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Does coffee help with weight loss?

This caffeinated beverage can boost metabolism, improve exercise performance, and more

Compared to individuals who maintain a healthy weight, people with obesity or who are considered overweight are at an increased risk for several serious health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even stroke. The good news? Even losing a small amount of weight (5%-10% of your body weight) comes with health benefits like more energy, improved blood sugar levels, and better sleep. 

Perhaps you’re already exercising and eating healthy, but you want an edge to help maximize your weight loss potential. Of course, there’s no magic supplement, but your morning cup of joe can help. Below, experts share what you need to know about coffee and weight loss.

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Does coffee help you lose weight?

First things first: Coffee is not a replacement for a healthy diet, adequate exercise, good sleep hygiene, and stress management. But research supports a connection between coffee and weight loss. A 2019 meta-analysis found that caffeine intake was associated with reduced weight, BMI, and body fat. A 2020 study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health also discovered that overweight individuals who consumed about four cups of regular coffee daily for 24 weeks experienced an average body weight reduction of 4%.

The type of coffee drink you’re consuming is important when trying to lose weight, says Casey Kelley, MD, founder and medical director at Case Integrative Health. If you add sweeteners, milk, cream, or other calorie-dense ingredients, your cup of “coffee” can rack up hundreds of extra calories and lead to weight gain

To put that in perspective, consider a coffee-based drink that loads up the extras. For example, there are 470 calories in a Venti Mocha Frappuccino, which is 25% of the FDA’s average recommended daily caloric intake.

“For weight loss, black coffee or coffee with a small amount of honey, milk, or milk alternative is ideal,” Dr. Kelley says. 

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How does coffee support weight loss?

More than a low-calorie drink option, black coffee can aid your weight loss goals in these six ways. 

1. It suppresses appetite.

A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that caffeine intake 30 minutes to four hours before a meal reduced caloric intake. Dr. Kelley says that because coffee acts as an appetite suppressant, you’ll be less likely to over-indulge for at least a few hours after drinking your morning cup. 

2. It boosts metabolism.

The caffeine in coffee can quickly speed up your metabolism, which makes you burn more calories even when you’re doing nothing, says Jared Braunstein, DO, a board-certified internist at Medical Offices of Manhattan in New York.

One small study found that individuals who consumed coffee containing 200 mg of caffeine experienced an immediate elevation to their base metabolic rate that lasted for three hours. Another small study found that this thermogenic effect was more efficient in lean individuals than individuals who were obese. More research is needed to determine the ideal amount of caffeine for fat loss.

3. It enhances exercise performance.

Caffeine is a stimulant. Because of that, many find that coffee consumption increases their performance in the gym. It does this by blocking a transmitter called adenosine, which increases dopamine release and boosts energy levels.

Research indicates that caffeine consumption about an hour before exercising enhances anaerobic (e.g.,  sprinting, jumping, weightlifting) and aerobic (e.g.,  swimming, running, biking) exercise performance. 

4. It helps reduce body fat.

Thanks to its caffeine, coffee stimulates the release of the hormone epinephrine, which signals your body’s fat cells to break down fats. One recent study found that women who drink two to three cups of coffee daily had less body fat and belly fat than those who did not consume coffee.

For optimal fat loss, it’s important to be in a caloric deficit, which means eating fewer calories than your body uses. Used in conjunction with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management, coffee can be a tool to help you reach your goals. 

5. It reduces water retention.

Caffeine is also a diuretic, which increases how often you urinate. While it can reduce water weight, too much coffee may have the opposite effect. When dehydrated, your body is more likely to hold on to whatever water it can, so drink plenty of water with your coffee.

6. It contains antioxidants.

Dr. Braunstein says chlorogenic acid, one of coffee’s antioxidants, has been linked to faster metabolism and more fat oxidation. These antioxidants may make insulin and glucose metabolism more efficient and improve the body’s capacity to digest and use energy, which could potentially assist in weight loss.

How to maximize coffee’s weight loss potential

Is there a secret ingredient to add to coffee for weight loss? Many people believe drinking coffee with lemon in the morning will help them lose weight, but Dr. Braunstein says there is no solid evidence for this. Even though lemon includes chemicals with some possible health advantages, such as vitamin C and polyphenols, which have antioxidant qualities, these effects are unlikely to influence weight reduction significantly, he explains.

If you’re looking to get the most out of coffee’s weight loss benefits, try these tips:

  • Keep it simple. Skip the sugary latte and instead opt for black coffee with no added sugars, syrups, or high-calorie creamers. Dr. Kelley suggests using stevia as a sweetener because it won’t spike blood sugar.
  • Drink coffee before hitting the gym. Caffeine can improve your workout and help you burn more fat, says Dr. Braunstein. Just be sure to drink enough water to avoid dehydration (about 3.7 liters per day for men and 2.7 liters a day for women).
  • Avoid coffee in the afternoon. To get a good night’s sleep—and prevent cravings that lead to overeating from exhaustion—stay away from coffee a minimum of six hours prior to bedtime.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Although coffee contains antioxidants, it shouldn’t be your only source. Dr. Braunstein urges people to eat a wide variety of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to support their metabolism and overall wellness.

Risks of drinking coffee

When consumed regularly and long-term, many develop a tolerance to caffeine, which means they require more and more caffeine to feel the effects, Dr. Kelley explains. It’s also possible to create a dependency on caffeine and experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and irritability for a few days if you stop drinking it, she adds. 

Even though it has health benefits, coffee isn’t for everyone. Coffee could interact with medications, so you should speak with your healthcare provider first. Additionally, Dr. Kelley says the following people should avoid (or severely limit) it:

  • People with sleep disorders
  • People with migraine 
  • People who have GERD
  • People who have heart arrhythmias
  • People with high blood pressure
  • People with anxiety
  • People who are pregnant or breastfeeding 

And even for those who are able to drink it safely, too much can be harmful. Everyone’s tolerance is different, but drinking more than 400 mg of caffeine per day may cause side effects, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Dependency

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The bottom line: Does coffee help you lose weight?

Coffee may reduce hunger, help burn fat, boost your metabolism, and enhance your exercise performance—all of which can help contribute to weight management. Your best bet is to use coffee to supplement a well-rounded wellness routine.