Coffee – a Cup of Cancer?

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Brace yourself. Thanks to a court in California, your cup of coffee may soon come with a cancer warning. The potentially cancer-causing culprit in coffee is acrylamide. Though the court decision is not final yet, the news articles are both confusing and misleading. Acrylamide is far from unique to coffee. Plus, there are no convincing research studies that clearly show acrylamide causes cancer in humans.

Acrylamide and Cancer

The Food and Drug Administration considers acrylamide a health concern. The World Health Organization says acrylamide has the potential to cause cancer to humans. This does not mean it will cause cancer. Cancer is complex. Plus, in research studies, animals were given 1,000 to 10,000 times more acrylamide than the average person consumes each day! No studies to date show a clear increased risk of cancer in humans due to acrylamide. However, these studies have many limits including self-reported food intake (relying on people to remember how often they eat certain foods). According to the American Cancer Society, more studies are needed to evaluate how this compound is formed, how to decrease it and determine potential health risks.

Making matters more confusing, every person metabolizes acrylamide differently. Plus, animals and humans differ as well.

Sources of Acrylamide in Our Diet

Acrylamide forms during high heat cooking including frying, roasting and baking. Boiling and steaming do not typically form acrylamide. Grains and coffee are the foods & beverages that contain higher amounts of this compound. Dairy, meat and fish aren’t a concern. French fries and potato chips are the foods with the highest levels of acrylamide. From chip to chip or French fry to French fry the amount varies depending on how the food is cooked.

Blue Mesa Grill Sweet potato chips contain 16 times the amount of acrylamide as a single cup of Maxwell House original signature blend. Enjoy Rippin’ Good Ginger snap cookies and you’ll consume almost 4 times the amount of acrylamide compared to that cup of coffee from Maxwell House. Though cold brewing sounds like a solution, roasting coffee beans leads to acrylamide, not brewing at home. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke are also routes to acrylamide intake. People who work in certain industries including construction, oil drilling, textiles, cosmetics food processing, mining, plastics and more may also be exposed to this compound.

For a list of acrylamide levels is in various foods click here.

Decreasing Your Exposure

Though there are a lot of unknowns and no studies to date that clearly indicate acrylamide contributes to or causes cancer, it makes sense to decrease exposure when possible and when it doing so doesn’t interfere with your enjoyment of food. Here’s how:

  • Eat a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts and dairy.
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
    Limit fried foods.
  • Boil or steam instead of baking and frying when possible.
  • Soak potato slices in water for 15 to 30 minutes (drain, blot dry with a paper towel) before baking them.
  • Cook your baked goods for a shorter period of time. Don’t burn your bread in the toaster, pull it out when it is light brown. Also, don’t char foods on the grill.

Learn more about other compounds formed during high heat cooking by clicking here.

References:
href=”http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/”>http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/
FDA CFSAN
American Cancer Society
Curr Drug Metab. 2016;17(4):317-26.

Is Coffee Good for You?

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CoffeeDrinking coffee will leave you dehydrated and geeked out on caffeine. For several decades we’ve been warned about America’s favorite beverage. Yet these dire warnings were largely based on assumptions rather than actual science. A growing body of evidence suggests your morning Cup O’ Joe may be good for you! Here’s a look at the latest research.

What’s in a Coffee Bean?

Coffee beans are actually seeds from coffee cherries. They are picked, dried, and roasted turning them from green to those familiar aromatic brown beans we know and love. It’s ironic that a beverage made from seeds has gotten such a bad rap. Green coffee beans are naturally rich in antioxidants including chlorogenic acids, compounds that are readily absorbed in the human body, have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions and are associated with many health benefits including a reduction in cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidants protect plants from disease and pests. Some antioxidants also protect human cells from harm. Roasted coffee beans are loaded with antioxidants (contrary to popular belief, they are not destroyed during roasting) and scientists are slowly uncovering the metabolic fate of each type antioxidant as well as the potential health benefits associated with regular coffee intake.

Potential Health Benefits

A National Institutes of Health study published in 2012 found older adults who drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections. Those who drank over 3 cups per day had a 10% lower risk of death compared to those who did not drink coffee. Though this study only showed an association between coffee consumption and a decreased risk of death, it provided some reassurance to people who couldn’t seem to give up their favorite beverage. Studies published over the past three years lend strength to the relationship between regular coffee intake and a decreased risk of certain diseases.

Heart Health
A study published in the British Medical Journal’s publication Heart, examined diet and artery health in over 25,000 Korean men and women. Those who drank 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day were 19% less likely to have the first signs of atherosclerosis,  plaque buildup on artery walls, compared to those who were not coffee drinkers. Lower intakes were not associated with a reduction in plaque buildup. Drawbacks to this study: diet was examined at one point in time and study subjects were asked to recall their coffee intake over the previous year (people generally don’t recall their food / drink intake with great accuracy). Also, keep in mind this study showed an association between coffee intake and artery health, it doesn’t prove that coffee reduces plaque buildup on artery walls or that it can prevent cardiovascular disease. More research is needed to understand how coffee intake could potentially support heart health.

Cancer
A recently published study found individuals previously treated for stage III colon cancer who were regular coffee drinkers, consuming at least 4 cups of caffeinated coffee per day, had a 42% lower risk of recurrence of colon cancer and 33% lower risk of dying from the disease. This study found an association between coffee intake and decreased risk of colon cancer recurrence.

Research on coffee intake and risk of various cancers is mixed with some showing it is protective and others suggesting it may increase risk. Keep in mind there are many potential factors that impact cancer risk and risk of cancer recurrence with a sedentary lifestyle, high body fat and alcohol intake strongly associated with increased risk of certain types of cancer. Fruit and vegetable intake is associated with a decreased risk of some types of cancers. As for your Cup O’ Joe, time and more research, will tell us how America’s favorite beverage fits in the picture.

Should You Increase Your Coffee Intake?

All of these studies on regular coffee consumption include higher intakes. No benefits are noted for lower intakes – one to two cups per day. Keep in mind that some people should avoid or be cautious with caffeine intake including kids, teens, people with anxiety disorders, glaucoma, heartburn or cardiovascular disease. Also, pregnant women should avoid higher intakes of caffeine – more than 3 cups of coffee per day (regular sizes cups). Now about the caffeine – regular intake of moderate amounts of caffeine will not dehydrate you.

If you drink coffee in moderation, enjoy it! Don’t increase your intake based on these studies or start drinking if you aren’t a regular coffee consumer. Future research will tell us more about the many naturally occurring compounds in coffee, their actions in the body and the potential link between coffee and disease risk.

References
Heart 10.1136/heartjnl-2014-306663
New Eng J Med 2012;366:1891-1904.
J Nutr 2008;138(12):2309-15.
Mol Nutr Food Res 2005;49:274–84.
J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54:8738–43.
Am J Epidemiol 2002;156:445–53.
Biol Pharm Bull 2006;29:2236–4
Pest Manag Sci 2003 Apr;59(4):459-64.
J Clin Oncol 2015 Aug 17. [Epub ahead of print]

 

 

Food Fraud: Is Your Food Adulterated?

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By: Gisselle Marie Rosa, UGA MS student & Dietetic Intern

As consumers, we put our trust in food companies to be honest about their food products. You go to the grocery store and spend and exorbitant amount on 100% pure Italian olive oil expecting that it comes from the finest olive crops in Italy. Yet that dark glass bottle with the scenic picture of an olive farm in Tuscany may contain olive oil mixed with lower quality vegetable oil. Then you see news reports bombarding the media about honey that is diluted with less expensive syrups and “wild” salmon that was actually farm-raised in another continent. It makes you wonder why food companies would risk lying to their consumers about the quality of the food they are selling and how you can avoid buying these products at all.

Food Adulteration for Economic Gain (Saving Cash)

Food fraud, or economically motivated adulteration, refers to defrauding buyers of food or ingredients for economic gain. There are generally three types of fraud: complete or partial replacement of a food or ingredient, the addition of a substance to mask the quality of the food product, and removal of a component of the food product. Unfortunately, no one really knows exactly how common these practices are. Most instances of food fraud do not pose a public health risk, so they are easy to get away with. There are some instances, however, where certain foods or ingredients are adulterated with potential allergens or toxic ingredients that could harm the consumer. Some examples are as benign as injecting shrimp with gelatin, while others are as dangerous as adding melamine to infant formula to make the protein content of the formula seem higher. The latter example led to thousands of infant illnesses and the death of 6 infants in China.

Unintentional Food Adulteration

However, not all cases of food adulteration are intentional. An example is selling bruised fruit, where mishandling could have led to decreased quality of the produce item and potential exposure to contamination.

It is pretty evident that food fraud can be deceiving and even dangerous. So how can you become a more informed consumer?

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) has an online database that provides food ingredient fraud reports. In this database, you can find past reports from the media and scientific journals about food fraud cases. Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture website  posts the most recent food recalls, many of which are due to food adulteration.

According to the Congressional Research Service, some of the most common food categories with reported cases of food fraud include: olive oil, fish and seafood, milk and milk-based products, honey, fruit juice, coffee and tea, spices, and organic foods. Curious to see how these foods have been adulterated in the past? If you are curious about food fraud, check out this Food fraud database.

Just remember: a smart consumer is a safe consumer. While there is no need to be skeptical about every food product you buy, it is important to understand that food fraud exists. So the next time you go to the store to buy fresh red snapper, make sure that the fish you are buying is authentic and not a cheaper, lower quality fish.

Resources:

Johnson, R. Food Fraud and “Economically Motivated Adulteration” of Food and Food Ingredients. Congressional Research Service 2014. Internet: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43358.pdf

U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention. USP’s Food Fraud Database 2015. Internet: http://www.usp.org/food-ingredients/food-fraud-database

United States Department of Agriculture. Recalls and Public Health Alerts, 2014. Internet: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/