What We Know About Coffee & Cancer

produced by Megan Madden; photographed by Nicole Maroon.
Breakfast lovers of the world woke up to a troubling message this morning: The U.K.'s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has joined the FDA in advising against toasting your bread too much due to a potentially increased risk for cancer. But how much do you actually need to worry if you (like this author) prefer your toast on the charred-as-the-depths-of-hell end of the spectrum?
The idea behind the recommendation is that, when we cook food, that process causes the amino acids, sugar, and water present in that food to produce a new compound: acrylamide. In fact, a lot of foods we eat regularly contain acrylamide, including coffee, peanut butter, cookies, cakes, and potato chips. Basically anything starchy that gets cooked, roasted, or fried is gonna have it.
Advertisement
There are some animal studies that suggest a link between consuming large amounts of acrylamide and the development of tumours. So the FSA recommends "going for gold" and keeping your toast from getting brown.
However, there's no conclusive evidence of the same link in humans. And, as David Spiegelhalter, PhD, an expert in communicating public health risks, told the BBC, the FSA recommendations really don't make that research gap clear. "Even adults with the highest consumption of acrylamide would need to consume 160 times [that amount] to reach a level that might cause increased tumours in mice," he said.
That means that, unless your diet consists solely of burnt carbs in various forms (which would be worrying for other reasons), it doesn't seem like you need to follow the FSA's recommendation 100% seriously. But if you already have an increased risk for cancer (e.g. a family history), it may still be worth it to keep tabs on your acrylamide consumption. Even though it's pretty much impossible to totally cut it out, being aware of that — and how your other food and drink choices affect your health risks — can help you stay your healthiest.
As always, eating a balanced diet (yay for fruits and veggies) and opting for steaming or boiling rather than frying are good ideas. But not necessarily because they'll lower your acrylamide intake. So, seriously, go ahead and enjoy your weekend avocado toast — even if you prefer said toast closer to black than golden.
Advertisement

More from Diet & Nutrition

Watch

R29 Original Series

Watch Now
Fashion
A look at the subcultures around the world that color what we wear — and why.
Watch Now
Travel
Explore the world's most most vibrant cultural and culinary centers—in 60 seconds, of course.
Watch Now
Beauty
The craziest trends, most unique treatments, and strangest subcultures in the beauty world.
Watch Now
Lifestyle
Millennial survivor-woman Lucie Fink dives headfirst into social experiments, 5 days at a time.