I’m an RD, and Trust Me: Your Body Is Begging You To Stop Solely Having Coffee for Breakfast

Photo: Stocksy/David Prado
If your main reason for rising in the morning is coffee, your head’s in the right place. A steamy mug of coffee on a winter morning? Lovely. An iced cold brew on a summer day? It’s joy in a cup.

Best of all, barring conditions like severe GERD or a caffeine sensitivity, coffee is actually pretty good for us. It’s an antioxidant powerhouse and moderate coffee consumption has even been associated with a lower risk of conditions like heart failure and dementia.

But while coffee is life-giving, it is not (we repeat, is not) a meal.

Coffee for breakfast and diet culture

Looking for a ‘Stars, they’re just like us’ moment? Consider Hillary Duff’s recent podcast appearance during which she admitted: “Sometimes I try to just drink coffee in the morning and, like, starve off my hunger.” Yikes. (To be fair, the former Lizzie McGuire also said she loves fried eggs and avocado on cauli rounds or overnight oats, when she is honoring her hunger and actually eating breakfast.)

Experts In This Article

Coffee can often feel like a no-brainer on busy mornings when time for breakfast is limited. Yet while a cup ‘o caffeine can help us wake up, it’s not a stand-in for a real meal. And intentionally using coffee as an appetite suppressant is, well, problematic.

Why coffee alone should never be breakfast

Coffee’s typically absorbed within an hour of consumption and blood caffeine levels can peak anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours post-sip, according to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Having no food in your stomach can speed up this process, meaning you may feel java’s energizing effects quicker sans breakfast. But there are also considerable drawbacks to an all-caffeine brekky.

It’s devoid of energy (aka calories)

Let’s start with the fact that coffee provides zero calories if it’s consumed straight up. Love a latte? Okay, so you add some oat milk to the mix. Still not a meal (sorry). Even a fancy venti frap isn’t going to cut it (and will likely lead to a major blood sugar crash in the near future).

Starting your day with a balanced meal is one of the key pillars of a nourishing diet, not to mention a healthy relationship with food. Eating a morning meal that includes protein, healthy fat, and high-fiber carbs keeps blood sugar, energy, and productivity levels steady through the morning. It can help lessen late-day sugar cravings and that infamous 3 p.m. slump, too.

Committing to nourishing ourselves first thing in the morning also reminds us that, oh yeah, we deserve to eat! Yes, even if we 'overdid' it yesterday. Yes, even if we don’t have a workout planned for today. We still deserve to eat. Hunger should be honored and respected, not ‘starved off.’

It can hike up stress and anxiety

Besides being totally inadequate when it comes to energy, having coffee (and only coffee) for breakfast can exacerbate stress.

Moderate to high amounts of coffee (think: about four cups) can heighten anxiety, particularly in people who are caffeine sensitive. A central nervous system stimulant, coffee can raise blood pressure in non-habitual caffeine consumers as well. Not surprisingly, these suboptimal side effects may be even more pronounced when the drink’s consumed on its own.

Bottom line: Calling coffee breakfast might just make your already chaotic mornings feel *even more* stressful. Thanks but no thanks.

It might mess with your gut

Coffee-for-breakfast can also mess with the gut microbiome. It’s no secret the beloved bevvy stimulates intestinal motility. (Translation: It makes us have to poop.) Fortunately, coffee will do that whether or not it’s consumed on an empty stomach, so if you’re leaning on coffee for its natural laxative effects, know that they won’t be compromised if it’s sipped alongside an avocado toast.

What’s more, anyone who deals with acid reflux would do best avoiding coffee as breakfast, especially if you drink it black. An empty stomach following a night of sleep is naturally more acidic. Introducing an espresso into the mix—without any food to boot—may cause heartburn symptoms in people with reflux.

Add your preferred milk to your coffee cup and enjoy it alongside actual food to help neutralize the stomach’s acidic environment and lower the risk of uncomfy reflux symptoms.

The bottom line on having solely coffee for breakfast

If that first sip of coffee is one of your favorite moments of the day, join the club. Just don’t fall for the idea that the drink is a proper meal replacement. Cheers to pairing your flat white with a balanced breakfast for optimal gut health, stress levels, and blood sugar balance.

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