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Heart problems in an instant?

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Coffee may have some health benefits—it helps ward off diabetes and improves memory, for instance—but it’s not great for our cardiovascular system. It contains compounds that raise our cholesterol levels, and the more you drink, the higher your cholesterol readings go.

So, when it comes to heart health, what coffee does the least amount of damage? Not drinking coffee at all is the best option, of course, but for those of you addicted to the stuff, is espresso safer than instant?

To find out, researchers from the UIT Arctic University in Norway recruited more than 21,000 Norwegians—the second-highest consumers of coffee in the world—to see how their chosen brew affected cholesterol levels.1

On average, the women drank nearly four cups of coffee a day and the men around five cups—but after the amount, it was the type of coffee that had the biggest impact on cholesterol levels, and the results were different for men and women.

Espresso raised cholesterol levels more in men than women: men drinking between three and five cups a day had an average of 0.16 mmol/L higher cholesterol than non-drinkers, while women drinking similar amounts had 0.09 mmol/L raised levels.

But boiled coffee brewed in a cafetiere with a plunger was the worst option for both sexes. Drinking six or more cups a day was associated with average cholesterol levels that were 0.30 mmol/L higher in women and 0.23 mmol/L in men compared to non-drinkers.

All these increases are slight, but the researchers say it adds up over the years. Possibly so, but they haven’t factored in other lifestyle choices; for instance, drinkers of filter coffee—considered the safest of the options—could also be exercising or eating a healthier diet.  

The difficulties of isolating one lifestyle factor were underlined by the study, which found that the biggest coffee drinkers—knocking back seven or more cups a day—were also more likely to be smokers.

Still, it all makes drink for thought.

Safest coffee for men drinking three to five cups a day

Type Raised cholesterol level by

  • Filter 0.04 mmol/L
  • Instant 0.08 mmol/L
  • Espresso 0.16 mmol/L
  • Cafetière 0.25 mmol/L

Safest coffee for women drinking three to five cups a day

  • Filter 0.07 mmol/L
  • Espresso 0.09 mmol/L
  • Instant 0.1 mmol/L
  • Cafetière 0.18 mmol/L




BMJ Open Heart, 2022; 9: e001946

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Article Topics: Coffee, Heart Health
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