chocolate covered coffee beans

coffee: the nectar of the gods

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Is My Favorite Coffee Bad For Me?

Can most of us in America do without our daily fix of caffeine that comes from our favorite cup of coffee? Ask 80% of Americans over 20 who are addicted and you’ll hear a big ‘No’! But how good is coffee when it comes to our health? Do we really know? Some research seems to indicate that there is a link between coffee drinking and a greater risk when it comes to heart attacks. However, the findings were not conclusive as certain other studies found no basis for this at all. Was coffee to blame or was it the fact that many coffee drinkers were smokers as well? But there did seem to be a connection even among non-smokers under certain conditions.

What seemed to emerging was the fact that the connection was apparent in Europe, not in the U.S. This could perhaps have something to do with the way coffee is brewed there. Coffee is also said to raise cholesterol levels. The substances in coffee that do that are cafestol and kahweol which tend to leach into the coffee. Put coffee grounds into boiling water and whatever coffee you make, decaf or regular, you will find these substances in it. But when you make drip coffee – and that’s the way most Americans make it – the coffee oils get trapped in the filter and so the coffee hardly contains either of these substances. So that was probably the explanation as to why the link between the risk of heart disease and coffee was not that apparent in the U.S. Instant coffee and percolated coffee scored low as far as these two substances were concerned.

Both cafestol and kahweol have been known to raise cholesterol levels. The LDL levels are boosted which in turn blocks arteries. So if you were to drink say, 5 cups of Turkish coffee, your LDL levels could rise alarmingly by about 25%! The added disadvantage is the fact that coffee tends to be of a stimulative nature and people with high blood pressure could be at risk. In a study, caffeine equivalent to 2 or 3cups of coffee were given to the participants and it was observed that the levels of the stress hormone cortisol went up. Cortisol tends to make the blood pressure go up. So it would be better to keep that coffee down to an absolute minimum if you are prone to high blood pressure problems. The caffeine in coffee could also react with your medication so do consult your doctor.

So is coffee then by itself really bad for the heart? There still seems to be no consensus on that score. But moderation could be the key, just out of consideration for your heart. How on earth do you know what is ‘moderate’ and what is ‘too much’? Well, five cups of instant, percolated or drip would be the limit per day and this would be particularly so if there were issues of hypertension or high cholesterol. If you need to cut back, do it slowly, say a cup less every couple of weeks, so it won’t seem so hard. A slow decrease helps avoid possible withdrawal symptoms. Also try and use decaf instead of regular coffee and do this substitution slowly as well.

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