Study finds caffeine helps protect against the damage of a poor diet

Consuming a diet high in sugar and fat is a known risk factor for a number of health problems, including obesity and type-2 diabetes. A new study from the University of Illinois has found that consuming caffeine from coffee, tea, and other sources may help protect against some of the health consequences often resulting from poor dietary habits. Similar benefits were also associated with consuming synthetic caffeine.

The researchers behind the study fed lab rats a diet composed of 45-percent carbohydrates, 40-percent fat, and 15-percent protein. As well, these same rats were given caffeine equivalent to the amount humans would get from drinking four cups of coffee every day. The caffeine was sourced from a herbal tea called mate and from coffee; synthetic caffeine was also used.

A control group of rats were given a decaf version of mate tea, which is notable for its high level of flavonoids, phytochemicals, and amino acids. Despite those beneficial compounds, the mice given decaf mate tea and coffee didn't experience the same benefits as rats given some form of caffeine. After four weeks, the caffeinated rats gained 22-percent less body fat and 16-percent less weight despite eating the same high-fat and high-sugar diet.

The researchers note that the lean body mass in these rats 'differed significantly' in each group. The researchers conclude that both caffeine and mate tea are potentially 'anti-obesity agents,' helping people avoid weight gain and the metabolic conditions that can result from obesity.

The study's co-author Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia said:

Considering the findings, mate tea and caffeine can be considered anti-obesity agents. The results of this research could be scaled to humans to understand the roles of mate tea and caffeine as potential strategies to prevent overweight and obesity, as well as the subsequent metabolic disorders associated with these conditions.