Starting your day with a caffeine buzz isn't likely to cause weight gain — coffee served black is low in calories. But overdoing it can make you pack on the pounds, especially if your beverage contains added sugar and milk.
To avoid accidental weight gain, make sure you record the calories from coffee as part of your daily intake, avoid calorie-packed coffee-based drinks and limit your caffeine intake.
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If your coffee is adding too many extra calories or affecting your nightly rest, you may be at risk for weight gain.
Fancy Coffee Packs on Pounds
When you're looking to lose or maintain your weight, steer clear of coffee and espresso beverages like lattes, mochas and macchiatos. Unlike black coffee, which is low in calories, these drinks can pack hundreds of calories into a single cup.
For example, a 16-ounce white chocolate mocha from an international coffee shop chain has 400 calories — without whipped cream — while a 16-ounce iced caramel macchiato has 250 calories. Whipped cream adds 70 calories to your drink, which can further expand your waistline.
Even drinking one or two of these specialty beverages a week on top of your regular meal plan can trigger weight gain. Twice-weekly 16-ounce white chocolate mochas translate to an extra 800 calories a week — enough to gain about 12 pounds a year.
Calories From Cream and Sugar
Regular coffee you make at home can be fattening too, depending on how you flavor it. Cream and milk can pack a surprising number of calories. An ounce of light cream, for example, has 59 calories. And equal amounts of half-and-half and whole milk contain 34 and 19 calories, respectively, while each teaspoon of sugar adds 15 calories.
If you're serving your coffee with an ounce of cream and a teaspoon of sugar, you're taking in 74 calories per cup. And while that might not seem like much, it adds up; drinking five coffees a day in addition to your typical meal means you're getting approximately 370 excess calories daily, which is enough for you to gain more than a half-pound per week.
Read more: How Many Cups of Coffee a Day Can You Drink?
Caffeine, Sleep and Weight Gain
Unfortunately, avoiding coffee drinks and serving your coffee black doesn't mean you're in the clear when it comes to weight gain. Having too much caffeine can cause negative health effects, including anxiety, and it can also keep you "wired" and unable to sleep.
You already know that too little sleep zaps your energy and productivity, but it also expands your waistline, explains the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Women who sleep less than seven hours nightly had a higher risk of significant weight gain than women who get at least seven hours of shut-eye each night.
That might be because chronic sleep deprivation leaves you drained, which makes it harder to feel motivated to eat healthily and exercise, or because a lack of sleep might lower your metabolism. Either way, if drinking too much caffeinated coffee makes it hard to get adequate rest at night, even a virtually calorie-free brew might trigger weight gain.
Read more: 14 Legit Ways Coffee Can Boost Your Health
The Most Slimming Options
Drink black coffee or espresso in moderation to avoid weight gain. A 1-ounce shot of espresso has just 3 calories, while an 8-ounce mug of brewed coffee has 2 calories, so neither beverage served plain will significantly boost your calorie intake.
Add low-calorie flavor by mixing your coffee with a teaspoon of cocoa powder, adding cinnamon to your coffee grounds and sweetening your drink with stevia. And if you're craving the creaminess of dairy, try using nonfat milk instead of cream.
Drink your coffee earlier in the day to avoid disrupting your sleep, and consider limiting caffeine entirely if you already have sleep issues. Limit your total daily caffeine intake, which will include caffeine from coffee, as well as that in tea and other foods like chocolate, to 200 to 300 milligrams daily, or the equivalent of two to three cups of coffee. After you reach your daily limit, switch to decaf.
- MyFoodData: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool: "Nutrition Comparison of Light Cream (Coffee Cream), Cream Half And Half Fat Free, and Whole Milk"
- MyFoodData: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool: "Nutrition Comparison of Sugars Granulated, Coffee, and Espresso"
- Starbucks: "Drink Nutrition Information"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Sleep Deprivation and Obesity"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Benefits of Coffee"
- Starbucks: "White Chocolate Mocha"
- Starbucks: "Iced Caramel Macchiato"