Coffee And Cholesterol
As anyone who regularly begins their day with a “cup of Joe” knows, not all coffees are created equally. Now it appears that not every method of brewing it is the same, either, especially when it comes to our health. In fact, it’s been found that certain brewing methods, particularly when it employs a paper filter, are healthier than others.
This is because when coffee is prepared by using a drip coffee maker, the paper filter actually removes some of the oils that end up in the brew. This includes a chemical called cafestol, which has been implicated in elevating the cholesterol levels in our blood. In fact, cafestol is considered to be one of the most potent cholesterol elevating agents in our diets, and it is found in the highest levels in coffees that are boiled, particularly those made with a French Press.
While the most common method to make coffee in this country is to drip brew it, whereby hot water is filtered through the ground beans that are nestled in a paper filter, the rise in popularity of a more flavorful or exotic experience has seen an increase in other methods.
The French Press uses coarsely ground beans that are allowed to seep in boiling water before they are separated out, leaving a brew that is rich in taste because it retains many of the bean’s oils. Espresso makers force hot water under high pressure (steam) through ground beans, resulting in a stronger and more concentrated form of coffee. Percolators force steam up through the beans, where it, too, brings out a richer flavor.
None of these methods uses a paper filter, and as consequence, may not reduce cafestol levels as effectively as the drip method. Indeed, one paper in the New England Journal of Medicine found that over a nine week period, when people drank an average of five cups per day of coffee prepared with a French Press, their serum cholesterol levels increased by as much as 10%.
Cafestol has this effect because it acts on certain signaling genes in our intestines that are responsible for alerting the liver to regulate serum cholesterol. Consequently, the cafestol in boiled coffee can lead to an increase in low density lipoproteins, or LDLs, and triglycerides, i.e., the bad stuff. High density lipoproteins, the kind you want, seem to be unaffected.
It can all be a bit overwhelming, especially in light of the fact that no drink seems to have such a wealth of contradictory information surrounding it, along with its commensurate share of supporter and detractors. For now, coffee lovers can take heart in the fact that the research thus far seems to support its positive health benefits.
These include the presence of antioxidants, which are believed to help prevent certain cancers by removing free radicals from our bodies. It has also been suggested that coffee may help lessen the risk of heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, the caffeine in coffee not only helps keep millions of people alert while improving their mental and physical performance, but it has been suggested that it improves our moods and may reduce our risk of developing dementia later in life.
One final thing to consider is which sort of filter to use. The choice of bleached or unbleached filters seems to boil down to aesthetics and does not seem to affect the flavor of the coffee. Keep in mind, however, that the more you process the paper, the more impact it has on the environment, not to mention the cost. It has also been suggested that while the bleach is rinsed out of the filters, residual dioxins (a by-product of the processing) remain and as a consequence, may end up in your coffee. Dioxins are considered a toxic organic pollutant by the World Health Organization.
Sure, it’s a lot of information to swallow, but for now, coffee lovers can enjoy their morning routine with a guilt-free conscience, though you may want to consider choosing drip brewed over the boiled methods if cholesterol is a concern. With this in mind, switching to low fat or skim milk might be a good idea, and as unfair as it may seem, forsaking that Danish for some raisin bran might be in order.