with gas can be silent, but deadly.

Nitrogen dioxide, in specific, is associated with adverse health effects. For instance, it exacerbates asthma, wheezing and decreases respiratory function. This is particularly of note when indoor concentrations are high. No, not that kind of “high”.

Estimates from recent research show weekly average pollutant levels in homes with gas burners exceed ambient air quality standards. Both carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide levels were exceeded by 7-8% and 55-70% respectively. That’s anything but a whiff of fresh air.

I’m sure most of you have figured out the solution… No? Here’s a (very corny) hint: If you’re a fan of cooking, like myself… Ok that’s just too lame. The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind… Ever so slightly less lame… Turn on that exhaust above your stove! Exhaust fans: they’re not just for toilets. Turns out they actually help eliminate those nasty pollutants and ensure you and your cohabitators breathe easy.

Top tips (as if you need them):
  • Cook at home: Your waist and your wallet will thank you
  • Turn on the exhaust fan when you turn on the stove: Your lungs will appreciate that
  • Drown out the fan by turning up your favourite music or radio station (yep, mine’s either NPR or some quality motown)