Does coffee make you fat?
This a question which people commonly type into Google. In short the answer is ‘no, but…’
Coffee actually has some properties which can contribute to losing fat. But the quality of the coffee and what it is combined with are really important factors.
A large serving of brewed black coffee contains less than 5 calories, which is clearly not going to make you fat. We’ll come back to this later. Cheap, bad quality coffee is hard to enjoy black so it is typical to add milk and sugar. Adding things to coffee will obviously increase the calories, making it potentially more ‘fattening.’
More significantly ‘warm coffee-based milkshakes’ (to give them their technical name) popularised by franchise coffee shops are incredibly calorie-rich. According to their website a large Costa takeaway latte contains 283 calories, 16.5g of fat and 19.3g sugar. Add a shot of salted caramel and we’re talking 353 calories, 18.1g of fat and 31.2g sugar! Costa’s famed Flat White has 179 calories, 10.5g fat and 12.2 sugar.
These drinks are all pretty energy-laden and could contribute to a bit of softening around the mid-section. So in answer to the original question, in some cases coffee can make you fat.
The good news is that high-quality beans taste pretty damn good and can be drunk black. You get to enjoy the taste of actual coffee with almost no calories, and zero sugar and fat.
Better still, coffee contains a number of compounds which can actively help you lose weight. I will focus on two of them: caffeine and polyphenols.
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, sending signals to your fat cells telling them to break down and release fatty acids into your blood (1). This can then be burnt as energy, reducing your overall body fat. The caffeine in coffee can also boost your metabolism, meaning you can burn more calories whilst at rest over the course of a day (2). For these reasons most fat-loss supplements contain caffeine.
Caffeine makes exercise easier. It has been consistently shown to improve motivation and focus, making you more likely to train. Once you lace up your trainers and get to the gym, coffee increases aerobic and power outputs meaning you will have a more productive workout (3)
The compounds which give coffee its disease-fighting antioxidant properties, known as polyphenols, can also help with fat loss. Polyphenols are what make fruits, vegetables and olive oil healthy. They are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. (Inflammation is a contributing cause of many diseases).
Some studies have shown that coffee can suppress appetite by reducing the hunger hormone Ghrelin (4). Decaffeinated coffee actually performed better than regular coffee in these experiments. It is the polyphenols which achieve this result, rather than caffeine. Lighter roasted speciality beans have higher concentration of polyphenols, whereas poor quality dark roasts are far lower. Consuming a high-polyphenol coffee at the end of a meal can even decrease the amount of fat and sugar absorbed from food (5).
In the interests of balance I should point out that drinking too much coffee can be a bad thing. Too much caffeine, or coffee before bed can negatively affect sleep. The resulting tiredness can cause sugar cravings and make you more likely to make bad meal choices. And naturally, classic foods many people pair with coffee like muffins and pastries will not help you lose weight!
So while drinking full-fat flavoured lattes is not a good idea if you are trying to lose weight, coffee does not make you fat. Consuming 2-3 cups of good quality black coffee a day can contribute directly to fat loss by increasing metabolism, suppressing appetite and improving exercise performance.