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Wait, Green Tea Chills Me Out, and Burns Fat?

That seems wonderful. But also... unlikely???

There’s something reassuring about walking through the supplement aisle of the grocery store and admiring the assorted bottles of capsules and tablets that have been labeled as fat burners. As misguided as our thinking in those moments might be, the mere existence of fat burners suggests the presence of a figurative safety net that’s as soothing as it is spurious. If the descriptions on the packaging are to be believed, we always have the option of popping a pill to effectuate what diet and exercise could not — the obliteration of unwanted adipose tissue with all the force and immediacy of a Harry Potter “reducto” spell.

The supposed trustworthiness of fat burners is further enhanced by the presence of green tea among their ingredients. Few natural products of ostensible health-granting prowess have had their reputations protected as thoroughly as green tea. After all, it’s tea. Moreover, not only has it been consumed by humans forever, but in the best-case scenario, it’s a high-antioxidant adversary for various cancers, and is potentially capable of chipping away at your belly fat. In the worst-case scenario, green tea will contribute a mild, pleasant flavor to whatever you infuse with its essence. Either way, we inherently trust that green tea isn’t going to make our lives worse in any way.

Again, because of this reputation, many fat burners employ green tea as the headliner fronting their fat-incinerating concoctions. But if green tea is so effective at burning fat, why would it need to be blended with half a dozen other fat burners of dubious character? Say what you will about alcohol, but no distiller ever needed to blend it with a more effective depressant to ensure that it functioned as advertised.

Why is green tea included in so many fat burners?

Primarily because of two ingredients naturally present in green tea — caffeine and epigallocatechin gallate, which is popularly known as EGCG. Far from being a mistyped version of “egg” in all caps, EGCG is a catechin, which falls into the category of polyphenol antioxidants. Like all antioxidants, EGCG protects against free radicals and is the component of green tea that’s credited for its ability to fight oxidative stress and inflammation. At present, though, there isn’t any concrete evidence to suggest that EGCG makes reliable contributions to weight loss when it’s unshackled from the caffeine that’s also contained within green tea

What does that mean then? 

Quite simply, that caffeine is an outstanding fat burner. Caffeine was proven long ago to increase the metabolic rates of those who consume it. In one study, recipients who ingested caffeine half an hour before aerobic exercise burned 11 percent more fat during their morning workouts, 29 percent more fat during afternoon workouts and were able to train at an average increased intensity level of 12 percent.

So any fat-burning benefits of green tea is really just about the presence of caffeine?

To use a clumsy analogy, let’s just say that green tea is the 1990s Chicago Bulls, and caffeine is Michael Jordan. We can comfortably say that there are zero examples of the Bulls winning championships without Michael Jordan, and there is no strong evidence of green tea being a catalyst for any sort of fat burning when it’s stripped of its caffeine.

But if green tea isn’t that great of a fat burner without caffeine, why does it headline so many fat burners?

Allow me answer your question with a question: Would you rather buy a product labeled “green tea,” or one labeled “raspberry ketone” and “garcinia cambogia”? Aside from possessing copious amounts of caffeine, many commercial fat burners bearing the “green tea” label also contain other metabolism boosters of both proven and dubious quality. 

Again, the green tea remains the face and name in the forefront helping to sell the blend, but once you examine a few product labels, it becomes abundantly clear that caffeine is doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, even if the scope of its actual contribution has been obscured as a result of being divided up under several names.

Should I be taking a fat burner anyway?

I’d rephrase that question to, “Should I be swallowing capsules that provide me with at least the caffeine content of a 16-ounce Monster Energy Drink all in one fell swoop?” I can’t see many health specialists advising that. In fact, if we’re comparing a green tea fat burner to a zero-calorie Monster Energy drink in terms of being vessels for caffeine, the slower and steadier increase of caffeine from sipping a carbonated beverage is certainly preferable to the sudden release of caffeine that comes from swallowing a capsule.

Perhaps that’s the ultimate tragedy of fat burners: They’ve created a rational, lesser-of-two-evils argument in favor of supplementation with energy drinks. Neither will burn body fat directly, but they will enhance your ability to burn fat on your own. However, unless you funnel your newfound energy toward a legit calorie-shredding activity, the only thing that fat burner will ultimately cause to go up in flames will be your cash.