Coffee and weight management

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Coffee has recently been lauded in the news as a “potential secret to fighting obesity” (according to the Daily Mail), with headlines claiming that scientists have discovered drinking a cup a day stimulates weight loss. But is this really the case?

Recent media coverage has suggested that coffee may play a beneficial role in weight loss and management. This has been based on a study regarding the effects of caffeine on fat cells in a group of 9 individuals1. The researchers specifically studied brown adipose tissue, a type of fat cell that is able to rapidly generate heat and burn sugar and fat. The authors suggested that caffeine can increase the activity of this brown fat and may offer therapeutic benefits in those trying to manage weight1.

This is supported by a 2016 study, which compared the daily consumption of coffee and caffeinated drinks between people who maintained levels of weight loss and a group from the general population. The finding suggested that those who maintained weight loss consumed significantly more cups of coffee and caffeinated drinks than those in the general population sample2. An additional meta-analysis of 13 randomised controlled trials which considered the effects of caffeine on weight loss concluded that caffeine intake may help to promote a reduction in weight, BMI and body fat3. The authors suggested that doubling one’s caffeine intake resulted in a mean reduction in weight, BMI, and fat mass of 22, 17, and 28 percent, respectively3.

Weight management is complex and made up of multiple processes and pathways. An important aspect is managing one’s intake of food and drink. These studies suggest that drinking coffee may help by promoting body fat reduction, with brown adipose tissue potentially playing a role, although the research is not clear enough to specifically recommend coffee consumption as part of a weight loss strategy. Moderate coffee consumption can be defined as 3-5 cups per day, based on the European Food Safety Authority’s review of caffeine safety4.

  1. Velickovic K. et al. (2019) Caffeine exposure induces browning features in adipose tissue in vitro and in vivo. Sci Reps, 9, 9104.
  2. Icken D. et al. (2016) Caffeine intake is related to successful weight loss maintenance. Eur J Clin Nutr, 70(4):532-4.
  3. Tabrizi R. et al. (2018) The effects of caffeine intake on weight loss: a systematic review and dos-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr,18:1-9.
  4. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2015) Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine. EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102.

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