The supplement industry is in a tough spot when it comes to weight loss, because it’s really damn hard to take a supplement to lose weight, and it’s even harder to sacrifice profits to rid people of their false beliefs.
Being overweight is the result of a variety of feedback loops that have gone awry, so there’s no food you can eat that actually targets excess fat tissue to any extent.
If there was you can bet big pharma would be all over that. They’ve probably spent close to half a trillion dollars trying. But still nothing close.
But in the supplement industry there are two products that are extremely popular when it comes to weight loss: raspberry ketones and green coffee bean extract.
Even the mighty Dr. Oz has sung their praises.
Do they live up to their promise?
NO! Let me explain why………
What They Really Are
Green coffee beans and raspberry ketones are actually quite simple. In fact, green coffee beans are so simple that you’ll be surprised when you find out what they really are.
They’re coffee beans that haven’t been roasted yet. That’s it. Unroasted coffee beans. An entire weight loss cottage industry has formed around a slightly unprocessed version of a food that’s been eaten for millennia.
Raspberry ketones are a little more unique. It’s similar in structure to capsaicin (the ingredient in peppers that makes them spicy) and give raspberryies their scent. Trace amounts of raspberry ketones have been used for centures in perfurmes and dyes, but it was always cost prohibitive to make from natural sources.
As a supplement raspberry ketones weren’t possible until the late 90’s when it was discovered they could be made through a synthetic process.
What They Purportedly Do
Raspberry ketones and green coffee beans exert their effects in different ways. Green coffee beans are supposed to limit sugar metabolism, and there’s truth to this. Coffee is a well studied as a nutrient, and it contains three compounds called caffeic acid, caffeoyl quinic acid and chlorogenic acid which limit glucose uptake in the bloodstream and the expression of some genes that regulate fat metabolism.
Raspberry ketones accelerate fat loss by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine and by altering the activity of an important enzyme called lipase which regulates fat metabolism. What, if anything raspberry ketones do for fat loss over the long run is a complete mystery.
Where Did Their Reputation Come From?
It’s a bit of a curiousity how unroasted coffee beans and a substance previously only used in perfume and air purifiers have become the de facto compounds people use to take weight.
When it comes to green coffee beans, I think the rage started when Dr. Oz talked about them on his show in this episode:
Apparently he’s rambled on about raspberry ketones as well. I don’t know.
As for other sources, there are a few more reputable ones.
For greeen coffee beans there are a number of studies that have examined the ability of caffeic acid to limit glucose uptake. Here’s more. There are also some clinical studies that have shown people lose weight when they take it for a few weeks.
However, there are some important things to consider when taking this all in.
1). All the weight loss stuff was done on very small groups of people. It amounts to “hey, take this stuff for a few weeks and see what happens.” I’ve written before how these sorts of results are not useful.
2). Caffeic acid is found in all sorts of plants, not just green coffee beans. And more importantly, it’s found in regular ol’ coffee. Most of its purported health benefits were done when studying regular coffee beans. There’s nothing really special when it comes to green coffee beans and its active constituents….you can find them all over. Including Starbucks.
4). All this is really no different than lots of other healthy foods. If you drink a lot of green tea for several years it’ll probably help you lose weight. Same for cutting back on sugar. Same for going vegetarian. And same for….you get the idea.
Probably Healthy For You, Nothing Special
Both of these compounds have health benefits that fit neatly within the greater diversity of plant nutrients you can eat. They seem to help certain cellular functions, they seem to help scavenge free radicals, and seem to be fairly unique, mostly because most micronutrients are inherently diverse. That’s all fine, but not worthy of your disposable income. Just eat a damn salad.
The Real Reason They’re So Popular
Both of these supplements have two things going for them:
1). They have reported health benefits that pertain to fat loss (albeit with some truthiness)
2). They’re cheap.
I know this from first hand experience in my dealings with suppliers. The synthetic process for creating raspberry ketones allows them to be made very inexpensively (about 100-1000x less than naturally derived ketones) and green coffee beans are one of the most intensively farmed foods on the planet.
Their high-value use to customers and low product cost make them a very high margin item, and supplements are quickly becoming a low margin industry.