October, 2015

13 Foods That Cause Bloating (and What to Eat Instead)

Bloating is when your belly feels swollen or enlarged after eating. It is usually caused by gas or other digestive issues. Bloating is very common. About 16–30% of people say they experience it regularly. Although bloating may be a symptom of a serious medical condition, it is usually caused by something in the diet. Here are 13 foods that can cause bloating, along with suggestions on what to eat instead.

1. Beans

Beans are a type of legume. They contain high amounts of protein and healthy carbs. Beans are also very rich in fiber, as well as several vitamins and minerals. However, most beans contain sugars called alpha-galactosides, which belong to a group of carbs called FODMAPs. FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) are short-chain carbohydrates that escape digestion and are then fermented by gut bacteria in the colon. Gas is a byproduct of this process. For healthy people, FODMAPs simply provide fuel for the beneficial digestive bacteria and should not cause any problems. However, for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome, another type of gas is formed during the fermentation process. This may cause major discomfort, with symptoms like bloating, flatulence, cramping and diarrhea. Soaking and sprouting the beans is a good way to reduce the FODMAPs in beans. Changing the soaking water several times can also help.

What to eat instead: Some beans are easier on the digestive system. Pinto beans and black beans may be more digestible, especially after soaking. You can also replace beans with grains, meat or quinoa.

2. Lentils

Lentils are also legumes. They contain high amounts of protein, fiber and healthy carbs, as well as minerals such as iron, copper and manganese. Because of their high fiber content, they can cause bloating in sensitive individuals. This is especially true for people who are not used to eating a lot of fiber. Like beans, lentils also contain FODMAPs. These sugars may contribute to excessive gas production and bloating. However, soaking or spouting the lentils before you eat them can make them much easier on the digestive system.

What to eat instead: Light colored lentils are generally lower in fiber than darker ones, and may therefore cause less bloating.

3. Carbonated Drinks

Carbonated drinks are another very common cause of bloating. These drinks contain high amounts of carbon dioxide, a gas. When you drink one of these beverages, you end up swallowing large amounts of this gas. Some of the gas gets trapped in the digestive system, which can cause uncomfortable bloating and even cramping. What to drink instead: Plain water is always best. Other healthy alternatives include coffee, tea and fruit-flavored still water.

4. Wheat

Wheat has been highly controversial in the past few years, mainly because it contains a protein called gluten.

Despite the controversy, wheat is still very widely consumed. It is an ingredient in most breads, pastas, tortillas and pizzas, as well as baked goods like cakes, biscuits, pancakes and waffles. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, wheat causes major digestive problems. This includes bloating, gas, diarrhea and stomach pain. Wheat is also a major source of FODMAPs, which can cause digestive problems in many people. What to eat instead: There are many gluten-free alternatives to wheat, such as pure oats, quinoa, buckwheat, almond flour and coconut flour.

5. Broccoli and Other Cruciferous Vegetables

The cruciferous vegetable family includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and several others. These are very healthy, containing many essential nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and potassium. However, they also contain FODMAPs, so they may cause bloating in some people. Cooking cruciferous vegetables may make them easier to digest.

What to eat instead: There are many possible alternatives, including spinach, cucumbers, lettuce, sweet potatoes and zucchini.

6. Onions

Onions are underground bulb vegetables with a unique, powerful taste. They are rarely eaten whole, but are popular in cooked meals, side dishes and salads. Even though they’re usually eaten in small quantities, onions are one of the main dietary sources of fructans. These are soluble fibers that can cause bloating. Additionally, some people are sensitive or intolerant to other compounds in onions, especially raw onions. Therefore, onions are a known cause of bloating and other digestive discomforts. Cooking the onions may reduce these digestive effects.

What to eat instead: Try using fresh herbs or spices as an alternative to onions.

7. Barley

Barley is a commonly consumed cereal grain. It is very nutritious, since it is rich in fiber and contains high amounts of vitamins and minerals like molybdenum, manganese and selenium. Because of its high fiber content, whole grain barley may cause bloating in individuals who are not used to eating a lot of fiber. Furthermore, barley contains gluten. This may cause problems for people who are intolerant to gluten.

What to eat instead: Refined barley, like pearl or scotch barley, may be tolerated better. Barley can also be replaced with other grains or pseudocereals like oats, brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat.

8. Rye

Rye is a cereal grain that is related to wheat.

It is very nutritious and an excellent source of fiber, manganese, phosphorus, copper and B-vitamins. However, rye also contains gluten, a protein that many people are sensitive or intolerant to. Because of its high fiber and gluten content, rye may be a major cause of bloating in sensitive individuals.

What to eat instead: Other grains or pseudocereals, including oats, brown rice, buckwheat or quinoa.

9. Dairy Products

Dairy is highly nutritious, as well as an excellent source of protein and calcium. There are many dairy products available, including milk, cheese, cream cheese, yogurt and butter. However, about 75% of the world’s population can’t break down lactose, the sugar found in milk. This condition is known as lactose intolerance. If you’re lactose intolerant, dairy can cause major digestive problems. Symptoms include bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhea.

What to eat instead: People who are lactose intolerant can sometimes handle cream and butter, or fermented dairy like yogurt. Lactose-free milk products are also available. Other alternatives to regular milk include coconut, almond, soy or rice milk.

10. Apples

Apples are among the most popular fruits in the world. They are high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, and have been linked with a range of health benefits. However, apples have also been known to cause bloating and other digestive issues for some people. The culprits are fructose (which is a FODMAP) and the high fiber content. Fructose and fiber can both be fermented in the large intestine, and may cause gas and bloating. Cooked apples may be easier to digest than fresh ones.

What to eat instead: Other fruits, such as bananas, blueberries, grapefruit, mandarins, oranges or strawberries.

11. Garlic

Garlic is incredibly popular, both for flavoring and as a health remedy. Like onions, garlic contains fructans, which are FODMAPs that can cause bloating. Allergy or intolerance to other compounds found in garlic is also fairly common, with symptoms such as bloating, belching and gas. However, cooking the garlic may reduce these effects.

What to eat instead: Try using other herbs and spices in your cooking, such as thyme, parsley, chives or basil.

12. Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are used to replace sugar in sugar-free foods and chewing gums. Common types include xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol. Sugar alcohols are also FODMAPs. They tend to cause digestive problems, since they reach the large intestine unchanged where the gut bacteria feed on them. Consuming high amounts of sugar alcohols may cause digestive issues, such as bloating, gas and diarrhea.

What to eat instead: Erythritol is also a sugar alcohol, but it is easier on digestion than the ones mentioned above. Stevia is also a healthy alternative to sugar and sugar alcohols.

13. Beer

Everyone has probably heard the term “beer belly” used before. It refers not only to increased belly fat, but also to the bloating caused by drinking beer. Beer is a carbonated beverage made from sources of fermentable carbs like barley, maize, wheat and rice, along with some yeast and water. Therefore, it contains both gas (carbon dioxide) and fermentable carbs, two well-known causes of bloating. The grains used to brew the beer also often contain gluten.

What to drink instead: Water is always the best beverage, but if you are looking for alcoholic alternatives then red wine, white wine or spirits may cause less bloating.

Other Ways to Reduce Bloating

Bloating is a very common problem, but can often be resolved with relatively simple changes. If you have persistent digestive problems, then you may want to consider a low-FODMAP diet. It can be incredibly effective, not just for bloating but for other digestive issues as well. However, make sure to also see a doctor to rule out a potentially serious medical condition.

Take Home Message

If you have problems with bloating, then chances are that a food on this list is the culprit. That being said, there is no reason to avoid all of these foods, only the ones that cause you problems personally. If you find that a certain food consistently makes you bloated, then simply avoid it. No food is worth suffering for.

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Why Refined Carbs Are Bad For You

Not all carbs are the same. Many whole foods that are high in carbs are incredibly healthy and nutritious. On the other hand, refined or simple carbs have had most of the nutrients and fiber removed. Eating refined carbs is linked to drastically increased risk of many diseases, including obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Almost every nutrition expert agrees that refined carbs should be limited. However, they are still the main source of dietary carbs in many countries. This article explains what refined carbs are, and why they are bad for your health.

What Are Refined Carbs?

Refined carbs are also known as simple carbs or processed carbs.

There are two main types:

  • Sugars: Refined and processed sugars, such as sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup and agave syrup.
  • Refined grains: These are grains that have had the fibrous and nutritious parts removed. The biggest source is white flour made from refined wheat.

Refined carbs have been stripped of almost all fiber, vitamins and minerals. For this reason, they can be considered as “empty” calories. They are also digested quickly, and have a high glycemic index. This means that they lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals. Eating foods high on the glycemic index has been linked to overeating and increased risk of many diseases. Sadly, sugars and refined grains are a very large part of the total carbohydrate intake in many countries. The main dietary sources of refined carbs are white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, sodas, snacks, pasta, sweets, breakfast cereals and added sugars. They are also added to all sorts of processed foods.

Bottom Line: Refined carbs include mostly sugars and processed grains. They are empty calories and lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.

Refined Grains Are Much Lower in Fiber and Micronutrients

Whole grains are very high in dietary fiber. They consist of three main parts:

  • Bran: The hard outer layer, containing fiber, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Germ: The nutrient-rich core, containing carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant compounds.
  • Endosperm: The middle layer, containing mostly carbs and small amounts of protein.

The bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of whole grains. They contain high amounts of many nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and selenium. During the refining process, the bran and germ are removed, along with all the nutrients they contain. This leaves almost no fiber, vitamins or minerals in the refined grains. The only thing left is rapidly digested starch with small amounts of protein. That being said, some producers enrich their products with synthetic vitamins to make up for some of the loss in nutrients. Whether or not synthetic vitamins are as good as natural vitamins has long been debated. However, most people will agree that getting your nutrients from whole foods is always the best choice.

Diets high in refined carbs also tend to be low in fiber. Low-fiber diets have been linked with an increased risk of diseases like heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and various digestive problems

Bottom Line: When grains are refined, almost all the fiber, vitamins and minerals are removed from them. Some producers enrich their products with synthetic vitamins after processing.

Refined Carbs Can Drive Overeating and Increase the Risk of Obesity

A large portion of the population is overweight or obese. Eating too many refined carbs may be one of the main culprits. Because they are low in fiber and digested quickly, eating refined carbs can cause major swings in blood sugar levels. This can contribute to overeating. This is because foods high on the glycemic index promote short-term fullness, lasting about one hour. Foods that are low on the glycemic index promote a delayed feeling of fullness, which lasts about two to three hours. Blood sugar levels drop about an hour or two after eating a meal high in refined carbs. This promotes hunger and stimulates parts of the brain associated with reward and craving. These signals make you crave more food, and are known to cause overeating. Long-term studies have also shown that eating refined carbs is linked with increased belly fat over the course of five years. Furthermore, refined carbs may cause inflammation in the digestive system. Several experts claim that this may be one of the primary dietary causes of leptin resistance and obesity.

Bottom Line: Refined carbs cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, and only make you feel full for a short time. This is followed by a drop in blood sugar, hunger and cravings.

Refined Carbs May Increase the Risk of Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

Heart disease is incredibly common, and currently the world’s biggest killer. Type 2 diabetes is another very common disease, affecting about 300 million people worldwide. People with type 2 diabetes have a high risk of developing heart disease. Studies show that a high consumption of refined carbs is linked with insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. These are some of the main symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Refined carbs also increase blood triglyceride levels. This is a risk factor for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes. One study in Chinese adults showed that over 85% of the total carbohydrate intake came from refined carbs, mainly white rice and refined wheat products. The study also showed that people who ate the most refined carbs were two to three times more likely to get heart disease, compared to those who ate the least.

Bottom Line: Refined carbs may increase blood triglycerides, blood sugar levels and cause insulin resistance. All of these are major risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Not All Carbs Are Bad

Eating a lot of refined carbs can have many negative health effects. However, not all carbs are bad. Some carbohydrate-rich, whole foods are extremely healthy. These are great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and various beneficial plant compounds. Healthy carb-rich foods include vegetables, fruit, legumes, root vegetables and whole grains, such as oats and barley. Unless you are following a carb-restricted diet, there is absolutely NO reason to avoid these foods just because they contain carbs.

Bottom Line: Whole foods that contain carbs tend to be incredibly healthy. These include vegetables, fruits, legumes, root vegetables and whole grains.

Take Home Message

For optimal health (and weight), try to get the majority of your carbs from whole, single ingredient foods. If a food comes with a long list of ingredients, it is probably not a healthy carb source.

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10 Healthy Ways to Replace Conventional Wheat Bread

For many people, wheat bread is a staple food. However, the majority of breads sold today are made from refined wheat, which has been stripped of most fiber and nutrients. It may also cause a big spike in blood sugar and lead to increased calorie intake. Many brands claim to be made from “whole” wheat, but still contain mostly pulverized grains. There are also many people who are intolerant to gluten, a protein in wheat. This includes people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

Wheat is also high in short-chain carbs called FODMAPs, which cause digestive distress in many people. Although many people can still eat bread without problems, there are others who do best avoiding it. Fortunately, convenient and healthy alternatives to bread are becoming more readily available. Here are 10 easy and delicious ways to replace conventional wheat bread:

1. Oopsie Bread

Oopsie bread is one of the simplest and most popular low-carb breads. It can be made from only eggs, cream cheese and salt, although some recipes add more ingredients. Oopsie bread is widely used as a replacement for wheat bread, and is delicious as a bun for burgers or served with toppings. It is easy to make, contains only a few ingredients and tastes delicious.

2. Ezekiel Bread

Ezekiel bread is one of the healthiest breads available. It is made with several types of sprouted grains and legumes, including wheat, millet, barley, spelt, soybeans and lentils. The grains are allowed to sprout before processing, so they contain lower amounts of harmful antinutrients. This makes the bread much more nutritious and easily digestible. Ezekiel bread also contains no added sugar. However, if you are sensitive to gluten, then Ezekiel bread is not the right option for you. You may be able to buy Ezekiel bread at some bakeries, or you can make it yourself. There are some tips on making your own Ezekiel bread here.

3. Corn Tortillas

Tortillas can be made with either wheat or corn. Corn tortillas are gluten-free but high in fiber, making them a great option for people who are sensitive to gluten. You can use corn tortillas in sandwiches, wraps, burgers, pizzas or simply with toppings like butter and cheese. It is very easy to make corn tortillas yourself, since they contain only two ingredients: water and a Mexican flour called Masa Harina. You can find a recipe here.

4. Rye Bread

Rye bread is made from rye, a type of grain that is related to wheat.

It is darker and denser than regular bread, as well as much higher in fiber. Rye bread causes less spikes in blood sugar than wheat bread. However, it also has a stronger, more unique flavor that may be an acquired taste. Some rye breads are made with a mixture of rye and wheat, so they are a little lighter and have a mild, sweet flavor. Keep in mind that rye bread contains some gluten, so it is not an option on a gluten-free diet. You can find rye bread at most supermarkets and bakeries. It is also relatively easy to make yourself.

5. Lettuce and Leafy Greens

Big-leafed greens like lettuce or romaine lettuce are great substitutions for bread or wraps. You can fill these greens with toppings like meat or veggies. The leaf can also be used as a wrap, to hold everything together. Lettuce wraps are extremely fresh and way lower in calories than bread-based wraps.

6. Sweet Potatoes and Vegetables

Cooked sweet potato slices make an excellent and tasty substitute for bread buns, especially with burgers. They may also be used in a variety of recipes for grain-free breads and flatbreads. Other vegetables, like eggplants, bell peppers, cucumbers and mushrooms, also make great bread substitutes. These are fresh, tasty alternatives. They are especially delicious with toppings like meats, cream cheese and vegetables.

7. Butternut Squash or Sweet Potato Flatbread

There are many recipes online for grain-free bread alternatives. One of these recipes, made with butternut squash or sweet potatoes, is especially mouth-watering. This flatbread is an excellent alternative for people who are avoiding grains, but still want to eat sandwiches or buns with their meals.

8. Cauliflower Bread or Pizza Crust

Making bread or pizza crusts with a mix of cauliflower and cheese is very popular. To do this, an entire head of cauliflower must be grated and cooked. The cauliflower is then mixed with egg, cheese and spices before it is flattened and baked. Cauliflower bread or crust tastes great and is nutritious, as well as low in carbs. It is a delicious alternative to regular bread. Combined with toppings of your choosing, this may become one of your favorites.

9. Eggs

Eggs are among the most nutritious foods you can eat. They can be a protein-rich substitute for bread, and can be used in a variety of foods. When eating burgers, fried eggs can replace the bun.

10. Sourdough Bread

Sourdough bread is made from fermented grains. The fermentation process reduces the antinutrients in the grains, which increases the availability of nutrients. This makes sourdough bread more easily digestible and more nutritious than regular bread. However, it tastes a little more sour than regular bread since it contains lactic acid bacteria. You can make sourdough bread yourself in a few easy steps, but you’ll need to make a starter culture to work with. Keep in mind that sourdough bread made with gluten-containing grains still contains gluten.

Take Home Message

Although wheat bread makes up a large part of many people’s diets, it can easily be replaced with healthier and more nutritious alternatives. With the right resources, this change should not be difficult, although it may be more time consuming at first. The list above is a good place to start. Find something that you enjoy eating and can fit into your lifestyle.

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How to Reduce Antinutrients in Foods

Nutrients in plants are not always easily digested. This is because plants may contain antinutrients. These are plant compounds that reduce the absorption of nutrients from the digestive system. They are of a particular concern in societies that base their diets largely on grains and legumes. This article reviews several simple ways to reduce the amount of antinutrients in foods. In some cases, they can be eliminated almost completely.

What are Antinutrients?

Antinutrients are plant compounds that reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. They are not a major concern for most people, but may become a problem during periods of malnutrition, or among people who base their diets almost solely on grains and legumes. However, antinutrients aren’t always “bad.” Under some circumstances, antinutrients like phytate and tannins may have some beneficial health effects as well. The most widely studied antinutrients include:

  • Phytate (phytic acid): Mainly found in seeds, grains and legumes, phytate reduces the absorption of minerals from a meal. These include iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium.
  • Tannins: A class of antioxidant polyphenols that may impair the digestion of various nutrients.
  • Lectins: Found in all food plants, especially in seeds, legumes and grains. Some lectins may be harmful in high amounts, and interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
  • Protease inhibitors: Widely distributed among plants, especially in seeds, grains and legumes. They interfere with protein digestion by inhibiting digestive enzymes.
  • Calcium oxalate: The primary form of calcium in many vegetables, such as spinach. The calcium bound to oxalate is poorly absorbed

Bottom Line: The most important antinutrients are phytate, tannins, protease inhibitors, calcium oxalate and lectins.

Soaking

Beans and other legumes are often soaked in water overnight to improve their nutritional value.

Most of the antinutrients in these foods are found in the skin. Since many antinutrients are water-soluble, they simply dissolve when foods are soaked. In legumes, soaking has been found to decrease phytate, protease inhibitors, lectins, tannins and calcium oxalate. For example, a 12-hour soak reduced the phytate content of peas by up to 9%. Another study found that soaking pigeon peas for 6-18 hours decreased lectins by 38-50%, tannins by 13-25% and protease inhibitors by 28-30%. However, the reduction of antinutrients may depend on the type of legume. In kidney beans, soybeans and faba beans, soaking reduces protease inhibitors only very slightly. Not only is soaking useful for legumes, leafy vegetables can also be soaked to reduce some of their calcium oxalate. Soaking is typically used in combination with other methods, such as sprouting, fermenting and cooking.

Bottom Line: Soaking legumes in water overnight may reduce phytate, protease inhibitors, lectins and tannins. However, the effect depends on the type of legume. Soaking may also decrease oxalates in leafy vegetables.

Sprouting

Sprouting is a period in the life cycle of plants when they start emerging from the seed. This natural process is also known as germination.

This process increases the availability of nutrients in seeds, grains and legumes. Sprouting takes a few days, and may be initiated by a few simple steps:

  • Begin by rinsing the seeds to remove all debris, dirt and soil.
  • Soak the seeds for 2-12 hours in cool water. The soaking time depends on the type of seed.
  • Rinse them thoroughly in water.
  • Drain as much water as possible and place the seeds in a sprouting vessel, also called a sprouter. Make sure to place it out of direct sunlight.
  • Repeat rinsing and draining 2-4 times. This should be done regularly, or once every 8-12 hours.

During sprouting, changes take place within the seed that lead to the degradation of antinutrients such as phytate and protease inhibitors. Sprouting has been shown to reduce phytate by 37-81% in various types of grains and legumes. There also seems to be a slight decrease in lectins and protease inhibitors during sprouting. You can find detailed instructions on other websites. For example, Sprout People has excellent information on how to sprout various types of beans, grains and other plant foods.

Bottom Line: Sprouting reduces phytate in grains and legumes, and may slightly degrade lectins and protease inhibitors.

Fermentation

Fermentation is an ancient method originally used to preserve food. It is a natural process that occurs when microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeasts, start digesting carbs in food. Although food that becomes fermented by accident is most often considered spoiled, controlled fermentation is widely used in food production. Food products that are processed by fermentation include yogurt, cheese, wine, beer, coffee, cocoa and soy sauce. Another good example of fermented food is sourdough bread. Making of sourdough effectively degrades antinutrients in the grains, leading to increased availability of nutrients. In fact, sourdough fermentation is more effective at reducing antinutrients in grains than yeast fermentation in typical bread. In various grains and legumes, fermentation effectively degrades phytate and lectins. For example, fermenting pre-soaked brown beans for 48 hours caused an 88% reduction in phytate.

Bottom Line: Fermentation of grains and legumes leads to a significant reduction in phytate and lectins.

Boiling

High heat, especially when boiling, can degrade antinutrients like lectins, tannins and protease inhibitors. One study showed that boiling pigeon peas for 80 minutes reduced protease inhibitors by 70%, lectin by 79% and tannin by 69%. Additionally, calcium oxalate is reduced by 19-87% in boiled green leafy vegetables. Steaming and baking are not as effective. In contrast, phytate is heat-resistant and not as easily degraded with boiling. The cooking time required depends on the type of antinutrient, food plant and the cooking method. Generally, a longer cooking time results in greater reductions of antinutrients.

Bottom Line: Boiling is effective at reducing various antinutrients, including lectins, tannins, protease inhibitors and calcium oxalate.

Combination of Methods

Combining many methods can reduce antinutrients substantially, sometimes even completely.

As an example, soaking, sprouting and lactic acid fermentation decreased the phytate in quinoa by 98%. Similarly, sprouting and lactic acid fermentation of corn and sorghum degraded phytate almost completely. In addition, soaking and boiling pigeon peas led to a 98-100% reduction in lectins, tannins and protease inhibitors

Bottom Line: The most effective way to reduce antinutrients in plant foods is to combine several different elimination strategies. Combining methods may even degrade some of the antinutrients completely.

Overview

Below is an overview of the main antinutrients and effective ways to eliminate them.

  • Phytate (phytic acid): Soaking, sprouting, fermentation.
  • Lectins: Soaking, boiling, heating, fermentation.
  • Tannins: Soaking, boiling.
  • Protease inhibitors: Soaking, sprouting, boiling.
  • Calcium oxalate: Soaking, boiling.

Take Home Message

Antinutrients can significantly reduce the nutritional value of many plant foods. Luckily, they can be degraded with a few simple methods such as heating, boiling, soaking, sprouting and fermenting. By combining different methods, many antinutrients can be degraded almost completely.

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Decaf Coffee: Good or Bad?

Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages. Many people enjoy drinking coffee, but want to limit their caffeine intake for some reason. For these people, decaf coffee is an excellent alternative. Decaf coffee is just like regular coffee, except the caffeine has been removed. This article takes a detailed look at decaf coffee and its health effects, both good and bad.

What is Decaf Coffee and How is it Made?

Decaf is short for decaffeinated coffee. It is coffee from coffee beans that have had at least 97% of their caffeine removed. There are many ways to remove caffeine from coffee beans. Most of them include water, organic solvents or carbon dioxide. Coffee beans are washed in the solvent until the caffeine has been extracted into it, then the solvent is removed. The beans are decaffeinated before they are roasted and ground. The nutritional value of decaf coffee should be almost identical to regular coffee, apart from the caffeine content. However, the taste and smell may become a little milder and the colour may change, depending on the method used. This can make decaf coffee more pleasing to those who are sensitive to the bitter taste and smell of regular coffee.

Bottom Line: Decaf coffee beans are washed in solvents to remove 97% of the caffeine content prior to roasting. Aside from the caffeine, the nutritional value of decaf coffee should be almost identical to that of regular coffee.

How Much Caffeine is in Decaf Coffee?

Decaf coffee is not completely caffeine free. It actually contains varying amounts of caffeine, usually about 3 mg per cup. One study found that each cup (6 oz or 180 ml) of decaf contained 0–7 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, an average cup of regular coffee contains about 70–140 mg of caffeine, depending on coffee type, preparation method and cup size. So, even if decaf is not completely caffeine free, the amount of caffeine is usually very small.

Bottom Line: Decaf coffee is not caffeine free, as each cup contains about 0–7 mg. However, this is much less than the amount found in regular coffee.

Decaf Coffee is Loaded With Antioxidants and Contains Nutrients

Coffee is not the devil it has been made out to be. It is actually the single biggest source of antioxidants in the Western diet. Decaf usually contains similar amounts of antioxidants as regular coffee, although they may be up to 15% lower. This difference is most likely caused by a small loss of antioxidants during the decaffeination process. The main antioxidants in regular and decaf coffee are hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols.

Antioxidants are very effective at neutralizing reactive compounds called free radicals. This reduces oxidative damage, and may help prevent diseases like heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. In addition to the antioxidants, decaf also contains minor amounts of some nutrients. One cup of brewed decaf coffee provides 2.4% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium, 4.8% of potassium and 2.5% of niacin, or vitamin B3. This may not seem like a lot of nutrients, but the amounts add up quickly if you drink 2-3 (or more) cups of coffee per day.

Bottom Line: Decaf coffee contains similar amounts of antioxidants as regular coffee. These include mainly chlorogenic acid and other polyphenols. Decaf coffee also contains small amounts of several nutrients.

Health Benefits of Decaf Coffee

Despite having been demonized in the past, the truth is that coffee is mostly good for you.

It is linked with numerous health benefits, which are mainly attributed to its antioxidant content and other active substances. However, the specific health effects of decaf coffee can be hard to determine. This is because most studies assess coffee intake without distinguishing between regular and decaf coffee, and some don’t even include decaf coffee. Also, most of these studies are observational. They cannot prove that coffee caused the benefits, only that drinking coffee is associated with them. Type 2 Diabetes, Liver Function and Premature Death Drinking coffee, both regular and decaf, has been linked with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Each daily cup may reduce the risk up to 7%. This suggests that elements other than caffeine may be responsible for these protective effects. The effects of decaf coffee on liver function are not as well studied as those of regular coffee. However, one large observational study linked decaf coffee with reduced liver enzyme levels, which suggests a protective effect. Drinking decaf coffee has also been linked with a small but significant reduction in the risk of premature death, as well as death from stroke or heart disease.

Bottom Line: Decaf coffee may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It may also reduce the risk of premature death.

Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Both regular and decaf coffee seem to have positive effects on age-related mental decline. Human cell studies also show that decaf coffee may protect neurons in the brain. This could help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. One study suggests that this may be due to the chlorogenic acid in coffee, rather than caffeine. However, caffeine itself has also been linked to a reduced risk of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. Many studies show that people who drink regular coffee have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but more studies are needed on decaf specifically.

Bottom Line: Decaf coffee may protect against age-related mental decline. It may also reduce the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Reduced Symptoms of Heartburn and Reduced Risk of Rectal Cancer

One common side effect of drinking coffee is heartburn or acid reflux. Many people experience this, and drinking decaf coffee may relieve this uncomfortable side effect. Decaf coffee has been shown to cause significantly less acid reflux than regular coffee. Drinking two or more cups of decaf coffee per day has also been linked with up to a 48% lower risk of developing rectal cancer.

Bottom Line: Decaf coffee causes significantly less acid reflux than regular coffee. Drinking more than two cups a day may also reduce the risk of rectal cancer.

Regular Coffee Has Several Advantages Over Decaf

Coffee is probably best known for its stimulant effects. It increases alertness and reduces feelings of tiredness. These effects are directly linked to the stimulant caffeine, which is found naturally in coffee. Some of the beneficial effects of regular coffee are directly attributed to the caffeine, so decaf should not have these effects. Here are some benefits that probably only apply to regular coffee, not decaf:

  • Improved mood, reaction time, memory and mental function.
  • Increased metabolic rate and fat burning.
  • Enhanced athletic performance.
  • Reduced risk of mild depression and suicidal thoughts in women.
  • Much lower risk of liver cirrhosis or end-stage liver damage.

However, it is worth mentioning again that the research on regular coffee is way more extensive than what is available for decaf.

Bottom Line: Regular coffee provides many health benefits that do not apply to decaf. These include improved mental health, increased metabolic rate, enhanced athletic performance and a lower risk of liver damage.

Who Should Choose Decaf Over Regular Coffee?

There is a lot of individual variability when it comes to tolerance for caffeine.

For some people, one cup of coffee can be excessive, while for others this may be six or more cups. Excess caffeine may overwhelm the central nervous system, cause restlessness, anxiety, digestive problems, heart arrhythmia or trouble sleeping in sensitive individuals. People who are very sensitive to caffeine may want to limit their intake of regular coffee, or switch over to decaf or tea. Those with certain medical conditions may also require caffeine-restricted diets. This includes patients taking prescription medications that can interact with caffeine. Additionally, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to limit their caffeine intake. Children, adolescents, and individuals suffering from anxiety or trouble sleeping are advised to do so as well.

Bottom Line: Decaf may be a good alternative to regular coffee for people who are caffeine sensitive. Pregnant women, adolescents and individuals taking certain medications may also want to choose decaf over regular.

Take Home Message

Coffee is one of the healthiest beverages on the planet. It is loaded with antioxidants and linked to reduced risk of all sorts of serious diseases. However, not everyone can drink coffee, because the caffeine can cause problems in some individuals. For these people, decaf is an excellent way to enjoy coffee, except without the side effects of too much caffeine. Decaf has most of the same health benefits, but none of the side effects.

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