People who rely on coffee to lift their spirits may also see their cholesterol levels rise, especially if they sip an unfiltered variety, according to a new study.
Researchers found that among more than 21,000 Norwegian adults, those who indulged in several cups of coffee a day generally had slightly higher cholesterol levels than non-drinkers. The extent of the difference, however, depended on the brewing method.
People who drank the “least filtered” types of coffee – made with a French press, for example – showed the greatest effects on cholesterol: on average, those who drank six or more cups a day had lower cholesterol levels. total cholesterol eight to 12 points higher. , compared to non-drinkers.
Espresso drinkers were next, followed by women who drank filtered coffee (with no effects on cholesterol in their male counterparts).
The results are in line with previous studies suggesting that unfiltered coffee may have a particular effect on cholesterol levels, according to researcher Dr Maja-Lisa Løchen.
Unfiltered brews include coffees that have been boiled or prepared using a French press or “piston”. Espresso also falls into this category, but is relatively more filtered than other varieties, said Løchen, a professor at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.
Brewing methods are important because coffee contains natural oils that can raise blood cholesterol. Researchers have long known that unfiltered coffees, by exposing the grounds to hot water for an extended period of time, contain more of these oils.
In fact, Løchen said, it was the study from Tromsø in Norway that first showed, in the 1980s, that “it’s all in the brewing.”
Back then, she noted, boiled coffee was the unfiltered variety of choice. But now espresso and plunger coffees are all the rage, so Løchen and his colleagues used more recent data from the Tromsø study to examine the relationship between these brews and blood cholesterol.
“Norwegians love coffee,” Løchen said, “and Norway has the second highest coffee consumption in the world.”
The findings, published online May 10 in the journal Open Heart, are based on more than 21,000 adults aged 40 and over who reported their coffee drinking habits, exercise levels and alcohol consumption.
On average, study participants drank four to five cups of coffee a day. Those who indulged in boiled coffee or French press – six or more cups a day – showed the highest elevations in cholesterol, compared to non-drinkers, showed the results.
Next come people who reported drinking three to five cups of espresso per day. Their total cholesterol levels were about 4 to 6 mg/dL higher than people who didn’t drink espresso. Finally, women who drank six or more cups of filtered coffee a day had cholesterol levels 4 mg/dL higher, on average, than women who never drank filtered coffee.
However, a dietitian who was not involved in the study had some reservations.
For one, there was no information about participants’ overall diets, said Connie Diekman, a food and nutrition consultant and former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It’s also unclear if people regularly douse their coffee of choice with sugar and cream, Diekman pointed out.
So, she said, the question remains, was it the coffee, the cream or the food that people consumed with all those cups of coffee?
“Coffee, by itself, is probably a very small player in raising cholesterol,” Diekman said. “So rather than worrying about the impact of coffee on cholesterol, look at your whole diet and establish other healthy lifestyle behaviors.”
Løchen also pointed to the bigger picture, noting that moderate coffee consumption (up to five cups a day) has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and a longer lifespan.
Angel Planells is a Seattle-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. He said filtered or instant coffees might be the best choices for people watching their cholesterol. But again, general diet and lifestyle are key.
If you’re really into that latte or mocha, Planells said, there may be other ways to cut some “bad” fats from your diet, like cutting back on processed meat or fried foods.
That said, some people should be especially mindful of the caffeine in coffee, Planells said, including pregnant women and anyone with potential caffeine side effects, such as trouble sleeping or “nerves.”