Before we ask if coffee is good for weight loss, we will first look at caffeine, a key ingredient in coffee?
According to the International Coffee Organization, approximately 3 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day.
What Is Caffeine?
Caffeine is the main ingredient in coffee. It is a compound that naturally derives from over sixty plant sources, including coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao seeds and cola nut seeds. Other than coffee we consume caffeine in tea, soft drinks, particularly energy drinks and colas, sweets, and some cold, allergy and pain medications.
The food and drug Administration considers 300 – 400 milligrams a safe amount of caffeine for adults to consume daily. Pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to 200mg per day (American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) and teens are advised to not go over 100mg. It is advised that children avoid caffeine (Mayo Clinic).
As a guide, a regular 150ml /5oz cup of coffee has 100 to 200 mg of caffeine (depending on strength). Instant coffee contains less, anywhere between 30 and 90 mg per cup. A cup of tea has 50 to 70 mg and soft drinks less than 50 mg.
Everyone reacts differently to caffeine, especially smokers and those of ethnic origin. Some people are highly sensitive to its effects and even a small amount can lead to a jittery feeling, palpitations or insomnia. Headaches and upset stomach can be a reaction to caffeine as well.
Many of us depend on our morning fix of coffee to help us wake up before the day has begun. That’s because caffeine is a mild stimulant which activates the central nervous system combating tiredness and improving concentration and focus.
We start to feel the effects after fifteen minutes, the strongest effect apparent after forty-five minutes. Caffeine can keep you alert for three to four hours depending on how fast your body absorbs and digests it.
There are mixed views on the health implications of caffeine with the effects differing in each individual dependent on genetic characteristics and lifestyle factors. (Harvard School of Public Health).
We analyse the potential benefits along with the negative effects of consuming caffeine.
On the upside:
- In moderate amounts, caffeine has been shown to have positive effects on people’s bodies and minds. Caffeine is shown to combat tiredness, boost focus and concentration, improve memory and enhance the ability to exercise. The reason for the energy boost is because caffeine blocks the hypnotic effect of the chemical adenosine in the body which usually acts as a natural sleeping pill (National Geographic).
- Caffeine can increase mood as it increases the firing of neurons and the neurotransmitter dopamine. Studies have linked coffee drinking to a lower risk of depression in women (Harvard).
- Caffeine is full of antioxidants, the single largest source in the western diet.
- Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that three to four cups of coffee per day can lower the risk of liver cancer by half, while another study suggests that drinking four cups per day could also reduce the risk of throat and mouth cancer by half.
- And music to most dieters’ ears is that caffeine may help you burn more fat. This is because it is a stimulant, which means it can boost your metabolism, usually by about 4 to 5% (International Journal of Obesity). A more potent effect on weight loss is its ability to increase energy use in exercise by about 12%.
- Furthermore, coffee may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In fact, multiple studies have found that older people with higher levels of caffeine in their blood were more likely to avoid Alzheimer’s in years to come. According to the University of Illinois, three to five cups may block brain inflammation which could explain the protective effect.
On the downside:
- Caffeine can amplify the stress response in peoples’ bodies, resulting in increased blood pressure and heart rate, as well as increases in the production of stress hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin. The mind has a part to play as caffeine can magnify an individual’s perception of stress. Caffeine generates an emergency response in normal conditions, which stimulates the central nervous system and increases alertness but eventually leads to stress, exhaustion and fatigue (Healthline). Some medics advise those with hypertension or prediabetes to avoid caffeine as readings may lower with the stimulant eliminated.
- Caffeine may cause anxiety, restlessness, tremor and agitation. This reaction is called caffeineism, a disorder caused by ingesting too much caffeine, usually more than six cups per day.
- Caffeine in energy drinks can be very high, they can have up to ten times as much as a cup of coffee. There have been thousands of cases, mostly in the USA of energy drink poisoning which can cause acute liver failure.
- Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that consuming more than 300 mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy may increase the risk of low birth weight in babies.
- Extra wakefulness comes at a price. Without eight hours sleep, the human body will not function at its best, physically, mentally or emotionally. People using caffeine as a crutch are doing so because they are making up for a sleep deficit.
- Paediatricians recommend that children should avoid caffeine found in soft drinks as it is unknown how it impacts the developing brain. This is partly because caffeine interferes with sleep, and sleep plays a critical role in learning. It can also increase anxiety or nervousness. The FDA are also concerned that many food products such as jelly beans, syrup and chewing gum contain caffeine and are investigating the safety of such foods.
- Individuals with anxiety disorders may suffer negative side effects from having too much caffeine. While most of us take it in moderation, it is a reminder that caffeine is a psychoactive substance that can make people more susceptible to the anxiogenic effects of the compound.
Caffeine is addictive and can produce dependency and crippling withdrawal. Some health professionals warn that, by overstimulating the sympathetic nervous system, excessive caffeine can lead to adrenal fatigue.
- Caffeine can cause weight gain because it affects cravings for food. Drinking caffeine can prompt hypoglycaemia, low blood sugar caused by a drop in blood glucose levels which increases appetite and causes cravings for high calorie foods.
All in all, moderation seems to be the trick with caffeine. Finding the right balance means we can enjoy a guilt free morning pick me up but know when to stop to avoid any unwelcome side effects.
So, is coffee good for weight loss? Only in moderation. We ask you to limit your intake of caffeine. In addition, and as the image below clearly shows, please be aware of the sugar content of your favourite coffee. When it comes to your coffee hit, the plain Americano is your best option.