Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: Caffeine!

Coffee mug and coffee beans on burlap

Did you know that for adults, Health Canada recommends a maximum daily intake of 400 mg of caffeine? That’s about 3 metric cups of brewed coffee – and most mugs hold two cups or more!

In February, people across Canada are buying coffee in droves in the hope of winning the 1 in 6 prizes posted in every Tim Hortons for their “Roll up the Rim” contest. I have to admit, I haven’t made the posted odds – I average 1 in 10 when it comes to wins!

The idea of buying coffee to win coffee inspired me for this Foodie Friday blog: let’s talk coffee! Or, more nutritionally relevant, caffeine. Today, I’ll explore what caffeine does in the body, how much we can have in a day, and what steps we can take to help reduce the daily amount of caffeine we consume.

Like most individuals, I wake up in the morning and without even thinking, I’ve added water to the coffee machine and am carefully measuring out the number of scoops to make the perfect pot of coffee. After the first sip, I am sighing with relief knowing that I will make it through the day.

I began to question what it is about coffee that “pumps” me up for the day. After a little digging, I discovered, not surprisingly, that caffeine is a mild stimulant. It helps delay drowsiness and speeds up reaction time. But why?

Well, it blocks an important neurotransmitter in the brain, adenosine, responsible for slowing down nerve impulses. Imagine Highway 16 free of traffic lights, construction and roadblocks and you have the effects of caffeine on your brain. This may sound like utopia; however, like our cars on the highway, our brains also need moments to slow down. How else do you expect to turn left on the highway or calm down enough at night to fall asleep?

20160219-DFerretti2-504x504This brings me to the next question: how much? Health Canada suggests that adults limit our caffeine intake to no more than 400 mg/day. Initially, this sounds like I have plenty of room to play with, but as you look into how much caffeine is in what we eat and drink, you quickly learn that 400 mg/day translates to approximately 3 cups of brewed coffee. And this part is important: I’m not talking about three ventis from Starbucks or three extra large coffees from Tim Hortons – both of which are 4 cups of brewed coffee each – rather, the limit is three 250 ml (the equivalent to 1 metric cup) cups of coffee per day.

Once I processed these recommendations, I quickly measured my cup at home and discovered it holds two cups (500 ml) alone! And this was only my first “cup” of coffee of the day! I typically drive through Tims on my way to work and grab another medium coffee for the commute – almost another two metric cups. No wonder I have the jitters when I get to work! It’s likely not from the traffic but the effect of too much coffee! Other symptoms of too much caffeine can include insomnia, headaches and irritability.

Did I forget to mention that caffeine also increases the brain’s dopamine levels? Translated, this is the brain’s happy feeling chemical. As a dietitian, this sparked another interest: are there other foods that increase the brain’s dopamine levels so that I arrive at work happy without needing coffee? I uncovered that, of course, there are!

Some of the most common foods with this property include bananas, milk, proteins, wheat germ, and beets. Well, I’m not going to get too crazy and introduce beets to my morning routine, but I know that I can definitely incorporate more traditional breakfast items such as bananas, milk, protein and wheat germ.

So, my challenge for tomorrow will be switching my morning cup of joe for either half decaf or a cup of tea and opting instead for a slice of whole wheat toast (wheat germ) with peanut butter (protein), a glass of milk and a banana – both my brain and metabolism will thank me!

Let’s be honest, though, I will still probably get my morning drive through for the commute – I have to improve my odds of winning!

Dena’s Coffee-Free Breakfast Challenge


  • Whole wheat toast
  • Peanut butter
  • Banana
  • Milk


  1. Spread peanut butter on toast.
  2. Enjoy your dopamine-releasing breakfast alongside a cup of tea or decaf coffee!

About Dena Ferretti

Photo & bio coming soon!


It’s more than the blues

A snow man slumps over.

For some, the holidays were less than a joyous occasion.

Christmas is finally over.  The tree is down, the last carols have been sung and, finally, all of those Christmas displays have been taken out of the stores. Yes, it’s true that Christmas can be a great time of year – we eat too much and exercise too little while we enjoy the company of family and friends; at least for most people.

For others, the holiday season and the start of the new year can be something completely different. It can be a time of loneliness and sadness, filled with anything but good will and hope. It can be a time where the blues turn into something much deeper.  It can be the start of depression.

While there are many mental illnesses that can have an effect on your mental health, mood disorders, particularly depression, affects 11% of men and 16% of women over their lifetimes, according to Health Canada. Depression can have a profound effect on a person’s life, taking a toll on relationships, productivity at work, and quality of life. Serious depression can lead to other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or, in some cases, it can lead to suicide.

Although a person may be genetically predisposed to depression, there are usually other risk factors, such as stress, family issues, work issues, or personal losses. However, just because someone has a history of depression in their family doesn’t necessarily mean that they will suffer from it. Depression is usually the result of a few risk factors that are working together rather than a single root cause.

Depression is treatable, usually through a combination of medications and counseling. It’s important to remember that no two depressions are alike and there can be different options for recovery.

Recognizing depression and seeking help for the person who is suffering is key. Some common signs of depression are:

  • A loss of interest or a lack of pleasure in activities.
  • Withdrawing from social situations and a tendency to isolate.
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, worthlessness, or guilt.
  • Change in appetite.
  • Change is sleep pattern.
  • Loss of focus, increasing forgetfulness, or difficulty concentrating.
  • Thoughts of committing suicide.

Remember, it’s possible to experience some of these things and not be depressed. We all go through times when we’re a bit down and gloomy; however, if several of these signs are present and persist for several weeks then you should talk to your physician. If you have thought of suicide, or someone you know has expressed thoughts of suicide, take it seriously and seek medical help.

Depression can present itself in other forms as well. It can present itself as anger or irritability, particularly in men. Children suffering from depression may complain of being sick, attempt to avoid school, or not want to be separated from their parents.

You can make an appointment with your physician or contact mental health and addictions services.  If you don’t want to speak with someone in person, then call 8-1-1 and speak with someone at HealthLink BC.  It doesn’t matter what route you take as long as the person who may be depressed gets the help they need.

What depression is not:

  • It is not simply a case of the blues; telling someone to “cheer up” is not going to get them out of a major depression.
  • It is not a sign of weakness.
  • It is not something to be ashamed of.
  • It is not something to be ignored.

If you want more information about depression or other mental health issues, then check out the Canadian Mental Health Association for more information.

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.