Americans love their coffee. In fact, we drink about 400 million cups each day, making it one of the most popular beverages in the US. That’s good news for those who love their cups of joe because there’s increasing evidence showing that coffee has lots of health benefits, such as helping to protect against cirrhosis of the liver, to control Parkinson’s disease symptoms, to promote heart health and to slow the progress of dementia.

Now: A new study published in The Journal of Nutrition has found yet another benefit—coffee drinking is linked to having less body fat.

Study details: The finding was based on 5,000 Americans’ responses to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NHANES asks respondents questions about their nutrition and health and includes measurements of body fat and its distribution using a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan. (The scan is also commonly used to measure bone density to diagnose osteoporosis.)

After analyzing the respondents’ daily coffee intake and their DXA measurements over a two-year period, the researchers found a link between coffee consumption and body fat in women that varied by their age, while there was less overall effect among the men who were studied. The specific findings

  • Compared with women who did not drink coffee, women ages 20 to 44 who drank two to three cups per day had 3.4% less body fat.
  • Women ages 45 to 69 who drank four or more cups per day had 4.1% less body fat than non-coffee drinkers.
  • Among men, the association between coffee drinking and body fat was less significant…except for those ages 22 to 44 who drank two to three cups of coffee per day—they had 1.3% less body fat and 1.8% less trunk fat than men who did not drink coffee.

Interestingly, the benefits were present in those who drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee and were not affected by smoking or chronic disease.

“Our research suggests that there may be bioactive compounds in coffee other than caffeine that regulate weight and which could potentially be used as anti-obesity compounds,” explained Lee Smith, PhD, senior author of the study and director of research at Anglia Ruskin University’s Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences.

At some point, these bioactive compounds could be used as part of an anti-obesity treatment, according to the researchers. For now, however, coffee lovers can rest easy knowing that two to four cups a day could help reduce their overall body fat—and belly fat.

Mainly because of its caffeine content, people with high blood pressure may need to limit their intake of coffee—it can temporarily raise blood pressure in some people. Pregnant women and women who are breast-feeding should talk to their doctors about their consumption of coffee—high intake has been shown to increase risk for miscarriage. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women drink no more than 200 mg of caffeine daily (approximately two cups of caffeinated coffee a day), while research recently published in the BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine recommends that they consider avoiding caffeine altogether.

Source: The study “Regular Coffee Consumption Is Associated with Lower Regional Adiposity Measured by DXA Among US Women,” led by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in East Anglia, UK, and published in The Journal of Nutrition.