By Amina Khan & Dietitian YaQutullah Ibrahim, MS RDN
Let’s admit it, all around the world, Muslims love coffee!
For many Muslims, drinking coffee in the morning for that “pick me up” is a habit. The thoughts of stopping for Ramadan can seem difficult or dreadful! You may also be worried that drinking coffee in Ramadan may cause you to feel overly dehydrated and thirsty while fasting all day (especially for summer fasts!) , or that coffee may cause you to use the bathroom excessively! You’ve also probably heard that “caffeine makes you dehydrated”! But… are these fears about coffee really true?
Most importantly… what do we do about COFFEE in Ramadan?!
Don’t worry, it’s time to bust all the misconceptions and set the record straight! This article will tell you everything you need to know about the REAL effects of coffee on your body while fasting so you can be prepared for Ramadan… coffee cup in hand!
Does coffee REALLY make you dehydrated?! Will drinking coffee make you run to the bathroom all day?
You’ve probably heard the warning that “coffee makes you dehydrated”, which would make coffee seem like a bad choice in Ramadan. You may have also heard that coffee is a diuretic, or a substance that makes you urinate more frequently.
But… does coffee REALLY make you dehydrated or go to the bathroom more?
The widespread belief that “coffee makes you pee” actually dates back to 1928. In a famous study1, participants did not consume any caffeine for a period of 2 months, after which they were re-introduced to caffeine. After this 2-month period of caffeine abstention, the study notes that even half a milligram of caffeine per kilogram of body mass (roughly the amount in half a cup of coffee) caused a “noticeable” increase in urination. However, the study also found that when the participants were not deprived of caffeine for 2 months (eg. regular coffee drinkers), they built up a tolerance for coffee. These “coffee-tolerant” participants required more caffeine before experiencing any noticeable increase in urination.
An updated study in 20052 by Dr. Lawrence Armstrong, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, further questioned the age-old belief that coffee is dehydrating. In this study, participants first had a base level of coffee established at 3mg per kilogram of body mass — so participants were tolerant to drinking two to three cups of coffee per day. Then, for 5 days, participants drank either zero, low (one cup) or moderate (two cups) levels of coffee per day.
What happened to coffee drinkers who already were used to drinking coffee? According to the study:
“The following variables were unaffected by different caffeine doses: body mass, urine osmolality, urine specific gravity, urine color, 24-h urine volume …Therefore, C0, C3, and C6 exhibited no evidence of hypohydration. These findings question the widely accepted notion that caffeine consumption acts chronically as a diuretic.”
“50 male coffee drinkers (habitually consuming 3–6 cups per day) participated in two trials, each lasting three consecutive days. In addition to controlled physical activity, food and fluid intake, participants consumed either 4×200 mL of coffee containing 4 mg/kg caffeine (C) or water (W). Total body water (TBW) was calculated pre- and post-trial via ingestion of Deuterium Oxide.”
“There were no significant changes in TBW from beginning to end of either trial.”
“These data suggest that coffee, when consumed in moderation by caffeine habituated males provides similar hydrating qualities to water.”
To summarise: If you already drink a moderate/reasonable amount of coffee every day, your body may have developed a tolerance to the diuretic effect. In which case, you may continue to moderately drink your coffee during Ramadan!
Can coffee count towards my 6-8 cups of water per day?
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted a study3 in 2016 to “assess the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status” and published The Beverage Hydration Index.
The Beverage Hydration Index3 ranks beverages according to how much fluids from the drink your body is able to retain. In other words, the BHI measures how hydrating a beverage is when you drink it.
The results of this study may surprise you!
“This study investigated the effects of 13 different commonly consumed drinks on urine output and fluid balance [to establish] a beverage hydration index (BHI), i.e., the volume of urine produced after drinking expressed relative to a standard treatment (still water) for each beverage.”
“Cumulative urine output at 4 h after ingestion of cola, diet cola, hot tea, iced tea, coffee, lager, orange juice, sparkling water, and a sports drink were not different from the response to water ingestion.“
This study showed that drinking moderate amounts of coffee and tea do not necessarily dehydrate you more than water!
Figure 1 and Figure 3 cited from (Maughan, R. J., et al., 2016).3
In Figure 1A, you can see that urine mass after drinking coffee and tea closely resembles the urine mass after consuming still water! Figure 3 plots the Beverage Hydration Index (BHI) to be very similar to the BHI of drinking water. Interestingly, skimmed milk and full-fat milk actually had a higher BHI and fluid retention than water:
There are several elements of a beverage that might affect fluid balance in the hours after ingestion: the macronutrient content, the electrolyte (primarily sodium and potassium) content, and the presence of diuretic agents (primarily caffeine and alcohol). Ingested drinks with a high energy content, whether in the form of carbohydrate, fat, protein, or alcohol, will empty from the stomach more slowly than energy-free drinks and will thus potentially reduce or delay the diuresis that follows in comparison with the ingestion of a bolus of still water (11, 18).3
Does coffee with milk (eg. Dhood Patti) make your coffee more hydrating? Further research is needed to answer this question. However, the higher energy content from milk is beneficial for your body. Unless, of course, you are loading your coffee with sugar! But… more on sugar later!
The bottom line is that if you struggle to stay hydrated in Ramadan, your favourite sugar-free drinks like coffee and tea (in moderation) can help contribute to your fluid intake in an effortless way. For more on hydration guidelines and fluid-filled foods including digestive soups and loads of delicious Dietitian recipes, be sure to grab our Ramadan Reset Guidebook: EVERYTHING you need to know about Healthy Eating & Exercise in Ramadan!
So how much coffee can I drink every day?
So coffee may not be as dehydrating as you may have believed. But that does NOT mean you can drink unlimited amounts! The same 2016 study of the Beverage Hydration Index by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted a study3 discusses that the dehydrating effects of caffeine only occur when the dose of caffeine exceeds 300mg per day:
An acute dose of 250–300 mg caffeine is unlikely to have a measurable effect on urine output, although such an effect is likely to be seen when the dose exceeds 300 mg. In line with these observations, we did not observe an impact from moderate caffeine intake (96–212 mg) on net fluid balance in the present study.
The Mayoclinic4 states that an excessive amount of caffeine is more than 500 to 600 mg a day, or the equivalent of between four and seven cups of coffee daily. Research by Dr. Armstrong supports the finding that moderate caffeine intake below 500mg will not increase urination or dehydration:
“There is no evidence to suggest that moderate caffeine intake (less than 456 mg) induces chronic dehydration or negatively affects exercise performance, temperature regulation, and a circulatory strain in the hot environment. Caffeinated fluids contribute to the daily human water requirement in a manner similar to pure water … The evidence indicates that consuming a moderate level of caffeine results in a mild increase in urine production … This dieresis may or may not be significantly greater than a control fluid.”5
So what does all this mean? The research indicates that a moderate amount of caffeine intake does NOT increase dehydration via increased urine production.
However, research findings differ as to HOW MUCH caffeine constitutes a “moderate” amount of daily caffeine intake! If you’re concerned about dehydration but are a regular coffee drinker, staying on the safe side and limiting yourself to 300mg of caffeine per day may be a suitable solution to keep your coffee cravings at bay in Ramadan while still enjoying your daily caffeine fix.
Take home point: Keep your caffeine intake UNDER a safe 300mg per day to avoid the diuretic effects of excessive caffeine consumption!
To help you follow this daily guideline, the Mayoclinic4 provides a chart with caffeine doses found in common beverages listed below. “The actual caffeine content of a cup of coffee or tea can vary considerably because of factors such as origin, processing and preparation method, including brewing time”, so these guidelines can help you estimate your caffeine intake. How much do you currently drink in comparison?
Chart from Mayoclinic.com4
Notice that 1-2 cups of coffee is well under the guideline of 300mg a day and can be maintained during Ramadan.
If you currently exceed 300mg of coffeine per day, Dietitian YaQutullah Ibrahim recommends you adjust your coffee intake gradually BEFORE Ramadan to avoid feeling the unpleasant effects of sudden abstention of caffeine. You can gently reduce your caffeine by adding decaffeinated coffee mixed into your regular coffee to reduce the total amount of daily caffeine without dramatically changing your coffee habit.
What about tea?
Many teas have caffeine in them, in which case the same guidelines pertaining to limiting caffeine intake to 300mg daily apply. However, there is often a much higher caffeine content in coffee than tea. For example, an 8-ounce cup of coffee may contain 75-100mg of caffeine, whereas an 8-ounce cup of tea may only contain 15 mg (oolong tea), 30 mg (green tea) or 50mg (black tea). Thus, tea can also be enjoyed in Ramadan in moderation. Naturally sweet fruity teas are often a great substitute for sugary drinks, too!
One DANGER trap to watch out for…
If you already drink coffee and are going to continue in Ramadan, fine. But DON’T sabotage your energy Ramadan by adding SUGAR into your cup!!
Added sugars will lead to increased weight gain and poor control of blood sugar levels. Added sugars are also bad for your teach and new research finds that added dietary sugar may be linked with many dangerous health conditions. In Ramadan, you want to ensure that your calories are coming from nutritious food sources as your feeding window is limited – sugar contains neither nutrients nor vitamins, so there is no reason to be consuming it in Ramadan.
Fortunately, the EASIEST place to cut out added sugar without even noticing is to remove the sugar in your tea and coffee and sweeten with stevia or honey, instead. These are naturally occurring sweetening choices that are MUCH better for you – stevia is plant-based and calorie-free, and honey has beneficial nutrients and is healing. If you’re sticking with coffee this Ramadan, just be sure to CUT out the sugar to make it worth it! 🙂
Learn more about coffee & added sugar in Ramadan and SO MUCH MORE in our RAMADAN RESET eBook: EVERYTHING You Need To Know About Healthy Eating & Exercise in Ramadan! Find the answers to ALL your Ramadan questions, workout schedules, meal plans, recipes & more in the 100+ page eBook below:
- Eddy, N. B., & Downs, A. W. (1928). Tolerance and cross-tolerance in the human subject to the diuretic effect of caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 33(2), 167-174.
- Armstrong, L. E., Pumerantz, A. C., Roti, M. W., Judelson, D. A., Watson, G., Dias, J. C., … & Kellogg, M. (2005). Fluid, electrolyte, and renal indices of hydration during 11 days of controlled caffeine consumption. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 15(3), 252-265.
- Maughan, R. J., Watson, P., Cordery, P. A., Walsh, N. P., Oliver, S. J., Dolci, A., … & Galloway, S. D. (2016). A randomized trial to assess the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status: development of a beverage hydration index. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 103(3), 717-723.
- Armstrong LE, Casa DJ, Maresh CM, Gaino MS. Caffeine, fluid-electrolyte balance, temperature regulation, and exercise-heat tolerance. Exerc Sport Sci Rev, 2007;35(3):135-40.
- Killer, S. C., Blannin, A. K., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). No evidence of dehydration with moderate daily coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population. PloS one, 9(1), e84154.
- Passmore, A. P., Kondowe, G. B., & Johnston, G. D. (1987). Renal and cardiovascular effects of caffeine: a dose–response study. Clinical science, 72(6), 749-756.