With the passing of Valentine’s Day and lovers everywhere having just indulged in Cacao of the Now’s “Sexual Chocolate,” I’m sure those whose desires were fed on Sunday, found themselves seeking some “mud” on Monday.

I didn’t celebrate, but instead had a lovely post V-Day coffee date at Urth Café. Although, in lieu of coffee, I had a chai latte, which I highly recommend for the wonderful flavors and beautiful latte art. How do they do that?

I thought tea would be a better choice for a date so that my nervous chatter would not be enhanced by a caffeine buzz. Besides, I’ve practically OD’d on coffee drinks since moving into a building that has a coffee machine complete with 12 different sugar-laden, caffeinated options, all for free from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This made me think about the accumulation of empty calories that come from these “free” drinks. If they provide empty calories that, in essence, rob you of nutrients, then how free are they really?

Despite the extra calories from some coffee drinks, a plain old Cup O’ Joe may have a place in any diet. Caffeine, from coffee, can reduce respiratory muscle fatigue which may aid performance during exercise. Caffeine also acts as a bronchodilator meaning that it increases the size of the tubes that carry oxygen into the lungs thereby potentially allowing more oxygenated blood to get to the working muscles.

Although research is inconclusive, there are some theories that caffeine may aid weight loss by acting as an appetite suppressant or by increasing thermogenesis: the heat and energy produced during digestion. One study said this: “caffeine dose-dependently increased motor activity while decreasing grooming and time spent in the corner.” Oh, but they were talking about rats not people, I think. And that’s the problem with research. Animal models don’t translate to people. I mean, give me a cup of coffee and you can’t get me out of the bathroom, where I do my “grooming.” Another way caffeine may contribute to weight loss is by acting as a diuretic (makes you pee more).

Caffeine may also increase blood pressure. Although there are several physiological reasons for this increase in blood pressure, one may be related to decreasing blood potassium levels related to increased urination.

Drinking more water to replace fluid loss will only cause further reduction in potassium which becomes diluted in the blood stream. Although some studies showed delayed muscle fatigue from reduced potassium levels, it is not advised to intentionally reduce potassium even for performance sake. Also known as hypokalemia, low blood potassium can be fatal.

Potassium’s job in the body is to regulate water and acid-base balance. It aids the conduction of nerve impulses, generates muscle contraction and regulates heartbeat. Potassium is an essential component of protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism helping convert glucose to glycogen which can be stored in the liver and muscles for future energy. This makes potassium a key player in the growth and development of muscle tissue. Muscle increases metabolism.

So, in the end, caffeine may not be such a great weight loss aid if it causes us to lose potassium. Not to mention the weight you can gain by drinking those calorie rich coffee drinks. One 16 ounce (Grande) latte made with whole milk, contains 220 calories, 11g of fat and 17g of sugar. A nonfat cappuccino has only 80 calories and zero grams of fat, same goes for a misto or café au lait plus you get seven grams of protein and 35 percent of your daily value for calcium.

But the true key to balancing out potassium levels with caffeine consumption is to follow your morning mocha with some potassium rich fruits and vegetables throughout the day.

Best sources of potassium include: beet greens, white beans, raisins, potato with skin, grapefruit juice, dates, halibut, refried beans, spinach, sweet potato, papaya and all other beans. Surprisingly, bananas are not high on the list.

Here’s some nutrient dense, potassium rich recipes to get you started.

Elizabeth is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Holistic Chef who loves teaching new and interesting nutrition tidbits while sharing recipes. To learn more, please visit her Web site: www.TheKitchenVixen.com

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