Did you ever wonder why coffee bars don’t offer a lemon-flavored latte? Well, not only does the idea of squeezing a sour lemon in a bitter cup of joe not have nearly the same flavorful appeal as adding cinnamon or chocolate, but the acid in the lemon juice would curdle any milk smoothing out your drink. Still, this hasn’t stopped a barrage of TikTok users from mixing instant coffee with hot water and lemon juice, sucking it down with a comedic grimace on their face, and claiming that the drink is a fast and easy way to lose weight. In fact, the hashtag #lemoncoffee now has more than 8 million views, and there are countless YouTube videos claiming the coffee-lemon hack is the “Best Belly Fat Burner!!” magically melting away the pounds in just 3, 7 or 9 days.
“My first thought when I heard about this trend is that it doesn’t sound very tasty!” says Alexandra Sowa, MD, a metabolic health physician, clinical professor medicine at NYU School of Medicine and founder of SoWell Health. (While coffee swimming with lemon juice does sound rather mouth-puckering if you’re used to a creamy, sweetened morning brew, there is an Algerian tradition of drinking Mazagran, which is basically iced coffee with a slice of lemon.) But as far as weight-loss goes? “There is no evidence that there is any particular benefit in drinking these two ingredients together,” Dr. Sowa says.
So where did this idea come from, and how did it take off? Well, if you think back to the craze for Bulletproof Coffee a few years back, plus the long history of detox teas, celery juice diets , apple cider vinegar and every other liquid-based weight-loss hack of the last few decades, there has always been an idea that chugging down some magic potion can give you the body you desire, without having to adjust your eating or exercise habits. And this one in particular combines two things you probably have on your kitchen counter right now. “It’s most likely appealing because the combo is easy, inexpensive and natural,” points out Florida-based dietitian Maryann Walsh, RD. “There is confusion about so many things in the world of nutrition like artificial sweeteners, dairy products and GMOs, so by using two items which are pretty much as close to natural as possible, coffee and lemon, you’re likely to gain trust easily, even when the actual science of whether or not this combo actually works is lacking.”
Editor’s note: We want to acknowledge that weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on a diet, we invite you gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
As far as TikTok trends or “challenges” go, at least this one seems fairly harmless. It reportedly gained traction when someone edited clips of a noted Los Angeles eye doctor to make it look as if he endorsed the drink (spoiler alert: He did not). But most importantly, it combines two pieces of science that have a little bit of truth behind them, making it just believable enough to gain traction.
Let’s explore coffee for weight loss.
Black coffee, which is almost calorie-free, has long been a staple of diet plans. That’s of course thanks to the caffeine, a stimulant that can rev up your body’s engine for the day. Dr. Sowa explains how: “Caffeine works by blocking a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which can lead to an increase in stimulating neurotransmitters like dopamine, which helps you feel more awake and energized—that’s why we all reach for our morning coffee,” she says. While there is some evidence that this may process may increase your basal metabolism rate (the amount of energy your cells burn simply by keeping your basic body functions chugging along), Dr. Sowa points out that to get this benefit, you would need to drink caffeine in large quantities—one study estimated the amount at four cups a day—and that would affect your health in other ways, including decreased sleep, increased anxiety, and dehydration. Plus, any boost would be short-lived as your body began to tolerate the caffeine, Dr. Sowa says. “No doctor I know would ever recommend this as a way to lose weight,” she adds.
And what about lemon for weight loss?
On to the second ingredient in this magical brew, the sunshiny citrus fruit, lemon. You may have heard that drinking lemon water can help you lose weight, but the emphasis here should be on the second word in that phrase, not the first. “There’s nothing magic about lemon—It’s about staying hydrated by drinking water, and the lemon just adds flavor,” says Dr. Sowa. “There are some complex biochemical processes behind it, but the most basic element is that it drinking water keeps you full. We get these hunger signals to our brain that are often really thirst signals, but your body knows that if it tells you to eat something, in the process of eating, you’ll generally consume water. By just staying hydrated, you can generally quell some of those signals.”
And then, of course, there is this simple fact: “You may read about lemon water being beneficial for those trying to lose weight, but often this is simply because the person is swapping out sugar-sweetened beverages for the lemon water,” Walsh adds.
The bottom line:
Hey, if you happen to like the taste of lemon in black coffee, go ahead. In the name of science and journalism, I tried it and found the flavor surprisingly okay—bracing, but not as bitter as expected, though I have no plans to replace my daily oat-milk latte. If you do replace a very caloric morning drink—say, a Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte—with unsweetened black coffee with lemon, then yes, there might be some weight-loss benefit. But rather than take the joy out of your morning ritual by forcing yourself to drink something you don’t like, take this advice from Dr. Sowa: Simply drink a tall glass of water as soon as you wake up, to make sure you’re hydrated, and then enjoy your usual, lemon-free cup of coffee. “Please remember that any health or weight loss hack that sounds too fast, too easy, or too good to be true generally is,” she says.
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