3 Reasons Coffee Can Support Weight Loss & The Best Ways To Drink It
While it's not a magic solution for weight loss, emerging research suggests that coffee can be a healthy addition to your diet if you're looking to lose a few pounds, thanks to its ability to regulate appetite and kick-start your metabolism. We consulted a few experts to understand how coffee can affect your weight and whether when or how you drink it makes a difference.
Reasons coffee might cause weight loss
Not only can your morning cup of joe deliver a quick jolt of caffeine, but it may also promote weight loss. Case in point: One 2019 meta-analysis of 13 studies found that increased caffeine intake1 was linked to reductions in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat. Below, we take a deep dive into how exactly it works:
It could decrease your appetite.
According to Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D., CSSD, a performance dietitian, coffee can act as an appetite suppressant for some people. In fact, studies show that drinking coffee up to four hours before a meal can decrease energy intake2, potentially leading to weight loss.
Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT, an integrative dietitian, tells mindbodygreen that coffee also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, a branch of the autonomic nervous system that has been shown to reduce hunger3 and increase satiety.
This explains why many people may find that drinking a cup or two of coffee in the morning with breakfast can keep them going until lunch.
It may boost your metabolism.
Some research has found that coffee's weight-loss-promoting properties could stem from its effects on energy balance. More specifically, coffee is believed to boost energy expenditure4, or the amount of calories that your body burns each day. Coupled with its ability to decrease energy intake, this could help amplify weight loss.
"In studies, consuming caffeine can increase calories burned3 by around 80-150 calories," says Crouch.
However, she also explains that your mileage may vary when it comes to the metabolism-boosting benefits of coffee, as research shows that people with less body fat experience a greater bump in calorie burning than those with higher amounts of body fat.
It might promote fat-burning.
Chlorogenic acid, a compound found in coffee beans, has been shown to boost fat metabolism5 in test-tube studies.
While it's not completely clear how it works, chlorogenic acid is thought to regulate certain enzymes and pathways involved in fat accumulation, thereby reducing body fat.
Other research shows that drinking a cup of coffee before hitting the gym may also be beneficial, thanks to its caffeine content.
According to one review published in Nutrients, consuming a moderate dose of caffeine prior to aerobic exercise significantly increased fat utilization6 while working out. Plus, another study showed that caffeine enhanced maximal fat oxidation7 (or fat burning) during exercise by up to 29% compared to a placebo.
Of course, those who don't like coffee shouldn't feel like they need to start drinking it for these potential weight management benefits. Your diet as a whole will have a much bigger impact on your weight than a single beverage.
What's the recommended amount of coffee to drink to lose weight?
In most cases, it's best to stick to a cup or two of coffee to maximize the potential health benefits without going overboard on caffeine.
"For performance benefits8, 2-6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is recommended," says Jones. To put this into perspective, if you're 150 pounds, this translates to around 204-408 mg of caffeine, or around two to five cups, per day.
Keep in mind that more is not always better when it comes to caffeine. The Food and Drug Administration9 recommends capping your caffeine intake at around 400 milligrams per day, which equals about four to five cups.
Too much caffeine can cause a slew of negative side effects, including anxiety, digestive issues, jitters, and insomnia. (It can even contribute to weight gain in some cases.) Certain people may also need to dial their intake back even further, including those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or extra sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
Does decaf count?
If weight loss is your goal, it may be a good idea to keep the caffeine in your coffee. According to Crouch, decaf coffee doesn't boast the same calorie-burning, appetite-suppressing characteristics as caffeinated drinks.
However, she also points out that decaf may offer some other benefits, as it's rich in chlorogenic acid10, a compound that's been shown to protect against diabetes and promote better blood sugar control.
Coffee mistakes to avoid
Though coffee can support weight loss, there are certain situations where it may be doing more harm than good. Here are a few of the most common coffee mistakes you may be making:
Drinking coffee but forgoing food
Coffee is not a meal, and it should not replace food. "In many cases, I see [the appetite-suppressing effects of coffee] backfire with clients as they drink coffee early in the morning and then go too long without eating," says Jones. "This, in turn, can increase stress hormones early in the day and lead to overeating11 later in the day."
Loading your coffee with cream and sugar
High-calorie syrups and sweeteners can quickly negate many of the benefits that coffee brings to the table. Popular drinks at coffee chains like frappuccinos, sugary lattes, or iced mochas are also loaded with extra calories and unlikely to help with weight loss.
Having coffee too late in the day
Drinking a coffee a few hours before bed can make it much harder to get a good night's rest. Studies show that sleep disturbances can contribute to weight gain and increased energy intake12 during the day.
Chugging coffee to fuel your overly stressful lifestyle
If you're regularly using coffee as a crutch to help you power through stressful situations, it may be time to consider addressing the root of the issue instead. Research suggests that high levels of stress can contribute to weight gain by increasing cravings and appetite13 while also decreasing motivation to stay active.
Pairing caffeine and exercise
Athletes will often use caffeine to increase their exercise intensity and duration. Beyond its ability to bump up fat burning6, Jones explains that caffeine may aid in decreasing perceived exertion and boosting focus, which can help you become more engaged while you work out.
How to amp up your coffee in a healthy way
While black coffee is a fail-safe option if you're trying to lose weight, there's no need to stick to plain coffee if you don't want to. Instead, try one of these healthy mix-ins to give your coffee a flavor upgrade without piling on extra sugar or calories:
- Coconut oil: Besides bringing a rich and creamy taste to your coffee, a scoop of coconut oil can also suppress hunger and appetite14 to keep you feeling full between meals.
- Collagen: Collagen can bump up your intake of protein, which can curb cravings15 and decrease appetite by altering levels of certain hormones in the gut. What's more, it can also increase skin elasticity16 and hydration, giving you even more reason to start sipping. Here are a few healthy collagen powders to look into.
- Milk: Whether you opt for cow's milk or a dairy-free alternative made from almonds or oats, a splash of milk can bring a bit of flavor and creaminess to your coffee, without adding lots of extra sugar.
- Cinnamon: This aromatic spice can add a warm, slightly sweet taste to coffee. It's also chock-full of benefits, with studies showing that cinnamon acts as a natural antioxidant17 and possesses powerful immune-boosting properties.
- Cocoa: A scoop of cocoa powder can instantly transform any cup of coffee, giving it a rich, chocolatey flavor, along with a hearty dose of antioxidants. Plus, some research even suggests that cocoa—in moderation—could be beneficial for weight management18 and heart health.
- Turmeric: Known for its vibrant color and earthy taste, turmeric boasts a long list of health benefits, thanks to its content of curcumin. Some studies have found that turmeric could ease inflammation19 and decrease body weight20, making it a great addition to your daily brew.
What is the best time to drink coffee for weight loss?
According to Crouch, drinking coffee 45-60 minutes before a workout has been shown to improve athletic performance and may be your best bet if weight loss is your goal. If you're not heading to the gym, mid to late morning may be the prime time to enjoy coffee, as this is around when levels of stress hormones tend to dip.
Can coffee reduce belly fat?
Some research has found that coffee could help increase fat-burning, especially when paired with exercise. It may suppress your appetite and increase metabolism as well, which could also be beneficial for decreasing body fat.
Is milk coffee good for weight loss?
Milk coffee can definitely fit into a balanced diet for weight loss. Be sure to limit creamers, syrups, or other sweeteners to keep your calorie consumption in check.
Though most well known for its ability to fight fatigue and rev up energy levels, coffee each day may also help you reach your weight loss goals by reducing your appetite, dialing up your metabolism, and enhancing your performance at the gym. However, keep in mind that coffee isn't a quick fix for weight loss. Instead, it should be enjoyed in moderation alongside a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle to maximize your results.
Rachael Ajmera, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and writer based in San Francisco. She holds a master's degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University and an undergraduate degree in Dietetics.
Rachael works as a freelance writer and editor for several health and wellness publications. She is passionate about sharing evidence-based information on nutrition and health and breaking down complex topics into content that is engaging and easy to understand.
When she's not writing, Rachael enjoys experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, reading, gardening, and spending time with her husband and dogs.