Caffeinated Kids 

Children and teens are consuming far more caffeine - in soda, chocolate and even coffee - than ever before.

Starbucks is considered one of the major corporate success stories of American business history, mainly because the company actually changed American culture in a way that generates profit for itself.

Twenty years ago, most Americans brewed their own coffee at home conveniently and cheaply. Starbucks somehow motivated millions of us to drive out of our way, stand in line and pay ten times as much for coffee as we paid at home (albeit the coffee is much better tasting at Starbucks than the canned Folgers we used to buy at the grocery store and make ourselves).

Starbucks has changed American culture in another way you won't read about in the business press: They've made coffee drinkers out of American children.

Sure, coffee houses have long been popular in Europe and major American cities but, until Starbucks, weren’t considered hip hang-out places by children and teens. When I was in High School, hardly any students drank coffee. Nowadays, elementary school children can be seen ordering drinks like Mocha Frappuccinos, which, in addition to toxic levels of fat and sugar, also contain coffee. From an ingredient standpoint, a Mocha Frappuccino is essentially a cup of coffee and a McDonald’s milkshake, blended together.

Starbucks coffee houses are cool places where families and people of all ages like to meet.

The city I live in, which is a small beach town in Southern California, has one Starbucks, which sits across the street from the town's middle school. Before and after school, this Starbucks is mobbed by middle school students, most of whom are ordering coffee drinks. This scene is repeated in Starbucks across the United States.

As a culture, we're in denial about the increasing caffeine consumption by children and teenagers. I think we'd be shocked to see a nine-year-old walk into a McDonald’s before school and have a milkshake and a cup of coffee for breakfast. But when the same child drinks the same thing at Starbucks, somehow it's OK.

Not only has the number of caffeinated beverages increased, but the average percentage of caffeine in those drinks has risen, as new "energy" drinks, with even more caffeine than a Pepsi, such as Red Bull and others, become more popular with ever-younger children.

It's important to note that, in general, new consumption of energy drinks and coffee isn't replacing caffeinated soda, it's consumed in addition to it.

You can't blame Starbucks for the rise of child coffee drinkers per se. However, you can blame them for being cagey about the caffeine content of their beverages.

After seeing a mother actually suggest and recommend, then purchase a tall Mocha Frappuccino for her daughter, who looked to be about eight years old, I asked a Starbucks "barista" about how much coffee was in the drink. He said it was pre-mixed, and so he didn't know -- although he did know there was caffeinated coffee in it.

Visiting the "nutrition information" page of the Starbucks web site revealed nothing about caffeine content -- although the fat (18 grams!) and sugar (69 grams!) numbers for, say, a venti Mocha Frappuccino were pretty alarming.

A search for the word "caffeine" using Starbucks' search feature revealed nothing. Apparently, the word "caffeine" appears nowhere on the web site of the world's largest seller of caffeine.

Of course, soft drink makers have, for decades, been pushing sugar and caffeine loaded soft drinks on our children. Many schools still allow soda vending machines on campus. Coke, Pepsi and Mountain Dew, which are loaded with caffeine, are popular drinks among children and adults alike.

Sure, caffeine is socially acceptable, widely available and far less damaging to the body than some illegal stimulants like cocaine or crystal meth. But it's still a drug, and a mildly addictive one at that. Some research indicates that caffeine may induce hyperactivity and alter the brain function of children. Coffee also contains many other chemicals not well understood, scientifically, and it certainly contributes to making one’s teeth yellow, which our children are getting an early start with.

Caffeine is a form of "speed." High doses of this stimulant drug may cause headaches, trembling, abnormally fast heart rate, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, loss of fluids and other adverse effects on those who use it.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of caffeine due to their low body weight and initially, not being adapted to its use. Children consume the same amount of caffeine that adults weighing two or even four times as much consume. It’s no wonder that hyperactivity, stress and sleep disorders are so rampant among school age children.

Now that nicotine-pushing companies are on the run, is it time we started looking at who is selling or giving caffeine to children?

The majority of parents may read all this and respond by saying: “What's the harm?” Caffeinated drinks for children are "normal" and most kids who drink sodas and consume caffeine have no detectable health problems as a result. Unfortunately, attention deficit problems, hyperactivity, anxiety disorders, depression and sleep disorders among children and teens are increasingly “normal” as well. What’s the connection? I think it's safe to say that we really don't know how regular caffeine use affects kids' health -- especially in the much higher quantities that today's kids and teens are taking.

So my response is: What's the harm in NOT giving them caffeine?

Without any resistance or awareness or concern, we're experimenting on an entire generation of children. Huge corporations are profiting massively by pushing the drug caffeine on our kids in record quantities, and we may not know for decades what it's doing to them.

Caffeine is a drug. Adults should limit its intake. As for our children, just say no.

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Reader Q&A 

Q: Amira, I just found your online newsletter and was going through the archives. I just finished reading the second newsletter. I plan on reading them all, and probably subscribing, but I do have a question for you, since you seem to have a pretty good handle on vegetarianism.

I've often contemplated going in a more lacto-ovovegetarian direction, or maybe even lactovegetarian, but I'm concerned about my protein consumption. I'm a 24 year-old male that is trying to build muscle and the protein demands are rather high. All of the literature I have looked into regarding soy references how there is a component of the product that mimics estrogen. Excess estrogen in my system potentially counters any efforts I could put towards muscle development, as it's testosterone that aids in the development of muscle tissue, from what I understand.

I'm not looking to go Arnold, but I do want definition that will gain some attention from the fairer sex. Have you any information in regards to soy products and its impact on men, or maybe information on professional male body builders who've had success on a vegetarian diet? Again, not because I'd like to obtain the body builder physique, but because that's undeniable proof that a vegetarian diet is comparable in protein distribution as one that includes meat. Really, any information regarding vegetarianism and muscle development would be ideal.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Victor G., Austin, Texas

A: Dear Victor, I'm always happy to see people interested in taking charge of their own diets in an educated manner--taking the time to learn about nutrition is critical in order to maximize the health benefits of an eating plan while reaching one's own optimum health. Your intention to read all of my archives will definitely be fruitful.

I suggest you read issue 17 for more information on soy consumption.

I always stress that eating too much of any good thing not only leads to neglecting some food groups but also that eating too much of any good thing can be bad and sometimes even toxic. Moderation and variety are key to any well balanced diet.

No matter what type of vegetarian diet you adopt (i.e. lacto or lacto-ovo-vegetarian), all the calories you consume should be loaded with nutrients important in the development of muscle mass, healthy bones, skin and teeth and all bodily and nerve functions. While your consumption of protein needs to be high if you're weight training, the same is true for complex carbohydrates and all other nutrients. In fact, your consumption of all power foods such as beans, grains, nuts, fruits, seeds and vegetables need to increase. These will provide you not only with healthy fats and fiber, important vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemicals, but also essential complex carbohydrates and proteins to help you reach your potential.

We have been led to believe that meat is the best source of protein. That’s a myth. Eggs, dairy, grains, seeds, nuts and legumes are all excellent foods that give you all the benefit of protein but without the health-damaging penalties of eating meat.

High quality proteins can be created even when eating a fully plant-based diet by simply combining foods that eaten together provide complete protein. For example, grains, nuts and seeds make great complements to beans, brown rice to tofu, peanut butter to grains, such as whole wheat, etc.

In your case, if you’re eating eggs and dairy, then those provide complete protein. (Note, just eat the egg whites and dump the yolks.) Other great meat alternatives that provide complete protein are tempeh and seitan. I would put more emphasis on making sure that everything you eat and drink at each meal is packed with nutrients from widely varied sources.

An adult usually requires about .8 grams of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. If you weighed about 170 right now, your requirements of protein would be about 61 grams. Depending on a training schedule, athletes may require about 10 to 30 additional grams of protein per day during a period of accelerated muscle growth (about 10 to 20 percent from total daily calorie intake should come from protein, 20 to 30 from healthy fats and 50 to 60 from complex carbohydrates). It’s advisable to take breaks in between such training as the constant demand on the body to process the extra proteins is counter to longevity and can accelerate the aging process. It is good to also focus on cardiovascular activity and increase the intake of complex carbohydrates for additional required calories.

A well-balanced and varied diet provides plenty of protein. One serving of seitan, for instance, provides 31 of protein, one serving of beans with rice provides about 20 grams of protein (that’s not adding grains that you may have for breakfast and seeds and nuts that you may have for lunch). Too much protein can be detrimental to a person’s health so it’s important to not overdue it.

Although I specialize in maximizing overall health and lifestyle, other commentators out there focus on body-building and muscle building on a vegetarian diet, including former Mr. Universe, Bill Pearl, Steve Holt and others.

The bottom-line is that eating a diet abundant in grains, legumes or beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds will ensure that your body’s metabolism functions at its best to obtain the results you’re seeking. The additional intake of protein should be done in moderation and should come from foods rather than protein supplements.

Good Things In Store

My youngest son, who recently turned seventeen years old and does weight training, enjoys protein health smoothies. I always tell him that as long as he eats all the meals I make for him, he is getting sufficient protein to meet the added demands of exercise. Nonetheless, he insists on having blended protein drinks.

I make sure that the ingredients in those drinks are wholesome, organic and all natural. Recently, I discovered that Source Naturals makes the first Certified Organic, 100% natural, whey protein powder concentrate called Whey To Health. I ordered it online because my local health food store was selling it for twice as much. My husband is the smoothie expert in our family, and he sometimes makes a peanut butter smoothie for our son (a scoop of whey, three or four tablespoons of peanut butter, a glass-full of ice, a cup or so of milk, a teaspoon of vanilla and enough Rapadura to make it barely sweet enough, all blended together.)

So if you’re looking for a protein powder, and are not a vegan, an organic powder from Source Naturals is the “whey” to go.

Words of Wisdom

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet".

- Albert Einstein

Research Developments

Not all meats are equal in the degree to which they cause colon cancer. People in a recent study who eat the most processed meats, for example (hot dogs, sausages, cold cuts, etc.), had a 75 % higher chance of developing an "advanced polyp" than those who ate the least processed meats. However, those who at the most chicken were 39% less likely to develop such a polyp than those who ate the least.

NOTE: To keep up with vegetarian, organic and health-related research news on a daily basis, check my Vegetarian Organic Life Blog every day.

Food For Thought

Plant foods can be great sources of protein when eaten in combination -- even if not during the same meal but the same day. For instance, eating one item from two or more different food groups below will provide complete protein.

Seeds & Nuts





Black beans



Pine nuts

Pinto beans




Kidney beans







Sesame seeds

Black-eyed peas

Brown rice


Sunflower seeds




Pumpkin seeds

Soy beans


Salad greens 


Soy products



Nut butters




Other nuts and seeds


Other grains

Other veggies

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Click on the picture for a closer look!

Luscious Lentil Salad (vegan)
Serves 4 to 6

Legumes are awesome to eat because they are high in nutrition and low in fat. Lentils, the smallest of the legumes, are loaded with protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A and B and fiber. Quinoa, though optional to this recipe, adds more high-quality protein to this dish, making it a delicious guilt-free, complete-protein meal that’s good for your waistline and your heart.

Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 35 minutes

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)

Lentils and quinoa:
1 tablespoon oil (safflower or canola oil)
4 fresh garlic cloves
1 small onion, cut in half
2 cups brown lentils (picked over and washed)
4 cups fat-free vegetable stock
4 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup quinoa (optional)

6 fresh garlic cloves, pressed or minced
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup freshly ground flaxseeds
¼ cup flaxseed oil
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
Sea salt

1 head red leaf lettuce (butter or green leaf lettuce work as well)
2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
4 large tomatoes, sliced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped for garnish

1. In large pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil on low heat. Add garlic and onion, stirring and sauteing for 3 minutes. Add broth, water, lentils and black pepper. Cook on medium heat until boiling, then cover lightly with lid, simmering for 20 minutes. Add quinoa, stir well and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the lentils and the quinoa are soft enough to the bite, but not falling apart. Remove and set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette and whisk until the mixture looks thick and fully mixed. Set aside.

3. Drain lentils completely and add ¼ cup of the vinaigrette. At this point, place in the refrigerator until ready to assemble salad.

4. To assemble each salad, set 1 leaf of the lettuce on a plate. Place a small portion of lentils over the lettuce sprinkling with some fresh cilantro. Add sliced avocado, tomato and red onions around the lettuce and drizzle with the left over vinaigrette. Serve immediately.


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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

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