Why is French Press coffee bad for you?

french press coffee

by Matt Gibson

In 2016, a Harvard Health blog article was released that discussed some reasons why French press coffee could potentially be bad for your health, specifically, that drinking too much of it could increase your LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Because of the big name on the source of the article, there have been countless articles from smaller publications that have come out since, which echo the same basic information that was stated in the original post.

Basically, the claim is that unfiltered coffee contains lots of compounds that filtered coffee removes, and some of those compounds can be bad for your health, namely cafestol and kahweol, which can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. 

But French press coffee does use a filter, it’s just a metal filter, which doesn’t filter out as many of the chemical compounds contained in coffee that paper filters do, allowing more of the unwanted compounds like cafestol and kahweol through than coffee makers that use paper filters. But French press coffee makers are not the only type of coffee maker that uses a metal filter, in fact, some coffee makers don’t use any filter at all. So, is French press coffee really bad for you? 

In this article, we will look at the science behind the claim that French press coffee is bad for you. We will discuss how much French press coffee it takes to raise your cholesterol and triglyceride levels to a level that should be of concern, and we will talk about other unfiltered coffee makers that you might want to avoid, and a few filtered coffee brewing methods that you could use as an alternative to French press coffee makers, if your cholesterol levels are in the danger zone. 

Is French Press Coffee The Only Coffee That Should Raise Eyebrows? 

French press coffee is by no means the only coffee brewing method that should be of concern to those with high cholesterol. Espresso, percolator brewers, moka pots, and French presses all use metal filters. Turkish coffee doesn’t use a filter at all. So why is all the negative press focused on French Press coffee and why are there no articles warning you away from espresso? Well, people tend to drink large mugs full of French press coffee, and tiny cups of espresso. However, the concentration of cafestol is about the same in espresso as it is in French press coffee. So, the more French press coffee you drink, the more of an effect it may have on your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you are an espresso hound, and you drink an abnormal amount of espresso, you may also have cause for concern. 

How Much French Press Coffee Is Too Much? 

Before we dive into the health concerns involving French press coffee and other metal filtered coffees or unfiltered coffees, let’s talk about amounts. Yes, French press coffee and other coffee made from brewers that don’t use paper filters, does have a higher concentration of compounds that can raise your cholesterol. But how much French press coffee does it take to have a negative effect on your health? Five cups of French press coffee, with each cup consisting of four ounces each, can raise your cholesterol levels by 7mg, and your triglyceride levels by 11 mg. The optimal range for LDL cholesterol is 100-129 mg per day. 

Consider the other foods that you eat, and the effect that they have on your cholesterol, and consider the amount of French press, or other non-paper filtered coffee you drink per day. If you eat a very healthy diet and have very low daily cholesterol intake, a few espressos or a couple of cups of French press coffee are not going to cause a huge concern. However, if you eat a lot of fast food, or already have issues with your cholesterol level, adding French press coffee or lots of espresso to the mix, it could be enough to push you into dangerous zones. 

If you drink lots of coffee every day, and your preferred brewing method is French press, you may want to consider mixing it up a little bit. All those oils that French press coffee allows to pass into your cup, are part of what gives it its full body and powerful flavor, and part of the reason why people love French press coffee. However, the pour over method can deliver a very flavorful coffee, while filtering out a lot of the stuff that could potentially harm you. If you could balance out your coffee drinks by adding a pour over device into your repertoire, you could keep drinking lots of coffee every day, but cut out some of the danger. For example, if you drink a cup of French press coffee every morning, try replacing your afternoon coffee with a drip or pour over cup instead of a French press. 

Health Concerns Involving Unfiltered, or Metal Filtered Coffee

So, let’s dive into some of the science behind the claims. Coffee contains over one thousand chemical compounds, many of which are removed by filters during the brewing process. French press coffee uses a metal filter, which doesn’t remove as many of these compounds as paper filters do. Diterpenes like cafestol and kahweol are allowed to pass through in greater amounts, which can affect your daily LDL cholesterol and triglyceride intake.  

Researchers have found that French press coffee contains about 300 times more cafestol than is found in coffee made using a paper filter. The mesh filter that is used in French press coffee does remove some of the cafestol from the brew, but not nearly as much as a paper filter does. As discussed earlier in this article, five cups of French press coffee can raise cholesterol levels about 7 mg per day and triglyceride levels 11 mg per day. The optimal daily cholesterol range is between 100 and 129 mg per day.

So, as you can see, the amount that five cups of French press coffee adds to your daily intake, is not terribly high, but if you are someone who struggles with cholesterol, it could be just enough to push you into the danger zone. The increase in triglyceride levels is slightly less concerning, but still a concern, specifically for those who are already struggling with triglyceride issues. 

As you have probably heard a million times, everything is good in moderation. Health professionals claim that no one should drink more than four servings of unfiltered brew each day, or five servings of filtered brew. So, according to this advice, drinking a large amount of any coffee each day can be bad for your health, but unfiltered coffee is slightly more dangerous than filtered coffee. 

Ways To Lower Your Coffee’s Effect On Your Cholesterol Levels

If you have problems with your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, it may be wise to say goodbye to French press coffee. If you are going to trade your French press in for a healthier brewing method, be sure to switch to something that uses a paper filter, such as a drip coffee maker, or a pour over device. If you can’t bring yourself to say goodbye to your French press entirely, but know that you need to lower your French press coffee intake, get a pour over device and use them interchangeably, substituting your pour over for your French press at least half of the time. 

Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance that is needed to sustain life. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, but even the bad is a necessary evil. There are many things you can do to lower your bad cholesterol levels, aside from cutting out your French press coffee altogether. In fact, you can even use a paper filter with your French press to get the excess cafestol and kahweol out. 

How To Use A Paper Filter With A French Press Coffee Maker

One easy fix for making your French press a whole lot healthier, is attaching a paper filter to the mesh filter to help remove the excess diterpenes like cafestol and kahweol from your brew. Metal filters that french press coffee makers use cannot filter out enough of the diterpenes on its own, so you can buy paper filters and wrap them around the mesh filter in your french press machine.

Most paper filters are going to be a little bit too big for your French press, so you may need to cut them down to size according to the size of your French press in order to get the job done. Many different paper filters can easily be altered to fit a French press successfully, but what if you don’t have any paper filters on hand to alter it with. In a pinch, you can always use paper towels. 

Don’t make a habit of using paper towels, however, as they could pose an entirely different health risk due to the formaldehyde that they are often produced with. Unless of course, you use an all-natural paper towel brand, or a  formaldehyde-free paper towel, then there is nothing to worry about. 

Other Factors That Affect Your LDL Cholesterol Levels 

Coffee isn’t the only factor you should consider when it comes to managing your cholesterol levels and keeping them in a healthy range. There are lots of other parts of your diet that you may be able to adjust as well. Here are a few of the factors besides coffee that can contribute to high levels of LDL cholesterol. By keeping these dietary factors to a minimum, you may be able to promote a healthy LDL cholesterol level so that you can keep enjoying coffee without being concerned about how it will affect your cholesterol.

  • You’ve probably always heard that eggs can contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels. You’ve likely also heard the controversy around whether eggs are healthy or not in recent years. The latest take is that overcooked eggs are the most unhealthy option for your LDL cholesterol.
  • When you consume fats, choose the right ones to promote a healthy LDL cholesterol count. Good options include healthy raw fats such as raw avocado, raw coconut, coconut oil, olive oil, and raw nuts and seeds of all kinds. And in contrast to the overcooked eggs we warned you to stay away from above, you can enjoy a moderate amount of soft-cooked eggs with a runny yolk as part of a healthy diet.
  • Eating more grains or carbohydrates than is necessary for a healthy diet can also contribute to higher levels of LDL cholesterol. Opt for whole grains instead of processed “white” grains whenever possible, and look for ways to balance the grains you eat with fruit, vegetables, and protein.
  • Watch out for sugar in your diet, especially when it comes in the form of fructose or high fructose corn syrup. You’ll see these ingredients listed on the nutrition label when they’re part of processed foods. They’ll have a negative impact on your LDL cholesterol and should be minimized in your diet.
  • An easy way to make sure what you’re eating is healthy for your cholesterol is to shoot for a high percentage of raw foods as opposed to cooked foods. Raw fruit and vegetables, as well as raw or sprouted seeds and grains, promote a healthy diet in lots of ways, one of which is promoting a healthy LDL cholesterol count.

In addition to the dietary factors that can affect your LDL cholesterol count, you can also make lifestyle adjustments to balance out the amount of coffee you wish to consume. These include exercising enough each day to increase your body’s circulation rate, lowering the amount of stress in your personal and professional life, and avoiding factors that can raise your LDL cholesterol count, including smoking or drinking too much alcohol.

As you can see, the responsibility for promoting a healthy LDL cholesterol count isn’t completely up to your coffee consumption. There are lots of other factors that can influence whether your LDL cholesterol level is healthy or not that you can tweak.

Other Factors About Your Coffee That Can Affect Your Health

When you’re considering how healthy or unhealthy your coffee is for your diet, it’s not just the coffee beans or coffee grounds themselves that you should be thinking about. After all, many of us don’t drink our coffee black. If you add sugar, cream, syrup, whip, or toppings to your coffee yourself or order mixed coffee drinks from a coffee shop that use these ingredients, make sure to take them into account.

What seems like a minimal amount of cream and sugar when you check the nutrition of a one-cup serving of coffee can have a larger impact on your diet if you actually consume several cups a day, so it’s important not to forget about these additional factors when you consider the impact of your coffee consumption on your diet and your health.

As we’ve discussed, although French press coffee does have health considerations, they aren’t really substantial enough to be alarming for most people. Unless your LDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels are already high, French press coffee is unlikely to be the factor that pushes you over the edge on these metrics.

And if you just aren’t ready to give up coffee, there are ways to balance out the effect that your coffee consumption has on your health, which we’ve presented here. Not to mention, you can always balance out the amount of French press coffee you consume by mixing things up with some other preparations now and then, such as pour-over or drip coffee.

Sources

https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-many-grains-do-I-need-to-eat-How-many-grains-should-I-eat

https://www.blackoutcoffee.com/blogs/the-reading-room/is-French-press-coffee-bad-for-you

https://www.eater.com/2016/5/20/11723692/French-press-coffee-unhealthy-cholesterol

https://www.foodandwine.com/drinks/French-press-coffee-could-be-bad-your-health

https://nypost.com/2020/04/23/your-fancy-French-press-coffee-isnt-good-for-you/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996912002360

https://www.today.com/health/what-healthiest-way-brew-coffee-t180152

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