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.

Focusing on Fewer Ingredients in Food is Pointless

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Zoning in on the number of ingredients in packaged foods is one of the stupidest consumer driven trends to date. Fueled by the unsubstantiated fear of anything not immediately recognizable or easy to pronounce, companies are turning to “fewer ingredients” to make their food stand out on over-crowded store shelves. Short, recognizable ingredient lists are leading packaged food trends in 2016 yet the number of ingredients or your ability to pronounce an ingredient has absolutely nothing to do with the nutrition value of the food and therefore shouldn’t guide your buying decisions.

The # of Ingredients Has Nothing to do with Nutrition Value

Shorter ingredient lists do not mean a food or beverage is better for you. Companies that make chips, ice cream and other dessert items are among the fiercest competitors for simplifying ingredient lists. According to an article in the Huffington Post, Hershey Co. improved their classic chocolate syrup by cutting the list to 5 simple ingredients. The new version took food scientists a year and a half to make with recognizable ingredients. The challenge? Making a syrup that also tastes good. The new version with cane sugar and organic invert cane syrup instead of high fructose corn syrup will cost you 1 more gram of sugar than the original version. How does this make it nutritionally superior to the old version?

Here’s another example. Let’s say you are in the grocery store debating between protein choices for dinner. Do you pick up the omega-3 and protein-packed (23 grams for 190 calories) salmon or beef franks (15 grams protein for 190 calories and 3x the saturated fat). I hope you choose the salmon if you are choosing based on nutrition value.

Simple Ingredients

I found many similar examples in the grocery store including potato chips with just a few ingredients compared to whole grain, higher fiber crackers with three times the ingredients and Häagen-Dazs ice cream with five ingredients, 250 calories and almost 5 grams of sugar per ½ cup compared to Giant brand ice cream with more than twice the number of ingredients, 160 calories and less than 3 grams of sugar per ½ cup. If you are choosing your dessert not based on taste but instead based on the nutritionally superior option (because that’s why people are focusing on the total number of ingredients right?), you’ll pick up the Giant brand with more ingredients.

Just Because You Don’t Recognize it and Can’t Pronounce it Doesn’t Mean it is Bad

Head over to Cooking Light or any other well-recognized cooking magazine and I’m willing to bet you’ll find ingredients that you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. I live in the world of food, nutrition and supplements and restaurant menus often stump me while the sheer number of unfamiliar spices in Penzeys Spices satisfies my creative desire for something new and unique. Just because an ingredient is unfamiliar to you does not automatically make it bad. After all you’re probably not a food scientist entrenched in the world of food development and food safety.

Some misunderstood ingredients are emulsifiers – they help ingredients stay together in a mixture vs. separating (for example, salad dressings often contain emulsifiers including lecithin), others add nutrition value, help products retain their color, prolong shelf life or keep the product safe. Pyridoxine hydrochloride sounds scary right? It’s a vitamin B6. Cyanocobalamin? That’s vitamin B12. Beta-glucan? Oat and barley beta-glucan are soluble fibers sometimes added to food to increase the fiber content. They also help you feel more full (satiated) and are fantastic for your immune system. Lupin kernel fiber – lupin is a legume. In other words, it’s good for you. All substances allowed in food in the U.S. are GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

Even though manufacturers are scurrying to chop down their ingredient lists to meet this silly consumer demand, focusing on the number of ingredients in a food isn’t worth your time or attention span. If you don’t order food in a restaurant based on the number of ingredients used in the recipe why would you choose foods in the grocery store based on the total number of ingredients? In addition, don’t be scared of any ingredient with a sprinkling of scientific reasoning behind its use.