Hype or Healthy? Chia Pudding and Bulletproof Coffee


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Food trends are nothing new. They’ve been around forever, it seems. Case in point: Jell-O salads were all the rage in the 1930’s. SPAM was the hot food item in the 1940’s (and Hormel has sold billions of cans of this mystery meat). And who remembers the fondue parties of the 1970’s, where people would dip chunks of food into hot, melted cheese or chocolate?

Food trends might feature a new or different kind of food, and sometimes they focus on a health aspect. (Think of TaB, the first diet soda marketed to people who wanted to “keep ‘tabs’ on their weight.”) Sometimes the food or beverage is truly a healthy choice; other times, it’s really just another diet gimmick with little science to back it up. While it’s always a good to try new foods, it’s just as important to understand that the health claims of a particular food or drink may not hold up well to scrutiny. This week, I’ll discuss one food and one beverage that have been talked, texted, and blogged about to no end. Are they good for us? Read my verdicts and decide if you agree or not.

Chia pudding
No, this isn’t the instant pudding that you make from a mix. Chia is a member of the mint family, and its seeds are thought to have been a staple of the ancient Aztec diet. They’ve surged in popularity lately, thanks to their omega-3 fatty acids[1] and fiber, protein, and mineral content. It’s thought that eating chia seeds might help lower cholesterol[2] and blood pressure[3] levels. You can eat chia seeds on their own by sprinkling them into foods such as cereal or yogurt. However, these tiny seeds also absorb moisture and form a gelatinous substance, making them the perfect base for…pudding! Who doesn’t like pudding?

Chia pudding is rather like tapioca pudding, just to give you a comparison. A little lumpy, in other words! Do a quick Google search for “chia pudding” and you’ll come up with more than a few matches. A chia pudding recipe from Whole Foods includes soy, rice, or almond milk; vanilla extract; dried fruit; and coconut flakes (along with chia seeds, of course). Each serving contains 280 calories and 49 grams of carbohydrate (7 grams of which come from fiber). Other chia pudding recipes contain different ingredients, like cocoa powder, honey, or agave nectar.

Verdict. Many of the chia recipes I’ve come across contain fairly healthy ingredients. But pudding is pudding when it comes to calories (often close to 300 per serving) and carbohydrate. So, enjoy chia pudding if you will, but watch your portion and count those carbs. Chia pudding is a healthy food trend to enjoy — in moderation.

Bulletproof coffee
Here’s a beverage that’s been recently hyped up. Even celebrities are drinking it. What the heck is bulletproof coffee? No, it’s not another fancy drink served at Starbucks, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually start to serve it. Bulletproof coffee is coffee that has grass-fed, unsalted butter and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil or coconut oil added to it. The ingredients are blended together and the intent is for the beverage to replace breakfast. The premise behind this drink is that it gives you energy and helps you lose weight — of course!

Invented by Dave Asprey, an entrepreneur, bulletproof coffee has gained quite a following, especially among folks following the Paleo diet. The issue with this beverage, though, is that it’s not the healthiest way to kick off your day. The drink contains between 400 and 500 calories, and about 50 grams of fat (most of them saturated). There’s no carbohydrate, protein, or fiber in this beverage. Basically, all you’re consuming for breakfast is caffeine and fat. To be fair, MCT oil, which is partially manufactured, is more rapidly absorbed and more quickly burned for energy than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs; essentially, other types of fat that we typically eat). MCT oil may help suppress appetite, provide energy, and even help with weight loss, as indicated in research studies. Coconut oil is 60% MCT and 40% LCT. The evidence isn’t there to support the use of coconut oil for weight loss.

Verdict. Now, I realize that Paleo fans will likely swear by this drink, claiming that it fills them up, gives them energy, and even helps them lose weight. Granted, this drink is full of fat, so it’s understandable that it’s going to sit in your stomach all morning and keep a lid on your appetite. But our “Paleo” ancestors didn’t drink bulletproof coffee, for one thing. And while some saturated fat is fine, consuming most of your day’s saturated-fat allotment in one cup isn’t exactly what most cardiologists or nutritionists would recommend. Nor is there any evidence that indicates you’ll lose more weight or lose weight faster by drinking this beverage, as opposed to consuming a breakfast that’s more balanced and that contains some carbohydrate, fiber, and protein (not to mention vitamins and minerals).

I don’t know about you, but sipping on a grease-filled drink first thing in the morning just doesn’t seem appealing. Try it if you must, but I say that this beverage is mostly hype.

More next week!

Endnotes:
  1. omega-3 fatty acids: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/Articles/Diabetes-Definitions/omega_3_fatty_acids/
  2. cholesterol: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/heart-health/lifestyle-habits-for-lipid-management/
  3. blood pressure: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/Articles/Heart-Health/the-pressure-is-on/

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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