Coffee and weight loss: reality or myth?

Coffee is undoubtedly one of the most popular beverages worldwide. The benefits of drinking coffee are often cited as reducing appetite and speeding up metabolism, which should overall promote weight loss. On the other hand, caffeine is often associated with a greater appetite for sweets and a deterioration in the quality of sleep. These, in turn, are factors that can have a negative effect on weight. Also worth noting is the fact that many coffee drinks contain added sugar and lots of calories. So where is the truth? Does coffee promote or prevent weight loss?

Coffee is not like coffee

Everyone thinks of something different when they think of coffee. For some, it's a favorite espresso or instant coffee with a little milk, for others a fluffy latte with lots of foamed whole milk and sugar. Then, of course, there are other specialties in the form of, for example, frappuccinos from various chains, which certainly taste divine, but the caloric value is close to a standard lunch. Of course, a cup with a cream cap and chocolate sprinkles can hardly be considered dietary.

Under what conditions can coffee be part of a diet and reduction regime? We have selected for you 3 scientifically based reasons why coffee helps weight reduction and, conversely, why it can also be the reason why you cannot lose weight.

1. Coffee itself is calorie-free

Black coffee itself is very low in calories and can actually help you achieve your dream weight. However, it is important to remember that the basis of successful weight loss is a caloric deficit. You can achieve this by increasing physical activity, reducing energy intake, or ideally a combination of both.

An easy way to reduce the amount of energy intake is to choose low-calorie drinks. Replacing just one cup (240ml) of a calorific sugar-sweetened drink with the same amount of water can be proven to lead to weight loss of up to 1.9kg in 6 months. [ 1 ]

Coffee itself is a very low-calorie drink. One cup contains only 2 calories! [ 2 ] Of course, we mean black coffee, without sugar, milk or other additives. So if you're trying to reduce your overall calorie intake, replacing high-calorie drinks like sodas, juices or chocolate milks with regular coffee might be a good place to start.

2. Faster metabolism

Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee, tea or the leaves of certain plants. Coffee is the richest source of this natural stimulant. One cup of coffee contains approximately 95 mg of caffeine. The specific amount depends on the type of coffee beans, the style of roasting and the way the drink is prepared. [ 3] 

Caffeine helps speed up metabolism, i.e. increases the amount of calories the body burns per day. This is why caffeine is included in many weight loss products. However, it should be added that high doses of caffeine need to be consumed in order to significantly affect the metabolism.

For example, one study found that a dose of caffeine equivalent to 10 mg per 1 kg of body weight accelerates metabolism by up to 13%. [ 4 ] However, in the case of a person weighing 68 kg, this would mean a daily intake of 680 mg of caffeine, which corresponds to an incredible 7 cups (1,660 ml) of coffee. [ 5 ]

There is also research that links regular caffeine intake with a better ability to maintain, or even lose, body weight. One study looked at people who successfully lost weight. Those who consumed the most coffee and therefore caffeine were more successful in maintaining weight in the long term. [ 6 ]

3. Decreased appetite

Another of the effects of caffeine is a decrease in appetite. Many factors affect appetite, such as the amount and composition of nutrients in food, hormone levels in the body, and the level of physical activity. Scientific research has shown that drinking coffee reduces the level of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, in the human body. [ 7 ] The body produces this substance directly in the digestive tract, and it is ghrelin that sends signals to the brain with information about the need to eat. Its high level can therefore contribute to weight gain, and conversely its low amount in the body can reduce the amount of food eaten.

Other studies have examined the effect of drinking caffeinated coffee on the amount of calories consumed. They concluded that research participants ate fewer calories on days when they drank caffeinated coffee than on days when they did not indulge in the caffeinated beverage. [ 8 ] 

Coffee and weight gain

Although many studies, including those mentioned above, link coffee consumption to weight loss, other research points to a negative effect of coffee on weight. What are the main reasons for possible weight gain after coffee?

1. Disruption of healthy sleep

As a stimulant, caffeine works in the brain by blocking the effects of a substance called adenosine, which causes sleepiness. This effect can be useful when you indulge in coffee for stimulation and energy. However, if you drink too much coffee or have it later in the day, it can disrupt your sleep pattern. Insufficient quality and long sleep is associated with weight gain and increased appetite. In addition, fatigue leads to the fact that we consume rather unhealthy foods that are rich in quick energy in the form of sugar, which is another possible reason why coffee consumption can have a negative effect on weight.

2. Sweet tooth

As we have already mentioned, the consumption of black coffee itself is mainly related to weight loss. However, many people enjoy their favorite cup together with a treat in the form of a dessert or sweet pastry. This is due to the fact that coffee affects the perception of sweet taste, which can lead to cravings. And, of course, adding a high-sugar snack every day can take a toll on your weight. [ 10 ] 

To avoid this desire for high-calorie sweet treats, it is better to enjoy coffee with foods rich in protein and healthy fats. It is proteins and fats that support the feeling of fullness and reduce the desire for sweets. It is therefore better to have a handful of nuts with your afternoon coffee, and for breakfast, for example, an egg omelette.

3. Coffee as a calorie bomb

Although plain black coffee is an example of a low-calorie drink, many coffee drinks are packed with energy. Coffee shops and multinational chains sell all kinds of coffee drinks with huge amounts of added sugar, whole milk and other calorific additives. On the menu of the well-known American chain Starbucks, you can find, for example, an iced vanilla frappuccino containing a respectable 500 kilocalories (2,100 kJ) in 700 ml. In addition to 120 mg of caffeine, the large cup also contains over 70 grams of sugar (more than 17 teaspoons). The popular mocha drink, which is a combination of coffee, milk and chocolate, contains even 510 kilocalories (2,140 kJ) in less than 600 ml in the flavor of salted caramel. And many, many more examples could be given.

A modern trend among coffee lovers is also the so-called Bulletproof coffee, which consists of black coffee in combination with butter or coconut oil. Although adding healthy fats such as coconut oil to your diet can benefit your health, it literally makes coffee a calorie bomb. And even liquid calories count.

It probably goes without saying that the regular intake of sugary and high-calorie drinks is associated with weight gain and a higher risk of obesity. [ 11 ] 

Drink coffee without worrying about gaining weight

Fortunately, there are many guaranteed ways to enjoy your daily cup of coffee without worrying about weight gain. The most important principle is to avoid adding excess sugar or other caloric ingredients. Compared to classic white sugar, you can't help yourself much from a nutritional point of view even with "healthier" alternatives, such as honey or agave syrup. One teaspoon of sugar has an energy value of approximately 68 kJ, one teaspoon of honey contains even 88 kJ. Keep in mind that sugar is also added to most popular flavorings or pre-prepared coffee specialties such as lattes.

5 tips to taste coffee without excess sugar

- Sprinkle a little cinnamon on the coffee.
- Use a small amount of almond or coconut milk.
- Use a natural low-calorie sweetener such as stevia.
- Add a few drops of vanilla extract.
- Dissolve a square of high percentage dark chocolate in the coffee.

If you prefer sweetened coffee, it is best to gradually reduce the amount of sweetener you add to it. Over time, you will get used to its naturally bitter taste. So the next time you indulge in your favorite latte, try using, for example, only half the usual amount of sugar or flavoring syrup.

The best thing to do is to prepare your favorite coffee drinks yourself at home. This not only allows you to fully control the calories and amount of sugar in the drink, but also saves your wallet.