How to cut your cancer risk and save money at the same time

Bad news for your caffeine habit: coffee can cause cancer.

Brewed coffee has high levels of acrylamide, a chemical shown in some studies to cause cancer — and now coffee chains in California must warn their customers, a Los Angeles judge ruled on Friday.

“Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading,” the National Coffee Association, which is considering an appeal of the decision,said in a statement. “The U.S. government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT). Starbucks Corp SBUX, -0.02% previously tried to fight the allegations in court but failed to show its brewed coffee had safe levels of acrylamide. Studies on whether acrylamide causes cancer have been inconclusive in the past, according to the American Cancer Society.

Next, the judge will decide what penalties will be levied against companies that don’t warn of cancer risks. CERT has requested fines as large as $2,500 per person exposed to chemicals. Starbucks has 2,800 locations in California, and the average Starbucks store serves more than 500 customers a day.

Coffee isn’t the only form of refreshment seeing its health effects put on trial. Going out to eat at restaurants in general increases the amount of health-harming chemicals called phthalates in the body, a study released Wednesday found. People who eat more restaurant and fast food had phthalate levels that were 35% higher than people who prepared and ate their own store-bought food, the report, published by the Milken School of Public Health at George Washington University found.

This is the first study to investigate this previously under-recognized source of exposure to such harmful chemicals, said Ami Zota, an author on the study. Phthalates are a chemical used as a binding agent and to make plastics more flexible, and can be found in everything from household cleaners to cosmetics and food containers. The chemicals can disrupt hormones and have been connected to fertility problems, childhood obesity, and cancer.

“Preparing food at home may represent a win-win for consumers,” adds Zota. “Home cooked meals can be a good way to reduce sugar, unhealthy fats and salt. And this study suggests it may not have as many harmful phthalates as a restaurant meal.”

It’s also much easier on the wallet to eat at home. Americans spend an average of $53 a week (or $2,746 per year) on lunch, and more in expensive cities like New York. Millennials in particular are more likely to splurge on meals out: 54% of people ages 18 to 26 eat out more than three times a week and 30% say they buy coffee three times a week or more. Brewing coffee at home can save hundreds of dollars a year. Or you could cut the habit completely to save your health and your wallet.

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