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Does coffee cause cancer?

As a member of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, I’m privileged to have as colleagues some of the most accomplished Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs). 

Our guest columnist this week is Ashley Oswald, who brings us important news about how the foods you choose can keep your digestive system healthy.

Ashley Oswald, RDN, LD
Digestive Health Dietitian

Ashley Oswald is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in Digestive Health. She works with individuals struggling with symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Ashley has a private practice in Minneapolis, MN, and has worked with thousands of individuals, helping them find the root cause of these bothersome symptoms so they can regain control of their digestive health, and life

Ashley has completed training from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the University of Minnesota, and the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy. Visit Ashley’s website to learn more about digestive health and to subscribe to her newsletter.

Is Coffee Causing Cancer?

California may be the first state to require a cancer warning on your morning brew due to coffee containing acrylamide, a probable carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) and neurotoxin (poison to the nervous system).

The big debate is this: is the amount of acrylamide in coffee concerning, or do the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks?

It’s good to remember that there is research showing that coffee could be helping to prevent certain cancers, such as colorectal, liver and endometrial. Other studies show potential benefits with type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, and even Parkinson’s disease.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, after reviewing more than 1,000 human and animal studies, stated in 2016 that it “found no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.”

So if this single chemical in the coffee is so harmful, why do we have these studies showing potential benefit?

We must always look at nutrition from a high level. Food chemicals work in combination, and sometimes when we reduce foods to single components, we lose track of what truly aids in health.

With the coffee example, coffee is rich in antioxidants, and quite frankly, is likely the best source of antioxidants in many American’s diets due to a common reliance on low nutrition-dense processed foods (think refined carbohydrates such as bread and sugar).

Want to know the most popular vegetable in the American diet? Potatoes. Can you guess how much acrylamide is in a serving of oven-baked French fries? 49 mcg. How about potato chips? 18 mcg. Prune juice? 30-100 mcg. And brewed coffee? 2 mcg.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends less than about 140 mcg daily to prevent risk to the nervous system.

So the question isn’t whether acrylamide is concerning, but rather – is the amount of acrylamide in a food that offers other health benefits, concerning? And if so, in what amount is it concerning? Just some food for thought!