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!


Foodie Friday: Sports drinks: To drink or not to drink?

Pitcher of homemade sports drink.

Sports drinks are only recommended for very specific purposes. When you are being active this year, go with water! If your situation requires a sports drink, try making your own with Rebecca’s recipe!

As the days warm and the trees turn green, more and more of us are starting our summer activities. For some of us, that includes things like running, cycling, soccer, football, and other sports. I also see more people drinking sports drinks at this time of year. When should we drink these? When should we not?

The primary purpose of sports drinks is to replace water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium) that are lost when we exercise vigorously for a prolonged length of time. You don’t need a sports drink unless you are a heavy sweater or you are working out for a long time in the heat. Think marathon runner or construction worker on a hot roof all day!

So what should you drink after being active this spring or summer? Water is the best choice!

What’s wrong with sports drinks? They contain a lot of sugar and salt! Powerade® and Gatorade® contain approximately 14 tsp of sugar in their regular 946 ml containers and approximately 400 mg of salt. That’s a lot of extra calories and salt that you don’t need.

So what should we do when engaging in sports? First, drink water before you start! Afterwards, have a snack with some carbs and protein to refuel and repair your muscles. Try some chocolate milk, peanut butter and a banana, or some tuna and crackers.

If you’re going to use sports drinks for vigorous exercise or during periods when you are feeling unwell, try making your own sports drinks!

Nancy Clark’s Homemade Sports Drink

Recipe courtesy of Nancy Clark, RD

Yield: 1 quart (approximately 1 litre)


  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • ¼ cup orange juice (not concentrate) plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 ½ cups cold water


  1. In the bottom of a pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water.
  2. Add the juice and the remaining water; chill.
Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.