We’ve all heard that a “Mediterranean diet” is good for the heart, head and lifespan. You probably have at least a vague conception of what Mediterranean-style eating entails: Olive oil, fish, veggies, garlic, red wine (in other words: all the best things).
Add to that list of amazingness: Greek coffee.
In Greece, coffee is traditionally boiled on the stove using a pot called a briki. It’s served strong, with foam on the top and coffee grounds on the bottom. And it may be one of the best-kept longevity and health-promoting secrets of the Mediterranean.
A new study from University of Athens researchers found that daily Greek coffee drinkers had better endothelial function—an asset tied to reduced heart disease and stroke risk. The endothelial cells line the blood vessels and are responsible for dilating them when necessary. In people with reduced endothelial function, the arteries can’t dilate enough to allow for proper oxygen and blood flow, and that’s when heart and cerebrovascular problems occur.
Aging can wreak a certain amount of havoc on endothelial cell function. A poor diet—particularly one high in saturated fat, animal protein and foods fried in the wrong oils—and smoking can also damage endothelial cells. By the time many Americans reach older adulthood, their endothelial cells are so dysfunctional that their blood vessels can hardly dilate at all.
Which brings us back to the Greeks. The coffee study was conducted on the island of Ikaria, which boasts the highest longevity rate in the world. Not only to residents of Ikaria live long lives, but they live relatively healthy long lives, as well.
Gerasimos Siasos, a doctor and University of Athens Medical School professor, decided to find out whether the population’s coffee drinking had a positive health effect. His research team selected 71 male and 71 female Ikarians ages 65 and older and took information about their current health, health history, lifestyle, diet and coffee drinking habits.
More than 87% of participants drank boiled Greek coffee daily, and overall “there was a linear increase in (endothelial function) according to coffee consumption.”
Those who drank Greek coffee had better endothelial cell function than participants who didn’t drink coffee or who drank other coffee types. And even in those with high blood pressure, drinking Greek coffee was linked with better endothelial function.
“Boiled Greek type of coffee, which is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants and contains only a moderate amount of caffeine, seems to gather benefits compared to other coffee beverages,” said Siasos.
The results are published in the journal Vascular Medicine.