Your morning cup of joe does more than give you energy for the day. It also provides your body with numerous health benefits. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, coffee can help your body process sugar and reduce your risk of health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, heart failure, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and colon cancer. It can even help you live longer.
There’s also some buzz that coffee can contribute to weight loss. That’s partly because coffee, when drunk neat, is a low-calorie beverage, containing about 5 calories per cup, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
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How Coffee Can Support Weight Loss
But there’s more to it than that. Coffee can help with weight loss in the following ways.
It boosts your metabolism
“Coffee boosts metabolism because its main ingredient, caffeine, is a stimulant that improves your metabolic thermogenesis, the process by which the body generates heat from digested food substances,” says Daniel Boyer, MD, a medical researcher in Des Moines, Iowa, who studies studies molecular biology and pharmacology, among others, and is affiliated with the Farr Institute.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, a fast metabolism means you burn more calories during the day, whether you’re exercising or at rest. “This means that a faster metabolism promotes faster weight loss than a slower metabolism,” says Dr. boyer.
It suppresses your appetite
For some people, drinking coffee promotes a feeling of fullness, according to the Mayo Clinic. That can affect your weight, because if you don’t reach for extra meals and snacks during the day, you could consume fewer calories overall. Excessive calorie intake is a leading cause of weight gain, Boyer says.
A review published in April 2017 in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that participants who consumed caffeine 30 minutes to 4 hours before meals had a lower food intake. However, other studies have not confirmed this link, so don’t bet your diet on this effect.
It is associated with reduced body fat
A previous study found that people who drank 250 milliliters (ml) of coffee (about 1 cup) three times a day saw less body fat over the four-week study period. Another study, published in December 2019 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that drinking four cups of coffee a day led to a 4 percent decrease in body fat over the 24-week study, likely due to coffee’s ability to support metabolism. That said, three to four cups of coffee may be more java than you normally drink.
Coffee consumed before a workout can also boost your body’s fat-burning process, Boyer says. A small study published in January 2021 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that a strong dose of caffeine 30 minutes before aerobic exercise (about 200 milligrams [mg] for a 154 pound person, or roughly what you’d find in a large Starbucks coffee) increased fat burning.
You may have noticed that while many popular eating plans that restrict or eliminate foods or food groups, such as Whole30 (which limits added sugars, alcohol, legumes, dairy, and grains), coffee is rarely off limits.
Some diets even encourage drinking coffee. For example, the ketogenic diet promotes bulletproof coffee, where coffee is mixed with butter and a supplement called MCT oil. WW, which uses a points system to keep track of all the food you eat each day, lists black coffee as a zero-point drink, meaning there’s no limit to how much you can drink.
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Maximizing Coffee’s Weight Loss Potential?
However, if you’re not careful, your cup of coffee can easily end up in unhealthy territory. If you add sweeteners, milk, and other high-calorie ingredients, you could get 300 to 500 calories per drink.
“Black coffee is definitely preferable if weight loss is the goal, but certain additions may be in order,” says Kristin Gillespie, RDN, a nutritional support dietitian for Option Care Health and a consultant for Exercise With Style in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Sugar-free sweeteners, such as stevia and Truvia, and small amounts of skim milk should not interfere with your weight loss goals.” She says not to add sugar and cream (including half-and-half) to keep calories in check.
As for the fancy coffee drinks, like Peppermint Mochas and Pumpkin Spice Lattes – avoid them! “Those drinks are probably the worst for people who want to lose weight,” Gillespie says. “They are packed with calories and sugar, often containing hundreds of calories in just one drink.”
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Are there any health risks associated with drinking coffee?
Before drinking coffee all day long, keep in mind that while there’s scientific evidence to support coffee’s effect on your waistline, you don’t want to go overboard. Coffee can lead to sleep problems, even if you drink it up to six hours before bedtime, research has shown. That can ultimately affect your weight, because poor sleep increases hunger and appetite by altering the hormones ghrelin, which affects hunger, and leptin, which affects feelings of fullness, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Too much caffeine can also cause other health problems, such as nervousness, nausea and elevated blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. A good rule of thumb is to consume no more than 400mg of caffeine (about four cups of coffee) per day.
And make sure your last cup is about six hours before bed (or sooner if you’re more sensitive to the effects of coffee) to keep it from interfering with your sleep, Boyer says.
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Bottom Line: Can Coffee Help With Weight Loss?
There is some evidence that coffee can support your metabolism, improve fat burning and make you feel fuller, but don’t expect weight loss miracles.
Boyer says coffee’s benefits for weight loss are modest and more human studies are needed before conclusive evidence is reached.