Coffee vs Espresso: Which is Healthier?

Coffee versus Espresso

You’ve gotta love the health benefits of coffee. After all, they’re a reason to justify your visits to Starbucks!

At one time experts believed coffee drinking increased the risk of health problems like heart disease and pancreatic cancer. The latest research shows drinking coffee in moderation may actually lower your risk for certain health problems including depression, type 2 diabetes, gall bladder disease and Parkinson’s disease. Good news if you’re a coffee lover!

What about heart disease? The most recent studies show coffee doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease like experts once believed. In fact, some research shows coffee may lower the risk for heart failure and improve blood vessel function – all good things when it comes to your health.

Health Benefits of Coffee: There Are Some Good Reasons to Drink It

All coffee contains antioxidants. In fact, coffee is the number one way people get their daily dose of antioxidants. Guess they aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, huh? Coffee is a source of over 1,000 different compounds that may influence your health.

Now comes the question. Are all forms of coffee the same in terms of health benefits? Are you just as likely to get the health benefits sipping an espresso as you are a cup of filtered coffee from your home coffee maker? Not necessarily. How you prepare your coffee affects some of these compounds.

Filtered versus Unfiltered Coffee

Most people in the United States drink filtered coffee. When you make coffee in a coffee maker or use a filter it removes two compounds in coffee called cafestol and kahweol. The same holds true if you have a Keurig and use individual coffee pods to prepare a cup of coffee. The coffee pod filters out these two chemicals, also known as diterpenes.

On the other hand, if you use a French press or drink boiled coffee or Turkish or Greek coffee, prepared without a filter, these chemicals stay in your cup of Joe. Espresso is also unfiltered and retains some of these chemicals as well.

Why is this important? Diterpenes (cafestol and kahweol) can elevate your cholesterol level, including LDL-cholesterol, the kind that clogs your arteries. In fact, drinking unfiltered coffee regularly can raise your blood cholesterol level as much as 10%. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’re already borderline-high, it could be enough to put you into a higher risk category.

Another study showed drinking unfiltered coffee raises homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a marker for an increased risk for heart disease. So, filtered coffee likely won’t increase your risk for heart disease and may even protect your blood vessels – but unfiltered coffee may not be as heart-friendly.

Coffee vs Espresso: How Do You Drink Your Coffee?

If you’re drinking filtered coffee, you’re getting the benefits of all the antioxidants without the cholesterol-raising effects of cafestole and kahweol. (Who named these compounds anyway?) On the other hand, if you use a French press at home to prepare coffee or drink espresso, you’re getting some of these chemicals are in each serving you sip.

One study showed Turkish coffee has about 7.2 milligrams of cafestol and 5.4 milligrams of kahweol. Espresso has about a milligram of each, while filtered coffee has negligible quantities. Filtered coffee is your best bet from a health standpoint, but espresso is the best choice if you drink unfiltered coffee.

Should You Give Up Espresso?

I don’t know about you, but I prefer espresso over filtered coffee. Knowing this, I drink it in moderation – one or two espressos a day. I also drink a cup or two of filtered coffee. If you have a high cholesterol level, we recommend limiting the amount of espresso you drink and avoiding Turkish, Greek or French press coffee entirely. Drinking one or two espressos a day shouldn’t be a problem, especially when you consider the other health benefits of coffee.

One concern we have about coffee makers is many aren’t BPA-free. Coffee makers with parts made with BPA plastic are a concern since BPA tend to leech when it’s exposed to heat.

The thought of drinking coffee with BPA plastic in it scares us. That’s why we went back to using a stainless steel percolatorfor preparing coffee. There’s no BPA and it’s nice to enjoy the smell of freshly-brewed coffee percolating on the stove.

One more health tip for enjoying coffee. If you use a paper filter to filter coffee, choose one that doesn’t have a coating of epichlorohydrin on it, a cancer-causing chemical that can leach into your coffee. You can find them at natural food markets. Our stainless steel percolator has a filter basket and doesn’t require a paper filter.

The Bottom Line?

Coffee is a surprisingly good source of antioxidants and other natural chemicals that are beneficial to your health. It also contains compounds that can raise your LDL-cholesterol level. When you drink filtered coffee, you remove those compounds. If have a cholesterol problem, stick with filtered coffee and limit the amount of unfiltered coffee you drink. Just as importantly, make sure you’re not using a coffee maker with BPA-plastic. 

References:

Science Daily. “Moderate Coffee Consumption Offers Protection Against Heart Failure, Study Suggests”
Am J Clin Nutr February 2000 vol. 71 no. 2 480-484.
Food Chem Toxicol. 1997 Jun;35(6):547-54.

Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.

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