Coffee & Cancer: The Risk Nobody Saw Coming

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A cup of hot, black coffee in a white cup on a table.

What exactly is acrylamide?

Essentially, it’s a chemical compound found in certain cooked foods,  as well as some cereals, baby food, crackers, bread and dried fruits. And…sob…coffee. According to a new report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), as well as the FDA, this chemical may present a new public health concern.

Why?

Studies are showing that diets high in acrylamide can cause DNA mutations that increase the risk of tumor growth and the spread of cancer cells. It is important to note that studies involving people have produced “limited and inconsistent evidence” when it comes to the ties between acrylamide and cancer, according to the EFSA.

Marco Binaglia, a scientist who helped draft the EFSA report, says that it’s too soon to make specific diet recommendations yet. For example, Binaglia says the EFSA’s coffee research only looks at acrylamide content, and does not take into account its possibly beneficial chemicals.

Regarding that morning cup of coffee, Luisa Ramos, another researcher who helped draft the report, says: “It’s usually found at higher levels in light roasts because it forms during the first minutes of roasting and then degrades as the roasting process continues.”

Translation: darker roasts may lower your exposure.

What Can You Do?

According to the FDA and Cancer.gov, here are some additional safety precautions you can take:

  • Fry foods as little as possible, since the processes causes acrylamide to form.
  • Avoid overcooking, heavy crisping or burning foods.
  • Frying, baking, roasting and broiling are the methods that create the most acrylamide, while boiling, steaming, and microwaving appear to generate less.
  • According to Cancer.gov, 248°F (120°C) seems to be the temperature above which more acrylamide forms. Foods heated to below 248°F or less do not seem to contain the chemical.
  • Don’t eat burnt toast, since the darker the toast, the more acrylamide has formed. Toast bread to a light brown color rather than a dark brown color.
  • Storing potatoes in the fridge can increase the amount of acrylamide that forms when they’re cooked, so keep potatoes outside of the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry.
  • Soak potato slices in water for 15-30 minutes before cooking to reduce the amount of acrylamide that will form.

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