Sometimes you need a daily grind to deal with the daily grind! The one I’m talking about is that century old tradition, the morning cup of joe. It originated in Africa in 575 A.D. and, today, more than 400 billion cups are consumed a year making it the world’s most popular beverage.
It’s an elixir that imparts clarity of thought along with an enlivening effect for people to hit the ground running. So I bet more people drink it for those reasons then for the powerful health affects it imparts. Did you know coffee is loaded with disease fighting properties and packs a powerful punch of antioxidants and phytochemicals?
Coffee beans contain biologically active compounds, polyphenols (flavonoids, lignin’s, etc.) and caffeine that:
- Increase energy expenditure
- Inhibit cellular damage
- Regenerate genes involved in DNA repair
- Exhibit anti-inflammatory properties
- Inhibit metastasis
- Decrease insulin resistance
- May decrease risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and may lower overall mortality risk
Does coffee cause cancer?
In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), was unable to conclude that drinking coffee causes cancer based on the current research.
A recent analysis of 201 studies in the British Medical Journal concluded that consuming three to four cups of coffee a day is more likely to benefit health than harm.
The news headlines
The media has always weighed in on the pros and cons of coffee and just when things were on the upswing with coffee being excepted as healthy, the curve ball hit – a Los Angeles judge ordered that Starbucks corporation and other coffee sellers must serve up a cancer warning with coffee that’s sold in California. What?!?!? In accordance with Proposition 65, coffee sellers are now required to warn consumers about cancer risk associated with acrylamide.
Once again, this caused an uproar in our world. The news headlines read, “coffee must have cancer warnings in California”. I could definitely see where the alarm is. When a favorite drink is associated with an increased cancer risk, it’s scary. Do we now have to give up that coveted cup of joe in the morning? As a registered dietitian nutritionist, this didn’t make any sense to me. I’m familiar with the current research, and, the amount of acrylamide that we consume daily does not show increased cancer risk for most cancers. Coffee is a good source of the B vitamin riboflavin, is rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals and is an overall healthy food. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has coffee on its list for foods that fight cancer.
What is acrylamide and why is it controversial? Acrylamide is a chemical that’s formed during the roasting process when foods are roasted at high heat. It’s classified as a Group 2A carcinogen which is defined as a probable carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) and neurotoxin. There is some evidence in animals that warranted grouping in this category, however, research in humans does not point to the same conclusion. Studies show that moderate coffee drinking (3 or 4 cups) may actually lower the risk of several types of cancer including:
- head and neck
Let me try and put things in perspective:
First of all, rat studies cannot be directly translated to humans, and, in real life, we don’t down megadoses of acrylamide directly. In addition to coffee, other foods that also contain acrylamide are French fries, potato chips, roasted potatoes, crackers, cookies, cakes, bread, snacks, roasted nuts, popcorn, cereal products, prune juice and canned olives. The amount of acrylamide Americans get from these foods far exceeds amounts consumed from coffee. The greatest source of acrylamide in the U.S. diet comes from fried potato products, accounting for 38% . 17% Comes from crackers, cookie and cakes, 14% comes from bread, 14% comes from roasted nuts and popcorn, 9% comes from cereal products and 8% comes from coffee. To further put things in perspective, a 1-ounce serving of potato chips has 17.9 mcg acrylamide and an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has 1.9 mcg acrylamide. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets a limit of 140 mcg acrylamide/day. *Note, statistics obtained from a recent ConsumerLab report.
- Does one food, e.g., coffee, make that much of a difference in your acrylamide intake? I don’t think it does based on acceptable intake levels of acrylamide.
- What are you putting in your coffee? How much extra sugar and fat? Unhealthy additions to coffee can negatively impact health.
- If you are a coffee drinker and stop, you could be potentially getting less disease-fighting agents. I’ve read that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants and phytochemiclas for many Americans.
- Is caffeine a consideration for you? Caffeine affects different people differently.
- Research regarding coffee and bone fractures in women is limited, but ongoing.
- Coffee benefits extend to decaf, albeit to a lesser extent.
- For the first time coffee was included in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which states that drinking three to five cups a day (up to 400 mg of caffeine) was associated with minimal health risks and may confer benefits.
- Limit for a pregnant woman is set at two cups per day.
What steps can you take steps to lower your exposure to acrylamide?
- Replace some of the aforementioned foods with healthier ones.
- Don’t overly brown your food when you’re cooking.
- Drip brew and pour over methods, tend to have less acrylamide then other methods such as decoction and pressure preparation (French press).
The discussion of caffeine can be a whole other blog. Please note, there are some conditions and medication regimens that may require watching or eliminating caffeine. Always discuss with your doctor.
For the average person, please keep enjoying your coffee if you already do so! However, if you are not a regular coffee drinker, there’s no need to start! Even though it does impart health benefits, there are plenty of other steps to take to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
What’s your take? And plan? As always, I would love to hear from you!
Wendy Kaplan, MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in oncology and weight management in Long Island and in the New York City area. Wendy is the Nutrition Program Director for Mondays at Racine Cancer Care Foundation, a 501c3. Connect with Wendy on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and read more of her blog posts and download recipes at Food4HealthRD.com