The Caffeine Mystery
Marion Nestle is a consumer activist, nutritionist, and academic who specializes in the politics of food and dietary choice. Nestle received her BA, PhD, and MPH from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1988, Nestle was appointed Chair of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health. She held that position until 2004, when she became the Paulette Goddard Professor in the same department.
Nestle is the author of numerous books, including "Food Politics," which explored the way corporations influence our nutritional choices, and "What to Eat," an survey of how to navigate the modern American supermarket. Aside from her books and teaching, Nestle writes a popular blog for the Atlantic Food Channel.
Question: What are the potential threats of consuming too much caffeine?
Marion Nestle: You know, scientists have tried for decades to find something wrong with caffeine, and it can’t. No matter how hard they try. We metabolize caffeine. Some of us metabolize it better than others. I happen to be a fast metabolizer, so it doesn’t affect me at all unless I have really a lot of it. But for people who are sensitive to caffeine, they know it. They know that if they eat something that has caffeine in it, they get jumpy and shaky and they don’t like the way it feels, so they cut back on it. But if you’re not really consuming huge quantities, it doesn’t have very much of an effect.
I don’t think it’s so good for kids. And certainly teachers in school complain a lot that if the kids are highly caffeinated they are bouncing off the walls and it makes it harder for the kids to concentrate, and harder for them to do their work. So, that would be the main thing. But what really bothers me about it is it’s not labeled. I think it ought to be labeled on food products and on drinks so then people have a choice. Right now they don’t have a choice.
Question: Are there any foods that could replace caffeine in one’s diet?
Marion Nestle: Yeah, energy in food comes from protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Any food with protein, fat, or carbohydrate will give you energy. You want fast energy, then that’s carbohydrates, rapidly absorbable carbohydrates, or sugars. But all foods give you energy. That’s what calories are about. That’s why you have to eat if you need energy and the nutrients that go with it.
Despite decades of scientific attempts to find something wrong with caffeine consumption, proof of any medical threat remains elusive. But that doesn’t mean its labeling isn’t deceptive.
A pragmatic approach to fixing an imbalanced system.
- Intentional or not, certain inequalities are inherent in a digital economy that is structured and controlled by a few corporations that don't represent the interests or the demographics of the majority.
- While concern and anger are valid reactions to these inequalities, UCLA professor Ramesh Srinivasan also sees it as an opportunity to take action.
- Srinivasan says that the digital economy can be reshaped to benefit the 99 percent if we protect laborers in the gig economy, get independent journalists involved with the design of algorithmic news systems, support small businesses, and find ways that groups that have been historically discriminated against can be a part of these solutions.
Is there a way for more human-centered algorithms to prevent potentially triggering interactions on social media?
- According to a 2017 study, 71% of people reported feeling better (rediscovery of self and positive emotions) about 11 weeks after a breakup. But social media complicates this healing process.
- Even if you "unfriend", block, or unfollow, social media algorithms can create upsetting encounters with your ex-partner or reminders of the relationship that once was.
- Researchers at University of Colorado Boulder suggest that a "human-centered approach" to creating algorithms can help the system better understand the complex social interactions we have with people online and prevent potentially upsetting encounters.