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Coffee and child nutrition

The other day I came across a very interesting article debating the merits of using coffee to provide basic nutritients to children in some communities in Chiapas, one of the poorest states in Mexico.  The article, entitled U.S, Mexican companies join forces to bring fortified coffee to malnourished kids in Chiapas, describes a program to add folic acid and other nutrients to coffee consumed by elementary school children in Chiapas. Supporters of this concept say that fortifying a product that children already consume is the easiest way to provide the nutrients to youngsters that they would otherwise not receive through their daily diet.  Mexico has already made some effort to add nutrition to the diets of its population by fortifying tortillas.  (That link was the google-translated version. Here is the original article in Spanish)

Having spent my childhood in Mexico, I know that many children drink coffee in that country.  In most cases it's cafe con leche, which is at least one-half milk and one-half coffee.  (This product may be familiar to many of us who consume lattes at the popular corner coffee shops).  In many poor communities, milk may not be available, so the coffee is made primarily with water.

Critics say children should not be encouraged to drink coffee.  "It doesn't seem like a good idea, given that coffee isn't an adequate drink for children," said the Chiapas health department.

Regardless of the merits of using coffee or other means to provide nutrients to kids, the bottom line is that enhancing nutrition for children  (and adults) should be a priority of all societies.


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Coffee puts the system under the strain of metabolizing a deadly acid-forming drug, depositing its insoluble cellulose, which cements the wall of the liver, causing this vital organ to swell to twice its proper size. In addition, coffee is heavily sprayed. (Ninety-two pesticides are applied to its leaves.) Diuretic properties of caffeine cause potassium and other minerals to be flushed from the body.

All this fear went away when I quit, and it was a book that inspired me to do it called The Truth About Caffeine by Marina Kushner. There are five things I liked about this book:

1) It details--thoroughly--the ways in which caffeine may damage your health.

2) It reveals the damage that coffee does to the environment. Specifically, coffee was once grown in the shade, so that trees were left in place. Then sun coffee was introduced, allowing greater yields but contributing to the destruction of rain forests. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else.

3) It explains how best to go off coffee. This is important. If you try cold turkey, as most people probably do, the withdrawal symptoms will likely drive you right back to coffee.

4) Helped me find a great resource for the latest studies at CaffeineAwareness.org

5) Also, if you drink decaf you won’t want to miss this special free report on the dangers of decaf available at www.soyfee.com

While I appreciate the concerns raised by Mary, and I think it is worth asking whether coffee is the best means of conveying vitamins and minerals, the bigger issue is that children in poor communities are often woefully undernourished, and, in this instance, fortification of a staple drink may be the quickest, most efficient means of improving health and nutrition. I think there is too much concern on making the good solution the enemy of the perfect.

I would also add that there is a good deal of research on how to fortify staple foods with micronutrients in short supply in the diets of many poor households. A project from Bangladesh, for example, has helped to improve the iron content of rice, a main staple crop. It seems that these same sorts of solutions could be pursued in Chiapas and other parts of the developing world where subsistence farming is a major household activity.

Thanks for the interesting note though.

Kids do need some fat in their diet, but in general, only about 30% of a child's daily calories should come from fat -- most of which should be unsaturated fat.

Food labels and the % Daily Value are based on the nutritional needs of adults, so that absolute number of fat grams that the average adult requires each day, which is about 65g, is more than that for a five year old who only needs about 1400 calories and 45g of fat each day. You can still use the food label and % Daily Value for fat as a guide when choose low fat foods for your kids though.

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