Drinking strong coffee could help combat the health risks of an unhealthy diet

Obesity in the UK has now reached such proportions (no pun intended!) that scientists have coined a word for a diet likely to lead to such severe weight gain – obesogenic. This refers to a diet containing too much fat and sugar, and therefore likely to make the consumer pile on the pounds.

A new study has found, though, that drinking strong coffee could go some way towards combatting the risks of such a diet. The study has so far only been applied to rats, often used for such testing as their behaviour can mimic that of humans. The study looked at effects of adding various substances to the rats’ diet, including caffeine extracted from mate tea, synthetic caffeine, caffeine extracted from coffee and decaffeinated tea.

The study, carried out by scientists at the University of Illinois, discovered that the animals who consumed the caffeine derived from mate tea gained on average 16% less weight than those who were given decaffeinated tea. They also put on 22% less body fat. Scientists got the same results when they repeated the tests using first synthetic caffeine then natural caffeine from coffee. The caffeine content of mate tea, a herbal stimulant drunk in certain Latin American countries, ranges from 65 to 130 milligrams compared with 30 to 300 milligrams in the same amount of coffee.

The test rats were given a carefully calibrated diet consisting of 45% carbohydrate, 40% fat and 15% protein. They were also given caffeine in amounts roughly equivalent to a human drinking four cups of coffee a day. At the end of a month, the rats were showing significantly different results in terms of their percentage of lean body mass. The scientists have concluded that caffeine can be considered as an anti-obesity agent, and are hoping to scale the experiment up to help understand what role caffeine could play in combatting human obesity.

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