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Is Coffee Bad for Cholesterol? What to Know!

a white ceramic cup with coffee

Given its enormous global popularity, researchers are conducting more studies on coffee and some of its more nuanced effects on the human body. Coffee has many health benefits, such as lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, but it can have some negative consequences in excessive amounts.1

Caffeine is often cited as the reason behind coffee’s risks and adverse effects, but you may be surprised that caffeine isn’t what can negatively affect your cholesterol. Naturally occurring oils in coffee beans called diterpenes can raise cholesterol levels. However, this can be mediated by the brewing method and how much you drink.

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How Does Coffee Raise Your Cholesterol?

Two diterpenes, cafestol and kahweol, are responsible for marginally raising cholesterol levels when drinking coffee. They suppress your body’s mechanisms for processing cholesterol, letting it slightly accumulate in your body. These oils are more concentrated in cups of coffee made without a paper filter, such as Scandinavian boiled coffee, Turkish coffee, or French press coffee. A 2007 study found that drinking 4–6 cups of coffee every day brewed using the French press method raised cholesterol by 6–8%.

However, another study found that the risk depends on the brewing method. If you use a paper filter, there doesn’t seem to be an elevation in cholesterol levels, suggesting the oils are unable to pass through the filter and shouldn’t raise your cholesterol.

Another thing to consider is that five cups a day is a lot of coffee! Even if you’re concerned about your cholesterol, you should still be able to prepare your cup using the French Press method as long as you drink in moderation.

The FDA recommends that adults cap their caffeine intake at 400 mg. each day, which is no more than 4-6 cups of coffee at home. If you drink coffee at a restaurant, you’re probably getting a more highly caffeinated cup than you would from your kitchen.

a hand holding a cup of coffee
Image Credit: Merve Tülek, Pexels

Ways To Limit Your Cholesterol

If you’re watching your cholesterol levels, remember that coffee beans aren’t the only ingredient in a specialty drink to watch out for. Animal products are high in fats, such as milk, and can also raise your cholesterol levels. Here are a few tips to make a heart-healthy cup of coffee that won’t spike your cholesterol:

  • Use an unbleached paper filter: The filter traps the diterpenes, not allowing them to travel into your cup. For a more health-conscious choice, opt for unbleached.
  • Drink it black—or at least skim: Whole-fat animal products such as heavy cream top the list of foods that elevate cholesterol levels.
  • Switch to plant-based milk: If you like an extra creamy cup, consider trading cow’s milk for a vegan option that doesn’t contain any cholesterol. Coconut and soy are the more indulgent choices to replace heavy cream; almond and oat milk are a little thinner and can replace whole or skim.

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Coffee may marginally raise your cholesterol levels, but the risk is greater if you don’t use a filter or drink more than four cups daily. The average adult drinking four cups per day or less shouldn’t see any more than slight changes in their cholesterol. You can also switch to plant-based milk or drink it black to protect against a cholesterol spike from dairy.

Featured Image Credit: Beyza Efe, Pexels



If there's a pencil and paper on her desk, Brooke Bundy has a cup of coffee (or tea) in her hand. Brooke worked in a coffee shop for three years while she finished her Bachelor's degree in Media Studies, and studied to be a writer. She met her future husband in the coffee shop where he lingered too long over deep conversations and dark roast coffee. Now they're happily married in New Orleans, LA, where they spend their free time exploring parks and cafes with their dog Tuggles.

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