Can Drinking Coffee Help With Weight Loss and Reduce Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk?
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New study found people who had higher levels of caffeine in their blood were more likely to have lower fat mass.
They were also more likely to have a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes.
Nutritionists point out this is a correlation, not causation.
There’s been a growing body of research about the perks of coffee and now, a new study suggests it may impact your fat mass and diabetes risk, too.
Research published in BMJ Medicine analyzed data from about 10,000 people who participated in six long-term studies. The researchers looked at two genetic mutations that have been associated with slower caffeine metabolism and found that people with those variants tend to have higher levels of caffeine in their blood after having caffeinated drinks (including coffee) compared to people who break down caffeine faster.
The researchers then analyzed caffeine levels compared to body fat, risk of types 2 diabetes, and major heart complications like stroke and heart failure. They found that the two gene variants predicted higher concentrations of caffeine in the body, along with lower fat mass and lower type 2 diabetes risk.
The study also found that 100 milligrams of caffeine increased the amount of energy or calories a person burns (aka thermogenesis) by about 100 calories a day.
While the study specifically looked at the impact of caffeine levels in the body in people who have a specific genetic mutation, the researchers say the findings can translate to just about anyone. “Higher plasma caffeine concentrations might reduce adiposity [fat] and risk of type 2 diabetes,” they wrote in the conclusion, noting that “further clinical study” is needed to learn more.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you may be giving yourself a mental high five right now. But experts say this link is complicated. Here’s what you need to know.
Why is caffeine linked with lower fat mass and type 2 diabetes risk?
It’s important to point out upfront that the study simply found an association between higher levels of caffeine and a lowered risk of fat mass and risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Meaning, they didn’t prove that drinking coffee or any other type of caffeinated drink will torch body fat and torpedo your type 2 diabetes risk—they just found a link between the two.
Still, experts say the link isn’t entirely surprising. “The findings are consistent with some other favorable findings related to caffeine,” says Beth Warren, R.D., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl. Christy Brissette, R.D., owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition, agrees. “Caffeine can suppress appetite, promote fat burning, and boost your metabolic rate,” she says.
Previous research has found a link between drinking coffee and weight loss. One Harvard study published in 2020 found that drinking up to four cups of coffee could reduce body fat by about 4%. The study followed 126 people who had overweight and had them either drink four cups of regular coffee or four cups of a coffee-like placebo drink daily for 24 weeks. Those in the coffee group ultimately lost more weight.
A meta-analysis of four trials published last year also found that drinking coffee may help stimulate metabolism in people.
“Caffeine is a stimulant,” says Jessica Cording, R.D., author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. “There does seem to be a slightly higher calorie burn when people have caffeine.”
The lowered risk of type 2 diabetes is likely linked to this calorie burn, given that having obesity and overweight is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, says Deborah Cohen, R.D.N., an associate professor in the Department of Clinical and Preventive Nutrition Sciences at Rutgers University.
So, should you start drinking more coffee?
Experts stress that weight loss and lowering your type 2 diabetes risk is not as simple as drinking more coffee. “There are a lot of potential factors that we’re not studying that may be harder to quantify,” Cording says. “Why are these people drinking so much coffee? What else are they eating? It’s probably not just the caffeine.”
Warren agrees. “Coffee consumption is associated with other factors,” she says. “If you have a coffee habit of a cup or two a day, the study helps show it may provide benefits. However, you do not need to start drinking coffee to benefit your health.”
Cohen recommends being wary of what type of caffeinated drinks you have—noting that there’s a big difference between a cup of black coffee and one that’s loaded up with sweeteners and mix-ins. “Caffeine-containing beverages are typically loaded with sugar and fat, and many studies have shown a strong association between consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and overweight and obesity,” she says. Having too much caffeine—i.e. more than the recommended limit of 400 milligrams a day—can cause a rapid heart rate, jumpiness, and insomnia, she points out.
Overall, Brissette recommends pursuing other avenues, like a regular exercise routine and well-rounded diet, if you’re concerned about your weight and type 2 diabetes risk. “Based on what we know, drinking more coffee or tea will not make you slimmer, leaner, or prevent type 2 diabetes,” she says. “There is strong evidence for eating plenty of vegetables and fiber and getting regular exercise.”
Cording echoes the sentiment. “There are so many other things that can help reduce your risk of having obesity and type 2 diabetes that just introducing caffeine may not be enough to move the needle,” she says.
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