In a new study, researchers found that caffeine may offset some of the harmful effects of a high-sugar, high-fat diet.
Caffeine can reduce the storage of lipids in fat cells and limiting weight gain and the production of triglycerides.
The team found that rats that consumed the caffeine extracted from mate tea gained 16% less weight and accumulated 22% less body fat than rats that consumed decaffeinated mate tea.
The effects were similar to synthetic caffeine and that extracted from coffee.
The research was conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois.
Mate tea is an herbal beverage rich in phytochemicals, flavonoids and amino acids that are consumed as a stimulant by people in southeastern Latin American countries.
The amount of caffeine per serving inmate tea ranges from 65-130 milligrams, compared with 30-300 milligrams of caffeine in a cup of brewed coffee.
For four weeks, the rats in the study ate a diet that contained 40% fat, 45% carbohydrate and 15% protein.
They also ingested one of the forms of caffeine in an amount equivalent to that of a human who drinks four cups of coffee daily.
At the end of the four-week period, the percentage of lean body mass in the various groups of rats differed strongly.
The rats that ingested caffeine from mate tea, coffee or synthetic sources accumulated less body fat than rats in the other groups.
The study finding adds to a growing body of research that suggests mate tea may help fight obesity in addition to providing other beneficial health effects associated with the phenolic compounds, vitamins, and flavonoids it contains.
The study is published in the Journal of Functional Foods.
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