Questions on fat at the waist, antioxidant levels of coffees and teas, cinnamon and blood sugar

Q: Is there any difference in the antioxidant levels of regular and decaf coffees and teas? Also, despite the antioxidant benefits, isn’t the caffeine still bad for you?
Q: If fat at the waist is associated with increased health risks, how big is too big?
Q: Is it true that cinnamon can help control blood sugar?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is there any difference in the antioxidant levels of regular and decaf coffees and teas? Also, despite the antioxidant benefits, isn’t the caffeine still bad for you?
A: Compared to decaf, regular green tea contains about three times as much EGCG, the antioxidant phytochemical that has shown cancer-prevention effects in some laboratory studies. Similarly, decaf black tea, which contains another, less-studied antioxidant called theorubigin, also has lower amounts (about 50 percent less) than its regular counterpart. Limited research suggests that chlorogenic acid, one of the main antioxidants in coffee, may be lower in decaf coffee as well. However, even with decaf versions, the true antioxidant benefits you receive depends on how much you drink. As for concerns about caffeine, when consumed in moderation, it may not be as bad as you think. Some studies now suggest that caffeine’s purported role in increasing blood pressure may not be linked as strongly to coffee and tea. Note that people with sleep difficulties, however, do need to be careful about the amount and timing of caffeine consumption. Also, most health experts suggest that pregnant women limit total daily caffeine from coffee, soft drinks and other sources to about 300 milligrams, the equivalent of three 6-ounce cups of regular coffee.

Q: If fat at the waist is associated with increased health risks, how big is too big?
A: Health professionals frequently point to waist measurements above 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men as indicators of increased health risk. Waistlines above these marks are associated with obesity. Yet setting risk indicators this high ignores over half the people with unhealthy levels of body fat. An expert panel of international scientists convened by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recently took a closer look at the data linking fat at the midsection to cancer risk. According to the panel, a tighter set of guidelines is recommended as cancer risk begins to increase even with modest weight gains. Based on the panel’s conclusions, AICR suggests aiming for waist measurements below 31.5 inches for women and 37 inches for men. Do note, however, that while most people with waist measurements above this cut-off are overweight, some also fall with normal weight ranges. In other words, when assessing risk, it is essential to look at overall weight, but also, where that body fat is being stored. As research continues, some scientists speculate that the range of waist measurements that signal health risk may vary with age and ethnicity. In the meantime, perhaps the best advice is to limit weight gain during adulthood as much as possible.

Q: Is it true that cinnamon can help control blood sugar?
A: Although some research is promising, we need larger trials before we have a more definitive answer. Some studies show a modest reduction in blood sugar with consumption ranging from a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon daily to one tablespoon. Other studies show no effect. Consequently, do not use cinnamon in place of a prescribed blood sugar medicine. It is also premature to turn to cinnamon supplements. Do not use cinnamon medicinally without first consulting your doctor either. Cinnamon naturally contains a compound called coumarin, which at high levels can damage the liver and function as a blood-thinner. This compound can pose serious trouble for anyone taking anti-clotting medicines (such as Coumadin). Yet irrespective of its affects on blood sugar, cinnamon adds delicious flavor to many foods and may provide some additional health benefits through its antioxidant phytochemicals.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org

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