Coffee has previously been linked to prolonging life, but a new study suggests that drinking caffeinated beverages, including coffee and tea, could also help keep off the pounds.

The recently-published study, conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, claims that consuming caffeine can limit weight gain and cholesterol production, even when ingested as part of a diet that contains high levels of fat and sugar.

The study was carried out on rats over a four-week period. The rats ate a controlled diet made up of 40 percent fat, 45 percent carbohydrate, and 15 percent protein. They also consumed caffeine in an amount equivalent to that of a human who drinks four cups of coffee daily.

The scientists tested the effects of caffeine from three different sources: coffee, synthetic sources, and mate tea — a herbal beverage popular in Latin American countries.

“Rats that consumed the caffeine extracted from mate tea gained 16 percent less weight and accumulated 22 percent less body fat than rats that consumed decaffeinated mate tea,” the study claims. The effects were similar for rats that consumed synthetic caffeine and that extracted from coffee.

“Considering the findings, mate tea and caffeine can be considered anti-obesity agents,” Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia, co-author of the study and director of the division of nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois, said.

She added: “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.”