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Can adding lemon to your coffee really help you lose weight?

The viral coffee and lemon challenge claims to help people lose weight and burn belly fat. We're debunking the myth with the help of two registered dietitians.
Coffee cup with espresso served with lemon on white background with shadows and sunlight
Two registered dietitians share their thoughts on TikTok's viral coffee and lemon challenge.Nadya So / Getty Images stock
/ Source: TODAY

There's something of a modern legend around adding lemon to your coffee. Proponents say that the combination will help you burn fat. Not only that, but some say that it's nutritious and can help fight everything from diarrhea to headaches. Those claims see a bit, well, inflated, so we talked to two dietitians to separate the health from the hype.

Where did the idea of adding lemon to coffee come from?

It's probably not a surprise that most of these claims spread widely on social media — the coffee and lemon trend initially went viral thanks to a TikTok challenge. The idea behind it was seductively simple: squeeze some lemon into your coffee to help burn fat and, consequently, kickstart your weight-loss journey. Thousands and thousands of folks jumped on board.

Plenty of TikTok users posted videos of themselves trying the trend and some of them have been quite candid in saying that they don't exactly dig the flavor combo. Some folks said "hell no" after giving it the old college try, including one TikTok user that said she actually gained weight after drinking lemon in her coffee for a week straight.

Still, many swore that a touch of lemon in their coffee has helped them shed some pounds — including this TikTok user, who claimed to lose eight pounds in two weeks in two weeks. So does it really work?

Like so many social media trends, we can't really pinpoint how — or why — this one got started. But it's likely that whoever kicked off this viral challenge was thinking about the much-touted value of adding a lemon slice to your water.

Does lemon really help you lose weight?

We were curious to know if there's any evidence that adding lemon to beverages can help you lose weight, so we asked New York City-based registered dietitian and co-author of "Sugar Shock" Samantha Cassetty, to weigh in.

"Adding lemon to your water makes it tastes better, so it can help you stay hydrated. Also, drinking water before a meal can promote satiety, so you may be inclined to eat less," she explained. "If you were eating less, it could produce the calorie deficit needed for weight loss." Basically, adding lemon to water has more to do with hydration than anything else.

There are studies that suggest that staying hydrated can help you lose weight, but even so, adding a glass of water to your pre-meal routine wouldn’t have a dramatic impact on your weight, Cassetty said. "And there’s nothing magical about adding a slice of lemon to your water. It’s not enhancing calorie burning or anything like that."

It's important to note that there is no research that suggests that adding lemon to coffee will help you stay hydrated, so even if adding lemon to water will boost hydration in a way that supports weight loss, it does not necessarily follow that adding lemon to coffee will have the same benefit.

Are there nutritional benefits to adding lemon to coffee?

"A slice of lemon has less than 5 percent of the vitamin C you need each day," says Cassetty. So, even if you add a whole slice of lemon to your coffee, you wouldn't be adding much nutritional value. The truth is that when you add just a squeeze of lemon, you're using such a small portion of a lemon that it doesn't come with much in the way of nutritional benefits.

There are much more effective ways to use fresh fruits and vegetables to support weight loss, says Cassetty. "Meanwhile, you could exceed your daily needs by having either a cup of strawberries or red pepper slices. And chewing food helps promote feelings of fullness so, in this regard, there’s a benefit to eating food. There’s really no additional benefit you get by adding lemon to your water outside of helping you drink more water," she said.

Can adding lemon to your coffee help with weight loss?

"I can’t think of a single benefit of adding lemon to your coffee," says Cassetty. Basically, Cassetty said it's just another TikTok trend with no merit.

Yes, adding lemon to water can make it more flavorful and add a touch of vitamin C, but the lemon and coffee combination has no evidence-based benefits. Not only that, but it may be harmful.

Is adding lemon to coffee dangerous?

Adding lemon to coffee isn't toxic — although there can be health consequences of having too much caffeine. In fact, there are studies that show that drinking too much coffee may actually shrink your brain.

But experts say that while adding lemon to coffee isn't in itself dangerous, it sheds light on a larger issue. "I’d actually consider this behavior to be a red flag for disordered eating. Eating for weight loss shouldn’t be about restricting yourself or forcing yourself to eat or drink something that’s not appetizing. That’s a sign that you’re not building sustainable habits and it also suggests that you're willing to prioritize losing weight over your well-being," Cassetty said.

Furthermore, registered dietitian nutritionist Maya Feller of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition said that these sorts of social media challenges can be triggering for those with disordered eating.

"These viral diet videos are damaging and dangerous. They are created by people with no qualifications and invite hysteria. Add lemon to your coffee if you want the flavor. It’s absurd, the diet industry’s focus on burning fat and weight loss. If a person is looking to make a shift in their metabolic health — find a professional," she said.

Cassetty explained that weight loss is a complicated process that involves a series of healthy behaviors, including eating healthy, sleeping, staying active and managing stress. Genetics, hormones and other factors are also involved.

"The one thing we know for sure is that there is no quick fix," she said in reference to the viral challenge.

Are there any benefits to adding lemon to drinks like water?

Many celebrities and influencers swear by starting their day with a glass of lemon water, but does it have any real health benefits? Keri Glassman, RD, previously told TODAY that the biggest benefit in adding lemon to your glass of water is that it may help you drink more — and may come with some additional health benefits like added vitamin C.

Like other dietitians, Glassman urges caution when it comes to calling lemon water a "magical elixir." "This is by no means a magic bullet for weight loss, but filling up on water is a healthy habit to adopt," Keri Glassman, RD, previously told TODAY.