Caffeine and Your Weight

January 24, 2011

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coffeeWhen it comes to weight loss, caffeine can be a mixed bag—and it’s certainly no magic bullet.

First, while some herbal and over-the-counter products say that the caffeine and other ingredients they contain can suppress appetite and increase metabolism, the scientific evidence for such claims is shaky at best. I don’t recommend these so-called “weight loss enhancers” because it’s often unclear what ingredients they contain, or at what potency. Worse, they could possibly interact in a negative way with other over-the-counter or prescription medications or cause complications for those with certain health conditions. In short, save your money (and possibly your health) and steer clear of them.

Still, I don’t advocate total abstinence from caffeine either, nor do I think it might not have some small positive effect. But much more study is needed to see if caffeine itself has any thermogenic (metabolism boosting) effect or if it can suppress appetite or cravings. What is well known is that too much caffeine can lead to jitters, nervousness, and insomnia, among other negative side effects.

Caffeine is also a mild diuretic, which means it can cause water loss. On the medical weight loss program, we advocate the exact opposite—that our patients stay well hydrated because it helps lower a person’s overall fat percentage during weight loss, which is the real goal. Because any beverage containing caffeine may lead to a dehydrating effect, it’s important to balance that out by following up with an extra glass or two of water to compensate.

If someone wants a cup or two of coffee, green tea, or regular tea a day, I do not oppose it. It’s no secret that caffeine can give one an energy boost, which is exactly why so many people drink it. The big problem with caffeine is that those beverages are often accompanied by extra calories. Coffee loaded up with sugar and cream, for example. Or a latte or mocha drink from a coffee stand that contains several servings of whole milk, plenty of flavored syrup, and whipped cream—all adding up to 500 calories or more!

So if you are a coffee or tea drinker, try to drink your beverages “straight” without all of the extra bells and whistles. When you do, the drinks weigh in at zero calories. If you absolutely must doctor them up, stick to skim milk and a measured amount of real cane sugar and make sure to factor those calories into your daily intake.

If there is any caffeinated drink I would recommend, it would be green tea. Preliminary studies show this beverage does seem to promote weight loss beyond the simple caffeine effect. It has a naturally sweet taste and is a good source of antioxidants. Substituting green tea for your usual coffee or black tea would be a wise move.

And finally, remember that there is no “single solution” to weight loss. With or without caffeine, you still need to eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, and address and overcome any behavioral factors that might be playing a role.

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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[…] may not have any calories but have been shown to increase cravings and appetite. If you must have caffeine, green tea is the best choice, though unsweetened coffee or black tea (hot or iced) is fine in […]

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