If you rely on your caffeine fix to get you through the daily grind, you’re not alone — but is coffee good for weight loss? Coffee is certainly the most popular psychoactive substance in the world and there’s evidence in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (opens in new tab) to suggest it boosts concentration and enhances workout performance. But what other positive benefits are there?
While some research evidence (opens in new tab) suggests caffeine may modestly reduce appetite and boost metabolism, the overall picture is complex. Many studies are small-scale, so it’s challenging to draw definitive conclusions.
There is also significant variation depending on how you take your coffee – a flavored latte is likely to be a lot higher in calories than an espresso, for example. Caffeine supplements are often concentrated, too, which carries the risk of side effects such as insomnia, restlessness, increased heart rate and nausea.
So, with all this contradictory information, you may well ask: “is coffee good for weight loss?” To answer this question, we’ve asked experts and sifted through the science about coffee’s influence on weight. You’ll also learn about the science behind caffeine pills as we filter the science from the hype.
For now, we’ll spill the beans about coffee’s relationship with weight.
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Is coffee good for weight loss?
First of all, it’s important to address how weight is lost. Although factors like hormones and age play a role, ultimately it is through eating a well balanced diet. According to the CDC (opens in new tab), you will likely see maximum results by focusing on a nutrient-dense diet and portion control while upping your exercise. Since black coffee contains negligible calories, you can still enjoy it in moderation as part of your plan.
But while coffee may play a role in boosting your metabolism and reducing your appetite, the jury’s out on the extent of the impact. Research (opens in new tab) also shows that caffeine affects individuals differently, making it tricky to generalize its effects.
“Does coffee help you lose weight?,” asks Dr. Shyamala Vishnumohan (opens in new tab), qualified food and nutrition expert, certified prenatal dietitian, and founder of One to One Thousand Nutrition Clinic, based in Perth, Australia. “Probably not, and certainly not without a calorie deficit. Weight management is far more complex than sipping on cups of coffee and watching the pounds of fat melt away.”
Vishnumohan is a certified prenatal dietitian and researcher based in Perth, Australia. She obtained her PhD in Food and Nutrition from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, and has a passion for evidence-based nutrition, particularly around pregnancy, gestational diabetes and plant-based eating.
So let’s delve into the research on coffee and look at what it may (or may not) be able to do.
It may suppress appetite
Research suggests that caffeine may reduce your appetite, potentially resulting in you eating fewer calories. But there are caveats.
“While coffee can slightly reduce your hunger hormone ghrelin, we are not sure how significant the appetite suppressing effects are,” says Dr. Vishnumohan. “For example, one study in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition (opens in new tab) found that drinking coffee before a meal slightly decreased caloric intake. But the appetite suppressing effects did not last more than three to four hours.”
The evidence is conflicting, however. One study in Obesity (opens in new tab) found that overweight participants who consumed coffee reduced their caloric intake at their next meal. Yet another trial covered in Appetite (opens in new tab) concluded coffee had no effect on calories consumed.
Experts do not fully understand the mechanism behind the reduction in ghrelin but one small study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (opens in new tab) yielded surprising results. Researchers found decaffeinated coffee suppressed appetite more than caffeinated coffee. More studies are needed to fully understand this area.
It may increase metabolism
The other touted benefit of caffeine is that it boosts your metabolism and helps you burn more calories.
“Coffee intake speeds up metabolism, likely due to the caffeine content,” explains Lon Ben-Asher (opens in new tab), registered dietitian at Pritikin Longevity Center. “It enhances fat-burning through increased thermogenesis [the production of heat] and stimulation of neurotransmitters such as adrenaline.”
Ben-Asher is a registered dietitian who holds a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural, Life and Nutrition Sciences from the University of Florida and a Masters' in Dietetics and Nutrition. He is also a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
One small 2017 trial in Clinical Pysiology and Functional Imaging (opens in new tab) found that a combination of coffee and exercise enhanced the process of breaking down fat. Yet the study was small-scale – we need more research.
Over time, you build a tolerance to caffeine, and the effects diminish, meaning it does not have a long-term impact, according to the National Institutes of Health (opens in new tab). Don’t be tempted to drink to excess – there are unwelcome side effects, including jitteriness and a racing heart rate.
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Can coffee be bad for weight loss?
While coffee may have a modest role to play in your weight loss plan, you’ll want to avoid common mistakes which could result in unintended weight gain.
Watch out for added calories
If you want to shed excess weight, take your coffee black. The calories quickly tot up as you add in milk, cream, sugar, and syrups. Research published in Diabetes Care (opens in new tab) demonstrates a link between sugar-sweetened drinks and obesity. Got a sweet tooth? Dr. Vishnumohan has a tip: “You can cut calories by using cinnamon to sweeten your coffee.”
Speaking of added calories, resist the urge to add a cake to your coffee order. Try consuming your coffee at home with eggs to keep you feeling full and avoid temptation.
Avoid a late afternoon fix
If your goal is weight loss, take your coffee in the morning or early afternoon to avoid disrupting your sleep.
“Caffeine in coffee can affect sleep. This includes the time it takes to fall asleep and the duration of sleep, depending on how sensitive you are,” says Dr. Vishnumohan.
This is because caffeine binds to adenosine receptors, blocking feelings of sleepiness. “We know poor or insufficient sleep has been repeatedly linked to weight gain,” she adds.
Do caffeine supplements help you lose weight?
If you crave fast results, you may consider caffeine supplements to achieve your weight goals. Be wary of unrealistic claims. There isn’t the research to back these up — there is no quick fix for weight loss. One study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (opens in new tab) found that caffeine supplements made no significant difference in appetite reduction.
Even worse, the concentration of caffeine in pills can have dangerous side effects. “Most scientific evidence indicates we should limit our caffeine intake to 400 mg daily. Caffeine pills may contain significantly more, which poses health risks such as increased blood pressure and heart rate,” advises Ben-Asher.
Be mindful of what else your caffeine pills contain. “These supplements are unregulated and pose other health risks such as contamination of heavy metals and other additives,” adds Ben-Asher.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.