Whether you crave coffee as a mid-afternoon caffeine fix or a morning pick-me-up, you're in good company. Americans drink an average of three cups of joe each day, according to a 2010 survey on coffee trends conducted by the National Coffee Association. Coffee can work well in a weight-loss diet -- and even offer some benefits, especially if you're exercising to lose weight -- but you should drink it black and practice moderation to avoid side effects.
Drink Your Coffee Black While Dieting
When you're dieting, drink your coffee black and avoid going for sweetened coffee beverages. Plain coffee has a negligible amount of calories; a cup of brewed coffee has 5 calories, instant coffee contains 7 calories, and an ounce of espresso has just 3 calories. If you're going for these plain beverages, you won't add to your daily calorie intake, so you can still easily stick to the calorie-restricted diet you'll need to follow to lose weight.
While black coffee is very low in calories, the same doesn't hold true of coffee with mix-ins. An ounce of cream or half-and-half will set you back 57 and 37 calories, respectively, and sugar has 16 calories per teaspoon. A mocha, made from a powder mix, has 60 calories per serving, and a specialty coffee made with syrup, milk and whipped cream can contain hundreds of calories. These should be limited -- or avoided entirely -- in a weight-loss diet.
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Evidence for Coffee and Weight Loss
While the research on coffee and weight loss is still in the preliminary stages, there's some evidence that drinking coffee can help you on your weight-loss journey. One study, published in a 2015 issue of the Journal Epidemiology, investigated the diet habits of almost 100,000 people to find out whether coffee intake was linked to health problems, including obesity. The study authors found that habitual coffee drinkers had a lower risk of obesity than coffee abstainers, but note that they couldn't determine whether coffee was the actual cause of the lower obesity risk.
Coffee might have greater weight loss benefits when you're already close to your goal weight, though, according to a review published in a 2006 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The review, which summarized the results from several studies, explains that caffeine is more effective at boosting metabolism and fat burning in nonobese study subjects compared to obese subjects. So while coffee can be worthwhile to add to a weight loss diet, it will likely be most effective when you're near the end of your weight-loss journey.
Coffee and Exercise
There's more evidence that drinking coffee will support your exercise routine, which can help you power through your workouts and lose more weight. One study, published in PLoS One in 2013, found that cyclists who drank coffee or took caffeine an hour before their endurance workout were able to cycle faster and had more endurance than those who didn't. A review, from the November 2015 issue of International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, reports that coffee also lowers the rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, during exercise. The RPE is a measure of how hard you feel you're working, and lower RPE workouts feel easier. By reducing RPE -- making your workouts feel easier -- caffeine can help you push yourself harder during exercise, so you can burn more calories.
Weight Loss-Friendly Serving Tips
Keep the calories down by experimenting with virtually calorie-free seasonings for your coffee. Add a sprinkling of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to your coffee grounds during brewing for a spicy, festive-tasting brew, or stir vanilla extract or vanilla bean into your coffee for a warm, comforting mug. If you need a little sweetness to offset coffee's bitter flavor, try a diet-friendly natural sweetener, like stevia -- look for flavored stevia packets designed for use in coffee to add extra flavor to your brew. And use a splash of unsweetened almond milk instead of cream or half-and-half -- a quarter-cup has just 10 calories.
Limit your caffeinated coffee intake to 2 to 3 cups daily. Any more than that, and you risk getting too much caffeine, which can cause jitters and anxiety, as well as disrupt your sleep cycle.