Social media is abuzz with ways ordinary coffee can give us the perfect jolt to get leaner and healthier. And it’s a topic former NBC Nightly News and Dateline medical correspondent Bob Arnot, MD, is passionate about. “I love that people are becoming more aware of how powerful coffee is,” says The Coffee Lover’s Diet author, who led scientific tests to find coffee varieties with the most slimming and disease-fighting antioxidants. “So many of us already love coffee, and if we upgrade the way we drink it in small ways, we can not only use coffee for weight loss but also to really change our entire lives for the better.”
Dr. Arnot’s book includes the story of one coffee drinker who used a coffee-boosted shake diet to lose 50 pounds in 50 days. Meanwhile, women like Siouxe Druckman are taking a more relaxed approach and still getting impressive results. By strategically sipping the Dunkin’ and Starbucks blends Dr. Arnot recommends, Siouxe, 55, shed six sizes in six months and got off pain meds. Read on for more of her to story — and to find how you can use coffee for weight loss and to boost your well-being.
Amazing health benefits of coffee
Coffee first got Dr. Arnot’s attention when he read it can slash cholesterol and inflammation in three months. “That’s better than most meds,” he notes.
Subsequent studies showed even a small amount of coffee daily reduces risk of tummy trouble. And nutrients in coffee are so good for our brains, regular consumption has been linked to a 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. As if all that weren’t enough, a New England Journal of Medicine study revealed drinking 4-5 cups of coffee a day cuts risk of all deadly health conditions by 15%. “You can run marathons and not get that much protection,” Dr. Arnot marvels.
The doc soon delved into research and found that coffee is the #1 source of polyphenol antioxidants in the American diet. He says these powerful compounds— also abundant in superfoods like greens, wine and olive oil— provide amazing protection against aging and disease. There’s also growing evidence they help keep weight healthy, including a new study from Harvard on coffee for weight loss. “I kept wanting to know more,” Dr. Arnot shares.
A big question the doc had: What specific types and brands of coffee have the most polyphenols? Scientists had barely begun to tackle the question, so Dr. Arnot assembled a team and starting running hundreds of tests. Everyone was stunned by the findings, published exclusively in his book, that show certain coffee is exploding with up to 9.7 times more polyphenols than others. (Click through for more from Dr. Arnot on the health benefits of a single daily cup of coffee.)
Dunkin’ slimming coffee surprise
“I was shocked when Dunkin’ Donuts coffee got a remarkably high polyphenol score,” says Dr. Arnot. “But it turns out that for decades the company staked out coffee farms with the most nutrient-rich soil.” He adds that bean prep is also key since “dark roasting destroys polyphenols.” Nutrient-dense beans that are lightly roasted deliver more phenols. And that helps make spare pounds disappear.
Using ‘lean roast’ coffee for weight loss
As Dr. Arnot experimented with high-phenol coffees in the real world, he was impressed by the fat-fighting advantages they seemed to offer. He took to calling them ‘lean roasts.’ He’s found that to optimize weight loss, you want to gradually increase to 5 cups of lean roast coffee a day, opting for decaf (which can still be abundant in phenols) in the afternoon.
What about creamer and sweetener? A splash of milk is fine; the same goes for half and half, so long as you use a small amount to avoid excessive calories.
Sweeteners are a different matter, though. Both sugar and artificial sweeteners can have an impact on body chemistry that cancels out some or even all of coffee’s benefits. And some experts caution that even zero-calorie natural sweetener might stimulate cravings. Dr. Arnot recommends unsweetened coffee. But if you must add a sweetener, research suggests stevia and allulose might be best bets.
Benefits of using coffee for weight loss
1. Coffee can help improve metabolism
Japanese scientists found that polyphenols trigger a quick burst of calorie burning, temporarily amping up metabolism. Better yet, “polyphenols are perhaps the most potent anti-inflammatories in existence,” says Dr. Arnot. That means, among many benefits, they soothe internal inflammation that stalls thyroids, allowing our metabolisms to burn as hot as they did decades ago.
2. Coffee nutrients help block some calories from other food
The most abundant polyphenol in coffee, chlorogenic acid, has been shown to decrease absorption of carbs. So some calories from, say, the bagel or muffin we enjoy with coffee won’t count. Dr. Arnot adds that a coffee compound called melanoidin decreases absorption of dietary fat. So even more calories don’t count.
3. Coffee helps us burn more stored fat
Coffee polyphenols have been shown to lower levels of insulin — a hormone that blocks fat burning and stores excess sugar as belly fat. This effect cuts risk of diabetes by 54% and helps release ab flab. A recent study in the journal Nutrients found high-polyphenol coffee helped folks burn belly fat nine times faster than a low-polyphenol brew. “Coffee can really help you get firmer around the abdomen,” confirms the doc.
Another bonus: Caffeine frees fat from fat cells during exercise. So if you use the energy you get from lean roasts to be more active, your body will burn lots more stored fat. “It’s a phenomenal weight-loss boost!”
The coffees that score highest for antioxidants
Here’s a sneak peek at winners from the coffee research Dr. Arnot led. Prices were the best we could find at the time this story was published and are subject to change. The higher the score, the more antioxidants — and the more you stand to benefit. For reference, the lowest score given during testing was 1,968, which went to a dark roast Starbucks K-Cup.
- Intelligentsia Frequency Blend Score: 13,335 (Buy on Intelligentsia, $16.50 for 12 oz.)
- Allegro Kenya Grand Cru Score: 12,966 (Buy on Amazon, $13.99 for 12 oz.)
- Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend Score: 11,042 (Buy at Walmart, $7.96 for 12 oz.)
- Stumptown Hair Bender Score: 9,972 (Buy at Walmart, $14.98 for 12 oz.)
- Bulletproof Original Score: 8,699 (Buy on company site, $11.19 for 12 oz.)
- McDonald’s McCafe Decaf Score: 8,688 (Buy on Amazon, $6.62 for 12 oz.)
- Starbucks Veranda Blonde K-Cup Score: 8,135 (Buy at Keruig, $11.24 for 22 cups)
- Peet’s Luminosa Blend Score: 8,033 (buy at Walmart, $9.98 for 10.5 oz.)
- Folgers Classic Roast Score: 7,124 (Buy on Walmart, $13.24 for 40 oz.)
Coffee for weight loss success story: Wycondia West, 48
When stress eating pushed Wycondia West’s weight over 400 pounds, the Alabama educator feared for her health. Since strict diets had always backfired for her, she did research and decided simply to aim for more protein and fewer carbs. “It went well at first,” she recalls. Then a plateau hit. A member of her Release the Pounds Facebook group suggested coffee to revive her metabolism.
Never a coffee drinker, “I picked up some instant Nescafé to mix in the two protein shakes I have a day,” says Wycondia. Surprise: Studies show instant coffee can also be phenol-rich. And Wycondia got an ‘instant’ boost. “I loved the energy it gave me. And my cravings for high-carb foods eased.” The scale moving again, Wycondia, 48, officially became a coffee lover.
To date, she’s down 170 pounds. She cut her blood pressure meds and no longer has migraines or sleep apnea. Her advice to others? “Something as easy as an extra cup of coffee can make a big difference,” she says. “Just start today. Your body will thank you tomorrow.”
Coffee for weight loss before and after: Siouxe Druckman, 55
Back when Siouxe Druckman needed to lose weight to prepare for hip surgery, her strict plant-based diet wasn’t doing the trick. “My doctor gave me a keto diet handout, and I started researching,” shares the California mom and caregiver, 55. As she experimented with plant-forward ways to get keto benefits, she learned that drinking only black coffee in the morning is a form of intermittent fasting — one that body prompts the body to fuel itself with stored fat, just like a keto diet.
“The coffee lowered my hunger enough that I was able to fast until noon,” she shares. Gravitating toward high-phenol options like Dunkin’ Donuts Original and Starbucks blonde roasts, she sipped more coffee at midday. “It gives me a jump in energy and curbs my appetite until dinner.”
Sioux blew past her goal weight. All told, she shed 53 pounds and six sizes in six months. “I got off pain meds and have been able to delay surgery indefinitely. Ordinary coffee helped make it possible.”
Reminder: Never stop taking a prescription med unless instructed to do so by your health-care provider.
Dr. Arnot’s secret to accelerated results
Dr. Arnot’s hack to get lean in a hurry: Sip up 5 cups lean-roast coffee daily (any light roast is fine, regular or decaf) and frequently replace meals with a chia smoothie (scroll down for ideas). “You keep calories down while loading your body with nutrients that turbocharge weight loss,” he explains. Enjoy healthy solid meals too. A free app like MyFitnessPal will help keep portions on track. Tip: As energy increases, add exercise daily. We’ve got ideas to inspire you:
Sample breakfast: Banana Buzz Smoothie
Blitz 1 cup cooled coffee, ½ cup nut milk, 1 banana, 10 almonds, ¼ cup protein powder, 2 Tbs. chia, dash cinnamon and ice to taste.
Sample lunch: Power Smoothie
Blitz 2 cups frozen kale, 1 cup frozen berries, 1 banana, ½ cup Greek yogurt, ¼ cup protein powder, 2 Tbs. chia and water to taste.
Sample dinner: Protein + high-phenol sides
Pair a healthy serving protein, colorful veggies roasted in olive oil and an optional side of healthy starch like quinoa.
Click through for more on ways the beverages we choose can boost wellness and weight loss:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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