February Nutrition Nuggets: Coffee & Alcohol



I have chosen these new studies regarding coffee & alcohol to take a closer look at & to discuss. Are they good for you? Will you live longer if you drink them? What’s the story this month? 🙂 Hopefully you learned from last weeks post, Understanding Clinical Trials, that we need to know if the benefits outweigh the risks before we decide to change our lifestyle & in this case to imbibe or not.

Anything written about coffee interests me 🙂 I have had several emails from fellow coffee lovers about this newest headline. They all wanted to know if they should stop drinking coffee or just ignore the study & enjoy their favorite beverage. I was wondering the same thing.

When coffee beans are roasted they retain a chemical called acrylamide. This chemical is on the list as a carcinogen in California. Acrylamide is in foods like french fries, potato chips, crackers, bread, cookies, cereals, canned black olives, prune juice & coffee. The amount is dependent upon the cooking method, temperature & cooking process. So it varies by manufacturer. This page on the NCI website will give you more detailed information. National Cancer Institute: Acrylamide and Cancer Risk They have based the inclusion of acrylamide, on the carcinogen list, on studies done on rats. The wording is as follows: “The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens considers acrylamide to be reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, based on studies in laboratory animals given acrylamide in drinking water.” The problem with this is that the metabolism & absorption rates differ in rats & humans. From this site you will see that the human study was done with self reporting which is always difficult to know exactly how much acrylamide they actually ingested. 

This article is the one that caused the concern. Forbes: Potential California Warning: The Chemical In Your Coffee That May Cause Cancer By February 1, 2018  Regardless of the fact that there are not any studies yet that back up the idea that coffee can now be linked to cancer, because of California’s Prop 65, coffee vendors ~yep, even Starbucks~, will have to post a warning that drinking coffee is a potential health risk. 

Did you know that the same Prop 65 warning is at any establishment that serves french fries & potato chips since a lawsuit by the state in 2005? I have never noticed it! The fast food industry didn’t argue, they just went ahead & posted the sign as required 🙂 CA.gov: Proposition 65: Acrylamide

This next article is a must read if you are still worried about drinking coffee. Based on the results of a meta-analysis, the benefits of coffee outweigh the risks. The only group who should not drink coffee are pregnant women. The Washington Post: After poring over all the evidence, experts declare coffee is (mostly) good for you By  February 4, 2018

I am looking at all the information above & I am thinking that drinking your morning coffee is not the problem here. If you haven’t omitted or sharply curtailed your use of ultra-processed foods, fried foods & sugary products, you may be getting a lot more acrylamide than is healthy. Clean up your diet & enjoy your morning cup of java 🙂

The earliest record of drinking coffee dates back to the 15th century. Just saying…

Research results are a bit like the IRS; call until you get the answer you want. Even those who have a drink of wine once in awhile would like to hear that it is healthy. I am that way about coffee 🙂 

The subject of consuming alcoholic beverages is as touchy as gun control in the United States. Not sure why this is. Since I rarely drink alcohol anymore, when I ask for water at a party people look at me like I am very odd. It seems that the general consensus is that you can’t have a good time socially if you aren’t drinking with everyone else. Even physicians have a difficult time bringing up a patients alcohol consumption & I am sure, if asked, most of the patients would either underestimate how much they drink or just lie about it.

Take an honest look at your relationship with alcohol & how it fits in with your goals to be a healthier you. I am not suggesting you give up alcohol all together but I am suggesting that you decide if you are in the low to moderate drinking category or in the heavy drinker category. With that in mind, let’s look at these studies. 

This first study was done in France & was published on February 20, 2018 in Lancet: Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008–13: a nationwide retrospective cohort study The study was a retrospective look  & analysis involving 30 million people with a history/diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder”, discharged from a hospital in France. There are three take-away’s from this huge study. 

  1. The study included both genders, 20 years + in age.
  2. 50% of early-onset dementia is caused by heavy alcohol use. That is more than 2 drinks/day.
  3. This link between early-onset dementia & heavy alcohol use can be preventable by cutting back on the intake of alcohol.
  4. This study definitely shows that physicians should include a patients history of alcohol use in their dementia assessment.

With the above study in mind here is a new study about wine & it’s benefits to your brain. CNBC: A glass of wine after work may be good for your brain, according to science, By  , 

Those 2 studies do not contradict each other, actually they validate each others findings.

This is my favorite article about alcohol. It will clarify the risks & benefits for you. Harvard, T.H. Chan, School of Public Health: Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits

Alcoholic beverages are a problem for some chronic diseases; diabetes for one. Do the benefits outweigh the risk? This is a question that you and your health care team need to discuss. Are you counting carbs or staying away from sugar because of your diagnosis? Then possibly the risks will outweigh the benefits for you. Livestrong: Sugar Content in Alcoholic Beverages, by SHANNAN BERGTHOLDT , 

Another good source for you to look at if you are in treatment. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Cancer and Alcohol: What You Should Know, February 13, 2018 “Questions often arise about the relationship between alcohol and cancer: Does it increase cancer risk? Is it safe to drink while in treatment? What about after treatment?”

Bottom line? Do the risks outweigh the benefits for you as an individual based on your age, diagnosis & other chronic diseases you may have. Only you, along with your healthcare team, can decide.

Had to add this one; getting older does have its benefits 🙂 This study was done on people 90+ years young. Those who drank two glasses of beer or wine a day, “were 18 percent less likely to experience a premature death. Meanwhile, participants who exercised 15 to 45 minutes a day, cut the same risk by 11 percent.”  Chicago Tribune: Drinking alcohol more important than exercise for living past 90, study says Three results from this study stood out for me

  1. Drinking coffee cut the chance of premature death by 10%.
  2. Those with a hobby they worked on every day cut it by 21% .
  3. And my favorite; those who were slightly overweight by 3% 🙂

The magic number from all these studies seems to be 2 to 2 1/2 servings of alcohol a day, which can be beneficial. Anything over that raises the risk for a number of chronic diseases including cancer, dementia & heart disease. Remember that the American Cancer Society recommends that people who drink alcohol limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women. 

What is a standard “drink size” in the USA? The NCI has a website about alcohol: What Is A Standard Drink? In the United States, one “standard” drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol

I will continue to drink my 2 cups of coffee each morning. The benefits, for me, outweigh the risks.  I will continue to have an alcoholic beverage on special occasions & limit it to one serving. For me, I see that the risks outweigh the benefits to imbibe more alcohol than that. What have you decided?

Until next week…Mary 🙂