Coffee Fears Debunked

Updated on March 26, 2023
By Carrie Luger Slayback
Already worried at 6:00 a.m., my running partner of forty years greeted me. “I love my morning coffee, but read this,” he said, handing me a folded newspaper with Tim Carman’s  Washington Post article, “Coffee may soon come with a spoonful of warnings.” Quoting Carman, ”Acrylamide—byproduct of the cooking process–[is] known to cause cancer.”
Citing California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics is suing coffee franchises. Acrylamide which occurs in french fries, potato chips, bread and other grain products is also found in brewed coffee.  CERT wants cancer warnings delivered with hot Joe.
YumYum Donuts, 7-11 and others have settled, but major retailers, like Starbucks are fighting the suit. Supporting them, the National Coffee Association points out that the USDA lists “coffee as a healthy beverage.”
The next day, I told Ken, I read your article, but how much coffee do we have to drink to elevate cancer risk?  He didn’t know, so I decided to find out whether we read a sensational, eye-catching article, or were gulping a hidden carcinogen.
The next afternoon I read reports of the acrylamide-coffee relationship and found that—Yes there is acrylamide in coffee and yes, it is a carcinogen. 

As to dose, Dr Stanley Omaye, Professor of nutrition and toxicology at the University of Nevada says, “Based on animal studies, you’d have to drink over 100 cups of coffee a day to get [a] dangerous dose.” He believes coffee companies have the stronger case in the lawsuit.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – part of the World Health Organization (WHO) stated in a press release, “After thoroughly reviewing more than 1,000 studies in humans and animals, the Working Group has found that there was inadequate evidence for the carcinogenicity of coffee drinking, overall.”  Mr. Ng Kar Foo, Consultant Dietitian from International Medical University (IMU).  assures us that habitual coffee consumption (up to 3–4 cups per day) does not reach the carcinogen level.
On January 30, 2018, Laura Pawlak, PhD, R.D. emeritus wrote for National Resources Seminars, “Like all plant foods, coffee beans contain more than a thousand healthful chemicals.The benefits of drinking…enhance brain function, increase metabolic rate, and improve exercise performance. [Furthermore,] the bean has been linked to a lower risk of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, liver disease, and some cancers. Several studies have found that men who regularly consumed the most coffee (including decaffeinated) had a 60% lower risk of advanced or lethal prostate cancer than nondrinkers. Even one to three cups per day was linked to a 30% lower risk.” 
All that said, Pawlak acknowledges that acrylamide, a carcinogen, is ingested along with the healthful chemicals. However, she concludes, “Presently, Americans consume less acrylamide than the maximum exposure levels recommended by the European Food Safety Authority, [and] two recent studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that coffee drinkers have modestly lower mortality rates than non coffee drinkers”
Researchers for The British Journal of Cancer investigated claims by the Swedish National Food Administration that acrylamide in foods could have global impacts on cancer incidence rates. Their findings– “In spite of the potential limitations of the study design, our data are reassuring that acrylamide seems unlikely to be responsible for a major fraction of…cancers.” They call for further research but conclude “We must ask whether a relative risk of this size warranted the public health alarm generated when the findings of acrylamide in food were first announced.”
I’m a food watchdog, suspicious of big retailers, motivated to protects profits, not people. In the case of the coffee suit, I’ll side with Starbucks. I’ll meet Ken at 6:00 a.m. Tuesday, complete our run, and send him off to drink his morning coffee minus the anxiety generated by the Post’s snappy headline.
To minimize acrylamide exposure: (Healthline)
• Quit smoking/avoid secondhand smoke exposure.
• Keep frying to a minimum
• Don’t burn or char foods on the grill.
• Toast bread to light brown-no burnt toast.
• Boil or use microwave when possible.
• Store potatoes out of the fridge
• Choose dark roasted coffee—avoid instant and coffee alternatives.
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