Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. More than 60%¹ of Americans drink coffee daily. The average coffee drinker enjoys three cups of coffee per day.
Researchers study coffee all the time. Some studies demonstrate that this drink can be good for your health, while others don't.
One of the commonly discussed issues is the connection between coffee and cholesterol. Regular coffee drinkers may face increased cholesterol levels. However, the effect depends on many factors, including the brewing method. Let's take a closer look at the way it works.
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Cholesterol is an integral part of the way your body functions. It is an essential fat that plays a role in building new cells, making vitamins, and producing hormones. However, your body may present undesirable effects when cholesterol levels are high. Two types of cholesterol are:
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) – the so-called "bad" cholesterol encourages plaque buildup on artery walls.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) – the "good" cholesterol helps your body eliminate excess cholesterol.
Your liver produces enough cholesterol to ensure healthy functions of the body. Meanwhile, you receive additional cholesterol from animal foods, such as meat, poultry, and dairy. It can also come from tropical oils.
Excess cholesterol can mix with other substances in your blood and create deposits inside your arteries. This makes them narrower than regular and puts you at risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Coffee contains two natural oils called cafestol and kahweol. They can raise cholesterol levels.
The short answer is yes. Coffee naturally contains cafestol and kahweol.² They are substances that can affect cholesterol levels, suppressing the production of elements that help break down cholesterol. Specifically, they increase the "bad" and total cholesterol levels. However, depending on how you prepare the coffee, it will not be a problem.
Unfiltered coffee is the drink you make without using a filter. One example is pressed coffee, which requires mixing boiled water and coffee beans. Alternatively, you can brew coffee by adding water to ground beans and heating them over an open flame.
In both cases, cafestol and kahweol stay in the drink and contribute to the increase in cholesterol levels. While these oils can make the coffee taste better, they may not be healthy.
A recent Norwegian study³ showed that adults who drank coffee had higher cholesterol levels than non-drinkers. Those who drank unfiltered coffee demonstrated greater increases in cholesterol than those who drank filtered beverages.
Many substances are eliminated when you make coffee using filters. This is what usually happens when you order coffee in cafes and restaurants. All modern automatic coffee makers have filters.
Accordingly, if you don't make a specific effort to brew the coffee by mixing water and beans, the beverage won't cause a significant increase in your cholesterol levels.
While decaffeinated coffee contains less caffeine, it can contribute to an increase in cholesterol levels.
A 2005 study⁴ by the American Heart Association demonstrated that people who drank unfiltered decaf coffee had higher cholesterol levels than those who preferred regular unfiltered coffee.
Why does it happen? The decaffeination process removes ingredients that give coffee its flavor. To maintain it, manufacturers use beans that are richer in oils than regular coffee beans. As a result, decaf can contribute to higher cholesterol levels than regular coffee.
The risk of higher cholesterol levels doesn't just depend on the way you make your coffee. It depends mainly on how much coffee you drink. According to a Harvard professor of epidemiology and nutrition,⁵ Dr. Eric Rimm, five to eight cups of unfiltered brew daily would be necessary to raise LDL levels.
If you drink less than five cups, your levels may not increase significantly. However, it's better to stick to filtered coffee if you already have high cholesterol or may be at risk of facing it.
Besides the risk of increasing cholesterol levels, drinking coffee can come with several other downsides:
Anxiety, nervousness, and even panic attacks
Addiction (coffee can be addictive, and missing a few days could cause withdrawal symptoms)
The adverse effects of coffee can differ from person to person and depend on the number of cups you drink. Many people only experience the advantages of enjoying this beverage. They are:
Decreased chance of depression
Decreased risk of developing liver disease
Substantially lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
It's crucial not to exceed the recommended daily amount to enjoy the positive effects of coffee. Even unfiltered coffee can promote health benefits since cafestol and kahweol are thought to have pharmacological properties.
The FDA⁶ recommends drinking no more than 400mg of coffee per day. That's about four or five cups. However, the safe amount may vary from person to person. It depends on how fast your body breaks the beverage down.
Coffee can negatively affect your cholesterol levels. It contains natural oils, cafestol, and kahweol, which prevent your body from breaking down excess cholesterol.
To reduce the risk of these oils ending up in your cup, consider choosing filtered coffee. The bad elements usually stay in the filter when you use a coffee machine. Unfiltered decaf coffee usually has more cafestol and kahweol than unfiltered regular coffee.
Avoid unfiltered decaf and regular coffee if your cholesterol levels are above the normal range. Speak to your doctor about decreasing cholesterol levels.
Unfiltered coffee can increase bad cholesterol levels. Drinking filtered coffee is safer for cholesterol levels than consuming unfiltered coffee.
Coffee contains natural oils called cafestol and kahweol, which prevent your body from breaking down excess cholesterol. This can raise cholesterol levels, so drinking unfiltered coffee reduces the number of natural oils in your cup.
While there isn't a way to reduce cholesterol quickly, it's possible to decrease the levels within a few weeks. To do that, you need to focus on adjusting your diet, losing weight, exercising regularly, and consuming soluble fiber and whey protein.
NCA releases atlas of American coffee | National Coffee Association USA
Will coffee raise your cholesterol? | Circle Health
Drinking decaffeinated coffee may be harmful to heart health | Science Daily
Pressed coffee is going mainstream — but should you drink it? | Harvard Health Publishing
Spilling the beans: How much caffeine is too much? | U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Neuropsychiatric effects of caffeine | Cambridge University Press