Dietary Restrictions and Dining Hall Diets: What Options Do Students Have?

The college diet is well known – french fries at 10am, not a vegetable or fruit in sight, coffee as water, one meal a day – that kind of thing. Everyone likes to joke about college student’s poor eating habits. But is the college diet a consequence of a student’s choices or is it what food options are made available? And what does dining on campus look like if you’re a student with a specialized diet?

Katie N., a sophomore with no specific dietary restrictions beyond her preferences, says she feels for students eating specific diets.

“I mean the food is dining hall food, I don’t always find stuff that I like, but at least I find stuff I can eat,” Katie says. “My roommate is vegan and there’s like nothing for her.” 

Anthony M., a senior at Pitt with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that presents as a severe gluten allergy, says being a student with a meal plan and dietary restrictions isn’t easy. 

“Yeah, I’ve had Celiac’s disease my whole life, so I know how to feed myself. Like I’m used to looking for the gluten free options,” says Anthony. “But it’s not easy when you have a meal plan and have to eat at certain places and those places don’t have food you can actually eat.”  

The Eatery at Towers has nine food stations for students to explore with the assumption being a student will be able to find something. But if you’re a student with one of the eight most common allergens, especially if that allergy is severe, the only station you can put your confidence in is Flourish, Pitt’s allergen-friendly station. 

What will you find at Flourish? When I walked into The Market at 2 p.m. last Thursday, they were offering sausage links, steamed broccoli, and roasted potatoes. This is the meal they will serve from noon (when breakfast turns into lunch) until The Eatery closes at 10 p.m. that night.

I notice that cubed honeydew and cantaloupe was offered as well. The section of Flourish offering a build-you-own salad bar was closed. I see a package of gluten-free buns and a loaf of gluten-free bread. As a frequent flier at Flourish, I was surprised I didn’t see pork as the protein for the day — it usually is. 

If you are a gluten-free student like I am, or, one who chooses not to eat meat (like I am not), you will not have anything substantial to eat beyond broccoli and potatoes on this Thursday at Flourish. Your options are to leave The Eatery to find other food options (either on-campus or off-campus) or to explore the other stations. 

At each station there are cards that will tell you what the food item is, what ingredients are in it, and any potential allergens. However, Michael DiBiasi, Pitt Eats’ Dietician, will be the first to tell you that at those stations, they can’t promise that cross-contamination won’t happen. For those with severe allergies, this risk is not worth it. 

Anthony M.’s advice for students with allergies is pretty straightforward — get past the meal plan as quickly as possible. 

“I would probably just say eat a lot of salads. Find stuff you like, sort of, and get used to it,” he suggests. “There aren’t very many options for us [fellow students with allergies]. I started eating well again when I moved off-campus and didn’t have a meal plan.”

For students with dietary restrictions, the dining hall diet doesn’t look very sustainable – options are limited. According to advice from students with allergies, your off-campus options are better.

The Fate of Pittsburgh Pizza

The pandemic has affected many facets of college life at the University of Pittsburgh but the closure of Sorrento’s Pizza was heartbreaking.

Those who remember the classic Antoons vs. Sorrentos debate view the closure as the end of an era. So that leaves the Sorrentos lovers with a question: where do we go next?

After I conducted 22 interviews, it appears to me that Pittsburgh may not be known for its bustling pizza scene. Those who rely on the classic college food may find their options lacking.

“Pittsburgh is just not a pizza city,” said Mae Latona, a fourth-year history major. 

Unlike Latona, some have stronger opinions.

“Pittsburgh has the worst pizza I’ve ever experienced,” said Lauren Bayer, a third-year chemistry major. “It must be in the water and the water is in the sauce, but it’s not it. It’s sad because people in Pittsburgh don’t know that what they’ve been eating is bad pizza until they go to the East coast.”

Of the 22 people interviewed, three refused to pinpoint a favorite Pittsburgh pizza place. Instead, they opted for comments like “Pittsburgh pizza sucks” (which was a bit harsh but not unfelt). The general overall consensus was that comparing pizza from Pittsburgh to pretty much anywhere on the East coast was essentially useless, but fear not! There were a few standouts within the pizza abyss.

Pie Express was one of the most common pizza places mentioned as a first or second choice. One interviewee, who chose to remain anonymous, even went so far as to loudly exclaim: “Pie Express is the best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth!”

Having been to Pie Express, I wouldn’t say my love for the restaurant goes as deep as others… but there are certainly some bright spots. 

Many of those who preferred Pie Express also listed that when looking for pizza places, they put price above convenience or taste (besides the one enthusiastic interviewee who really emphasized the taste). At $7.65 a pie, they were certainly on the cheaper end of the pizza options around campus. 

These made-to-order pizzas are fast and convenient, located in the heart of Forbes Ave. just a few steps away from Pitt’s campus. With the ability to personalize your pie for less than $8 just a short walk away, it’s no wonder that this small pizza joint has quickly become a fan favorite.

Pizza Romano came in second place, with a solid three people naming it as their top choice and two others giving it their second spot. Although, to be clear, this is a controversial choice and came with its fair share of backlash. 

Sara Matvey, a second-year pharmacy student certainly had a lot to say.

“Pizza Romano is literally the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth,” she said. “It never ceases to make my stomach hurt and I usually throw up after. It is literally awful. The only good thing about it is that they have cold canned ginger ale.”

Ok, ginger ale aside, there had to be something drawing students to Pizza Romano. Despite the outspoken criticism, the majority of Pizza Romano lovers said they prioritized taste above all else. While the price was a close second, it’s clear that there must be something in the sauce pulling students to take the short walk down Atwood St. for a slice of the cheesy (maybe) deliciousness.

Although I have only visited Pizza Romano once, it is my personal opinion that the small restaurant does not deserve such a harsh rap. I found the most confusing thing about the establishment to be the tacos. If you don’t believe they serve tacos, I wouldn’t blame you.

Seeing someone order tacos from a restaurant with “pizza” in the name was slightly off-putting. Still, the pizza wasn’t horrible. Although the pizza scene in Pittsburgh is often lacking, it’s nice that some have found their favorite spot so close to campus.

Just one more block down Atwood St. you’ll find another pizza standout. Antoons Pizza is a standout in the Sorrentos v. Antoons debate that started it all. 

“Antoons is an Oakland staple.” said Benjamin J. in a Yelp review, “The pizza is good after a night out. First, it is cheap, it is only $6.42 for a large cheese pizza. Second, they are efficient. It is amazing how quickly they can push out these pizzas late at night. Third, the portion is generous. While not the greatest pizza I’ve had, it’s worth a visit.”

With hours until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. Thursday to Saturday, it appears that Antoons is a crowd-pleaser for late-night bites. Although it was more often a second choice rather than the first choice for pizza, the ability to wander in off the streets after a night out with your friends is apparently unmatched

If you’re willing to take a walk outside of Oakland, many people have recommendations for delicious and tasty places in the Strip District.

Pizzeria Davide, Driftwood Oven, and IronBorn Pizza all came highly recommended by those I interviewed. I was promised that if you are willing to make the jaunt, absolutely delicious slices await.

“Driftwood Oven is slept on, and it’s literally so good,” said Julia Haber, a third-year global management major. “Everybody wants to debate the pizza places in Oakland but they’re literally all bad. Driftwood oven and Ironborn Pizza are the only two respectable pizza places in Pittsburgh.”

Additional honorable mentions include: Fioris Pizza located in East Liberty, Slice on Broadway also in East Liberty, Mineos in Squirrel Hill, Vocelli Pizza in North Oakland, Larry and Carols in South Oakland, and Luciano’s Italian Brick Oven all the way over in White Oak. Although I was rather sad to see that Aiello’s Pizza in Squirrel Hill had not made it on the list of favorites, I’m happy to keep my personal favorite pizza shop just a secret between you and me. 

Although Pittsburgh may not be known for its pizza, college students continue to adapt and find their own way of bringing this staple into their lives. With a little exploring, good pizza can definitely be found in Pittsburgh. And don’t forget, delivery is always an option for those places worth the extra fees.

Pizza Shops Mentioned:

The Unsavory Reality of Being Vegan at Pitt

It was a bleak winter evening, and after a long, stressful day, I was ready to head over to Pitt’s “Eatery” to get some food with friends. While I was getting my drink, my friends had already come back with their food: cheeseburgers, pizza, fettuccine alfredo with chicken — the whole nine yards. Hearing that there was a vegan station for students like myself, I made my way over, only to find three humble dishes of beans cooked in tomato sauce, brown rice with raisins, and sweet cauliflower (do not get me started on this one). 

The Eatery, Pitt’s main dining hall.

The truth is that while Pitt prides itself on being an environment of inclusion and diversity, one place where it seems to be falling behind is its food. For years, Pitt has been struggling to address the needs of those with dietary restrictions. This is especially true for those who adhere to a plant-based or vegan diet, where at times, options are either too expensive, of poor quality, or nutritionally inadequate. Regardless of what I might say, I am not the only one who feels this way.

James Lane, a freshman studying finance, who is also vegan, says that Pitt’s vegan food “would make for a great weight-loss program,” saying that “the vegan food at the dining hall is so bad, sometimes I just skip meals altogether.”

Lisandro Montalvo, a sophomore majoring in psychology who also trains in powerlifting, says that being vegan at Pitt is “damn-near impossible.” He adds, “I do not even rely on the meal plan because it is overpriced, the food is not good, and does not allow me to recover in time for my next powerlifting session … many times in the vegans section of the dining hall, there is not even an actual protein being served.” 

Breaking down the vegan options with on campus-dining at Pitt, it comes no surprise why students feel this way. In the Dining Hall, most of the sections serve very basic, stripped down versions of more complete meals. Take a look through the Pitt Vegan Masterlist online, and you will find that as a vegan, your options are pretty limited. You can usually choose from one of five things: pasta with marinara sauce, a hummus wrap with vegetables, french fries, a vegetable sandwich with ketchup and mustard, and the infamous veggie burger.

These options at first glance, may seem substantial and “pretty good for a vegan.” However, when these meals dominate what you are eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they simply get monotonous. These “options” also tend to be low in calories, protein, and certain essential vitamins and minerals, but it does not need to be this way.

For example, at the Chipotle down the road from The Eatery, you can get a burrito with guacamole, sofritas (a plant based protein), black and pinto beans, salsa, and rice — a far more complete meal, than the $15 bag of “beyond meat chicken tenders” in Market to Go and Forbes Street Market (a purchase that would usually cost you $5.99 at whole foods). 

I took my concerns to Resident Student Association President Danielle Obisie-Orlu to gain further insight on how the university was accommodating vegan students. What I thought would be an innovative, enthusiastic response to this issue was underwhelming to say the least. The answer essentially followed the lines of “The Dining Task Force has been working closely with those in charge to make students’ voices heard,” yet there was no mention of anything being done. This statement becomes even more egregious when you consider that vegan meals can be made nutritionally adequate and affordable with the littlest bit of effort. 

To gain some inspiration into how vegan cooking can be made easy and affordable I took a trip to “All India,” an Indian restaurant in Shadyside. It was another long day for chef Harshat Bhavishyajot, who was rolling out rotis and parathas for the night’s dinner service.

The kitchen itself was haphazardly decorated with the smells of 30 different spices, ranging from fenugreek seeds to Garam Masala, and in some miraculous way was able to support the relentless stream of uber-eats and Grubhub orders despite its humble size. When I interviewed chef Bhavishyajot, he was managing several pans, pots, and a whole tandoori oven — a daunting task that was made to seem less serious by the smirk hidden behind his thick, black mustache.

*A platter of different vegetarian/vegan dishes served at All India in Pittsburgh, PA

When I asked about making vegan food and whether or not it was difficult, he said: “No, no, no, it is really quite easy, we simply replace any non-veg ingredients with vegan.” He then pointed at a tray of Sooji Halwa, a semolina pudding dessert native to his home region of Punjab, and said “this dessert is usually made with ghee, but we just replace it with sesame oil. It is very simple and very good.”

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India that serves more than 100,000 people a free vegetarian lunch every day

He then explained that in the Sikh regions of Northern India, many dishes are already made vegetarian, and combine different plant based ingredients like chickpeas, potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, dhal (lentils), peas, and more. When I asked him how expensive the dishes were to prepare, he said “very cheap, almost free.” To elaborate on his point, a student can get an order of samosas, chana masala, and two large pieces of roti for under $15.

The truth is providing delicious vegan options that cover a student’s nutritional bases is not an ambitious pursuit, and has been done all over the world for thousands of years.

Whether you are vegan, or vegetarian for ethical, health, or religious reasons, it is time that we give all Pitt students healthy, reasonable food.

A Pain au Chocolat Peregrination: The Beloved Croissants at Pitt

“Can I get a cold brew with a croissant?” “I’ll have a croissant and—” As I stand in line at the coffee stand in Towers, all I can think about at the moment was how if the two people in front of me each bought two croissants, I will have to choose between getting a cinnamon bun or a double chocolate chunk cookie. My phone suddenly buzzes, my roommate on the other line. “Where are you, I got us croissants.” A variation of a familiar line that started my obsession with the Pitt coffee stand croissants. 

“Here, I got you a pastry,” my roommate said back in the fall semester of this school year. She handed me a croissant in an unlabeled bag. Little did I know my life would change after that first bite. The crispy outer layer of the croissant instantly flaked open to an airy, chewy inside. I was immediately taken aback—this was the best croissant I’ve ever had. 

When my roommate mentioned she had gotten the croissant from the coffee stand in Towers, I was in denial. Polluted with the conventional idea of how mundane dining hall food was, I was not sure if this croissant was truly delicious or that my palette was just inexperienced. I quickly learned that the former was the correct answer. Anytime I stopped by the stand in Towers after my 2 p.m. class, the croissants were gone. So I went earlier, around 11 a.m.— there were two left. I realized that these croissants were in high demand.

These coffee stands can be spotted throughout campus behind different names. They are located in the lobby of Litchfield Towers (Campus Coffee & Tea); the first floor of Victoria Hall (Café Victoria), Chevron Science Center (Bunsen Brewer); and inside the Market to Go in Sutherland (Campus Coffee & Tea) to name the most popular. At first glance, the coffee stands look like the usual ones, serving varieties of coffees, teas, and pastries. Frequent customers know out of the pastry options, there is a hidden gem: the croissants. You can choose from the original croissant or the pain au chocolat, which is equally if not better. One bite, and you will become one of the cult followers. 

 “On Sundays, they sell first out of everything we usually sell, like within an hour and a half” says Kyrie Allshouse, a worker at Campus Coffee & Tea in Towers.

Allshouse is not a student at Pitt but works at the stand most days. She is part of a greater group of baristas who can whip up a coffee to your liking and become a familiar face on campus. Allshouse was working alongside Pitt student, Bri Kidd, when I spoke to them. Kidd is a junior majoring in political science. Both Allshouse and Kidd were delighted to talk about the stand’s croissants; however when asked if they had tried them, Allshouse replied that they were her favorite while Kidd admitted she actually disliked croissants. 

While I was interviewing Allshouse and Kidd, I met Grace Anagnost, a freshman nursing major who had just purchased a croissant. 

“I always get a croissant here, unless sometimes I get a bagel.” Anagnost raved, “But it’s either this [croissant] or the chocolate croissant, I have literally never tried anything else, it’s literally so good.”

Anagnost says that her schedule includes going to the stands at least three times a week for the croissants and if they are sold out in Towers, she makes sure to get one from Victoria Hall where her nursing classes are taken. 

Gail, who chose not to give her last name, a barista at the Victoria Hall stand had more insight about the croissants. I spoke to Gail during one of the slower periods of the stand where she was deep into a romance novel. For Gail, being a barista is busy but rewarding. 

“You get to help the students out. Get your americanos or lattes…they’re always dragging in so you need the cafe.” 

One of her most memorable barista experiences was a student ordering two chocolate croissants and two shots of espresso first thing in the morning during finals week. Gail’s favorite pastry at the stand are the chocolate croissants, she claims that they are addicting. 

Back in the patio of our dorm building, my roommate and I sit outside and bite into the croissants. The flaky outer layer of the croissant makes a mess on our laps but never fails to satisfy. The perfect addition to a regular school day. 

The campus coffee stands are needed. The baristas provide a sense of familiarity and routine when students and faculty are bogged down with deadlines. They become friends that you see on a weekly basis. The stands are part of the greater system that runs the university. Whether you are in upper campus heading to your chemistry lab or a freshman living in lower campus, you now know of this secret. Who knew that it is a crescent shaped pastry.

Best Bang for Your Buck: Oakland Edition

You’ve heard the debates about which fast food chain has the best fries, which gas station is better: Sheetz or Wawa, or even where to get the best pizza , but have you ever heard of the Oakland restaurant debate? Where are the best places to eat in Oakland, the home of the University of Pittsburgh, and what makes them so special?

Students from far and near at the University of Pittsburgh, depending on their own perspectives and opinions, had a lot to say about what restaurants were top-tier.

Restaurants in Oakland come in all different shapes and sizes. Take Bao, which is located on Atwood St., for example. It’s a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant with amazing food, as described by Phoebe Appel, a junior majoring in legal studies.

“It’s like a secret little gift I forgot to open,” Appel laughed. “It’s so unsuspecting, but you go in and there’s tables, nice lighting, and a really great staff, too.”

Photo Credit: Kimberly Rooney | Pittsburgh City Paper

Appel has studied at Pitt since August 2019, and only lived  a short fifteen minutes from campus in Carnegie for the first 18 years of her life. However it was only by accident that she discovered her “new favorite restaurant,” as she described, when her mom chose it from a list on Google and said, “let’s go here.”

Ocha Thai, Appel said, is another hidden gem she recently discovered. Located beside Phat’s Bar on Semple St., Ocha Thai is the ideal destination after any night out, she said. 

“I highly recommend the Pad See Ew and the Crab Rangoon. It’s my go-to order,” she said, smiling.

For other students, Roots is a top pick for those in a hurry. It’s also a top choice for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet, said first-year engineering major Isaac Ellis. After a rough week of demanding coursework as an engineering student, Ellis claims that Roots is his favorite place to chow down.

One of their signature bowls, called “The Apollo,” is made with brown rice and spinach as the base, and is topped with chickpeas, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, pita chips, feta cheese, chicken, and lemon za’atar dressing. A perfect combination of healthy ingredients, the Apollo is Ellis’ favorite bowl to get when he visits Roots.

Katelyn Osman, a junior education major, opts for the create-your-own feature at Roots, where she chooses a brown rice and spinach base and customizes it with chicken, corn, pita chips, and cheese.

“It’s definitely a staple for Pitt students,” Osman said. “People love it, and a few of my sorority sisters even work there.”

For others, there are a few more deciding factors that come into play when deciding where to eat on campus. For freshman psychology major, Maeve Sheehan, having a wide range of items on the menu and a reasonable price is important. Atarashi, she says, checks all the boxes for a customizable meal. However, when asked where she would take a friend who is visiting from out of town, she changed her answer. 

Sheehan said Stack’d Burgers has the “quintessential Oakland vibe, and they have really good food. I’d probably go either there or Fuel and Fuddle.” Fuel and Fuddle is a restaurant just a few doors down from Stack’d on Oakland Ave. It’s also a popular pick, but among an older generation of students, particularly those who are old enough to enjoy a beer from their extensive draft list. 

However, arguably the most famous and popular place to get food in Oakland is Frenchi’s Deli & Market, located on the 400 block of Atwood. Frenchi’s attests on multiple signs in their store that “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” There you can find a small market with items similar to those in a small grocery store such as assorted snacks, drinks, and pantry goods. And better yet, when you walk in and turn to your left, you’re met with a large deli counter where chefs create both off-the-menu and custom-made orders for students. Sometimes they cook as late as 3:00 a.m.

“Frenchi’s is definitely my go-to because it really just hits the spot after a night out,” said junior engineering major Lizzy Borchick. “If you don’t get ‘Le Frenchi’ when you go, then you’re just wrong. I love to add jalapenos to mine.”

Frenchi’s loyal following is evident through their Instagram, which has over 5,000 followers and almost 4,000 posts. Students are eager to stay up to date on their new items in stock and their famous wraps. 

“Frenchi’s is definitely my go-to because it really just hits the spot after a night out. If you don’t get ‘Le Frenchi’ when you go, then you’re just wrong. I love to add jalapenos to mine.”

Junior engineering major Lizzy Borchick.

Another popular choice among Pitt students is Antoon’s Pizza, which is also located on the 200 block of Atwood St.

“[Antoon’s] is definitely the best. You can get a large pizza there for only $6. To me, you just can’t beat that,” junior media and professional communication major Brayden Tinney affirmed. Several other students also listed Antoon’s as the best place to go after a stressful day. 

As far as Oakland restaurants, you truly can’t go wrong. Between amazing Asian cuisine restaurants such as Bao and Ocha Thai, sit-down and order-in restaurants like Stack’d and Fuel and Fuddle, and quick, on-the-go choices like Roots, there is something that satisfies everyone.

Students at Pitt, no matter their background or dietary restrictions, almost always find a place that they can rely on for a delicious meal. It turns out there isn’t just one place that outweighs the rest—dining in Oakland can be molded to you depending on the day you’re having, who’s in town, and how fast you need to be out the door.

You can all of the mentioned restaurants at the addresses listed below:


According to Chinese legend, in 5732 B.C., Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea when a leaf landed in his pot of boiling water. The pleasant scent it created made the Emperor curious enough to try drinking this hot leaf juice. It gave the emperor a warm feeling that inspired his further study of the drink and influenced his conclusion in its medicinal abilities.

While not a recommendable replacement for modern-day medicines, tea can offer a wide range of benefits from stimulation to stress relief, reducing the risk of heart disease to supporting the immune system. In order to find the right tea for the right objective, a little knowledge of the different types of teas can be a great help. As a former barista and avid tea drinker and brewer, I know a few things that can help point people in the right direction.

Black & White & Green Teas

Photo by Lisa on

The leaf that landed in Shen Nung’s pot would have been that of the Camellia sinensis shrub, a plant native to China and India. To tea purists, only tea made from this shrub counts as real tea. As these teas are all made from the same plant, they all offer the same benefits but to differing degrees depending on how the leaves are handled, both by the brewer and picker.

The longer a tea is steeped, the stronger and more bitter the taste becomes. Hotter water temperatures also cause tea to steep faster. You can brew white and green teas at hotter than recommended temperatures or let them steep for longer than the few minutes typically recommended, and the only thing it will affect is the strength of the tea’s flavor. But if it’s your first time trying a specific tea, it would be best to follow the brewing instructions that come with it, then use that as a baseline to decide how you want to brew it the next time.

A unique feature of Camellia sinensis leaves is the massive amount of antioxidants they contain. But the amount of antioxidants that will make it into the tea vary by type. White teas contain the most, followed by green, then oolong and black teas. These differences come from the different practices used for processing and fermenting the tea leaves for each type.

The less oxidized and processed the tea is, the stronger the concentration of these antioxidants and their benefits will be, putting unfermented, uncured white teas at the top, followed by the quickly processed to prevent fermentation green teas. Oolong and black teas possess lower but still high antioxidizing abilities due to their fermentation, but these teas are more often associated with the benefits of another component of Camellia sinensis leaves: good old caffeine.

Black teas are often stated to have the highest caffeine content of all teas but this comes down more to the recommended brewing method than black tea itself. The more fermented or processed a tea is, the longer the recommended steeping time and higher the recommended water temperature for that tea is. But this isn’t because white teas are too delicate for the fully boiled water recommended for black tea, but because these are the conditions that complement each type of tea’s general flavor profile.

White teas are made from young Camellia sinensis leaves, giving them a sweeter, lighter flavor than other teas. Their flavors will shine the most when brewed with lower temperature water for shorter amounts of time. Black teas, on the other hand, are known for their strong, bold flavors that need hotter water and longer steeping times to reach their potential.

Green teas are usually the most flexible in their brewing methods, but there is an exception to this. The most popular tea in Japan, sencha, differs from Chinese green tea in how the tea leaves are processed to prevent fermentation. The Chinese pan fire their leaves while the Japanese steam them before rolling the leaves to create their signature pine needle shape. These few simple changes lead to a greener color to the tea and a slightly more bitter flavor, which will become more prominent if steeped for longer. To keep the balance of the natural sweetness of green tea and the slight bitterness from the Japanese steaming method, brewing the tea as recommended is the best way to approach sencha.

Another Japanese green tea, gyokuro, goes through a similar processing procedure as sencha but is shielded from the sun for at least twenty days while growing. This results in gyokuro tea having a paler color and distinct aroma compared to sencha but most importantly, increases the amount of caffeine in the leaves. When these leaves aren’t used to make gyokuro, they’re used to create one of the highest caffeine teas, matcha.

Photo by Cherisha Norman on

Matcha & Herbal Teas

Matcha’s high caffeine content comes not only from the shaded growing process but from being made of entire tea leaves carefully ground into a fine powder. One teaspoon of matcha powder, the recommended amount for one eight-ounce cup, contains 70 milligrams of caffeine compared to the typical cup of green tea’s 28. A typical 8-ounce cup of coffee contains between 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine and a single shot of espresso averages around 63 milligrams. It may not be as strong as a cup of coffee, but it comes very close while also containing the antioxidant benefits of green tea and a smooth sweetness.

There’s one more benefit to green tea that I’d argue makes it the better choice for which drink to get your caffeine fix from. Another aspect of Camellia sinensis leaves increased by the shaded growing method is the amino acid l-theanine. L-theanine slows the body’s absorption of caffeine and is believed to have an overall calming effect on the body. This means, with matcha, you get caffeine’s mental alertness benefit without the drawback of a crash that comes with coffee.

One teaspoon of matcha powder, the recommended amount for one 8-ounce cup, contains 70 milligrams of caffeine compared to the typical cup of green tea’s 28.

Grace Jewett

While all traditional teas will contain some level of caffeine, non-traditional teas, called herbal teas, have none at all. Any tea made from a root, herb, flower, seed, or other plant that isn’t a Camellia sinensis leaf is considered an herbal tea. This wider spectrum makes it harder to describe the benefits herbal teas give but also means the potential benefits of herbal teas are just as varied.

Like traditional teas, herbal teas offer benefits beyond pleasant scents and tastes, many of which correlate with their medicinal uses in the past. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks used chamomile to speed up wound recovery, which it has shown signs of doing, along with its more well-known sedative abilities.

Ginger tea has been used to relieve nausea, cold symptoms, and joint pain for thousands of years and scientists are finding evidence of these abilities in tests today. They may not be cures or permanent solutions but the people of ancient times knew how to use tea.

Tea started out as a medicinal drink before becoming the common drink it is today. But even if it’s not the healing drink it was once believed to be, it still has benefits to offer, some of which are relevant in our current pandemic. In times as stressful and uncertain as this past year has been, taking care of yourself is important, mentally and physically.

So, next time you feel stressed, try brewing a cup of peppermint or lavender tea. Or just take a moment with whichever tea you like and enjoy the pleasant scent and warm feeling of your hot leaf juice.

Dealing with Memory Loss? The Source Could Be Unexpected

We often hear about the ways food affects our bodies, but mainly in relation to our physical health. Various food companies tout health-related benefits to their products, such as increased energy, lowered cholesterol, and fat loss. Lots of advice exists on how to keep our bodies in top shape.

Typically when something is physically wrong with our bodies, we often look to our diets to figure out if what we’re eating is harmful. Yet, the same concerns do not occur to us when something seems wrong with our brains.

When we deal with memory loss, in particular, our diets don’t enter our minds. Turns out, foods also have a strong effect on how our brains function — certain foods can cause memory loss while others may result in memory boosts.

We have long suspected that the nutrients in our food have a significant effect on our cognitive processes and emotions, but the knowledge we have on this subject has only recently been expanded upon. Up until now, the rest of our bodies’ ailments have been given more focus.

Food affects our brains through our guts, the same way it affects our other organs. When we ingest food, our gut hormones enter the brain and influence our cognitive ability. Our diets have been affecting our brain capacity and evolution over thousands of years.

Turns out, foods also have a strong effect on how our brains function — certain diets cause memory loss while others result in memory boosts.

Stacey Fleurime

People tend to only think of calories in terms of weight loss and weight gain, but the number of calories you take in not only affects your body, but it affects your brain as well. If you regularly eat too few calories, your level of awareness will be impaired. Likewise, if you consistently eat too many calories, it can lead to cellular damage in the brain. The foods those calories come from also matter. The foods that benefit the rest of our bodies, like fruits and vegetable, also benefit our brains. It is no surprise that foods high in calories but low in other nutrients, like fast food, can impair brain function.

Several studies have found evidence of food’s impact on the brain. A study of 52 people found that unhealthy diets caused lower levels of sugar metabolism in the brain, and a subsequent decrease in healthy brain tissue. Another study of about 18,000 people found that unhealthy diets are associated with lower scores on learning and memory tests. These factors put people at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain-related illnesses. These illnesses are related to unhealthy diets, and lead to t memory degradation.

What are these “unhealthy” brain foods aside from the frequently admonished fast food? Some of these foods include refined carbohydrates that are both processed and full of sugar. Foods high in sugar can cause frequent inflammation in the brain, which leads to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. The inflammation happens in the hippocampus (the part of the brain involved with memory), and it can have detrimental effects on our brain-related health. Inflammation is your body’s reaction to injury. Cells in the hippocampus become inflamed when overcome with ingredients like fat and sugar as a response to the harmful environment.

Even one meal with a high glycemic index can impair someone’s memory because the body digests refined carbs quickly and so its blood-sugar levels spike. Whole grains are therefore recommended by nutritionists over refined carbs for brain health because they are rich in B vitamins that work to reduce inflammation of the brain, thus improving memory.

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Another source of brain inflammation are foods that include industrially produced trans fats. Naturally occurring trans fats, like those found in foods like butter and olive oil, are not as much of a concern. Our brain primarily takes issue with the manufactured trans fats in foods like shortening, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and margarine. In fact, olive oil is an ideal fat for brain health!

Processed meats are another source of brain cell degradation. Such meats include sausage, bacon, and even deli meats. It’s recommended for us to eat unprocessed meats like chicken, beef, and pork. But red meat needs to be eaten in moderation. Too much of it can contribute to inflammation.

How about foods that are good for your brain? One good brain food is fatty fish like salmon, cod, and tuna. They are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids that benefit the brain. Dark chocolate is also a good option, but sugar is not beneficial, so it is recommended to eat chocolate that is on the bitter end, with at least 72% cocoa.

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Spices and herbs are also beneficial for the brain: think turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. These spices are filled with antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the brain. Coffee, as well as black and green teas have been shown to increase memory and decrease chances of dementia.

Red wine is another beneficial beverage because it contains resveratrol, which is a nutrient found in the skin of red grapes. However, alcohol does contribute to brain inflammation, so wine should be ingested in moderation to avoid those negative effects. Fruits and vegetables are, of course, on the good-for-brain foods list. When eaten daily, they are helpful to both memory retention and general brain function.

The next time you find yourself forgetting simple things and wondering where your mind has gone, think about what you’ve eaten and how that may have affect your brain. You might not be a forgetful person after all! It could just be your diet. Remember: your memory loss might not be permanent, after all. There are things you can eat to reverse the damage to your brain, and feed its functions with the foods it needs.

The Strip District Essentials

Local Pittsburgh Gems

Enduring winter months in Pittsburgh, PA often reveals new levels of seasonal depression that people living in sunnier climates have never experienced. Being a Pittsburgh native, I am beyond envious of these people!

When the dreary weather departs and serotonin levels rise again, fueled by occasional glimpses of the sun, I put my sweatpants and leggings into hibernation for the summer and replace them with my favorite dresses, jumpsuits, and shorts.

Now that I’m all dressed up where should I go… that’s easy! On one gorgeous sunny Saturday in March, I was reunited with a Pittsburgh essential: The Strip District. Here is where I went — and you should too.

Mon Aimee Chocolat

First stop before lunch: Mon Aimee Chocolat. This local chocolatier was founded by Amy Rosenfield and is celebrating it 90th year of business. Amy saw a gap in the Pittsburgh confectionary market, and, wow am I happy she took a chance to start her own business.

They carry a jaw dropping assortment of chocolates and candies from local vendors. My favorite was the Dolfin brand but specifically the milk chocolate with salted butter caramel. Actually mouthwatering! Another fun favorite for the person who likes an aesthetically pleasing treat was the “Literally Can’t Even” by the brand Chocolate Cliché. It was a delightful milk chocolate and s’more flavor to make you feel like it’s summer all year round. 

Pennsylvania Libations

Next Stop: Pennsylvania Libations. The homepage of their website reads “Not your average liquor store” and I can vouch for that statement being accurate!

As Pennsylvania’s only independently owned liquor store, they were able to stay open through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Unlike other small businesses that were forced to close their doors for good after the pandemic subsided, Pennsylvania Libations actually opened a second store also located in the Strip District.

The second location at 1700 Penn curates the largest collection of Pennsylvania-made wines in the state and the location features a large outdoor seating area with picnic table, live bands, and food truck on the weekends.

The original location is your dream destination for specialty gins, vodkas, and whiskeys. And the best part is you’re not purchasing blindly, you can taste before you buy! After buying chocolates and liquors for yourself and maybe even as gifts for friends and family, it’s time for lunch. 

Good Eating: Luke Wholey’s, Primanti Brothers, and DeLuca’s

How about lunch or breakfast? In the Strip District, you have your choice of dozens of local and fabulous restaurants to choose from. A few of my favorites — depending on your mood — are Luke Wholey’s, the original Primanti Brothers, and DeLuca’s Diner. A quick warning, make a reservation whenever possible or you’ll be stuck hungry on a waitlist for a table!

Let’s start with breakfast at DeLuca’s. Isn’t there something so charming about a diner that still only accepts cash? They have a huge menu which will surely have a breakfast or lunch option for everyone in your party. And they’re now open again for dine in, which is great because they’ve been “serving breakfast and lunch all day! Since 1950.” An establishment that has stood the test of time like this is a must visit.

For lunch or dinner, give either Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grill or the original Primanti Brothers a try. Luke Wholey’s is a local family and businessman with a passion for fishing, and I have the personal privilege of being friends with his fishing buddy who has nothing but great things to say about him and his restaurant. The restaurant has a fun and inviting atmosphere and a wide variety of fresh seafood options including Dutch Harbor Alaskan King Crab, Parmesan Panko Broiled Cod, and Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Entree.

And finally, the restaurant that reinvented the sandwich, Primanti Brothers! If you’re in the mood for a sandwich that has all the normal toppings as well as sides, French fries and coleslaw between two thick slices of bread, this is the place for you. Their house cocktails are also perfect for a weekend night-out with friends. After all of that shopping, snacking, and eating, it’s time a little pick me up. 

Allegheny Coffee & Tea Exchange

A little caffeine jolt: Allegheny Coffee & Tea Exchange is like Disneyland for coffee and tea lovers. They sell special blends of coffees including Bali Blue Moon, Congo Lake Kivu, and Hawaiian Kona and teas to take home as well as a coffee and tea bar with drinks prepared by the experts. Not only do they have delicious products but the cutest accessories to go with them. A fun tea, a brewing ball, and mug would make the perfect birthday or holiday gift.

After a long day of walking around in the sun I’ve decided it’s not quite the right moment to retire my comfy clothes! Having the memories of the day stored in my memory I have little reminders around the house from Pennsylvania Libations, Mon Aimee Chocolat, and  Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange to share part of the experience with friends and family later. If you try any of these places let us know in the comments. 

Images courtesy of Google Images