Even though it doesn’t give you the same energizing buzz as a traditional cup o’ Joe, decaf coffee is still a beloved treat that so many people enjoy during all hours of the day. However, the process that some of your favorite brands use to decaffeinate their coffee products might mean you’re ingesting a few very toxic ingredients as a result.
The Clean Label Project, a food safety advocacy group, recently released a new white paper looking at what ingredients are found in popular decaf coffee brands. They looked into 20 of the best-selling decaf coffee products on the market and discovered that a whopping 40 percent of them contain harmful chemicals like ethyl acetate and methylene chloride, which are both used in paint strippers and thinners. Brands found to have trace amounts include Kirkland Signature, Maxwell House, Peet’s Coffee, AmazonFresh, Great Value, and more. (You can go to the last page of the report to see a full list.)
Research has found that these chemicals can cause a number of health problems, including kidney dysfunction and different cancers. Even ingesting them in small but significant doses can lead to dizziness, numbness, drowsiness, and tingling limbs.
But how do these toxins even end up anywhere near your decaf coffee to begin with? This has to do with the process that brands use to decaffeinate coffee beans. To get rid of it, companies must use something called a heated solvent to draw out the caffeine from the beans and make their products as caffeine-free as possible. Items like ethyl acetate and methylene chloride have been go-to solvents over the last 40 years because they’re not only effective at decaffeination but also don’t dilute the strong taste of the coffee, which is a big concern for brands.
So, does this mean you need to give up your decaf coffee habit entirely? Not necessarily! Just because your favorite product may content trace elements of these chemicals doesn’t mean you’re in immediate danger. That said, the team at the Clean Label Project recommends that the next time you’re shopping for a decaf option, look for wording on packaging like “non-solvent,” “chemical-free,” “certified organic,” and “Swiss water,” all of which point to decaffeination processes that don’t involve these harsh solvents. The organization also encourages shoppers do a little research into the companies they consume to see if they can learn more about their specific processes, since often they aren’t advertised. It never hurts to be armed with a little more knowledge!