Drop the dumbbell and pick up a coffee mug…

Okay, the headline is an exaggeration, but coffee drinkers do have another compelling reason to start their day with their favourite brew — weight loss.

It’s not ‘new news’ that caffeine can assist in weight loss (caffeine may help burn more calories and cause a decrease in body fat) and that coffee has a variety of health benefits, but according to a study by Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers, drinking four cups of coffee daily could reduce body fat by about 4%.

The finding comes from a 24-week investigation in which 126 overweight, non-insulin sensitive adults drank daily either four cups of regular coffee or four cups of a coffee-like placebo beverage. The intent of the study was to determine if coffee consumption reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The researchers noted that previous observational studies have linked drinking coffee with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes but coffee’s effects on blood sugar metabolism have not been well defined. With the current study, researchers did not find evidence that coffee affected the participants’ sensitivity to insulin — the hormone that regulates sugar levels in the blood.

However, the study did yield an unexpected result: drinking coffee was associated with a modest loss of body fat. Those who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee per day over six months saw a nearly 4% drop in overall body fat.

Derrick Alperet, a study co-author and research fellow in the HSPH Department of Nutrition, said in a HealthDay News article that he and colleagues think that the fat loss may be due to the caffeine in coffee increasing the drinker’s metabolism. He said it suggests that “this loss in fat mass was not likely to be due to changes in lifestyle, namely diet and physical activity.” Rather, Alperet and his colleagues think that coffee-fuelled fat loss may be the result of a ‘metabolic reaction’, in which caffeine causes the drinker’s metabolic process to ramp up. The end result, he said, is the burning of more calories and a notable drop in body fat.

The Singapore experiment lasted six months, during which time half of the study participants – who were all Chinese, Malay or Asian-Indian, per HealthDay News – were randomly instructed to drink four cups of caffeinated instant coffee on a daily basis. The other half drank a beverage that simulated coffee’s taste but was neither coffee nor caffeinated.

Alperet and his fellow researchers concluded that more research is needed, explaining that additional trials with more comprehensive assessments of body composition are needed to confirm their findings.

Some nutritionists in the HealthDay News article questioned the amount of coffee, believing the four cups daily to be “on the high side of intake.” However, scientists at the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA), have asserted that caffeine can be part of a healthy diet for most people, For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day – that’s about four or five cups of coffee – as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.

In December 2020, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans reaffirmed that coffee can be part of healthy diets. The National Coffee Association of the USA has long been touting the many health benefits associated with drinking coffee. For example, on the coffee and health section of its website the NCA notes that “In a review of 21 prospective studies totaling over 10 million participants, drinking one cup of coffee (whether decaf or with caffeine) per day was associated with a 3% reduced risk of death, and drinking three cups of coffee was associated with a 13% reduced risk of death.”

Additionally, per the NCA, “a study of over 500,000 people, spanning a decade, found that drinking coffee, whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, was inversely associated with mortality, including among those drinking eight or more cups per day.”

So, do not actually dump the dumbbell or abandon your cardiovascular routine, but do continue to confidently enjoy your daily cuppa Joe — and if you are not a coffee drinker, perhaps this is a good reason to become one…

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