There’s nothing like the smell of fresh coffee in the morning—and as it turns out, that daily cup of Joe could help you lose weight and fight disease, too.
Drinking just one cup of coffee can help switch on your body’s fat-fighting defenses, according to new research from the University of Nottingham in England—and those defenses could be a key factor in reducing your risk of chronic diseases associated with weight gain, like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, sleep apnea, and more, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
How Coffee Helps You Burn Fat
The study, published in Scientific Reports, is the first to find that the caffeine contained in one cup of coffee can trigger the body’s “brown fat” functions. Wondering what the heck that means? Basically, there are two types of fat found in humans—brown fat (“good” fat) and white fat (“bad” fat). Brown fat is key because it helps your body make heat by burning calories as energy, whereas white fat is what builds up when you eat more calories than you need.
"Brown fat works in a different way from other fat in your body. It produces heat by burning sugar and fat, often in response to cold,” says study author Michael Symonds, Ph.D., a professor from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham. Increasing its activity improves blood sugar levels as well as cholesterol, and the extra calories it burns help with weight loss, he says.
And until this study, no one had figured out how to stimulate brown fat activity in humans, he says.
"This is the first study in humans to show that something like a cup of coffee can have a direct effect on our brown-fat functions,” Dr. Symonds says. “The potential implications of our results are pretty big, as obesity is a major health concern for society and we also have a growing diabetes epidemic. Brown fat could potentially be part of the solution in tackling them."
The researchers were able to pinpoint caffeine as one of the ingredients that stimulated the brown fat response. The next steps? “We are currently looking at caffeine supplements to test whether the effect is similar,” Dr. Symonds says. “Once we have confirmed which component is responsible for this, it could potentially be used as part of a weight-management regime or as part of glucose-regulation program to help prevent diabetes."
Until then, it doesn’t hurt to start drinking a cup of coffee every day (or more, if you prefer) to help jumpstart your body’s fat-burning potential.
Other Ways to Manage Your Weight to Prevent Chronic Illness
Drinking coffee isn’t the only way to combat chronic disease linked to being overweight. There are two main tried-and-true changes you can make to reach a healthy weight:
- Get active. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, per federal guidelines. That means activities like brisk walking or biking. If you want to lose weight, try to fit in even more exercise time—about 300 minutes per week. And don’t forget to build in muscle-strengthening activities like push-ups or sit-ups twice a week, too. If this sounds daunting, know that you don’t have to start at this level—work your way up gradually and start with activities you feel comfortable with. Even a short walk or bike ride a few times a week is a great start.
- Mind your meals. Eating healthy is a major part of maintaining or reaching a healthy weight. One key guideline, according to the federal website MyPlate, is to fill up half of your plate with fruits and veggies at mealtime. Go for whole grains (think whole-wheat bread instead of white) and lean protein sources, like chicken, seafood, beans, tofu, and nuts.
And keep in mind: It doesn’t take a total transformation or conforming to unrealistic body standards to improve your health. In fact, losing as little as 5% of your body weight can seriously lower your risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, says the NIH. For someone who is 200 pounds, that’s just 10 pounds.
Lastly, know that crash diets are an ineffective way to lose weight. If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, slow and steady is the safest and most effective way to go, according to the NIH. Work with your health care team to figure out what a realistic and healthy weight range is for you.