A new study has made headlines by revealing that coffee can send your blood cholesterol levels spiking skywards – and the impact is particularly bad when the coffee is brewed in a cafetiere. So should you toss out your French press and switch to filter or instant coffee, both of which were found to make less difference to cholesterol?
The latest research from the Tromso Heart Study, a project by the Arctic University of Norway, began in 1974 with the aim of tackling the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease in Norway. The study concluded that drinking large amounts of boiled coffee – similar to a cafetiere, except it is prepared by pouring the ground coffee into boiled water rather than the other way round – could elevate cholesterol. While boiling coffee was the method of choice, many Norwegians panicked in response to this news, and switched to filter coffee.
Now the scientists are turning their attention to the cafetiere and the espresso machine. The theory is the same, that the process of immersing ground coffee in boiling water can leach high concentrations of chemicals called terpenoids into the drink.
Two particular terpenoids – kahweol and cafestol – have been known for years to be capable of substantially increasing LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, even more than the best known culprit, saturated fat.
Cafestol, which is only found in coffee beans, is believed to affect the body’s ability to metabolise and regulate LDL cholesterol, with some scientists dubbing it “the most potent cholesterol-elevating compound identified in the human diet”. LDL cholesterol is known as the “bad cholesterol” as high levels have been found to raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.
“It is known that some compounds in coffee, such as cafestol, can increase blood cholesterol,” says Tracy Parker, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation. “Unfiltered coffee such as French press, Turkish, or Scandinavian boiled coffee are linked to high levels of cafestol, while negligible levels are found in drip-filtered, instant and percolator coffee.”
Coffee aficionados have suggested hacks such as getting rid of cafestol by running cafetiere coffee through a paper filter, or using espresso pods that contain lower quantities of the chemical.
However, a lot of the risk posed depends on how much you are drinking. Research suggests that you can only consume enough cafestol to have a serious impact on your cholesterol if you are drinking excessive amounts.
One study found that drinking coffee made in a cafetiere could raise your blood cholesterol levels by between 5 and 8 per cent, but this was based on people who were drinking five cups of coffee every day, for four weeks. The Tromso Heart Study’s findings were most significant for people who consumed six cups of espresso or cafetiere coffee per day.
“It does not matter what type of coffee you drink if you only have one or two cups a day, but it is important if you drink more,” says Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics, King’s College London.
Scientists also point out that those who drink any form of coffee excessively may have a more stressful or sedentary lifestyle or eat unhealthily, which could all be having a greater impact on their cholesterol than the coffee itself.
For people who are concerned about their coffee habits, Duane Mellor, a dietitian and researcher at Aston Medical School, suggests it is more worthwhile to reduce the ingredients we add to coffee, which are high in sugar or fat.
“Overall, moderate intake of coffee – up to about three cups per day, with a cup being 150-200ml – seems not to be linked to increased risks,” says Mellor. “It’s often what else goes in our coffee, such as sugar, flavoured syrups and cream which can have a greater impact on our health.”
The Daily Telegraph