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

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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 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.”


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?


8 thoughts on “Coffee – The good, the bad and the cholesterol-ugly

  1. For those who questioned the Kcup filter:
    From Keurig’s website FAQs:
    “Keurig’s patented portion pack, the K-Cup, yields a superior cup of fresh coffee and tea to competitive “pods”. The K-Cup contains a paper filter that includes the exact amount and grind of fresh roasted coffee (or tea) and is sealed for ultimate freshness. ”

    For those who like to verify info sources, the answer is under “Why is Keurig’s brewer better?”:

  2. Hi, read your article in happenstance and was surprised that the coffee has that property. I have very high cholesterol and on a medication to control it but I mindlessly drink a Venti size Flat White from Starbucks that is made with whole milk every morning . I wonder how much cholesterol I have been ingesting every day. Thank you for opening up my mind.

  3. It was not a study by the Harvard School of Health. It was a review by a commercial publication operated at the school. It did no original research, instead it put put a spin on other reports.

    Cafestol is not just in “boiled” coffee, it is in espresso, and all the comments about espresso claiming it is “probably” harmless are purely anecdotal. In fact espresso contains higher levels of oils that are forced out of the beans.

    The science is that the cafestol does not contain cholesterol, instead it prevents your body from breaking it down naturally and it will build up to harmful levels in bloodstream. This will happen regardless of your weight.

    The issue of potential health benefits of cafestol and kawheol are irrelevant. They are speculative anyway, and a study would be unlikely to be approved by any ethics committee, given the known hazards of cafestol and kawheol.

    All forms of coffee including instant and decaffeinated coffee contain cafestol and kawheol.

    Research suggests that kawheol and cafestol are removed by binding to the filter paper for filtered paper coffee. Any coffee that has not received this treatment contains the harmful terpenes. The effectiveness of paper filtration has not been studied for methods apart from drip filtration, but the inference that paper removes it is reasonable.

  4. In order to reduce the landfill problem with K cups, I use a refillable brewing pod. Now I am concerned about the lack of a paper filter to eliminate kawheol and cafestol. Has anyone seen research done on refillable brewing pods and elimination of kawheol and cafestol?

  5. To Nancy: you can buy kcup paper filters on Amazon. Side-line benefit, they also make cleaning the pod much easier!

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