Are the Chemicals in Coffee Safe?

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Robert Pavlis

Did you know that coffee contains thousands of chemicals and some are carcinogens. Is coffee safe to drink? In my previous post Fear of Chemicals I discussed some basic concepts about chemicals and tried to convince you that most chemicals will not harm you.

I know many of you are still doubtful so consider the following.

chemicals in coffee, a healthy food
Coffee – a healthy food ? Source: Dan Lacher (Flickr)

Chemicals in Coffee

Coffee contains thousands of chemicals, many of which have NOT yet been identified by chemists. Only 3% of the natural chemicals in roasted coffee have been adequately tested for carcinogenicity (ie are they cancer causing). There is no evidence that coffee is harmful; in fact recent studies show that it might actually help prevent some diseases. Here is a case where thousands of unknown chemicals exist and they don’t seem to harm us.

According to Bruce Ames, 21 known carcinogens are found in coffee including Acetaldehyde, benzaldehyde, benzene, benzofuran, benzo(a)pyrene, caffeic acid, catechol, 1,2,5,6-dibenzanthracene, ethanol, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, furan, furfural, hydrogen peroxide, hydroquinone, isoprene, limonene, 4-methylcatechol, styrene, toluene, xylene.

If coffee manufacturers listed these on the ingredient list – would you drink coffee?

Would you drink anything containing such known hazardous chemicals as benzene, formaldehyde and toluene? Never – but you do.

The Dose Makes the Poison

This is a common expression, that says a compound will only harm you if it is ingested at a high enough dose. Very low levels of toxic substances will not harm you, nor are they a concern.

Compost Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

A good example of this are the claims of Roundup in drinking water. First of all, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup is one of the safest chemicals – it is even less toxic than vinegar. But more importantly, it is only found at extremely low levels in drinking water. A study of drinking water in Spain showed that you would need to drink the equivalent of 1,000,000 beer-sized bottles of water, every day, to get to a point where it may harm you. This much water will kill you long before the Roundup.

Coffee is safe to drink:

– The levels of these chemicals is very low.

– Carcinogens such as these are found in many of the fresh foods we eat.

– There are quite a few studies that show coffee may actually be healthy for us.

There is no doubt that the above mentioned carcinogens are harmful and can cause cancer at higher dozes. But in very low amounts, as found in nature, there is no evidence that they are harmful.

The next post of this series, Natural Pesticides, will look at the actual levels of pesticides we ingest – the data will shock you and change the way you think about chemicals.

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

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