11 reasons you should drink coffee every single day

You know what I love most about birthdays? Getting to swan around like a total diva Because my family has this really cool tradition: From the stroke of midnight on your birthday, till midnight the next day, you get to boss around whoever you want and nobody can yell at you or make you do any work. Not even mom can make you clean the table or pick up your clothes off the floor. And the husband has to concede every argument and can’t call you out for being unreasonable or demanding. So, basically, 24 hours of pure bliss… which sort of make up for turning a year older!

You know another thing I love about birthdays? Gifts. Not the extravagant kinds but the small, intimate ones that can only come out of true love. Like the lavender flowers so beautifully crafted out of clay by my mother, despite having two fractured fingers in her right hand (pix coming up soon as they’ve gone for framing!). She knows I love lavender and am always bemoaning the fact that they bloom for such a short while. Only a mother’s love could have spent a straight 72 hours without sleep, putting together something that would take somebody else at least a couple of weeks, even without the fractured fingers. Love you mom!

And then there was the most mammoth box of Gourmesso coffee capsules for Nespresso machines, complete with all my favourite flavours (Soffio Caramello, Soffio Mandorla and Messico Forte Blend) from my oldest friend on earth. This is the kind of gift that keeps on giving, because not only does coffee wake you up, get you through a lousy day and tide over the crazy deadlines, it’s also chock full of health benefits that other beverages would find it hard to equal. So, basically, this is a gift of pure sunshine that promises health, good humour and happiness in a cup. Through the year.

Don’t believe me? Here are 11 science-backed reasons why a jolt of java is good for mind, body and soul. Have fun reading while I quickly pop a pod and see you on the other side.

Coffee makes you happy

And I don’t just mean this in terms of the caffeine high! Coffee literally makes you feel happier by stimulating the production of serotonin and dopamine, which make you brighter and perkier.

Coffee promotes mental sharpness

Well… d-uh… right? Coffee helps us perk up and face the mornings. And the mid-afternoon slump. And the late-at-night deadline. And everything in between. But it doesn’t stop there. Coffee actually sharpens the brain, making it work more efficiently. Result? Faster reflexes, enhanced attention span, increased focus, better memory and improved logical reasoning. But it doesn’t just end there. Research shows that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee daily also cuts the risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia by 65%.

coffee-benefitsCoffee cuts pain

Sore muscles? A cuppa can reduce the pain by up to 48%, say Norwegian researchers and the Journal of Pain. I need my gym to install a coffee bar. Pronto.

Coffee helps weight loss

A jolt of java not only reduces post-exercise pain, having a cup of black coffee an hour before your workout can increase physical performance by almost 12%. The link? Caffeine boosts adrenaline, which helps you work out harder and more efficiently. Plus, it also helps break down fat cells. #doublewhammy

Coffee suppresses chronic inflammation

And I don’t mean the kind of inflammation that occurs when you hurt yourself or are stung by a bee. We are talking about chronic internal inflammation that occurs under the skin or around our vital organs – such as the heart or liver – putting extra pressure on them (think of it as an extra layer of fat or mucus that’s squeezing the organs), while simultaneously blocking optimal supply of nutrients. This internal inflammation is the leading cause of chronic issues such as diabetes, heart trouble, cystic acne, eczema, wrinkles, fine lines, dullness and sagging. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered that caffeine can block the pathways of inflammatory molecules, preventing them from lodging in our body. This means more flexible arteries, lower blood pressure and a host of skin benefits to boot.

Coffee amps up your antioxidants

Strange as it may seem, Americans get most of their antioxidants from coffee. Yes, coffee. That’s because a serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than a serving of things like grape juice, oranges and blueberries.

Coffee protects your heart

Dutch and Japanese studies (the latter had 76,000 participants!) show that moderate coffee drinkers (1-2 cups per day) have up to 38% chance of dying from a cardiovascular disease.

Coffee prevents diabetes

After 28 studies over more than one million participants, researchers at Harvard have found that a single cup of coffee can cut the risk of Type II diabetes by 8% (just remember to hold the sugar). Take this up to 6 cups daily and you reduce the risk by 33%. The reason? Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol that reduces the concentration of blood sugar and slows down its absorption. It also contains magnesium and potassium, which increase insulin sensitivity and reduces sweet cravings.

Coffee protects your liver

Drinking one cup of coffee a day can cut your risk for developing liver cirrhosis by 20% by lowering enzyme levels. Take it up to four cups a day and it can also halt the progression of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).

Coffee helps avoid kidney stones

According to studies at Harvard, coffee is a diuretic that helps flush out excess calcium and sodium from the body, thereby preventing the formation of kidney stones. Trust me, I’ve had them and they literally do hurt more than childbirth.

Coffee prevents cavities

If I had to choose my favourite finding about coffee’s health benefits, this is The One! As someone who has a serious dental phobia (think serious hyperventilation, high blood pressure and shortness of breath every time I have to see the dentist), just knowing that black coffee helps the bacteria that cause tooth decay has me literally brewing up another cup right now. Hold the milk and sugar, though!

What’s the best birthday gift(s) you’ve ever received?

What does your tongue say about your health? Prepare to be seriously surprised

Recently, my mother has been going to a Chinese acupuncturist and the first thing he does is make her stick out her tongue. Even though the problem is a slipped disc in her back, the treatment always begins with a visual examination of the tongue.

And that’s a trend I am increasingly seeing with most doctors, whether traditional or given to more modern medicinal practises. The reason? Your tongue gives out more clues about your health than one might ever imagine.

For example, a white coating on the tongue could tell the doctor to address your digestion, while one with a purple tinge could point towards circulation problems. Reading the tongue has always been a cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, much like face mapping, and it’s now getting a standing ovation by modern science as well.

What’s the perfect tongue, then? One that’s uniformly pink, moist, plump and has a very thin white coating. It shouldn’t quiver when you stick it out and there should be no cracks, grooves or indentations.

Is that you? Congratulations, you seem in good health.

If not, stick out your tongue, look in the mirror and learn to read what your body is trying to tell you**.

Super smooth tongue

If you think having a smooth, moist tongue puts you in the clear, think again. According to Chinese medicine, an overtly smooth tongue could signify water retention, mucus buildup or reduced immunity.

Thick white coating on the tongue

According to Traditional Chinese medicine, a thick white coating indicates ‘stagnation’ or a ‘cold’ zheng. This leads to sluggish digestion, mucus buildup, candida, tendency towards back problems, lack of beneficial bacteria or excess fat in your diet.

Pale tongue

This could indicate poor circulation, mucus and fat accumulation or anaemia. You may feel low on energy and exhausted.

Red bumps on the tongue

Expect digestion problems, insomnia and symptoms of a stressful lifestyle.

Shades of red and yellow on the tongue

According to traditional Chinese medical practitioners, these are signs of a “hot” zheng, which may be manifested as an infection or inflammation in the body, especially the liver, gall bladder or intestines. It may also indicate high blood pressure, anaemia or another blood problem, and may be a sign that you need to cut down on excessive dairy products, eggs, meat, sugar, alcohol and spices.

Purple tongue

If your tongue is tinged purple, check for sluggish blood flow, high cholesterol and other circulation problems. It may also be a warning to cut down on sugar, alcohol and an intolerance to certain medications.

Green tongue

This may be the sign of a progressive infection in the body.

White or red spot on the tip of the tongue

While a white bump on the tip of your tongue may point to kidney problems, a red one could be the sign of emotional stress or allergies.

Cracked tongue

A cracked tongue could be a sign of dehydration or nutritional deficiencies (particularly vitamin B and C). A crack that runs down the centre of the tongue may speak of a bad stomach or indigestion.

Tooth indentations on the tongue

If your teeth leave indentations on the tongue, it could be because of low immunity, exhaustion, fluid retention, nutritional deficiency, digestive problems or the spleen.

Sore tongue

Check your nutritional levels as this may indicate a deficiency, particularly B6, B12 and iron. If you are getting a burning sensation on your tongue, it may be because of an upset stomach.

Wobbly tongue

A tongue that doesn’t stay still could be a sign of chronic exhaustion.

** Do remember that, as with all medical issues, you should see your doctor for a proper prognosis. This is just a general guide to head you off in the right investigative direction – just because you have a white bump on your tongue doesn’t always mean you have a bad liver!

Save or toss? What really happens when a beauty product expires

As a compulsive beauty product hoarder (1,083 lipsticks and 479 perfumes at last count – so not kidding!), I am constantly faced with the battle between throwing out expired products (but that eyeshadow palette is sooooooooo pretty!!!!!!!) and not wanting to literally hurt my skin.

Confession: The former have once too often won over the latter, the lure of an expensive moisturiser that was left in the cupboard for a year too long winning over the potential ramifications of subjecting my skin to an expired product. Because honestly, which one of us hasn’t thought that throwing away a half full tube of mascara after three months is a bit too extreme? That lipsticks don’t expire… they just gently fade away, with no repercussions for our skin? And our health? That it’s all a marketing gimmick on the part of beauty brands to just make us buy more and more products in place of our perfectly fine ones?

Unfortunately, this is the equivalent of shoving your head in the sand, ostrich-style. Because all beauty products expire and using one that’s gone bad is doing some pretty serious damage to your skin. Which is something I learnt after a nasty set of breakouts on my forehead that simply wouldn’t go away. The culprit, as discovered by my dermatologist? A setting powder well past it’s date.

And that’s what led me to research this subject further. Exactly what happens when a beauty product expires? Why is it that old mascara is actually toxic and why you need to buy a new tube of sunscreen every year?

First… reading the label

Unfortunately, most cosmetics don’t come with an expiry date printed on the label – all due to lack of regulation on the subject. What you may find is something called Period After Opening (PAO) date, which is usually indicated by the illustration of a jar with a number written in it. So, a jar with “12” or “12M”, would mean the product is good for 12 months after opening.

I usually just jot down the date I bought the product as well as the date I opened it on the container itself, with a sharpie. If you want to be more sophisticated, look at Timestrips.

Also check the list of ingredients – if the first ingredient listed is water, understand that the product will have a short shelf life as this particular element encourages bacteria to grow the fastest. Organic and preservative-free products are also prone to short lives, as they have no protection against contaminants.

And when in doubt, err on the side of caution, since you really don’t know for how long the product was sitting in the warehouse before you even brought it home!

Case in point: The International Journal of Cosmetic Science published a study in 2013, which revealed that 70% women use at least one expired beauty product, especially eye makeup. And that a whopping 67% of this eye makeup was contaminated. Time, seriously, to rethink our beauty habits.

Moisturizers and eye creams: Nine months to one year

The longevity of creamy skincare formulations – whether moisturizers or eye creams – depends on their packaging. Pump bottles, ampoules or any kind of dispenser in which the product is not exposed to air or your hands will last up to one year. Jars, however, usually last for only 6-9 months. That’s because your hands can contaminate the product with bacteria, while exposure to air and sunlight makes it degrade faster.

In either case, moisturizers and eye creams start degrading and undergoing chemical changes past the one year mark. This happens in different ways: Ingredients like vitamin C and hydroquinone start losing their potency, while others like glycolic acid and retinol actually become more concentrated over time. The former means products lose their efficacy, and the latter leads to skin irritation. Plus, oil-based creams may become rancid, which will further inflame the skin.

Sunscreen: One year

Sunscreens are actually regulated by the FDA and usually come with a prescribed expiration date of one year. After that, the active ingredients start to break down, making the SPF weaker. The formula also starts becoming unstable when exposed to heat and the active ingredients become unequally distributed in the base – so, while with one pump you may get enough SPF, with another you may get none.

beauty-expiry-dateAnti-acne products: Six months

Most acne products are centred on salicylic acid and Benzoyl peroxide, which break down and lose their potency very quickly. Worse, they break down into other chemicals that can irritate and harm the skin.

Retinoid creams: Nine months

Vitamin A is another product that breaks down pretty rapidly, so you need to use it up within the year. Faster if its not packed in an opaque tube as exposure to light and air accelerates the process.

Grainy exfoliators: Two years

Scrubs of the grainy kind are a hardy lot but they are still prone to breeding bacteria that are passed on from your fingers. So, avoid contaminating the tub with dirty fingers and you’re pretty much set for a while.

Peels and masks: Three months

Peels and non-grainy masks, on the other hand, are creatures with short lives. Especially if they are anchored by fruit and glycolic acids. That’s because the buffering agents start evaporating after a while, making the acids more potent. Cue: Skin irritation and burns.

Soap: 18 months to three years

Yes, soap expires. And how fast it expires depends on the formulation. Commercial non-organic soap bars can usually last for about three years, given the added synthetic ingredients and preservatives. However, these very same synthetic ingredients and preservatives will change their chemical composition over time, leaving them skin-unfriendly. Organic, handmade soaps, on the other hand, usually contain high amounts of fat and no chemical preservatives. The fats start breaking down and becoming rancid, giving them a shelf life of 18-24 months. And once you add things such as flowers, fruits, herbs and essential oils, the longevity reduces even further as these organic ingredients decay pretty fast.

Bath oils and shower gels: Two years

Loaded as they are with oils, botanicals and other natural ingredients, bath oils and shower gels are prone to oxidation, which causes chemical changes in the formula. Over time, the consistency also changes, making the oils and water separate. Result: Not so effective, not so pretty.

Loofas and bath sponges: Three weeks for loofas, six weeks for sponges

According to dermatologists, loofahs and sponges are responsible for some of the worst skin infections they see on a regular basis. Loofahs contain proteins and carbohydrates, which become a feeding ground for bacteria. Both loofahs and sponges are also riddled with tiny holes that trap dead skin and harbour bacteria and molds when moist. So, air dry them thoroughly in between uses and toss out in a maximum of 3-6 weeks. Less if you notice any funkiness.

Shampoos and conditioners: Two years

Once water and air start getting into the bottles – as they invariably do – the formula starts breaking down or separating.

expired-beauty-productsDeodorant: Three years

Deodorants are usually loaded with anti-bacterial ingredients and come in an aerosol can, which limits the risk of contamination, so they run foul more slowly.

Liquid foundation and concealer: One year

With time, liquid makeup starts thickening and separating, making for a patchy finish. It also starts changing colour due to oxidation, all of which explains why old foundation does not sit as well on your complexion as a fresh one.

Eyeshadows, blush and other powder-based makeup: Three years

As long as you’re not touching powder-based makeup with dirty hands or brushes, it runs a lower risk of feeding bacteria as there is no water to aid their growth. However, with time, they start drying out, crumbling and become clumpy, making application difficult. Some also contain botanical ingredients, like aloe or essential oils, and these can harbour infections. So, keep an eye out for any kind of growth or change in consistency and toss out immediately if that happens.

Lipsticks and lip glosses: Two years

Lipsticks are loaded with wax, water and emollients, which literally draw in bacteria and become mini-reservoirs of infections. They also contain oils that go rancid with time. Plus, they start drying out as the water evaporates, causing a drag on lips, rather than the creamy or glossy effect you’re seeking.

PS: If you’ve had a cold sore, any lip products you use at the time have to go immediately. Apologies!

Lip and eye pencils: Three to five years

Pencils usually go very close to mucous membranes, thereby increasing the chances of both picking up bacteria and transmitting them back to your eyes and lips. However, every time you sharpen them, it gets rid of the contaminated layers and reveals a fresh, clean one. This extends their shelf life. Only caveat: Regularly sanitise your sharpener and toss out the pencil immediately if you have any cold sores or eye infections.

PS: Self-sharpening pencils don’t have the same benefits and need to be tossed out after 3-6 months.

Mascara and liquid eye liner: Three months

Wet cosmetics such as mascaras and liquid eye liners, which are packed in dark, narrow containers, are literally a petri dish for bacteria – and you’re going to use them next to your eyes! Plus, every time you pump the wand, it pushes air into the formula, drying it out and making for not-so-smooth application.

Nail polish: Two years

The formula will start separating, becoming stringy or gooey. This will start happening sooner if the nail polish is exposed to heat and humidity.

perfume-expiryPerfumes: 3 years to infinity

Do perfumes actually expire? Yes, they do. However, they don’t have a fixed expiry date and their longevity depends on a lot of factors – much like fine wine. Which is why some perfumes go “off” in a couple of years, while others are good for a couple of decades (my mother’s Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps, housed in the original crystal bottle and stored at the back of a very cool, very dark cupboard, smells great after 17 years!). That’s because alcohol is the perfect preservative. However, the ingredients inevitably do start oxidising and breaking down when exposed to the environment. Perfumes with heavy base notes, like woods and musks, last longer than light citrus or florals, which evaporate more quickly. Again, perfumes with a higher alcohol content last longer.

Next, comes the way you store your perfumes. Sunlight, heat and humidity are mortal enemies of fragrance, leading to chemical changes that alter the scent. When this happens, you will notice that the perfume starts changing colour – becoming darker or going milky – and starts smelling more like alcohol than a fragrance. The best way to increase your perfume’s shelf life is by storing them in a cool, dry place, like a drawer or wardrobe.

Boozing with benefits: The right way to drink red wine for weight loss

It all started with the French Paradox.

The question about how the French eat a high fat diet, smoke and totally shy away from active exercise, yet they have half the rate of heart disease (143 vs. 315 per 100,000 middle-aged men) and live 2.5 years longer than anyone else in the world.

French researcher Dr. Serge Renaud’s studies concluded this was primarily because the French drank bucket-fulls of red wine – at the time 16 gallons per person per year vs. 2 gallons per person per year in America.

25 years later, practically every science lab across the world has not only endorsed the theory but actually taken it further, crediting red wine with everything from weight loss and protection against cancer to lowering the risk for diabetes and helping manage depression.

A sampler, if you may.

First, let’s look at red wine and weight loss

1. In 2015, researchers at the Washington State University, found that resveratrol – a key antioxidant found in red wine – helps convert ‘white fat’ into ‘beige fat’. Beige fat reduces weight gain by actively burning calories.

2. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health concluded a 13-year obesity study of 19,220 middle aged women in 2010. The result? Women who drank two glasses of red wine daily were 70% less likely to gain weight.

3. According to a joint study between Harvard School of Public Health in the US, the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Leipzig University, Germany, red wine increases the balance of HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol), while boosting glucose metabolism to curb diabetes.

4. At Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, scientists concluded that red wine creates thermogenesis, which raises body temperature by burning more calories.

5. At the University of Alberta, Canada, it was found that the weight reducing benefits of red wine are similar to that of exercise (this one’s my favourite study!).

6. A Norwegian study revealed that one glass of red wine a day significantly increases levels of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin.

7. At Purdue University, it was discovered that red wine contains piceatannol, which actually blocks the growth of fat cells. It also helps fight cancer, heart diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.

8. In 2012, a team of scientists from Arizona State University, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Harvard Medical School found that bumblebees who were given resvesterol late at night, ate less.

9. Wondering if virgin grape juice has the same benefits? A German study proved that wine drinkers lose more weight than grape juice drinkers.

10. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, red wine increases levels of good bacteria in the digestive tract.

And there are the other benefits of red wine, like preventing gastric infections, reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, preventing heart disease, strokes and other cognitive disorders (think dementia and Alzheimer’s), cutting the risk of depression and – in the strangest of turnarounds – actually decreasing the prevalence of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). But that’s a whole new story for another day.

So, why not white wine?

While both red and white wines are made from grapes, red wine is made from the whole grape, including the skin and seeds. The skin and seeds are what add powerful antioxidants like resveratrols, polyphenols, procyanidin and flavonoids, which give red wine most of its weight loss and anti-ageing benefits.

Red wine also has less natural sugars, while having more iron, potassium, magnesium and bone-friendly phosphorous.

red wine benefitsBut white wines are much less likely to trigger headaches, especially migraines, due to lower concentrations of histamines. And the paler varietal is also less likely to give you a hangover, as it lacks congeners – chemicals produced during fermentation.

And what about the calories?

Yes, red wine – like everything else that’s edible on Planet Earth – comes with it’s own set of calories. Specifically, about 125 to a glass.

These are however, negated by its low GI (Glycemic Index). GI measures how much glucose different foods produce in the bloodstream. Foods with a high GI score, like bread and cakes, produce large amounts of glucose, which is ultimately stored as fat. However, some high calorie foods such as nuts produce little glucose, explaining why they don’t make you put on weight. Red wine scores very low on the Glycemic Index (less than 15), which is why it doesn’t pile on the pounds.

And then there’s the research that a glass of red wine suppresses cravings for unhealthy snacks, like chocolate, biscuits and sweets, making you feel sated without going on a late night junk food binge. As always, the trick lies in moderation. Bingeing on the red wine will pile on more calories than can be outweighed by its benefits.

Does the variety of red wine matter?

The short answer is: Yes. Not all red wines are created equal. They are dependent on the grape varietal, fermentation process and age.

Red Wine Being PouredMadiran: Made from Tannat grapes in the Gascony region of the southwest of France, Madiran wines are extremely high in procyanidins (for cardiovascular and arterial health) and resvesterol (weight loss, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar control, cardiovascular health). In fact, they have up to 10 times the levels of procyanidins than wines grown elsewhere, which is why the Madiran area has double the national average of men aged 90, despite an extremely high fat diet.

Grenache: The Grenache grape, grown in Sardinia, Spain and southern France, is known for producing some of the greatest amounts of resveratrol of any varietal.

Muscadine (or Scuppernong): A wine grape native to southeastern US, Muscadine is extremely high in ellagic acid, which boosts weight loss. The levels of ellagic acid are boosted with each year of oak raging, so read the label. And incidentally, there are only about 5000 acres of Muscadine grapes in the world, most of which are concentrated in Georgia.

Pinot Noir: Pinot Noirs grown in cool, rainy climates have among the highest concentrations of resvesterol among any red wines in the world. Regions to look for include the Burgundy region of France, the Marlborough region of New Zealand and Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Barbera: Originally of Italian original but now also widely produced in California, Barbera wines  contains very high levels of resveratrol.

How much red wine should I be drinking?

Time calls alcohol the “Goldilocks of the nutrition world”. Drinking too little red wine may deprive you of its benefits; while drinking too much can also be destructive to your health.

The key lies in moderation. This means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, or less. And one drink is five ounces.

Why do women have a lower limit? It’s nothing to do with sexism… females generally have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, a liver enzyme that metabolises alcohol. Hence, that are advised to drink smaller amounts of any alcohol.

Even if we look to the French and the Italians for their propensity to drink more wine and yet be healthier than any of us, you will never catch them binge drinking. Even on weekends. Instead, they drink a little everyday and know just when to stop!

And when to drink red wine for maximum benefits?

Red wine, like every other alcohol, doesn’t play well with empty stomachs. The best option is to have it the old fashioned Mediterranean way: with a meal rich in vegetables and fish, complete with fruits and a healthy fat such as olive oil.

What if I simply can’t have red wine? Am I out of options?

Firstly, absolutely don’t start drinking red wine suddenly if you’re a teetotaller. Or without checking with your doctor if you have health problems. Or if you or your family has a history of health abuse. Or if you react badly to the beverage in any form!

Instead, stock up on other antioxidant and resversterol-rich foods, like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, red grapes, peanut butter, dark chocolate and apples. The weight-loss boosting ellagic acid is also found in raspberries, blackberries, green tea, oolong tea, walnuts and pecans.

Remember, a balanced diet is everything.

Cheers!