There’s a compound in coffee that can disrupt our metabolic health that most people aren’t aware of.
It’s called cafestol.
Cafestol is responsible for the oil in roasted coffee beans and is linked to high LDL cholesterol levels. Studies show that cafestol increases LDL cholesterol by suppressing LDL receptor activity and reducing the breakdown of LDL cholesterol. It has also been linked to higher total cholesterol and triglycerides, with little effect on HDL cholesterol (1).
We’ve talked about why high LDL cholesterol is not the best marker of heart disease in previous newsletters and why our ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol is a much better indicator.
BUT if you’re someone who drinks a lot of coffee from a French press and you have unexplained high LDL levels, this topic might be worth paying attention to.
Luckily, I have a super-simple hack to cut down on the cafestol in your cup that I learned from a recent conversation I had with my dear friend Max Lugavere in honor of the launch of his latest cookbook, Genius Kitchen.
And you can stop holding your breath, because it doesn’t require cutting out coffee.
Before we jump into the research behind this super-simple coffee hack, please check out this week’s Try This sponsor, Paleovalley.
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Now, let’s get back to the newsletter!
How to Lower the Cafestol in Your Coffee
Now that we know that cafestol contributes to high LDL cholesterol, how can we control it in our coffee? Well, it turns out that some methods of coffee filtration significantly reduce the amount of cafestol in your cup.
A population-based study looked at the relationship between cafestol and cholesterol in select coffee shops and found that the lowest amounts of cafestol were found in filtered coffee, while the highest amounts of cafestol were found in unfiltered coffee.
In this study, filtered coffee used either a metal mesh filter or a paper filter; the unfiltered coffee was either boiled or brewed using a French press (1). That last one was the most shocking to me—that French press is a form of unfiltered coffee!
The study results showed that drinking properly filtered coffee was not associated with high LDL cholesterol levels. And there’s more evidence to back this up too. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials reported that those who drank boiled, or unfiltered, coffee had higher lipid levels than those who drank filtered coffee (2).
So, that’s good news for all you coffee lovers out there. It seems the right kind of coffee filter is a cost-effective way to remove the cafestol from your cup and potentially avoid elevated LDL levels.
Here’s something else to consider: the longer your coffee grinds sit in hot water (i.e., French press or boiled coffee), the more time cafestol has to make its way into your drink. As far as espresso is concerned, because it is typically unfiltered, it contains significant amounts of cafestol (1.0mg per cup). However, because the volume is less, it contains less cafestol than a cup of French press coffee (7.2mg per cup), which is still significantly higher than filtered coffee (0.2mg per cup) (3).
If you use a French press like me (to avoid plastics, in my case), it might require switching up your coffee brewing method or simply pouring your coffee through an unbleached paper filter.
Here are my top recommendations for filtration:
- If you use a traditional coffee maker, you’re all good. Just ensure you are using nontoxic, unbleached paper filters. You can find them easily on Amazon or at your local health-food store.
- If you use a French press, consider switching to a pour-over coffee maker, or just simply pour your brewed coffee through a nontoxic, unbleached paper filter before drinking.
- If you’re an espresso drinker, the good news is that espresso has significantly less cafestol than French press coffee. If you’re still worried, you can switch to filtered coffee.
Covering What We Don’t Know
Even though the majority of research points towards (filtered) coffee being a health-promoting beverage, there’s still a lot we don’t know.
Like, for example, does using a paper coffee filter remove the good stuff (e.g., polyphenols, phytonutrients, and antioxidants) along with the “bad” stuff? Is using a filter to remove cafestol to lower our LDL a beneficial practice for everyone, or is it just for those who have high LDL, drink a lot of coffee, and are also at risk for heart disease?
And finally, some research shows that cafestol has anti-inflammatory, insulin-sensitizing benefits (4)(5), so do the cons outweigh the pros? It’s hard to know for sure, and it depends on the person and their individual cholesterol situation.
If your LDL is the light, fluffy (very low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and your triglycerides are low, driving your LDL number down might not be a huge deal. But if your LDL is the small, dense, problem-causing cholesterol and you drink a lot of coffee from a French press, it might be worth taking that extra step and pouring your coffee or espresso through a filter.
We know high LDL is no silver bullet for heart disease; however, it can be a sign of metabolic dysfunction. It’s crucial to look at our LDL cholesterol number in the context of all of our other metabolic biomarkers to know if LDL is actually an issue.
Even if you don’t know the size of your LDL cholesterol, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in making small changes like filtering your coffee to bring down your cholesterol number. Going back to my friend, Max, who originally told me about this hack, he sent me this text the other day when we were chatting about the impact of cafestol on cholesterol:
In my case, even though I’ve dramatically improved my diet over the years, my LDL is still on the higher side, so when I heard about this hack it was a no-brainer. I’ll report back in a few months and let you know if I see a difference.
Here’s to your health,
P.S. If you’re a fan of this week’s newsletter, you have to check out my buddy Max’s new cookbook, Genius Kitchen. It features over 100 science-backed, nutrient-dense, delicious, whole foods recipes to help you feel great and optimize your health!