The Times reports that research done by the United Nations has found that coffee is to blame for approximately a third of the daily intake of a cancer-causing chemical known as acrylamide. It’s the same stuff that is produced by high temperature cooking processes like frying or roasting; french fries are one common source of this. So, is it time to stop drinking coffee? Ha! Not a chance. Like anything, the key is to enjoy it in moderation. No one’s really sure just how much of a risk acrylamide is when ingested at the lower levels most people face. If you’re really concerned though, you can reduce your acrylamide intake by favoring coffee beans that are either a light city roast, or a very dark French or Italian roast, as the levels of acrylamide are highest in medium-roast cofee. Read the full story here or in the rest of this post.

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The Sunday Times January 15, 2006

Cancer chemical found in coffee
Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Tom Baird

COFFEE is responsible for as much as a third of daily consumption of the cancer-causing chemical acrylamide, research by the United Nations has found.
The study reveals that coffee may give those who drink it anything from 13% to 39% of the acrylamide they consume — only chips and crisps are responsible for greater quantities on average.

Acrylamide is produced during cooking, particularly high-temperature processes such as frying and roasting. Some of the highest levels are found in chips, crisps, biscuits and bread, but it has now emerged that roasting coffee beans also produces significant amounts.

“The original concern with acrylamide was related to french fries, chips and crisps. Continued analysis of other food products has shown that they contribute to overall exposure as well,” said Dr Angelika Tritscher, a scientist with the committee that conducted the study.

The new research has been carried out jointly by two UN agencies — the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. It uses data from 17 countries, including Britain, to build up a picture of the amount of acrylamide consumed by people with a range of eating habits. Those who consume fresh, boiled or steamed food generally consume far less than people who eat fried or roasted meals.

Acrylamide has been used in industrial applications such as production of water purifying chemicals since the 1950s. In 2002 Swedish researchers found high levels in some foods. Experiments on laboratory animals have shown acrylamide in large amounts can cause cancer and reproductive problems.

Since 2002 several studies have been undertaken into acrylamide in food and its possible dangers, although not all experts agree it is hazardous to people in the amounts usually consumed.

A report commissioned by the National Toxicology Program in America concluded: “Considering the low level of estimated human exposure to acrylamides (we have) negligible concern for adverse reproductive and developmental effects.”

The UN research will be discussed in April by the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants, an international standards body.

The research does not assess the health risks of acrylamide, but a separate series of studies is under way to investigate this. One of the largest studies is a European Union project looking at possible links between the chemical and breast cancer.

In Britain the Food Standards Agency is working with the EU and the food industry on guidelines to help cut the level of acrylamide produced in manufacturing.

The level of acrylamide in a cup of coffee depends on how strong it is and how the beans are roasted. There is little difference between concentrations in instant and ground coffee — both about 290 micrograms per kg — because the chemical is a product of the roasting of the beans rather than any subsequent processing.

The level of roasting makes a difference, however. Separate research has established that acrylamide levels peak in medium-roast coffee, are lower in the half-roast variety and drop off when beans become dark roast.

Many scientists in Britain say that until the risk posed by acrylamide can be assessed with greater confidence it might make sense to consume as little as possible.

“There is no doubt it (acrylamide) has been identified as carcinogenic in animal models, so the best advice is precautionary, to minimise exposure,” said Professor Vyvyan Howard of the school of biological sciences at Ulster University.