The Coffee and Cholesterol Connection

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Whether coffee is a vice that should be eliminated – or at least reduced – has been hotly debated for years. On the good news front, a recent Harvard study on coffee and health found that, “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.” It’s not all rosy news for those with high cholesterol, however, as Harvard’s Dr. Rob van Dam goes on to caution, “It’s best to brew coffee with a paper filter, to remove a substance that causes increases in LDL cholesterol.”

The Good News

Those who love their joe will be happy to hear that coffee drinking is no longer considered an unhealthy habit. In fact, Dr. van Dam recaps, “we don’t see any negative effects of consuming up to six cups of coffee a day. Keep in mind that our study and in most studies of coffee, a “cup” of coffee is an 8-ounce cup with 100 mg of caffeine, not the 16 ounces you would get in a grande coffee at a Starbucks, which has about 330 mg of caffeine.”

In fact, Dr. van Dam goes on to suggest coffee may have some beneficial health effects, “Research over the past few years suggests that coffee consumption may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, and liver cirrhosis. And our latest study on coffee and mortality found that people who regularly drank coffee actually had a somewhat lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who rarely drank coffee…”

The Bad News

For people dealing with high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol – and pregnant women – these positive findings are not license to drink massive amounts of coffee. In fact, it’s likely a doctor would recommend decaffeinated coffee for people coping with these health issues.

For those with cholesterol, specifically, just choosing decaffeinated coffee is NOT the answer. The reason is that the coffee connection issue for those with high cholesterol has to do with how the coffee is made, not whether it’s caffeinated or decaffeinated.

The importance of how the coffee is brewed for high cholesterol sufferers was well explained by Dr. van Dam, “Coffee contains a substance called cafestol that is a potent stimulator of LDL cholesterol levels. Cafestol is 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.”


Coffee has recently been shown to offer some potentially positive health benefits – and does not lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, for those with high cholesterol, drinking filtered coffee – caffeinated or decaffeinated – is important to avoid increases in LDL (bad) cholesterol. Limiting espresso drinks is probably also a good idea for high cholesterol sufferers.

Did you know?

Petite paper filters live inside single cup coffee pods (like Keurig K-cups), making single-serve coffee pods a safe choice for cholesterol-sufferers looking for their jolt of joe. According to a CBS Health report, “Doctors say using a drip filter or single-serving coffee pod removes the coffee chemicals or, at the least, reduces the amount you drink.”


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