Of all the more than 2 million foods in the LIVESTRONG.COM MyPlate database, coffee is the No. 1 most-tracked food! (See LIVESTRONG's full list of the top 40 foods Americans eat.)
Considering that 54 percent of Americans drink coffee every day and down 3 cups on average per day, its first-place rank perhaps shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Did you know that people in the U.S. spend over $40 billion each year on coffee? Yup, that’s billion with a “B”!
It may be a surprise, however, that coffee is the No. 1 source of antioxidants in the American diet, according to a University of Scranton study.
Eating foods that contain antioxidants may reduce your risk of developing inflammation-associated diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
The Scranton study took into account the amount of antioxidants per serving size and frequency of consumption among Americans.
Dates were actually found to contain the most antioxidants when looking at the data based solely on serving size. That said, no matter how many delicious date smoothies you’re concocting in your blender, dates don’t come anywhere near Americans’ multiple-servings-per-day coffee obsession.
And, yes, we love our date shakes and smoothies too, however dates did not even rank in our MyPlate users' list of top 40 most-tracked foods!
Press "play" on the video below to find out what to look for when buying coffee:
Aim for Organic (and Just Because Your Coffee Is Expensive, Doesn’t Mean It’s Organic!)
When it comes to foods we eat, coffee may be No. 1 as far as the amount and number of pesticides used to grow it.
Coffee is the third most sprayed agricultural crop in the world behind cotton and tobacco (and we don’t eat those other two!)
If you are concerned about the impact of consuming one to three cups of coffee every day for your entire life, and exactly how ingesting artificial pesticides may be affecting your body, brain and overall health, you may want to choose organic coffee.
The term organic is a USDA certification which means that the coffee was grown without use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, without genetically-modified organisms and through using sustainable farming methods.
Starbucks and Peet’s coffee each sell one variety of USDA-certified organic beans. At Starbucks it's the Organic Yukon Blend, and at Peet’s it’s the Gaia Organic Blend. However, those particular blends may not be what they are brewing in the cafe, and you’ll have to ask.
You may think that an $8 latte from Intelligentsia or Blue Bottle is automatically organic at that price, but it may not be as it depends on which beans were brewed and their country of origin. Approximately 30 percent of Intelligentsia's coffee is organic, and 85 percent of the coffee brewed at Blue Bottle is organic, but you need to ask your barista and/or check for the organic certification on the bag.
If You’re Not Buying Organic, Consider Avoiding Coffee Grown in Certain Areas of the World
Do you know where your coffee comes from? Brazil used to produce 100 percent of the world’s coffee back in the 1920s, but it now produces a third of all coffee. Brazil is still the No. 1 coffee producer in the world, with 5.7 billion pounds of coffee produced in 2015-2016.
Since 2012, Brazil is the world’s largest pesticide consumer, surpassing the U.S. which had previously held the No. 1 spot.
Brazilian consumption of pesticides reached around 496,000 tons of active ingredients in 2013.
Pesticides that are banned in the U.S. and the EU (because they were found to be incredibly toxic) can be sold to Brazil by American companies and sprayed on the coffee plants there. Perhaps ironically, the coffee beans can then be sold back to America and end up in your cup.
Some of the pesticides used on coffee in Brazil include:
Glyphosate – Sold as Roundup (and created and manufactured by Monsanto, a U.S. company that manufactured Agent Orange for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Monsanto also conveniently creates and sells “Round-Up-Ready” seeds – genetically-modified strains of plants that can tolerate high doses of the pesticide). Roundup is used to kill weeds, and it is the most popular chemical used in the history of agriculture! Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States. And in 2010, Roundup resistant weeds started appearing in many states. As CNN reported in May 2017, more than 800 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients are suing Monsanto, claiming Roundup gave them cancer. In June 2017, California announced plans to add glyphosate to a list of chemicals linked to causing cancer, and Monsanto plans to fight this. Glyphosate is sprayed on more than 200 crops across 4 million acres in California, including 1.5 million acres of almonds. Research has also shown that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it interferes with the proper functioning and production of hormones. According to this study published in 2016 in in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, since 1974 globally 9.4 million tons of the chemical have been sprayed onto fields and “Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called ‘Roundup Ready,' genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996.”
Aldicarb – Sold as the active ingredient in the pesticide Temik, aldicarb one of the most widely used pesticides internationally, and is also one of the most toxic (manufactured by U.S. Bayer CropScience, though they have agreed to completely end distribution this year). Temik was used by burglars in South Africa to poison dogs in 2015. In the summer of 1985 aldicarb was responsible for the largest case of pesticide food poisoning in North America when over 2,000 reported cases of aldicarb poisoning occurred in the U.S. and Canada among people who had eaten watermelon. Seventeen people were hospitalized, six deaths and two stillbirths were reported among people who were stricken. Perhaps surprisingly, Bayer CropScience released a new product called AgLogic 15G Aldicarb Pesticide in 2016 which is “essentially the same as Temik.”
Carbofuran – Sold as Furidan, carbofuran is banned in Canada and the EU. This one is another of the most toxic chemicals to humans and a probable reproduction/development intoxicant (manufactured by the U.S. FMC Corporation). Carbofuran has been used by ranchers in Kenya to kill lions.
Fenpropathrin – Sold as Danitol and manufactured by Valent Canada which says Danitol is approved for use on more than 120 crops including peaches, other stone fruits, apples, pears, grapes, blueberries, tomatoes, strawberries and peanuts. (It’s used in the U.S. on grapes.) In 2016 in the journal Molecular Biology Fenpropathrin was found to be a neurotoxin and possible environmental risk factor for Parkinson’s Disease.
Terbufos – A pesticide banned in the EU. In 2007 in the journal Epidemiology, it was found in an analysis of 49,955 people that lifetime exposure-days of terbufos was positively associated with all cancer.
What About Fair Trade and Other Certifications? Which Ones Are Important?
While organic coffee is generally grown in the shade from other trees and plants (Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics in Southern California grows his organic coffee beans in the shade of avocado trees, for example), many conventional coffee growers cut down rainforests, creating full-sun coffee plantations throughout South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Paying attention to the labels and certifications on your coffee (and or asking your barista about them) can help you to avoid supporting farms and countries which are contributing to deforestation.
Vietnam is currently the No. 2 producer of coffee in the world. Many coffee farms in Vietnam and Brazil are clear-cutting the forest and growing coffee without shade. When compared to shade-grown, coffee grown without the protection of shade generally requires increased use of pesticides.
In addition to looking for organic beans, if you are concerned about environmental impact in addition to your own health consider looking for these labels “certified by Rainforest Alliance,” or, even better, “certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.”
“Fair trade” is also a beneficial certification to help ensure the farmers will get fair prices for their beans, but that certification as well as the organic label alone do not specifically assure shade cover.
Do Pesticides Dissipate During Roasting?
While the coffee roasting process has been shown in some studies to burn off 85 percent of the residual pesticides, as consumers we don't have the ability to test this ourselves and therefore must depend on the honesty of the scientists publishing these papers.
When even Fox News has reported on Monsanto's employee emails revealing efforts to "marshal scientists in defense of its product and combat research at odds with its own," it may not be in consumers' best interest to blindly trust reports and studies concluding safety or minimizing the health risks with regard to pesticide exposure in products we consume every day.
Another important point to consider is the damage these chemicals are doing to the environment and communities where they are sprayed. There, the data is abundantly clear. The effects on groundwater, nearby crops and people’s health is devastating and well-documented.
A 2014 University of Davis MIND Institute study found that pregnant women who lived within a mile of fields and farms where chemical pesticides were applied experienced a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delay. Additionally, an estimated 16.9 million IQ points are lost among U.S. citizens annually as a direct result of pesticide exposure.
As Ruskey of Good Land Organics in Southern California pointed out, pesticide use also threatens farmers, farm-workers and other rural residents with exposures to toxic substances in the workplace or in water supplies.
Hawaiian coffee farmer Christine Sheppard and 800 other cancer patients are currently suing Monsanto for their exposure to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used Roundup weed killer which was determined to be "probably carcinogenic to humans," according to researchers at the World Health Organization. In a May 2017 CNN interview, Sheppard, who is now suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, said she sprayed her coffee farm with Roundup for 5 years.
Almost a pound of Roundup is used on every acre of cropland in the U.S., according to a July 2017 Bloomberg article.
Monsanto's recently released employee emails show that the company made efforts to push scientists in defense of its product and combat research in opposition with its own.
Ruskey told LIVESTRONG in an August 2017 interview that he keeps the windows to his home shut when other farms in the Santa Barbara area are spraying pesticides on their crops using planes in order to protect his family from exposure.
Which Brands Are Making USDA-Certified Organic Coffee?
Groundwork (Organic coffee based in Los Angeles, California in business since 1990.)
Chameleon Cold Brew (Smooth, less acidic organic cold-brew coffee, roasted in Austin, Texas.)
Good Land Organics (Organic coffee, grown in Southern California!)
Jim's Organic Coffee (Organic shade-grown coffee.)
Freshly-Roasted Beans May Not Be Healthiest
Some may argue that it's not worth buying organic beans when diactyl (which has been connected to causing lung disease among coffee roasters) is released in the roasting process among all coffee beans, however diactyl dissipates and off-gasses as the roasted beans sit. This is a reason to buy beans that have had a few weeks to sit in storage so that the diactyl can dissipate.
Diactyl is largely a health concern for coffee roasters and not consumers and coffee drinkers. That said, you may want to consider avoiding freshly roasted beans and avoid inhaling that fresh coffee aroma directly from the bag or container of beans.
Yes, we know that last part might be tough… because fresh roasted coffee smells so enticing!
And, if you're wondering why more people aren't talking about the health concerns with pesticides in the foods we eat most often, start a conversation yourself and share this article on Facebook, Twitter or via email with a friend.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you a coffee drinker? Do you buy organic coffee? Why aren't more people talking about the health concerns with pesticides in the foods we eat most often? Is fair-trade or environmentally-certified coffee important to you? Why or why not? Leave a comment below and let us know.
The free LIVESTRONG MyPlate calorie tracker app for iPhone and Android has helped millions of people lose weight the healthy way -- by getting support from an active community as they track their eating and exercise. Consistently a top-rated app, MyPlate offers the latest technology in an easy-to-use tool that includes millions of foods, 5-minute in-app workouts, and a robust support community.
LIVESTRONG's MyPlate app has a database with over two million foods, enabling us to understand our users’ eating behavior and provide them with actionable tips and takeways that will help them be more conscious and in control of their health. All the while, we also educate our readers about the impact and the hidden risk of dangerous ingredients in processed foods and pesticides in non-organic versions of their most commonly consumed staple crops such as coffee, apples, corn and grapes. Our aim is to help and inspire people worldwide to live happier, healthier, fitter and longer.
JESS BARRON is VP & GM for LIVESTRONG.COM, a leading healthy lifestyle website with over 29 million unique monthly viewers. Jess's passion is inspiring people to live healthier and better. In addition to LIVESTRONG, her writing has appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune and MyDomaine. She has appeared on MSNBC, ABC News and XM Satellite Radio. Jess has been a keynote speaker on health topics at Health Further and a panelist at Create & Cultivate and Digital Hollywood. Follow Jess on Instagram at @jessbeegood and Twitter too!