The Truth About Coffee and Cholesterol

Coffee has been under much scrutiny in the past when it comes to our health. Here’s a look at the link between coffee and cholesterol, how different types affect high cholesterol, and how much you should be drinking.

We all know that diet and cholesterol are inextricably linked. Cholesterol is produced by the liver, and we naturally produce all that our body needs. High cholesterol is closely attributed to what we consume, so it’s no wonder there has been much debate and study into the effects of food and beverages on cholesterol levels.

Coffee has been under much scrutiny in the past. And research into its effect on cholesterol levels has been mixed. Many assume that because coffee is a plant-based product it cannot impact blood cholesterol levels (animals products like red meat and dairy are some of the biggest contributors to high cholesterol in our diet). But there is much more to it than this.

Let’s take a look at the truth about coffee and cholesterol.

What Is Cholesterol?

It’s always helpful to start with what cholesterol actually is because many misunderstand it. You can read more in-depth about the subject here, but here’s a rundown.

Cholesterol is an insoluble waxy substance found in the human body. It is involved in many vital metabolic processes, and is crucial to our survival. It travels through bloodstream in ‘packages’ called lipoproteins along with other types of fat and proteins.

There are two main kinds of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol through your body: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

LDL is what is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. Its function is to transport cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body, and excess levels can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries called plaque, which can result in a number of health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

HDL is known as ‘good’ cholesterol. It collects excess cholesterol and transports to the liver to be broken down and eliminated. This means the higher the HDL in your body, the better.

What Is The Link Between Coffee and Cholesterol?

As we mentioned, many animal products, such as red meat, cheese and milk, contain cholesterol and saturated fat (which contributes to high cholesterol), and doctors recommend limiting these in your diet as much as possible. Plant foods, however, do not. And coffee beans, of course, comes from plants.

So what’s the link between coffee and cholesterol?

Studies have shown that they are, in fact, related. And while coffee itself doesn’t actually contain cholesterol, it does affect how our body processes it. A paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology analysed a number of past trials on the subject and found that coffee drinking was associated with increased serum cholesterol levels in some, but not all, studies.

Some found that the oils found in coffee, such as cafestol and kahweol, are associated with increases in the levels of both total cholesterol and bad cholesterol (LDL) in the bloodstream. They observed that the more coffee consumed, the higher the increases in cholesterol.

One study, observed that the cafestol “present in unfiltered coffee…is the most potent cholesterol-elevating compound known in the human diet.”

In you’re a coffee drinker, you might be second-thinking your next cup right about now. But there’s more to it than that.

coffee and cholesterol

How Do Different Types of Coffee Affect Cholesterol?

This conclusion was very specific in noting that it is unfiltered coffee brews that are associated with increased levels of cholesterol. These include Turkish coffees, Scandinavian drip brews, and French press coffee. Decaffeinated coffees were also shown to increase cholesterol levels.

The brewing techniques use to make these coffees, which rely on prolonged contact between the water and the grain, yield a higher concentration of coffee oils. On the other hand, filtered coffee, such as those made with an American style-pot (where the coffee passes through a paper filter) were found to have little effect on cholesterol levels, as the water has minimal contact with the grains.

So Should You Be Drinking Coffee?

If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, or if you have high cholesterol, you may want to discuss drinking coffee with your doctor. Studies indicate that consuming five cups of French press coffee a day for four weeks raises cholesterol in the blood 6 to 8 percent.

However, that is a lot of coffee! If you are healthy, consume a low-cholesterol diet, get plenty of exercise, and have good cholesterol readings, it is likely that drinking a cup of coffee a day will not be a cause for concern. However, you should consider switching to filtered coffee, as this is a much better option when it comes to your cholesterol.

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