What's the best way to make coffee? Does the method we use to brew coffee matter? Should we filter or not filter our coffee?
Unlike many pleasures in life, coffee is an indulgence that can be part of a healthy diet. Containing the stimulant caffeine as well as numerous phytochemicals, coffee consumption has been connected to numerous benefits, including the ability to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and depression. When sipped without the addition of sugar or milk, coffee contains no fat, no carbs, very few calories and no cholesterol.
But coffee does contain diterpenes. These oily, organic compounds can be antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic – but they also may increase your cholesterol level. In particular, caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee contains one diterpene molecule known as cafestol. Studies have shown that the regular consumption of non-filtered (or boiled) coffee increases the serum cholesterol by 8 percent in men and 10 percent in women.
These studies only hold true for non-filtered coffee, which is a bit of a misnomer – as most non-filtered coffee (except for Turkish/Greek coffee) actually goes through a metal strainer. But so do the diterpenes. Paper filters, however, stop the diterpenes and therefore reduce the effect they have on your cholesterol level. Most scientists agree that filtered coffee has less of an effect on your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels than non-filtered coffee.
So what’s the difference?
Filtered coffee includes drinks made using a paper filter:
- Brewed “drip” coffee
- Cold brew/cold press coffee
Espresso machines use metal filters, but that isn’t the same as paper filters. Unfiltered coffee includes drinks made by espresso machines or by boiling, including:
- All espresso drinks, including lattes, mochas, cappuccinos & Americanos
- French press coffee
- Pod-style coffee
- Turkish/Greek coffee
- Neapolitan “flip pot” coffee
There’s only one problem with using the paper filter method – most people agree that it doesn’t taste as good. Espresso drinks and drip coffee drinks are made through two different methods – pressurized or not – and each of these different processes create a distinct texture and taste in your cup.
What is the cholesterol-conscious coffee drinker to do? First of all, know your cholesterol numbers. With the Affordable Care Act’s new regulations, yearly blood tests are covered by your health insurance. Find your number for both types of cholesterol – HDL and LDL. (LDL is the so-called “bad” cholesterol, and HDL is the “good” cholesterol. Having a high number for HDL actually offsets the effects of LDL in your body).
Switch to paper-filtered drip coffee if you don’t mind the taste. Your wallet will thank you; drip coffee is almost always one of the cheapest drinks at the coffee shop.
No good? Limit your coffee intake as much as possible. Take baby steps to reduce your consumption, and try to slowly work your way to one cup per day. Like all stimulants, your body can build up a tolerance to caffeine. Re-set your system and you may find that one cup gives you as much pizzazz.
If you’re a true coffee lover and caffeine addict who drinks several espresso shots or an entire French press every day, try lowering your cholesterol in other ways. Reduce your consumption of red meats and animal fats. Instead, eat plenty of soluble fiber (such as oatmeal and oat brain), fish and omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts, almonds and olive oil.
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