Coffee For Weight Loss
Coffee for weight loss is a common question that comes up to people who are dieting and trying to lose weight. They feel that drinking coffee will give them that extra boost of energy and the caffeine will make them more alert. WRONG! Coffee can have side effects, it can be bad for you, and above all it’s not going to help you lose weight.
So you want to lose weight. What will help you accomplish that goal? First and foremost, it’s exercise. Don’t cut calories without exercising. Doing so could slow your progress rather than accelerate it. But what about coffee? Is drinking coffee good for weight loss? Let’s review the benefits, discuss the drawbacks, and provide some insight into which type of coffee might be best for you.
Does drinking coffee help you lose weight?
There’s not a clear yes or no answer on whether coffee helps or hurts weight loss—or affects it at all. There have been studies supporting the idea that drinking coffee stimulates weight loss, but not enough of ’em to make it a commonly agreed upon fact. Also, there’s no evidence so far that shows coffee can target fat in certain areas of your body like your stomach. Here’s what some recent studies say.
Research that points to coffee aiding weight loss:
- Caffeine may stimulate brown adipose tissue, or the fat in your body that burns calories, per a 2019 study in Scientific Reports. Essentially, researchers discovered that drinking one cup of coffee increases your metabolic rate to the point that brown adipose tissue activity occurs, leading to fat burning and weight loss.
- People who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee per day saw a four percent decrease in body fat, according to 2020 research by Harvard researchers that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study’s authors suspect this is because drinking coffee raises a person’s metabolic rate, which means more calories burned.
- Caffeinated mate tea extract was found to reduce the incidence of weight gain and body fat accumulation in a 2020 study in rats in the Journal of Functional Foods. The same results weren’t seen with decaffeinated extract, suggesting it’s the caffeine in mate, at least, that promotes weight loss. But remember, you’re not a rat! The findings in humans could be different.
Can drinking coffee make you gain weight?
Some recent studies suggest there may be negative effects of drinking coffee, which may or may not cancel out the positive effects. Here’s what the research says.
Research that points to coffee hindering weight loss:
- Drinking higher amounts of caffeinated beverages, like coffee, is associated with an increase in body mass index (BMI). A 2021 study in the Food & Function journal followed 661 college students and found that those who consumed more caffeinated drinks usually slept worse—more on that in a sec—and had a higher BMI.
- Drinking caffeinated coffee has been linked to an increase in sugar cravings, meaning that your a.m. cup could be setting you up for making bad snack choices later on in your day (and preventing you from losing weight). On the other hand, a 2017 study in the Journal of Food Science showed that drinking a cup of caffeinated coffee messed with people’s taste buds, particularly their interpretation of sweetness. You may end up consuming sweeter and sweeter foods or drinks (a.k.a. more calories and carbs) because of this.
- Drinking coffee even six hours before bedtime can cause sleep disturbances, per a 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. This has a broader impact than just making you extra sleepy: Poor or insufficient sleep has been repeatedly linked to weight gain.
When should you drink coffee to lose weight?
Coffee is a great way to start your morning. Drink it too late in the day, and you risk upsetting your sleep schedule. “You need to sleep around eight hours a day,” Capille emphasizes—so make sure to have your last cup before 2:00 p.m. That way, the caffeine will be totally out of your system by the time you’re ready to hit the hay.
What can you put in your coffee to lose weight?
The big thing is to be mindful of what you’re putting in. Pouring too much cream and sugar into your brew can offset coffee’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, Capille says, and throw your weight loss goals off track. Instead, she suggests opting for sugar-free syrups, stevia, or a similar sugar substitute.
Black or sweetened coffee are both fine, as long as you watch how much stuff you’re adding to it.
As for what kind of coffee is best for weight loss, decaffeinated and regular both have the same nutrients. Every cup will still contain lots of beneficial niacin, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants—so choose your favorite blend and sip away. And black and sweetened coffee are both fine, as long as you’re keeping the add-ons to a minimum.
What about coffee supplements? Are those healthy?
Hate the taste of coffee? You’re not necessarily out of luck when it comes to cashing in on the potential fat-busting power of coffee thanks to something called green coffee bean extract.
A supplement available in a powder, pill or capsule, or liquid, the extract is derived from unroasted coffee beans—which allegedly maintain higher levels of chlorogenic acids, a.k.a. the antioxidant stuff in coffee typically associated with its major health benefits, than roasted beans. Green coffee bean extract is often touted as a so-called natural weight-loss supplement, which should raise flags for anyone trying to lose weight the good ol’ fashioned way because, sorry to say, there really is no such thing as a miracle drug for weight loss!
What if I can’t have caffeine—does decaf coffee do any good for health or weight loss?
FYI, even decaf coffee contains a little bit of caffeine, so if you’re not allowed to have any caffeine at all, you should avoid decaf and regular coffee. But if you’re simply on a low-caffeine diet, the amount of caffeine in decaf (about six milligrams per eight-ounce serving, per Gorin) probably won’t hurt you…though it may not help you with your weight-loss goals much, either.
“There have been studies done on caffeine, coffee, and green tea that all tie back to weight loss,” says Gorin, “so it would appear that the benefits come from caffeinated coffee, but we can’t say that for sure yet.”
It’s possible that some of the antioxidant benefits of coffee—whether caffeinated or not—could help with weight loss. It’s also possible that drinking decaf coffee could have the same appetite-suppressing effects, meaning you may consume less calories overall. There aren’t really any studies looking at the effects of decaf coffee on weight loss, so it’s still unclear what role it plays in the coffee/weight loss landscape.
Yes, coffee can help with weight loss
Coffee contains nutrients such as niacin, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants — which can improve digestive health, support muscle function, and lead to better heart health. It also contains caffeine, which boosts metabolism, improves energy, and can promote weight loss.
Here are some health and weight loss-related benefits of this energy-boosting drink:
Black coffee is a low-calorie beverage. Weight loss is associated with a calorie deficit, which is when you consume fewer calories than you burn. A popular way to help achieve a calorie deficit is to consume fewer calories than your usual caloric intake.
Black coffee is an ideal beverage to drink for weight loss as it contains less than 5 calories per serving (one 8-0z cup). However, it’s only low-calorie if you drink it black.
“While black coffee is low-calorie, it can quickly become high in calories, sugar, and fats when different milks and sugars are added to it,” Shaw says.
Caffeine boosts metabolism. Metabolism is the process in which the body breaks down nutrients and utilizes foods’ calories throughout the day. Caffeine, a stimulant found in coffee, is one of few substances that may increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR), also known as the rate at which you burn calories while resting.
A small 2018 study found that participants who drank various measures of coffee over the course of two months had greater metabolites, a product of metabolism. A higher or faster metabolism will allow you to burn more calories at rest or during physical activity, which may help lead to weight loss.
“There is a growing body of research on how coffee consumption is positively associated with BMR, however it’s important to keep in mind that we metabolize foods and beverages at different rates. Coffee may increase one person’s metabolic rate but not another,” Shaw says.
Caffeine may decrease feelings of hunger. Appetite is influenced by a variety of factors, including the type of food you eat, physical activity levels, and hormones. While there is not sufficient research to determine a cause-effect relationship for caffeine reducing appetite, studies have shown that it may reduce levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry.
A small 2014 study found that participants increased feelings of fullness and reduced their food intake just within four weeks of drinking coffee daily based on their ghrelin levels.
“Caffeine also stimulates the satiety hormone peptide YY (PYY). More PYY means you will feel satiated and less hungry,” Shaw says.
Coffee can also be unhealthy and lead to weight gain
Coffee has many benefits that promote weight loss, but there are potential drawbacks, Shaw says. Here are some of the downsides of coffee to be mindful when incorporating it in your diet:
Some coffee drinks contain lots of calories and sugar. When drinking coffee for weight loss, it’s best to avoid adding calories to your drink. It may be tempting to add milk or sugar into your coffee, but these can quickly add calories to your drink, Shaw says.
Many popular coffee drinks are already high in calories, including Starbucks’ very own Mocha Frappuccino® and Caramel Macchiato which contain 370 and 250 calories, respectively. Consuming more calories than your normal intake prevents you from achieving a calorie deficit for weight loss and instead leads to weight gain, Shaw says.
Caffeine can reduce sleep. Poor sleep is often linked to increased appetite and hunger, specifically for high-calorie foods. Studies have attributed lack of sleep to an increase of ghrelin, the hormone that regulates feelings of hunger, which can result in greater calorie consumption and weight gain.
“The caffeine found in coffee blocks adenosine receptors that bring on drowsiness, causing you to feel more awake. I suggest cutting off your caffeine at least six to seven hours before bedtime for quality sleep and hormone regulation,” Shaw says.
How to drink coffee for weight loss
To receive the health benefits of coffee and achieve weight loss, Shaw recommends drinking no more than four 8-oz cups of coffee a day, which equates to 400mg of caffeine.
“Four cups of coffee a day allows the benefits of feeling more awake and better fat metabolism while not being too much to impact sleep and hunger,” Shaw says. Drinking a cup every couple of hours would be reasonable to feel the lasting effects in each interval, she says.
However, if you like strong coffee, drink fewer cups accordingly to get no more than 400mg of caffeine per day. “Coffee that is identified as ‘strong’ is higher in caffeine content because there is a greater concentration of coffee per serving of water,” Shaw says.
Black coffee is best for weight loss as it does not contain added sugars or fats that can contribute to weight gain, Shaw says. However, if you like your coffee sweet, here are some low-calorie alternative sweeteners to use:
- Fruit-based sweeteners like erythritol or monk fruit extract
- Plant-based sweeteners like stevia and yacon syrup
- Sugar alcohols like xylitol and maltitol
If you are new to drinking black coffee, it may be helpful to reduce your pumps of sweetener until you get used to the bitter taste. If you have a sensitive stomach, it’s best to eat food alongside your coffee as this acidic drink may cause gastric distress, says Shaw. Too much stress on your digestive system can cause weight gain, she says.
Can Coffee Increase Your Metabolism and Help You Burn Fat?
Coffee contains caffeine, which is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world.
Caffeine is also included in most commercial fat-burning supplements today — and for good reason.
Moreover, it’s one of the few substances known to help mobilize fats from your fat tissues and increase metabolism.
But does coffee really help you lose weight? This article takes a close look at the evidence.
Coffee Contains Stimulants
Many biologically active substances found in coffee beans find their way into the final drink.
Several of them can affect metabolism:
- Caffeine: The main stimulant in coffee.
- Theobromine: The main stimulant in cocoa; also found in smaller amounts in coffee .
- Theophylline: Another stimulant found in both cocoa and coffee; has been used to treat asthma .
- Chlorogenic acid: One of the main biologically active compounds in coffee; may help slow the absorption of carbs.
The most important of these is caffeine, which is very potent and has been studied thoroughly.
Caffeine works by blocking an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
By blocking adenosine, caffeine increases the firing of neurons and release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. This, in turn, makes you feel more energized and awake.
In this way, coffee helps you stay active when you would otherwise feel tired. In fact, it may improve exercise performance by 11–12%, on average (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).
Coffee contains a number of stimulants, most importantly caffeine. Not only does caffeine increase your metabolic rate, it also makes you more alert.
Coffee Can Help Mobilize Fat From Fat Tissue
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which sends direct signals to the fat cells, telling them to break down fat.
It does this by increasing blood levels of the hormone epinephrine (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, travels through your blood to the fat tissues, signaling them to break down fats and release them into your blood.
Of course, releasing fatty acids into your blood does not help you lose fat unless you are burning more calories than you consume through your diet. This condition is known as a negative energy balance.
You can reach a negative energy balance by either eating less or exercising more. Another complementary strategy is to take fat-burning supplements such as caffeine.
Caffeine can also speed up your metabolism, as discussed in the next chapter.
By raising blood levels of epinephrine (adrenaline), caffeine promotes the release of fatty acids from fat tissue.
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Coffee Can Increase Your Metabolic Rate
The rate at which you burn calories at rest is called resting metabolic rate (RMR).
The higher your metabolic rate, the easier it is for you to lose weight and the more you can eat without gaining weight.
Studies show that caffeine can increase RMR by 3–11%, with larger doses having a greater effect (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
Interestingly, most of the increase in metabolism is caused by an increase in fat burning.
Unfortunately, the effect is less pronounced in those who are obese.
One study showed that caffeine increased fat burning by as much as 29% in lean people, while the increase was only about 10% in obese individuals
The effect also appears to decrease with age and is greater in younger individuals
For more fat-burning strategies, check out this article on 10 easy ways to boost your metabolism.
Caffeine increases your resting metabolic rate, which means it increases the number of calories you burn at rest.
Coffee and Weight Loss in the Long Term
There is one major caveat: people become tolerant to the effects of caffeine over time
In the short term, caffeine can boost the metabolic rate and increase fat burning, but after a while people become tolerant to the effects and it stops working.
But even if coffee doesn’t make you expend more calories in the long term, there is still a possibility that it blunts appetite and helps you eat less.
In one study, caffeine had an appetite-reducing effect in men, but not in women, making them eat less at a meal following caffeine consumption. However, another study showed no effect for men (17, 18Trusted Source).
Whether coffee or caffeine can help you lose weight in the long term may depend on the individual. At this point, there is no evidence of such long-term effects.
People may build up a tolerance to the effects of caffeine. For this reason, drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages may be an ineffective weight-loss strategy in the long term.
The Bottom Line
Even though caffeine can boost your metabolism in the short term, this effect is diminished in long-term coffee drinkers due to tolerance.
If you’re primarily interested in coffee for the sake of fat loss, it may be best to cycle your coffee drinking habits to prevent a buildup of tolerance. Perhaps cycles of two weeks on, two weeks off is best.
Of course, there are plenty of other great reasons to drink coffee, including the fact that coffee is one of the single largest sources of antioxidants in the Western diet.