WEDNESDAY, May 11, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A new study suggests that people who rely on coffee for their recovery may also see an increase in their cholesterol levels — especially if they drink the unfiltered variety.
Researchers found that among more than 21,000 Norwegian adults, those who indulged in several cups of coffee per day generally had slightly higher cholesterol than those who did not. However, the extent of the difference depends on the method of fermentation.
People who drank the “less filtered” coffees — made with a French press, for example — showed the greatest cholesterol effects: On average, those who drank six or more cups a day had cholesterol levels 8 to 12 points higher, versus who do not drink.
Espresso aficionados came next, followed by women who drank distilled coffee (with no cholesterol traces among their male counterparts).
The findings are consistent with previous studies suggesting that unfiltered coffee may have a special effect on cholesterol levels, according to researcher Dr. Maja Lisa Luchen.
Unfiltered beverages include coffees that are boiled or brewed using a French press or “piston”. Espresso also falls into this category, but it is filtered out relatively more 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 coffee contains more of these oils by exposing it to hot water for a long time.
Indeed, it was the Tromsø study from Norway that first showed, in the 1980s, that “everything is fermenting,” Loeschen said.
She noted that in those days, boiled coffee was the unfiltered choice. But now espresso and plunge coffee are in vogue, so Luchen and her colleagues used more recent data from the Tromsø study to look at the relationship between those drinks and blood cholesterol.
“Norwegians love coffee, and Norway has the second highest coffee consumption in the world,” Loeschen said.
The results, published online May 10 in the journal open your heart, It is based on more than 21,000 adults aged 40 and over who reported their coffee drinking habits, exercise levels, and alcohol intake.
On average, study participants drank four to five cups of coffee per day. The results showed that those who indulged in boiled or French coffee – six or more cups a day – showed the highest rises in cholesterol, compared to non-drinkers.
Next came the people who said they had three to five cups of espresso a day. Their total cholesterol was about 4 to 6 mg/dL higher, compared to people who didn’t drink espresso. Finally, women who drank at least six cups of filter coffee daily had 4 mg/dL higher cholesterol levels, on average, than women who never drank filter coffee.
However, the registered dietitian who was not involved in the study had some caveats.
For one thing, there was no information about the participants’ overall diet, said Connie Dickman, a food and nutrition consultant and former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It’s also not clear, Dickman noted, if people regularly inundate their favorite coffee with sugar and cream.
So, she said, the question remains, is it the coffee, the cream, or the foods people consume with all those cups of coffee?
“Coffee itself is likely to be a very small player in raising cholesterol,” Dickman said. “So instead of worrying about coffee’s effect on cholesterol, look at your entire diet and identify other healthy lifestyle behaviors.”
Luchen also pointed to the bigger picture, noting that coffee in moderation (up to five cups per day) was associated with a lower risk of heart disease and a longer life.
Angel Planells is a Seattle-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. He said filter or instant coffee might be the best options for people who are watching their cholesterol. But again, general diet and lifestyle are key.
Planells said that if you really enjoy that latte or mocha, there may be other ways to reduce some of the “bad” fats from your diet — such as cutting back on processed meats or fried foods.
Planells said some people should be particularly aware of the caffeine in coffee — including pregnant women and anyone with potential caffeine side effects, such as sleep disturbances or “jitters.”
The Harvard School of Public Health has more on the health effects of coffee.
SOURCES: Maja-Lisa Løchen, MD, PhD, Professor, Preventive Medicine, UiT, Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway; Connie Dickman, RD, MEd, Consultant Food and Nutrition, St. Louis, and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chicago; Angel C. Planells, MS, RDN, National Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chicago; open your heartMay 10, 2022, online