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Coffee: Where to draw the line between safe and risky consumption?

Coffee: Where to draw the line between safe and risky consumption?

by Agnes Chung


“I start my day with a single expresso. Double expresso if I’m in-store. In a day, I have around eight to ten cups,” says Peter Lee of Caffe Umbria. A coffee sommelier, Lee says he does a lot of tasting in his work.

One time heavy coffee drinker, Dale Clements says, “Two cups of regular coffee is all I have in a day. I find I get heartburn if I drink too much.” 

Canadians just can’t get enough of coffee. The thirst for the much-loved bean put the country fifth place on the 2016/2017 world coffee importers chart, according to the International Coffee Organization (ICO).  

Nine European countries top the coffee consumption per capita last year based on ICO statistics. The Finns were number one with 12 kilograms per person per year. Canadians took 10th spot at 6.2 kilograms. There’s something about cold winters and the cozy effect of hot and fresh java.

Fragrance and taste

Coffee heritage can be traced back to the Ethiopian plateau. Legend has it that a herder first discovered the bean’s potentials after his goats ate them and became very energetic.  Coffee soon spread along the Silk Road and reached Europe.  Ethiopia is the third largest coffee exporter last year, after Brazil and Indonesia.  

Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (or Robusta) are the most widely grown and consumed species of the over 100 coffee species that exist today. Oddly, some of best tasting and most expensive coffees are processed from animal poop, such as Indonesia’s Kopi Luwak and Northern Thailand’s Black Ivory.

Asked why he likes coffee, Lee says, “It’s the sensation that I’m looking to experience. The sensation of depth and character in my mouth, an ounce (about three sips) would generally do it. The difference between good and poor quality coffee is in the smell and taste.” For Clements, it’s the fragrance of roasted beans, and taste that she likes about coffee.

Health effects of coffee

The majority of Canadians get their caffeine from coffee, although the natural stimulant is also present in chocolate and tea. Pops, energy drinks and medications have caffeine which is added in the manufacturing process. Caffeine energizes the brain and central nervous system, boosting alertness and physical endurance. 

Coffee contains antioxidants. Studies published in the British Medical Journal indicate benefits including reducing risk for type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and cancer.

An overdose of coffee can cause tremor, nervousness, insomnia, irritability, dizziness, convulsion and dehydration.  Caffeine is a diuretic. 

“I used to consume copious amounts of coffee as a young nurse working in acute care many years ago. I would have 12 cups of coffee on a 12 hour night shift to keep awake, until I got sick from caffeine poisoning,” shares Clement who was hospitalized for three days to undergo caffeine detox. 

“I had extreme headaches, nausea, blurred vision, and had IV (intravenous) therapy and consumed lots of fluid.  It was a lesson learnt. After that experience, I didn’t touch coffee for at least five years.”

California’s cancer-risk warning  

Acrylamide is listed on Proposition 65, California’s list of carcinogenic chemicals.  It’s a natural by-product of coffee roasting and other cooking processes. In 2010, Long Beach based Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued some 90 coffee retailers, including Starbucks, 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts for alleged failure to provide clear and reasonable warning labels on their products.  

A California judge in March this year ruled that the beverage be branded with cancer warning labels. The rule was overturned on June 15 when officials from the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment proposed a regulation change stating that cancer warnings are not required for coffee under Proposition 65.  

How much is too much coffee to drink? 

Children are at greater risk of experiencing adverse caffeine effects including learning difficulties, hyperactivity, nervousness and stomach problems.

The possible health effects of consuming too much caffeine include an increased risk of miscarriage and a risk of low birth weight for pregnant women or those who may conceive, says Health Canada.  

Moderation is the key to coffee consumption. Health Canada’s recommendation for caffeine intake per day:

• Healthy Adults: No more than 400 mg of caffeine – about three 8 oz. cups (237 mL) of brewed coffee  

• Pregnant or breastfeeding women and women who are planning to become pregnant: No more than 300 mg of caffeine – a little over two 8 oz. (237 ml) cups of coffee

• Adolescents 13 and older: No more than 2.5 mg/kg body weight

• Children 10 to 12: No more than 85 mg  (8 oz. Red Bull)

• Children aged 7 to 9: No more than 62.5 mg  (20 oz. Pepsi)

• Children aged 4 to 6: No more than 45 mg  (12 oz. Diet Coke)

The agency recommends those on prescription medications to talk to their family doctor on their caffeine intake and any possible negative drug interactions. 

Author: Steve Almond

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