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Most people can't imagine starting their day without a nice cup of coffee. Although one of the most popular beverages in the world, coffee is also demonized lately. Coffee has a lot of health benefits, but weight loss potential is the most well-known. Many weight loss products contain caffeine, and people are wondering how to lose weight with coffee, how it works, and whether it's really possible. In this article, you’ll get answers to all the questions you may have. Scroll down to learn more about coffee as a weight-loss tool.
What happens when you have a cup of coffee in the morning or during the day when the concentration levels go down? You felt more alert and energized, right? That's because coffee is a stimulant. The main active compound in coffee, as you already know, is caffeine. What many people don’t know is that more than 60 plants contain caffeine (1), but to most of us, it will always be mainly known as the main stimulant in coffee. Caffeine is considered a psychostimulant due to the fact its primary effects are correlated to the interfering action on the neuroendocrine control systems in the body. The stimulant effects of caffeine are also responsible for the popularity of coffee as it improves cognitive skills.
But what about weight loss?
The mechanism of action associated with caffeine explains why it can help lose weight. You see, caffeine blocks adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, thus increasing the firing of neurons and the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. As a result, you feel energetic, alert, and motivated. What happens next is that you are more active. What's more, caffeine has the potential to increase athletic performance by 11.2% to 12.3% on average (2, 3).
The key to a successful weight loss is not a secret. We need to lose or burn more calories than we consume. In order to make it happen, it is necessary to exercise on a regular basis. What makes coffee as a weight-loss tool, a reasonable solution is the burst of energy, alertness, and motivation that will keep you active and push you to work out more in the gym.
When trying to slim down, the goal is to burn fat, especially in the abdominal area. The fat is stubborn, and it can be difficult to lose it, but not impossible. With proper strategy, you can burn fat and slim down, and coffee can help.
In June 2019, the journal Scientific Reports published an interesting study from the University of Nottingham where the ability of coffee to burn fat was confirmed (4). The scientists found that drinking a cup of coffee can stimulate brown fat or the body’s fat-fighting defenses which could help tackle not just obesity, but diabetes as well.
Brown adipose fat is one of the two types of fat that mammals have. For a long time, it was believed that adults do not have brown fat, but in recent years it was discovered that they do (5). The primary function of brown fat is to produce body heat by burning calories. On the other hand, white fat accumulates due to the storing of excess calories. Coffee, as confirmed by the above-mentioned study, has a direct impact on brown fat. By increasing the activity of brown fat, the blood sugar control improves as well as blood lipid levels. The extra calories burnt in the process promote weight loss.
The enhanced activity of brown fat is not the only fat-related mechanism of action a cup of coffee can provide. A study from Food Science and Biotechnology confirmed that caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which, in turn, sends signals to the fat cells prompting them to break down fat. In other words, caffeine’s stimulant effects lead to lipolysis and help the body burn fat (6).
Metabolism or the metabolic rate is the rate at which the body burns calories. Even though it's a frequently used term, the word "metabolism" is quite misunderstood as some even believe its relation to weight loss is nothing but a myth. As mentioned above, to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume meaning, it is necessary to accelerate the metabolic rate. Metabolism can slow down due to a variety of reasons ranging from health conditions to an unhealthy lifestyle. But, the faster your metabolism, the easier it gets to lose weight, but at the same time, you don’t gain weight so quickly. This is particularly important for people who tend to gain weight soon after they have slimmed down.
Evidence confirms that coffee intake can increase metabolism by 8% to 11%, and, when consumed at regular doses, it can have a significant impact on energy balance and thermogenesis to promote obesity (7).
When discussing the potential of coffee to stimulate metabolism, it is worth noting the effects are stronger in leaner people than in their obese counterparts. One study found that caffeine increased metabolism and fat-burning by 29% in lean subjects, but in obese subjects, metabolic rate was higher by 10%, which is not that significant (8).
Basically, coffee as a weight-loss tool has multiple mechanisms of action, and while it can accelerate metabolism to boost fat burning, the effects could be smaller in obese people. Besides body composition, other factors such as age play a role in caffeine’s ability to boost your metabolism. The results are better and more significant in younger as opposed to older people (9).
Speaking of metabolism, other ways to speed it up, including:
Multiple mechanisms are involved in the potential of coffee to promote weight loss, but it is impossible not to wonder whether the effects of caffeine are genuine or they are played up by popular culture. The truth is that the benefits of coffee are confirmed by science. For instance, scientists at the University of Illinois have discovered that caffeine limited weight gain and production of cholesterol, despite a diet that was abundant in sugar and fat. Scientists confirmed that caffeine could be considered an anti-obesity agent (10).
Although coffee as a weight-loss tool is a real thing, the effects are not quite long-term as you’d expect. Evidence suggests that people may develop caffeine tolerance due to continuous severe coffee ingestion (11). Therefore, the positive effects of coffee on your weight loss efforts may not be present for the long-term because you gradually develop tolerance to caffeine. It doesn’t mean you should give up coffee or that achieving significant weight loss is impossible. This just shows that while coffee has a positive influence on weight loss, you should still strive to build a healthy lifestyle that includes a multifaceted approach to achieve favorable outcomes.
One of the biggest reasons why people gain too much weight is overeating. Therefore, appetite suppression is an important weight loss strategy. When it comes to the influence of coffee on appetite suppression, the evidence is mixed. For instance, a study from the Nutrition Research found that caffeine can reduce energy intake (i.e., the appetite) in men, but not in women (12). However, this doesn't mean coffee is ineffective. Scientists explained these findings were consistent with the concept that women tend to preserve the body energy stores more than men when exposed to factors that activate the sympathetic nervous system.
On the flip side, the Journal of Nutrition published a study that did not support the idea of caffeine’s appetite suppression. The research showed that the usually consumed amount of caffeinated coffee doesn’t induce short-term appetite suppression, glucose metabolism, and inflammatory markers (13).
Yet another piece of evidence to confirm the complexity of the subject is the study, which found that caffeine can help reduce calorie intake by 10% over breakfast. That being said, the effects were diminished as the day went on, which prompted scientists to conclude that caffeine is not exactly an appetite suppressant (14). Scientists were inspired to do the study because many weight loss products contain caffeine and promise it can help uses eat less. That being said, while caffeine can stimulate the nervous system and promote fat burning, it didn’t succeed in creating a sense of fullness.
A common mistake that people make is the belief that the more they consume something, the greater the results. Let’s take coffee as an example; various studies have confirmed the usual consumption can promote weight loss. But, that doesn’t mean you need to go ahead and drink more coffee than you already do.
Coffee is considered safe for general consumption when consumed in healthy amounts. Excessive coffee intake can cause adverse reactions such as insomnia, nervousness, higher blood pressure, nausea, among other side effects (15). If you need yet another reason to avoid drinking an excessive amount of coffee, here's something important to know; consuming too much caffeine could increase the risk of weight gain and a higher risk of metabolic syndrome in the future (16). Stick to the moderation to achieve the best results, but also to avoid potential problems down the road. Men and women with some underlying health condition may want to consult their doctor about this subject.
In order to use the benefits of coffee as a weight-loss tool but to avoid the actual beverage or to make it more effective, you may be tempted to consume some caffeinated products. That is not, exactly, the best idea. The reason for that is simple; caffeinated products are heavily processed and refined. They are also laden in sugars and fat, which may undermine the weight loss effort. That's why the best idea is to stick to the regular coffee you drink and avoid putting too much sugar in it.
Speaking of products, you've probably come across specialized weight loss coffee products, which many experts describe as a scam. Skinny coffee may seem appealing, but it can do more harm than good. Besides coffee, it may also include other ingredients that induce an array of side effects such as the upset stomach, anxiety, irritability, potential liver damage, and poor sleep (17). The coffee you drink every morning delivers a wide range of nutrients the body requires to work properly. On the other hand, products such as weight loss coffee can contain extracts that fail to provide much-needed safety. In other words, standard black coffee you have in the kitchen right now is a better option.
Besides weight loss, coffee has many other advantages and health benefits. Some of them include:
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. Throughout history, people from different cultures drank coffee, used it for trade, and many other purposes. Today, most people need coffee to wake up in the morning and get ready for work. It's not uncommon to hear or read that coffee is not good for us, but it has many health benefits, and weight loss is one of them. Coffee promotes weight loss through multiple mechanisms of action, but its effects may not be long-term. Remember, successful weight loss requires a well-balanced diet and regular exercise.