Let’s Curtail the Glamorization of Caffeine

caffeinated club

All over Chicago I’m seeing billboards for “guilt-free” caffeine.  It’s a new campaign for Caffeinated Club, a calorie-free club soda with the same amount of caffeine as a can of soda. The local company Rocky’s Beverages, LLC, is aiming to transform the way America gets its daily caffeine.

Caffeinated Club® is the perfect choice for every caffeine lover at all hours of the day. This unique beverage can easily transition from a simple morning alternative to coffee, to a convenient midday pick-me-up, to a light and refreshing alcohol mixer in the evening.Without sugars, colors, artificial sweeteners, or calories, this is an appealing alternative for health conscious individuals. To sum it up, “We make club soda fun!”

Then this weekend, I find the caffeine-spiked Aspire drinks at a Chicago street fair. I chatted with the folks handing out samples of the beverages who told me that each can burns 200 calories. Oh really?  Here’s how the website describes the product:

First launched in the UK by two friends and fast becoming a globally recognised brand. Aspire is a tasty, refreshing, lightly carbonated soft drink now available in two flavours, Cranberry and Apple with Acai. It’s unique blend of good-for-you ingredients aid calorie burning, weight loss, body fat reduction and target the main cause of cellulite.  Aspire can be drunk any time of day, as replacement for your morning tea/coffee, during lunch/dinner, before, during or after any form of exercise.

Described as “Created by Nutritionists. Backed by Scientists,” the drinks contain 80 mg of caffeine per can from green tea and guarana seed extract, and are fortified with a ton of B vitamins — including 200% vitamin B6, 70% niacin, and 70% vitamin B12. The brochure handed out with the samples claimed “Aspire increases metabolism through thermogenics, burning calories and giving you the energy to do the things you do.”  Seems like one study was conducted with 20 individuals, as reported here.  The analysis:

Sounds very good, but basically there was only a 27 cal increase in calories burned over three hours, compared to a control group having a drink with similar calories but no other ingredients (e.g. green tea). To put this in perspective, if you laughed for about 10 minutes you’d probably burn the same calories. The main point is that the 200 calories are not extra calories burnt, they are background calories, which just goes to show you that clever marketing makes all the difference! By all means drink it, but don’t expect the weight to fall off, and if you consume a lot, then it may have the reverse effect!


I’m growing so weary of claims like this, especially for a product that may carry some risks. That’s why I’m happy to see Oregon, Washington and Vermont announce last week that they’re filing  a lawsuit against makers of the popular 5-Hour energy drink, accusing the company of misleading advertising.  The claim is against Living Essentials LLC and Innovation Ventures LLC, makers of the highly popular energy booster. Attorneys for the states want a permanent injunction against the parent companies’ misleading marketing and are seeking civil penalties. The three states join 33 others investigating the product’s advertising claims. According to the suit, 5-hour Energy leads consumers to believe the energy drink’s potency is the result of a unique blend of ingredients. Instead, the suit contends, the drink is effective thanks to a concentrated dose of caffeine.


5-Hour Energy has been linked to 13 deaths, so this is serious stuff.  Now there’s a new FDA warning about powdered pure caffeine that’s being sold in bulk bags on the internet after the death of an Ohio teen.  These products are 100% caffeine; a single teaspoon of the powder contains as much caffeine as 25 cups of coffee. The FDA said it’s investigating caffeine powder and will “consider taking regulatory action.” In the meantime, the agency said it’s recommending consumers stay away from it.


The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling for FDA to keep powdered caffeine off the market.  Unfortunately, there are many online companies like Read Pure  that are making it easy to buy — and tempting teens and adults with claims about increased alertness and attention, along with messages about lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and increasing metabolic rate.

So if you like cheap, safe and pure caffeine that you can add to your meals or drinks, than caffeine powder is exactly what you need. This will restore your alertness and give you energy so you can continue working/studying for the rest of the day.

Scary stuff.  Unfortunately, people are putting a lot of faith into caffeine-containing ingredients like green tea and green coffee beans.  Then it’s easy to jump to the idea that more is better.  I’m hopeful this cycle will stop.   Enjoy your cup of coffee or tea.  Drink “real.”  Don’t buy up products that are heavily fortified with these isolated forms of caffeine.  And step up your activity to increase the amount of calories you burn.  Don’t expect any “calorie-burning” drink to make a big difference.  Lastly, spread the word about the dangers of powdered caffeine.  This has got to stop.

What is going on with caffeine these days?  As CSPI’s Jim O’Hara said:

…the Center for Science in the Public Interest wrote FDA in June on the need for the Agency to prevent harms from caffeine-laced energy drinks by issuing a public health warning against their consumption, especially by youths, limiting the amount of caffeine in those products, and slapping a warning label on them. The overuse and misuse of caffeine in the food supply is creating a wild-west marketplace, and it’s about time the sheriff noticed and did something.


Images: Caffeine powder from Read Pure, 5-Hour Energy from Tom Gao on flickr

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Friday Food News

I’m starting a new feature here at Nutrition Unplugged.  It’s Friday Food News.  Just a little recap of what I’ve been reading this week related to food trends, nutrition and new products.  You’ll find links so you can read more.  

via Food Navigator
Half of all new gluten-free sales are cookies, crackers,  salty snacks and snack bars. “We’re starting to get a bit saturated I think with (gluten-free) snack products…I’d like to see a little bit more distribution of other types of product categories,” said David Sheluga from Ardent Mills.

almond milk

via Mother Jones
Tom Philpott thinks almonds are a precious foodstuff, but says it’s “deeply weird to pulverize away their crunch, drown them in water, and send them out to the world in a gazillion little cartons.”  His advice:  “Lay off the almond milk, you ignorant hipsters.”  I sorta agree.  I’d rather eat almonds than drink an almond-like beverage.

Hot jalapenos and flaming sauces are rising on restaurant menus, appearing in burgers, sandwiches and even hot dogs as consumers crave spicier fare. “[The spice trend is] being fueled by the alignment of two larger themes — growth in ethnic flavors in more diverse segments, and the need for operators to market to Millennials that crave more adventurous flavors,” said Food Genius CEO and founder Justin Massa.
Restaurants are responding to consumer demand for healthier  options that don’t sacrifice flavor by drizzling a wide array of ethnic sauces atop sandwiches, salads and other entrees. Sauces such as sriracha and chimichurri, made fresh in-house, are appearing on more menus at fast-casual and independent restaurants.

General Electric is currently testing a product that may make calorie counting much easier. The new device uses microwaves and scales to measure food and calculate energy. All you need to do is place your plate over it and it will show you how many calories you are about it eat. While the product has yet to measure “real” food, it may lead to changes in the way we monitor food intake.

Model Chrissy Teigen is one of the funniest and unlikeliest voices about food on Twitter, where her audience is approaching half a million and she has more than 700,000 followers on Instagram. Her posts on food and specifically those junk food cravings she also shares, are probably what earned her a spot on MTV’s new cooking competition show, “Snack Off.” As a show host/judge, Chrissy will help amateur cooks view to invent a credible snack, using only leftovers and junk food. 
Via AdWeek
To help spotlight the women of the food world, Food & Wine teamed up with sister magazine Fortune to create the list, “Most Powerful Women: The Food & Drink Innovators.” Built as a spin on the popular “Most Powerful Women in Business” list, the new list will be comprised of 25 women across various industries who have played key roles in redefining how we think about food. The list will run in Food & Wine’s October issue and Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women” issue, on newsstands September 22.
Tell me what you’ve been reading this week.
Images: Jalapeños by SearchNet Media  Almond Milk by Triathlete Food on flickr 

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Kick the Clay Eating Trend to the Curb


I don’t mean this type of clay.

I’m talking about the edible clay or “healing clay” that’s suddenly become the next big thing.

I’ve done two recent interviews on the clay-eating craze: Is Clay Eating the Next Oil Pulling? for You Beauty and a radio interview for WTOP.  I certainly didn’t intend to be an expert on clay eating, and I don’t mean to pick on actress Shailene Woodley who seemed to get the (clay) ball rolling, so to speak.  She was interviewed on this beauty blog, describing clay as “one of the best things you can put into your body” and then clay-eating became the talk of the town. Here’s Shailene describing why she eats clay to David Letterman.

So what’s this clay thing all about?

Like many home remedies, clay eating (known to scientists as geophagy) is something that was practiced for generations in certain cultures, including Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East. But just because there were  reasons for it at the time — people didn’t have access to certain nutrients in their diet, like calcium and iron, which are found in dirt or clay – it doesn’t mean it’s relevant today.  Dirt may have been the first mineral supplement, but we certainly have better sources now.  The long history of earth-eating was reviewed in this New York Times article back in 1986.

But besides viewing clay as a source of nutrients, now it’s being touted as a way to remove toxins, heavy metals, impurities and chemicals that we eat.  For starters, our own bodies do a pretty good job of that on their own.  And even if there’s evidence that clays can help remove metals, that may not be a good thing, according to Dr. David Katz:

Removing metal from the body is not necessarily good — iron, for example, is a metal and essential to health. So, there cold conceivably by benefits, but there could certainly be harms — and a favorable benefit/harm ratio has not been established to justify recommending this.

There’s also concern that over-consumption of clay could make you constipated or the clay could be contaminated — exposing someone to arsenic, lead and other toxicants that naturally occur in soil.

As Kent Sepkowitz explained in The Daily Beast, You Probably Shouldn’t Try to Lose 20 Pounds by Eating Clay:

The purported benefits of geophagy, including its ability to somehow take toxins out of the system, strike me as nutty and decidedly untrue, though surely there is some impact on digestion. What needs a bit more consideration is the risk side. Dirt, after all, is dirty, and—be it clay from Attapulgus, Georgia, or the fields of Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, or the Oklahoma hills that Woody Guthrie once sang about—contains the excrement from countless animals who work the territory as they look for non-dirt nourishment.

Mother Earth is riddled with bacteria, too (remember anthrax?), and all sorts of other pathogens. That probably means tomorrow’s clay-eaters will have to buy their goods from reliable traffickers of this hot new commodity. Inevitably a connoisseur’s palate will develop, as taste is considered along with the guarantee that the product is certified to be germ-free. That will bring down claims that certain brands of clay are over-processed and not natural enough. And then counter-claims and counter-counter, and on and on.

It might be easier for us all to just say no—and avoid the risk of stepping in it.

Clay eating is also being viewed as a weight loss strategy, with actress Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny, claiming that it helped her lose 20 pounds for her next film. Here’s where  it becomes concerning — relying on clay shakes to help “cleanse” and lose weight quickly.  Once again, why are people getting their diet advice from Hollywood instead of health professionals?

The current clay-eating trend is different from the disorder known as pica, which is a persistent desire to eat dirt, paint chips and other  inedible substances.  Rather than an uncontrollable craving like pica, this trend is driven by the belief that clay is going to make you healthier, thinner, cleaner.  All distractions to me.

Even so, there’s no shortage of options to eat clay (no, it’s not about digging dirt in your backyard).  Amazon offers a wide range of “healing” clays, which is often bentonite clay.  You can even buy a clay chocolate bar.  Here’s a description from 11ByEvelyn feel good Claybars:

Bentonite clay expands in your intestinal track and sweeps out radioactive particles taken in from contaminated food. The tiny clay platelets find their way into the smallest of spaces and expand, pushing out toxins that are trapped. A small ball of Bentonite clay offers a huge amount of negative plate area to attract positively charged particles like plutonium. Chocolate and healing clay is a winning combination. The slightly chalky texture really adds to the chocolate and makes it less waxy. The trace minerals found in the bentonite clay aren’t commonly found in today’s diet and are no doubt a major cause of disease.


Like other trends, this too shall pass.  In the meantime, I’d recommend you use the clay for a facial mask instead of eating or drinking it.

clay mask brk


Images:  Pistachio by Bart Tieman on flickr, Clay Bar by Evelyn Oliva on flickr, Indian Healing Clay by Brooklyn Farm Girl in flickr

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6 Emerging Restaurant Trends for 2014

Technomic, a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm, has identified six major trends that are emerging for the second half of 2014.

The Next Sriracha: Thailand’s chile-and-vinegar condiment became the new chipotle. Now, customers are seeking newer and even bolder taste sensations imparted by peppers and sauces from Asia, Latin America and North Africa: habanero, serrano, harissa, shishito, togarashi, sweet chili, ghost pepper and spicy mayos and aïolis. I especially love Peri Peri from Africa (which I recently enjoyed in Portugal) and Harissa, a spicy pepper paste.

5638832862_a07c46e84c_zBarbecue Love: Authentic regional interpretations of slow-cooked barbecue continue to have broad appeal, but the latest trend is the application of barbecue sauces and flavors to handheld offerings like sandwiches and pizza, often with barbecue pulled pork as the core protein. Even conventional barbecue chains have rolled out nontraditional barbecue-inspired handhelds, such as the BBQ Chicken Lettuce Wrap LTO at Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que. Here’s a BBQ-style hot dog called Hot Chick from Vicious Dogs in LA.


Name That Snack: Classic snacks are being incorporated into novelty foods that capture attention with over-the-top indulgence, like Subway’s Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt, Crumbs Bake Shop’s Girl Scout Cookie cupcakes or Dunkin’ Donuts’ iced coffee flavors inspired by Baskin-Robbins ice creams. [Although Crumbs just announced they're closing -- so is the cupcake era over?]



Asian-style Small Plates: Asian-influenced bites include Lazy Dog Café’s Dim Sum Dumplings and the Chicken Sriracha Bites served with ranch dressing at bd’s Mongolian Grill, but even fine-dining restaurants are incorporating dim sum-style service.

5384579281_63d5e2865f_bBeverages Bubbling Up: Specialty teas; lemonade-and-iced-tea blends; restaurant originals such as housemade sodas; smoothies beyond fruit, featuring surprising ingredients ranging from kale to peanut butter—all are seeing increases in menu incidence. Fast casuals lead the way: Pret A Manger added Beet Beautiful Juice with apple, carrot, beet and ginger; Grand Traverse Pie Company unveiled a Pie Smoothie; and Panda Express is testing an in-store tea bar. When it comes to adult beverage trends, hops rule; IPAs and other hoppy craft beers are proliferating in many incarnations.


Shrinking Menus: Across all mealparts, casual-dining chains are reducing menus. Operations can slow down when menus get too big; a less-is-more approach can create a more user-friendly customer experience. Will the success of narrowly focused fast casuals lead to more menu and operational simplification in full service?

Images: Courtesy of restaurants, Harissa by Brooke, Vicious Hot Chicks by Doran, Dim Sum at Guang Zhou restaurant in New York by Meng He



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Specialty Food Trends: What Was Hot at the Summer Fancy Food Show

The Fancy Food Show just ended.  I never got why they call it “fancy.” Any way, this is a trade show organized by the Specialty Food Association – it’s where  food companies from around the globe showcase their “fancy” offerings in hopes of attracting a distributor or retailer.

Here’s a look at what some of the trendspotters identified:

Ad Age
Huffington Post
The Kitchn
Pop Sugar
Living Maxwell

So what was hot?

Big flavors:  srirarcha, smoke, mint, chili lime, Korean

PicMonkey Collage sriracha

Trendy ingredients:  upscale condiments, pickled everything, oils with a kick


Popular foods:  beets, seaweed, gourmet jerky, coconuts, “better” chips




Beverages:  low-sugar water drinks, craft sodas, bourbon, beer (also as a flavor), drinking vinegars











Did you attend the show?  Let me know what trends you spotted.


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