Coffee and Fat-Burning

Caffeine and fat are potent metabolism stimulators

Properly roasted well-brewed organic coffee is high on my list of life’s pleasures. The smell of aromatic beans as I carefully remove them from jar to grinder each morning brings a smile of excitement. It continues with the intense taste of the first sip, through the last drop, and beyond. The therapeutic effects on my brain and body still continue to amaze me. My recent article on the Dr. Phil’s Fat-Burning Coffee Menu generated some further questions and comments about this wonder food which I hope to address here.

Drinking Coffee

Coffee is among the most studied food in science. One of its well-known actions is its ability to promote fat-burning. As the food highest in caffeine, it has been shown to reduce stored body fat, especially belly fat, and lower the risk of diabetes, liver and colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic inflammation.

Coffee polyphenols — naturally occurring phytonutrients in the bean — also can help regulate body-wide fat metabolism, improving regulation of insulin and glucose, and helping to reduce the tendency toward fat storage and cardiovascular disease as well.

But this does not mean adding coffee to a diet of junk food makes it healthy. Refined carbohydrates will easily negate the potential health benefits from good food and exercise, not to mention ruin a great cup of coffee.

Of course, too much caffeine can be a problem, and some people are much more sensitive than others. It can overstimulate the brain and adrenal glands, revving up the sympathetic nervous system too much, creating an autonomic imbalance. These problems can quickly lead to reduced health. Consuming coffee wisely — drinking the amount that has positive health effects and no more — is part of a healthy diet.

Eating Fat

Can consuming fat help burn body fat? Yes. This happens because eating healthy fats stimulates brown fat stores, which are metabolically active. While they make up only 1 percent of total body fat, they help burn fat in the major white fat storage areas of the belly, hips, and everywhere else.

Without brown fat’s metabolic action, we can gain body fat, have low energy, and even become sluggish in the winter due to the human hibernation effect. In addition to eating natural fats to burn body fat, there are a number of ways brown fat can be activated:

Caffeine can increase brown-fat activity. But too much caffeine can trigger stress, and like other stress, can reduce fat-burning and actually promote fat storage.

Food frequency can affect brown fat to either increase or decrease fat-burning. Eating several healthy meals or snacks a day — instead of one, two, or three larger ones —can trigger thermogenesis, an important post-meal metabolic boost that can increase fat-burning. Those who become well-adapted to fat-burning eventually require less calories and can reduce food and meal intake, but don’t try this until your metabolism is successfully burning more body fat or you’ll get hungry — a symptom of reduced fat-burning. In addition, if caloric intake is too low for your body’s need, brown fat can slow the burning of white fat; this often happens on a low-calorie diet, and when meals are skipped.

Refined carbohydrates, including sugar and other high glycemic items, can reduce fat-burning almost immediately. So if you have a raging sweet-tooth and add a teaspoon or more of sugar to your fat-burning coffee, the benefits may not be realized — you’ll just be adding more calories to a poor fat-burning body and build fat stores. Likewise, if you have a bowl of cereal, a bagel or other junk food as high-glycemic items impair fat-burning. (Artificial sweeteners may do the same, and maintain your sweet tooth and sugar addiction.)

Tea Time

Similar fat-burning and health benefits have been shown for the various types of caffeinated teas, including black and green. If you’re not a coffee drinker but tolerate and enjoy tea, you can still create a morning fat-burning fare. It’s simple: along with your tea, have some fat. Depending on availability and food likes, this can include the ingredients for Phil’s Fat-Burning Coffee without the coffee. Whether you find a way to add these or other fats to tea, or eat them separately, experiment. Other fats work well too. Consider an avocado, for example. Just add salt and eat it with a spoon. When traveling and unable to obtain ingredients for my coffee, I drink it black with a Phil’s Bar “Keto”.

If you’re looking for published studies for this topic, you’ll have no trouble finding them through a Pubmed search. Here is one I happen to have open at the moment:

Soga S, et al. Stimulation of Postprandial Fat Utilization in Healthy Humans by Daily Consumption of Chlorogenic Acids. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 77(8);1633-1636, 2013.

Clearly coffee can be an amazing fat-burning elixir when used responsibly and combined with healthy fats. Could there be any more pleasurable and tasty component to a healthy diet?

17 Comments

  • Ian says:

    Many thanks, Dr Phil, for providing the science on this subject.

  • Mike says:

    I have started with your triple fat-burning coffee for breakfast. Really good but my wife laughs at me 🙂 And my “friends” laughs at me when running slow and following your 180-age heart rate formula.

    But how come that thin high carb low fat people like Kenyans runners and “Durianrider” performs so well at endurance competitions? I’m so confused about which way to go. Hclf, lchf? For me the goal is to drop weight and perform as good as possible at Vasaloppet and other similar events, and still live as healthy as possible.

    “3rd place behind the 2 Kenyans. They have been eating refined corn aka ugali for 99% of their meals for the last 25+ years. Ive been eating refined sugars in the form of fruit smoothies, white rice or juices for 99% of my meals the last 14 years. I know many runners who run more yearly miles as me or the Kenyans but they still battle the bulge. 100% of them would trim down to proper running weight if they ate like we do. Most would rather die than change their diet though.
    High carb runners ALWAYS dominate the front of the field. Ive NEVER seen or heard of a low carber winning anything other than fastest athlete to adrenal burn out or youngest triple bypass surgery recipient. ”
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Durianrider/197363716986830?fref=ts

    The only similarity I have found between you and Durianrider is that you both recommends low pace training.

    • Mike:

      Generally speaking, great runners can eat lots of carbs because they have extremely powerful aerobic systems. For example, a Kenyan (Kalenjin) boy or girl has run about 12,000 miles before an American boy hits high school age. Their aerobic engines are so good at converting carbs to fat and back again, and they perform at such a high level that their systems can tolerate that. However, your average american is almost guaranteed to have some level of carbohydrate intolerance (think: insulin resistance), which is a sign of a very poor aerobic system.

      Think of high-carb, high-glycemic diets not as “bad” but as “rocket fuel.” Most of our aerobic systems range from poor to fair. If they were car engines, we’d probably find them inside of a town car. We can’t feed rocket fuel to a town car engine. On the other hand, that typical Kalenjin child has spent all of his childhood tinkering with that engine, adding turbocharger after air filter, and updating all of the tiny “unsexy” pieces like piston rings and valve springs. At MAF we call this “aerobic-only” or “MAF” training–we make an important distinction between “aerobic training” and “easy training” (but that’s a story for another time). Anyway, that engine, highly resilient at birth (like ours) and relentlessly upgraded throughout the early years (unlike ours), has no problem accepting rocket fuel.

      Not ours.

      The reason a lot of runners still “battle the bulge” is because they are training anaerobically. Despite running “slow,” or “easy” their aerobic system may be weak enough that their metabolism has to engage their anaerobic systems as the main energy system that powers their runs. Yes. Even at a slow speed, they may still be working anaerobically. How do we know this? Because their heart rate is high enough that it signals a significant amount of anaerobic function.

      Training like this, the aerobic system never develops (to be as powerful) and the body never learns how to extract fat from adipose tissue at a high rate (and convert that fat to sugar), and so those fats become “stranded assets” even for the marathoner: for all intents and purposes, the body can’t get to them (at the rate needed) because the machinery necessary to extract them was never developed to that extent.

      I hope this helps.

  • Paul says:

    Hi,

    On another note of appetite reduction, I have noticed that when I go for a running, keeping my heart rate/effort purely aerobic, I am not hungry at all. In fact, when I forget my lunch, I can actually supplement this meal with a run and I don’t feel hungry. Of course, I do start my day with a high fat coffee, coconut oil and grass fed butter.
    Is this a healthy sign, or not?

    • Paul:

      When combined with positive symptoms such as good energy levels, low irritability, good ability to concentrate, no GI issues, not feeling hungry is a sign of increased fat-burning. The hormone which triggers hunger, Ghrelin, is suppressed by another hormone called Leptin, which tamps down on your appetite. Leptin only occurs when there are metabolically present fats (readily being pulled out of adipose tissue and being used for energy or in a meal you just ate). So, it is a healthy sign.

  • Lynn says:

    Hello, how much coffee a day is the right amount, without overdoing it? I currently only drink coffee on weekends but have noticed that drinking it before an intense strength training or HIIT workout makes for a better workout. I have decided to have a black coffee each day before my workouts.

  • Tim says:

    Hi,
    Is the promotion of fat-burning stronger after a period of abstinence of coffee?
    And how about the psycho-active stimulation?
    I expect some form of habituation which I also expect to reverse when one abstains from drinking coffee.

    I was thinking that maybe we can increase these effects by tapering down on coffee, say a week before a marathon. Then drinking a well-brewed coffee an hour or so before the race would give you a stronger boost, wouldn’t it?
    I’m curious about your thoughts on this.

  • M. Melvin says:

    Is there any scientific literature regarding fasted coffee intake and increased metabolic rate vs the consumption of fat coffee to promote fat burning? Or any studies on fat coffee consumption subsequent metabolic rate? Many thanks

  • James says:

    Hi Ivan
    I love the taste of coffee but I go through stages of not drinking it. Recently it has left me jittery and also feeling like I have low blood sugar (even though I had recently had a well balanced meal) – is this low blood sugar feeling common with coffee consumption? I don’t get the same affects if I have caffeine in the form of tea however.

  • Joshua Pepping says:

    So I have been researching Keto on various sources online, and I have a number of friends who have tried various versions of eating this way. One question I have is what would be a good starting place? I have read Phil’s book The Maffetone Method and the recommendations in there didn’t seem to put you into a Keto state. Is there an updated resource for how to get into a Keto state? My wife and I are trying to get ourselves healthy and we have quite a bit of weight to drop along with working on our overall body comp. Any guidance on where to start would be great. We completed the whole 30 and while we felt a bit better we didn’t really see the benefits that some people have experienced. We thought that maybe getting into a Keto state would be beneficial and that it may help kickstart our progress. We really want to make some permanent changes.

    • Joshua:

      Yes, the MAF method is not designed or intended to put you in a keto state. I don’t know of any particularly good sources about keto, but if I come across any I’ll be sure to let you know.

  • Iain says:

    Do you have any concerns with consuming coffee (Phil’s style or plain black) with food? I’ve read in several places that we should wait an hour before eating given that it may affect digestion. I’ve tried this but tend to like snacks (such as Phil’s keto bars, as he recommends) along with my coffee.

    • Iain:

      Sort of. There’s plenty of reasons that consuming coffee with food (particularly in large amounts) could be a bad idea for people with various health issues. But for a reasonably healthy person (read: somebody who has never noticed a difference in health between when they drink coffee and don’t drink coffee with meals), it isn’t really a problem.

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