Category Archives: food

Coffee Causes Cancer…No!


Around one in 10 British adults mistakenly think coffee causes cancer,so says a survey carried out by the World Cancer Research Fund (see here). Nothing can be  further from the truth – repeat, drinking coffee does not cause cancer. In fact, the benefits of coffee have been largely understated. Among the benefits include:

1. It contains powerful anti-oxidants, like chlorogenic acid and melanoidins (especially in roasted coffee beans), both of which confer proven health benefits.

2.Reducing the incidence of Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. Read “A Cup of Coffee a Day will Keep Alzheimer’s Away”.

3.Protecting against diabetes. Moderate consumption  may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in younger and middle aged women.

4.Preventing liver disease and the formation of liver and kidney stones.

5. Promoting alertness, attentiveness, and wakefulness.

But its not all good and no bad. Drinking excessive amounts (more than four cups a day) has been shown to accelerate osteoporosis as well as increase blood pressure, palpitations and even increase the risk of hardening of the arteries (a process called atherosclerosis). In some, coffee can cause heartburn, or GERD(gastro -esophageal reflux disease).

An important point to note is that there seems to be a health hazard in drinking unfiltered coffee (as in Turkish coffee and kahawa) as it raises blood cholesterol. Filtered coffee, as in instant coffee, does not do so, as diterpenes, responsible for raising cholesterol, are removed by filtration.

What about heart disease? The verdict’s not in just yet..on one hand, diterpenes cause a rise in cholesterol and homocysteine but this seems balanced by the beneficial anti-oxidant properties. As of now, there is no convincing evidence that coffee leads to heart disease.


Latte, a combination of coffee,steamed milk and sugar) can set you back by 260 calories per cup.

Bear in mind that this discussion is based on just pure plain coffee. The scenario changes quite a bit with additives like milk, cream and sugar. For one thing, a cup of latte at Starbucks can contribute about 260 calories (as opposed to 0 calories in plain coffee). This is not to mention the health risks of added fats (and cholesterol) and sugar.

So, Is Coffee OK, Doc?

Some patients asked recently whether coffee was good for one’s health. They had apparently noticed that there has been the shift in marketing strategy by coffee-makers  in promoting it as a rich source of anti-oxidants, and therefore beneficial to health.



YES,  coffee is a rich source of anti-oxidants, like chlorogenic acid and melanoidins, the latter being the most important component of roasted coffee. Some of the other beneficial effect of drinking coffee include:

  1. Reducing the incidence of Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. Read “A Cup of Coffee a Day will Keep Alzheimer’s Away”.
  2. Protecting against diabetes. Moderate consumption  may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in younger and middle aged women.
  3. Preventing liver disease and the formation of liver and kidney stones.
  4. The beneficial effects of caffeine in coffee on alertness, attentiveness, and wakefulness.

NO,  among other things:

  1. Unfiltered coffee (as in Turkish coffee and kahawa) raises blood cholesterol. Filtered coffee, as in instant coffee, does not do so as diterpenes, responsible for raising cholesterol, are removed by filtration.
  2. Coffee consumption is also associated with an increase of plasma homocysteine, a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
  3. Caffeine in coffee can increase the risk of elevated blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, as well as palpitations.
  4. 4 cups or more will hasten osteoporosis, especially in those with low calcium intake in the diet.
  5. Coffee increases heartburn, aka gastro-eosophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What about heart disease? The verdict’s not in just yet..on one hand, diterpenes cause a rise in cholesterol and homocysteine but this seems balanced by the beneficial anti-oxidant properties. As of now, there is no convincing evidence that coffee leads to heart disease, period.

I ought to clarify here that we are talking about coffee, just plain coffee. The pendulum swings the other way when we consume coffee with additives, like milk and sugar. The latte at the local Starbucks will add on quite a substantial amount of fats, sugars and calories (260 to be precise, see here). Compare that to the ZERO calories of plain black coffee!

This Is What 2000 Calories Look Like..

2000 calories..that’s what an average-sized man requires in one day. I found this interesting video and it helps explain why there is so much obesity around.


The World’s Best Restaurant Gets Knocked Out By Food Poisoning

It doesn’t happen often, but when you’re one of the top restaurants in the world and your customers end up with food poisoning, that becomes a tsunami in the culinary world.


Given two stars by the Michelin Guide and voted byThe S Pellegrino and Acqua Panna World’s 50 Best Restaurants as the best restaurant in the world for three years running, the Noma restaurant in Denmark has been serving exotic dishes that include foraged Nordic ants, fermented grasshoppers, live shrimp and locally sourced carrots in malt soil at around 5,000 Danish krone (£580) for a 12-course set menu for two including appetisers, treats to finish, wine pairing and a tour of the kitchen to meet some of the 50 chefs.


Prawns and parsley reduction served on a hot rock

Established in 2004,the name is a blend of the two Danish words “nordisk” (Nordic) and “mad” (food) and can only seat 40 diners on one sitting. Rumour has it that the wait-list is several months long.

The first sign of trouble started between 12 and 16 February when 63 customers who ate there developed fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. Danish health authorities have since traced the cause to a Norovirus infection, spread by an infected kitchen staff. They criticised the restaurant for not having running warm water for staff to wash their hands.


The Norovirus, which causes stomach flu and viral gastroenteritis, is spread by several ways:

    • Consuming contaminated food or drinks.
    • Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting hands or fingers into your mouth.
    • Having direct contact with another person who is infected e.g. sharing food or eating from the same utensils as someone who is ill.
    • Aerosol spread (when vomiting disperses virus particles into the air).

The virus has been responsible for several outbreaks in the last few months, as in the UK during last winter and on several cruise ships, the last one being yesterday (see here).

Such outbreaks in restaurants are nothing new. 3 years ago, I wrote about a similar Norovirus outbreak at the famed Fat Duck restaurant in the UK, where 240 people fell sick and survived the ordeal.

So will the world’s best restaurant be forced to close its doors? Highly unlikely, as the Fat Duck has showed, as it still enjoys booming business. But will it retain its title for this year when results are announced next month? We shall see..

More Fuel To The Fire: Red Meat Leads to Cancer and Heart Disease

Its been speculated for some time..that eating red meat leads to an increased incidence of heart disease and cancer. And an analysis, published  in Archives of Internal Medicine, using data from two studies that involved 121,342 men and women, further confirms the fact that consuming red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease; and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk.

People who ate more red meat were less physically active and more likely to smoke and had a higher body mass index, researchers found. Still, after controlling for those and other variables, they found that each daily increase of three ounces of red meat was associated with a 12 percent greater risk of dying over all, including a 16 percent greater risk of cardiovascular death and a 10 percent greater risk of cancer death.

The increased risks linked to processed meat, like bacon, were even greater: 20 percent over all, 21 percent for cardiovascular disease and 16 percent for cancer.

You might say that you had suspected this all along,  but the new results suggest a surprisingly strong link and further reinforce this conclusion.

The cooking method is said to play a role in causing cancers

The modus operandi for red meats and heart disease is quite clear-cut: the high saturated fats content leads to cholesterol deposition in the walls of the arteries. In the case of cancer, the mode of action is less clear-cut. Some postulated causes include:

  • the presence of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in grass-fed meat which has anti-cancer properties.
  • the mode of cooking, with preference to ‘low and slow’ and doneness.
  • chemicals (nitro compounds) used in preservation of processed meats.
  • breakdown of blood components like haem to harmful cancer-causing chemicals (read more here).

This probably why meat-eating countries like Argentina do not report high incidences of gut cancer..



Alcohol, Sex…and Fruitflies

Spotted recently – scientists are gathering evidence that sexual frustration drives males to drink. To be honest, this is nothing new – just drop in to any bar or pub and one can gather a lot of evidence of heart-broken guys drowning pint after pint of the stuff.

Male Fruit flies - sex and alcohol don't mix

The latest issue of the journal Science not only provides further evidence of the same, it even tells why sexually-frustrated males(flies, that is) are driven to drink. And the publication even suggests that male humans might behave in the same manner!

The answer lies in a brain chemical – neuropeptide F – which was found higher in male fruit flies who had mated than comrades who didn’t have sex. Those who didn’t get it preferred foods that had a high content of alcohol.

Neuropeptide Y - depleted amounts in the brain are believed to drive one to drink alcohol

Human brains have a similar chemical (neuropeptide y) which may react in a similar way, according to scientists. Work is ongoing to prove this hypothesis. Assuming this is proven true, the next thing scientists will have to prove is: what do teetotallers do?

Fruit Juice? Avoid This One When Taking Pills.

Two decades ago it was widely known that ingesting this fruit juice with medications could cause dangerous side-effects, sometimes fatal. So, it is rather timely for me to refresh ourselves with this fact, especially when there are new reasons to avoid this fruit when combined with medications.

Grapefruit,  a member of the Citrus family, has been shown to carry many health benefits: it is a rich source of Vitamin C and also contains bioflavonoids which have anti-cancer properties. However, when consumed with  a large variety of medications, it has the ability to make the dosages taken, albeit correct, multiply to several times the usual amount in the bloodstream. Cases have been reported of a person on Lipitor or Cordarone dying due to an accumulation of this drug in the bloodstream.

The reason for this is that grapefruit gets metabolised in the liver by  cytochrome P-450 3A4 enzyme , the same enzyme which also metabolises about half of the drugs consumed today. So when grapefruit keeps this enzyme busy, it is unable to metabolise drugs, causing its accumulation in the bloodstream. Depending on the drug, the person will experience a variety of side-effects due to the “overdose”.

The list of drugs which can be affected is numerous and includes anti-cholesterol medications as well as Viagra. See the list here.


Don’t take medications with orange juice, if you can help it

Recently, it has also been discovered that consuming grape juice or even orange juice can affect the absorption of some drugs when taken by mouth, which is why I have always maintained that medications should be taken with just plain water. These drugs include popular ones like beta-blockers (like atenolol), antibiotics( like ciprofloxacin) and anti-cancer drugs (like etoposide). Read mo

The Ideal Plate of Food

For more info, go to Healthy Eating Plate.

Fatty Foods? Pay For It!

In what may be a trend of the future,  Denmark has decided to impose a tax based on the amount of fats in a particular food. The basis behind this is apparently to make the population eat less fatty foods, in an attempt to increase the life expectancy of Danes.

How it works is that a surcharge(“Fat Tax“) is placed on foods high in saturated fat. Butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed food will all be subject to the levy. The tax amounts to 16 kroner (about USD 3 ) per kilogram of saturated fat in a product.

“Higher fees on sugar, fat and tobacco is an important step on the way toward a higher average life expectancy in Denmark,” health minister Jakob Axel Nielsen said when he introduced the idea in 2009, because “saturated fats can cause cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

The hazard of being obese!

The idea isn’t that original really – last month, Hungary introduced a new tax popularly known as the “Hamburger Law,” but that only involves higher taxes on soft drinks, pastries, salty snacks and food flavorings.In the UK last year, news reports raised the possibility of inposing VAT (currently 17.5%) on foods high in fat(currently there is no VAT on foods).

My view on this is that, as far as foods are concerned, it is equally important to cut down on salt and sugar as well, so does that mean taxes need to be imposed on food in general? The other point is whether the sole objective of prolonging life alone is adequate when many agree quality of life is just as important.

Out With The Food Pyramid..Bring In the Food Plate

The food pyramid traditionally epitomised what a person should be eating in order to be healthy. In recent months, the USDA (US Dept of Agriculture) announced it had scrapped the famous food pyramid and replaced it with a plate as a way of conceptualizing what one should be eating to be in good health.

In the beginning, first version of the food pyramid (above diagram) came out in 1992. With carbohydrates such as bread and spaghetti occupying a band along the base, it gave far less space to fruits and vegetables. It also suggested eating fats “sparingly,” which nutritional experts said ignored the benefits of foods with healthier forms of fat.

Now, after 2 decades, the USDA has introduced the food-plate, because it felt that the pyramid was confusing (“people ate out of a plate, not a pyramid”). The new plate specifies: fruits and vegetables should make up half the diet, with vegetables taking up a majority of the half. Grains and proteins (meat and fish, for example) should occupy the other half, with grains taking up a majority of that half.

The Food Plate - criticised as being too simple

No sooner as the announcement of the food-plate came, critics such as the the Harvard School of Public Health condemned it as being too simple and not sufficient to educate the public to make the right choices. Enter the Healthy Eating Plate.

Basically, Harvard’s plate has more specifics:

  • devote half the plate to fruit and vegetables, with more veggies than fruit. Potatoes are a no-no.
  • adding “whole” to the grain section, recommending we NOT choose refined grains like white rice and white bread, all in favor of  brown rice, whole-wheat bread and whole-grain pasta.
  • adding “healthy’ to the “protein” part of the plate, which  means opting for fish, poultry, beans and nuts, limiting red meat and avoiding bacon, cold cuts and processed meats entirely.
  • recommending a glass of water, tea or coffee (with very little sugar) rather than a glass of milk.

Have Harvard got it right? Seems to me food, like fashion, is continually evolving, so should we follow the crowd and remain trendy?

You can download a copy of the new Harvard Healthy Eating Plate here.

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