Image: Kari Perrin

While coffee certainly has the ability to boost your energy levels in the morning, it may also have health benefits that you were not aware of. Donald Mankie, a registered dietician at the Sarasota Memorial Bariatric & Metabolic Health Center, answers our questions about this stimulating—and delicious—drink.

So: Does coffee have the potential to boost metabolism?

"It is a stimulant, but when we are looking at the word 'metabolism,' it is used rather loosely these days," says Mankie. "The stimulating effect of coffee can reduce the perception of fatigue when exercising, making people push harder and therefore get results."

Mankie says one study that followed athletes who drank coffee before a workout found that they received between a 3 and 5 percent gain in energy levels. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic also found that caffeine appears to increase energy use, which burns calories, even when you're at rest. It stimulates a process called thermogenesis—the way your body generates heat and energy from digesting food.

"The stimulating effect is definitely there, which can help you get out the door to exercise, therefore boosting metabolism and weight-loss efforts," says Mankie.

What are other potential health benefits of the drink? Mankie says there are a few areas where coffee may offer aid. Type II diabetes is one. Coffee consumption can lower the risk of diabetes by 6 to 8 percent when you drink between two and four cups daily. When drinking coffee for diabetes, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of caffeine consumption for your body.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, people can safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which equates to four to five cups of coffee. However, for some people, this can increase agitation, anxiety and sleep problems.

"Caffeine consumption has also shown to improve dopamine in the brain for those with Parkinson's disease," says Mankie. "Parkinson's consists of a lack of dopamine. The caffeine is more of a preventative, but not a treatment modality."

How do coffee's stimulating effects work on the body? Mankie says coffee can help increase endorphins, which produce an increased feeling of wellness and excitability. Coffee can also increase the activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine and increase adrenaline levels in the blood. This can improve concentration, energy levels and mood.

What is the healthiest way to drink coffee? "Many people do drink coffee, but it's what you add to the coffee that makes a difference," says Mankie. Black coffee is the best way to go for weight loss. It only contains two calories per serving, and is high in nutrients like vitamin B2, magnesium and antioxidants. The more sugar, cream or milk you add, the more calories you add. With that said, Mankie suggests seeing if a tablespoon of cream can fit into your overall daily intake, while tracking progress in a nutrition app.

"There are no good or bad foods," says Mankie. "There are so many different aspects to food that we can benefit from, even if it's one cup of coffee with a bit of cream and sugar."

What if you don't like coffee, but want a caffeinated drink with similar effects? Green tea is another caffeinated option rich in antioxidants. It has about half the caffeine content of black tea (100 milligrams) and has been touted as a beneficial alternative to coffee.

Mankie's biggest tip is to avoid filling up on liquid calories instead of actual food. If you've had a busy, stressful day and forgot to eat, coffee will not replace the nutrients you need. "If you are trying to lose weight, think about small choices you can make every day," he says. "Getting your calories from nutrient-rich sources is one of them."

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