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A California judge recently ruled that coffee distributors in California now must add a cancer warning label on every cup of coffee sold.
The ruling came from a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Long Beach-based Council for Education and Research on Toxics.
The group charged that coffee giants like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts did not warn consumers that ingesting coffee would expose them to acrylamide—a chemical that is produced when plant-based foods are heated. Coffee sellers are considering legal action to fight this ruling.
Higher Temperature = More Acrylamides Produced
Coffee roasting temperatures can reach up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. This extremely high-temperature results in higher than accepted levels of acrylamide according to California standards. (1)
The higher the cooking temperature, the more acrylamides are produced.
In 1986, California passed Proposition 65 based on the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Act. This proposition requires businesses to display warning labels when consumers are exposed to chemicals they have deemed as human toxicants. (2)
Ayurveda warns about the dangers of cooking foods on high heat. Recently, the FDA put out a report warning against overcooking your food, as it creates acrylamides which have caused cancer in animal studies. In 2010, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that acrylamide is also a human health concern. (3)
What You Need to Know About Acrylamide
Acrylamide is formed when the sugar or starches in the plant stick to an amino acid called asparagine, which naturally occurs in the plant. These are all perfectly healthy until you overheat them!
According to the National Cancer Institute, the major food sources of acrylamide are French fries and potato chips, crackers, bread, cookies, breakfast cereals, canned black olives, prune juice, and coffee. (4)
The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens considers acrylamide to be reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on studies in laboratory animals given acrylamide in drinking water. However, toxicology studies have shown that humans and rodents not only absorb acrylamide at different rates, they metabolize it differently as well.
Studies in rodent models have found that acrylamide exposure increases the risk for several types of cancer in the body. Acrylamide is converted into a compound called glycidamide, which causes mutations in and damage to DNA.
However, a large number of epidemiologic studies in humans have found no consistent evidence that dietary acrylamide exposure is associated with the risk of any type of cancer. One reason for the inconsistent findings from human studies may be the difficulty in determining a person’s acrylamide intake based on their reported diet.
So the fight begins to finally determine whether acrylamides in foods are linked to cancer and whether coffee is a health food or a toxin.
I will keep you posted as this battle heats up. To learn more about the science on both sides of the health food aisle regarding coffee, please read my thorough review of the science and ancient wisdom here.
Coffee Science Update
Many studies seem devoted to finding coffee as a cure-all, and while there is science that suggests coffee helps to protect against cancers and other health concerns, coffee is not without its negative science.
As I wrote in my article, “Coffee: The Good, the Bad and the Ayurvedic Perspective,” coffee stimulates the adrenals to make the energy it does not have available. This can force the body to stress, over-compensate, and adapt to the caffeinated demands from the adrenals by raising blood sugar levels.
Yes, I know there are many studies linking coffee consumption to a lower risk of diabetes, but not all show that link. Some studies are inconclusive (5), while others say coffee does lower blood sugar, but only if you drink A LOT of it.
One study found that participants who drank 4-6 cups and more than 6-7 cups of coffee per day had a lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes compared with those who drank less than 2 cups per day. (6) That is a lot of coffee!
In one study, caffeine raised blood sugar levels. Caffeine consumption is associated with a substantial reduction in insulin-mediated glucose uptake independent of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and chronic exercise, suggesting that caffeine allows the sugar to linger in the bloodstream too long. (7)
Previous studies have shown that caffeine ingestion is associated with a marked impairment in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in humans. (7)
When it comes to coffee consumption and cancer, the results are mixed. (8) Some studies show coffee protects against some cancers, and other studies were inconclusive. (8,9) In one study, coffee intake was associated with reduced risk of oral, pharynx, liver, colon, prostate, endometrial cancer and melanoma and increased lung cancer risk. (9)
Remember, coffee is a processed food. Coffee beans, which are actually seeds, are sprayed with pesticides and insecticides (unless organic), soaked, fermented to remove the mucilage (called the parenchyma), dried, hulled (milled), polished, roasted to over 500 degrees, ground and then boiled to make a cup a delicious cup of coffee.
Imagine the outrage if wheat went through such a process. Coffee is a processed food, so do not be surprised if your favorite beverage turns out to be not as wonderful as you thought!
Read about the ancient Ayurvedic wisdom behind coffee here.