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Can coffee help with weight loss? Image credit: Anastasiya Mihailovna/Getty Images.
  • Coffee is a popular beverage in many parts of the world. The drink may offer certain health benefits, and research in this area is ongoing.
  • A review of three studies found that consuming unsweetened coffee was associated with some weight loss. However, this effect was mitigated when participants added sugar to coffee.
  • People can seek professional guidance about how coffee consumption fits into their diet, including potential benefits and risks.

Coffee might be enjoyable as a beverage, but experts are still working on understanding its full health benefits and how adding other ingredients, such as cream or sugar, may influences potential health benefits.

A study recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has now found that drinking unsweetened coffee was associated with a small amount of weight loss, while adding sugar to coffee was associated with some weight gain.

The results indicate that drinking unsweetened coffee might benefit weight management. However, they should be replicated with future research to confirm the findings.

For this research, the authors wanted to see if drinking coffee contributed to weight loss. They also wanted to examine how adding cream, sugar, or non-dairy whitener to the coffee influenced the health outcome.

This research examined data from three major health studies: the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. This allowed researchers access to a large amount of data and participants.

They then selected participants for their analysis who met certain inclusion criteria. For example, they chose not to include certain participants who had missing data or already had cancer, heart disease, or diabetes at baseline. In total, they included just over 155,000 participants in their analysis.

Researchers were able to look at data from food frequency questionnaires that participants filled out at baseline and then every 4 years. Participants answered how often they consumed coffee, decaffeinated or regular, and how much cream, sugar, or non-dairy whitener they added. Researchers did not examine adding fat-free creamer or whitener or adding milk.

They then also looked at the weight changes that occurred every four years. They accounted for several covariates, including the consumption of certain foods, alcohol intake, physical activity, and medical conditions.

The researchers found that drinking 1 cup of coffee daily, whether decaf or regular, was associated with a loss of 0.12 kilograms (kg) of body weight over 4 years.

In contrast, adding one teaspoon of sugar daily was associated with 0.09 kg of weight gain over 4 years. Researchers found that their associations were stronger among participants with a higher BMI and younger age.

They also found that adding whitener or cream was not associated with any significant weight gain.

The authors concluded in the study paper that:

“Our results may be particularly relevant as an effective weight management strategy among people with overweight and obesity as the observed weight gain associated with adding sugar was higher in these participants. The findings raise questions of a potentially even more detrimental impact on weight by commercial coffee drinks with higher amounts of added sugar.”

However, it is essential to note the overall modest contribution of coffee on weight, either with or without sugar.

Beata Rydyger, a registered nutritionist based in Los Angeles, CA, and nutritional contributor to HPVHUB, not involved in this research, shared her view on the study with Medical News Today.

“The study found that drinking unsweetened coffee (caffeinated or decaffeinated) had a small impact on weight loss,” Rydyger told us, emphasizing that “[y]ou’d have to drink 3 cups a day to lose just 1 pound over 4 years!”

“Conversely, the study found that adding sugar to coffee (or other foods and beverages) actually led to weight gain, counteracting any potential weight loss from drinking coffee,” she added.

“But the weight gain was also modest,” she pointed out. “Participants gained only 0.2 lbs [pounds, equivalent to 0.09 kg] for each teaspoon of sugar they added to their daily coffee so the risk of putting on any serious belly fat is only a risk for people who add a lot of sugar to their coffees.”

This research looks at a substantial amount of data but has certain limitations. Those limitations are similar to those of the individual studies examined in the analysis.

For example, the studies mainly included white individuals, limiting generalization, and meaning later studies can include more diversity. The studies also rely on self-reporting, which can be inaccurate. For example, weight was self-reported and only verified in a sub-sample. Self-reported weights were about 1.5 kg lower than weights taken by staff.

Researchers did not have access to certain data, such as the specific influence of different coffee-whitening products. They also did not examine caffeine’s role in other caffeinated beverages or look at the influence of artificial sweeteners. And they did not look at commercial sugar-sweetened coffee drinks with higher calorie amounts.

The authors also note that the findings need to be replicated in other studies for further confirmation, and these should include higher levels of caffeine consumption from other sources.

People who have questions about their coffee consumption can speak with their doctors or nutrition specialists for further guidance.

Dr. Felix Spiegel, bariatric surgeon with Memorial Hermann in Houston, TX, not involved in the research, told MNT: “The recommendation is to drink up to 5 cups of coffee daily with or without creamer for health benefits and weight control. However, adding sugar is not recommended.”

Rydyger noted that moderation remains key when it comes to coffee consumption:

“To ensure balanced coffee consumption, individuals should aim for moderation, typically limiting themselves to 3–4 cups or around 400 mg [milligrams] of caffeine per day. However, it’s important to know that everyone metabolizes caffeine differently. Hence, it’s crucial to listen to one’s body, adjusting intake if feelings of jitters or anxiety emerge. Considering the timing, avoiding coffee in the late afternoon or evening can prevent disruptions in sleep. It’s also essential to account for all sources of caffeine, including tea, chocolate, energy drinks and certain medications.”

Drinking coffee has been a subject of health research for many years now. Drinking coffee may offer certain health benefits, including reducing coronary heart disease and heart failure risks.

People who drink coffee regularly may have a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Coffee may also reduce mortality risk.

Dr. Spiegel explained why that may be, noting that: “The benefits of drinking coffee include anti-cancer effects because of high concentration of antioxidants. Also, cardiovascular improvements have been demonstrated with controlled intake amounts up to 5 cups daily.”

However, drinking coffee may also contribute to certain health problems, such as heart palpitations and increased anxiety.

Rydyger noted:

“[Coffee’s] rich antioxidant content can combat oxidative stress, while caffeine enhances mood, alertness, and offers metabolic benefits by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation. However, excessive coffee intake can lead to sleep disturbances, digestive issues, potential impacts on bone and heart health, and heightened anxiety in some individuals. Drinking coffee is also often accompanied by adding sugar, artificial sweeteners, cream or coffee whiteners which have been linked to potential detrimental health effects.”

Research about the health benefits or dangers of coffee remains ongoing.