Coffee – The good, the bad and the cholesterol-ugly

Back in December 2011 I wrote a post, ‘Cholesterol-y Coffee,’ about the sad, sad fact that drinking unfiltered coffee has been shown to raise cholesterol. Specifically LDL (bad) cholesterol. As there have been recent updates on this topic (see my The Cholesterol-Coffee Connection article on Answers.com) I thought it was a good time for a Going Lo-Co coffee-cholesterol update.

First, some good news. A 2008 study published by the Harvard School of Public Health stated, “Drinking up to six cups a day of coffee is not associated with increased risk of death from any cause, or death from cancer or cardiovascular disease.”

Yay.

And it gets better: Catherine Pearson recently reported on The Huffington Post, “Researchers from Harvard University found that women who consumed two to three cups of caffeinated joe per day had a 15 percent lower risk of depression than non-coffee drinkers, while those who drank four-plus cups daily had a 20 percent lower risk.”

Indeed, there’s a surprisingly long list of potential health benefits from a daily dose of coffee. In the January 2012 Harvard Health Letter, the article “What Is It About Coffee” lists seven – count ’em 7 — diseases that regular coffee drinking helps minimize. It also has a cool chart of how much caffeine is in tea vs Starbucks drinks (a perennial argument in my house). I highly recommend checking out this online Harvard Health article, it is well written and very informative.

All that said… there is STILL a problem for high cholesterol sufferers who drink unfiltered coffee. As Harvard’s Dr. van Dam explains, unfiltered coffee raises cholesterol:

“Coffee contains a substance called cafestol that is a potent stimulator of LDL cholesterol levels. Cafestolis found in the oily fraction of coffee, and when you brew coffee with a paper filter, the cafestol gets left behind in the filter. Other methods of coffee preparation, such as the boiled coffee common in Scandinavian countries, French press coffee, or Turkish coffee, are much higher in cafestol. So for people who have high cholesterol levels or who want to prevent having high cholesterol levels, it is better to choose paper filtered coffee or instant coffee, since they have much lower levels of cafestol than boiled or French press coffee.Espresso is somewhere in the middle; it has less cafestol than boiled or French press coffee, but more than paper filtered coffee.”

ChemexSo if you have high cholesterol and love your jolt of joe, make sure you’re drinking filtered coffee — either a classic American coffee pot with a filter or a single-serve Keurig machine or other single-serving coffee pod (the tiny pods have tiny filters inside -see my prior post for a photo!).  Or you could try the gorgeous Chemex pot my friend Jill recommended.  But you should toss the French press… and, sadly, minimize espresso drinks.

As for me, I think I need to switch to caffeinated coffee; that caffeine can help lower depression risk in women is startling, welcome news indeed.

Oh, and one more thing. I think I need to acquire this gorgeous Chemex coffee pot even though I love my Keurig machine.

Because you can’t have too many kitchen gadgets, right?

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Healthier Homemade Peppermint Mocha

I am addicted to Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. But it’s expensive at $4.35 a cup.  And even ordering it lo-co style – skim milk and no whipped cream – it still packs 290 calories and an astonishing 52g of sugar.

While that’s sad, it could be far worse.  Order the full-fat with whipped cream version and you’ll be drinking a scary 440 calories with 55mg of cholesterol and 54g of sugar.

Thank goodness I prefer skim milk – and my barista is kind enough to respond to my ‘skim milk’ request with, “so you want no whipped cream, right?”  To which I can nod – which is far easier than speaking that particular request out loud.

Oh, who am I kidding – I order this so often they don’t even ask – they make it as I get to the register.

But I digress.  So I’ll move on to something really handy. To calculate the impact of that whole milk or whipped cream, check out the Starbucks site. There, you can figure out the calorie, fat and cholesterol in your particular Starbucks vice. Go there only when feeling brave.

There is some good news, though, for all you peppermint mocha fans.  Ordering it with skim milk and no whipped cream, this drink is under 5mg of cholesterol – so at least it’s a decent lo-co treat.

Though all that sugar is distressing…and probably is raising my triglycerides.  Starbucks does offer a ‘skinny’ version – made with sugar substitute. Unfortunately, I despise sugar substitutes.

Thus began my quest to create an at-home recipe to deliver that delicious chocolate-mint coffee punch with less sugar. Plus, finding a way to make this at home preserves my right to this wintry treat once my beloved skim-milk, no whipped decaf peppermint mocha goes off-menu. (Why Starbucks deems this a ‘holiday’ drink is beyond me – it would be delicious all winter.) Oh, and making it at home saves money, too.

So I began experimenting. I tried mint tea (awful) and mint cocoa (flavor was too thin.) Then I found some Andes Thin Mints and that was good, but didn’t dissolve well.

A few more tinkers and I had it – a homemade Peppermint Mocha you can whip up in seconds, that costs mere pennies, and has FAR less sugar – and even fewer calories – than the Starbucks version.

Indeed, mine is so good my son keeps asking why I’ve not blogged about it yet…right after he asks me to make him one.

I make mine in my Keurig one-cup machine (which happily will not raise your cholesterol, as I wrote about in this blog post).  If you don’t have a Keurig, I’m sure it’d work to simply stir these ingredients into a cup of hot coffee.

Karen’s Keurig Lo-Co Peppermint Mocha

  1.  In a large mug, fill bottom with Andes Creme De Menthe Baking Chips. (You can use Andes thin mints but they don’t melt into the coffee as well). I use about 2 TB. The mints you can buy most anywhere, but the chips I found only at WalMart, my local food store did not stock them. So of course, I bought 5 bags on my last foray to WalMart. You can also find the Andes Baking Chips online.
  2. Add 1 heaping TB of Ovaltine Chocolate Malt. You could probably use hot chocolate mix, but I like that Ovaltine has a malt taste (if you don’t, they have other flavors) and also lists lots of vitamins on its nutritional label.  Am sure those vitamins are immaterial, but…hey, added vitamins is a bonus in my book.
  3. Make a cup of decaf or regular coffee right into the mug and STIR.  Stir a lot to make sure all those lovely chocolate mint bits & Ovaltine are fully dissolved.
  4. Add Silk Soy Creamer – as much as you like to get the coffee the color/lighness you like.  I add A LOT – like 4TB – as I like my coffee light. If you are making this for folks who don’t need lo-co, feel free to use half-half instead – that’s how I make it for my son. And if you haven’t discovered Silk Creamer – check out this post for a great way to reduce cholesterol without sacrificing flavor in your morning cup of joe.

The result? Delicious AND decidedly less sugar!

Using the nutritional values listed on all the ingredients, I calculate my version delivers fewer calories (mine’s about 220 vs Starbucks at 290), which is great. BUT the key – the real winner – is that my version only has bout 20g of sugar, instead of 52!

Less than HALF the sugar, about $0.50 per cup – and I can make one of these treats anytime I want?

I’d call that a minty, delicious lo-co success.

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Cholesterol-y Coffee?

Coffee raises cholesterol?

This was the surprising and disturbing fact I recently learned in an email from my friend Lisa. If true, it means that in addition to changing the way I eat and exercise, and my doctor’s latest advice to reduce my daily wine intake (so not gonna’ happen), I should stop drinking coffee, too.

Cut out wine AND coffee?  Both?

No!

NoNoNoNoNo!

Once my toddler tantrum subsided, I took to the web to do some research. The bad news: there is a coffee-cholesterol connection. The good news: it’s French Press and other unfiltered coffee that increases cholesterol. That’s good for me, but bad for Lisa – she needs to cut back her coffee consumption because she drinks French Press coffee. But I’m a regular joe junkie, so am not boosting my already-high cholesterol with my morning fix.  Whew.

Why do some kinds of coffee increase cholesterol? And by how much? According to the Berkeley Wellness Alert’s The Coffee-Cholesterol Connection:

“Daily consumption of 10 milligrams of cafestol—the amount in about four 5-ounce cups of French-press coffee—has been shown to raise cholesterol by 8% to 10% in four weeks, mostly due to increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Some people are affected more than others, and the effects may be greater in those who have higher cholesterol to begin with.”

For those with high cholesterol, French Press coffee is not a good plan. But for those like me who drink ‘regular’ coffee, the issue is moot since, “American-style ‘drip’ coffee has virtually none (of the cholesterol-raising compounds) because the paper filters trap the compounds. Percolated and instant coffees also have negligible amounts.”

So my 2-cups-a-day-of-Keurig-brewed-decaf habit is A-OK. I am still supposed to cut down on wine (again, not gonna’ happen), but I am thrilled to report my coffee habit is safe.

Smugly savoring my hazelnut decaf the next morning, it hit me that I wasn’t exactly sure if coffee brewed in a Keurig machine was, in fact, filtered coffee. I mean, you can’t see a filter. And what if it’s just filtered via the plastic K-cup? Would the plastic filter out the bad stuff?

Panic building, I again hopped online but found nothing. Nowhere could I find an answer to whether K-cups have filters that would trap the cholesterol-raising compounds in coffee. So I resorted to taking apart a K-cup. And look what I found – a brown paper filter inside! See? Isn’t that the cutest little baby paper filter you have ever seen?

OK, roll your eyes at my waxing rhapsodic about the internal guts of a K-cup. But come on, you have to admit it’s cool that there’s a tiny brown paper filter in every K-cup.

And it saves my coffee addiction. For which I’m exceedingly grateful.

But if you drink French Press or Turkish (whatever that is) or some other type of unfiltered coffee, it might be time for a new coffee machine.

Just in time for the holidays.

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The Hurricane Irene Shopping Spree

With Hurricane Irene a’stormin up the east coast, I joined the thousands flocking to the stores this morning to stock up on food.

Actually, I must admit the embarrassing truth: my panic-buying began last night. What set me off was the scary idea of no phone for multiple days (we have cable-phone so if we lose power, we have no landline). So I went battery crazy. The first thing I nabbed was a set of 3 iPhone battery chargers. I had planned to buy one months ago but never got around to it. Of course now instead of just one, I bought 3 so we can charge for days. And paid a small fortune for 1-day delivery.

Then I really lost it, and placed a 2nd Amazon order for a LOT of batteries and 2 lanterns (the thought of WalMart today was overwhelming). I am usually a value shopper so the 1 day shipping fees just slayed me, but I pushed the amazon button anyway.

Go ahead and laugh at me – I realize I’m ridiculous.

Though I’ll have lanterns and flashlights galore. And a working iPhone. So there.

Gloating over, let’s get back to how to cook Lo-Co meals sans electricity.

To create a plan, the first step was to consider the heat source. I am fortunate as we have both an outdoor gas grill and a gas-fueled cooktop. Though if the forecasted 100 mile per hour winds whisk away our grill (my husband’s plan is to bungee it to the deck…we’ll see how that goes), then I’ll just have the gas cooktop.

I fear I’ll be right, but planned a menu assuming my husband’s bungee plan will work. With that in mind, here’s my Hurricane Irene / No Electricity Lo Co menu plan.

  • Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin served with No-Sugar-Added-Applesauce, leftover quinoa and broccoli/string beans (steamed on the cooktop rather than microwaved). The beauty part of pork tenderloin is it can either be cooked in the oven if we have power OR on the grill. I’ve not included a recipe as I just follow the prepared pork tenderloin cooking instructions on the wrapper.
  • Hot & Sour Chinese Eggplant – cooked stovetop on a wok, served over rice.  This recipe is easy and flexible – you can add/remove spice. (Though you have to soak the eggplant for 1/2 hour which I forgot the first time I made it.) View it online at allrecipes.com or for my suggestions along with useful reviews / idea from others, download: Hot and Sour Chinese Eggplant With Reviews.
  • Several boxes of pasta and jars of sauce – both traditional and pesto.
  • If we are power-less for more than 3-4 days, I am assuming we can drive somewhere for take-out so I have just these dinners planned!
  • For lunch, I bought soups, black beans (to put on tortillas) and bunches of fruit that can ripen on the counter.
  • Breakfast is either eggs or cereal (milk kept in an ice cooler).  Hmm…need ice.

As I stuffed 5 bags worth of groceries into my pantry/the fridge, I stared at the Silk soy coffee creamer I’d auto-tossed into my cart. Creamer in hand, I wigged at the realization that my Keurig coffee machine doesn’t have a battery.

With no electricity, how will I get my daily coffee fix?

Panic sent my imagination went into overdrive.  My solution?  I plan to tote my Keurig into the garage and plug it into my car.

As soon as I find that DC car charger.

I’m signing off now to go look for it while we still have lights.

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