A byproduct of sugar production, this syrupy treat belongs in your diet.

Thick, sweet, syrupy molasses. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking “diet food.” However, new research suggests that an extract of this pantry staple blocks calorie absorption, particularly when consumed in conjunction with a high-fat diet.

Researchers, including Richard Weisinger, Ph.D., an associate professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, fed one group of mice an unaltered high-fat diet, another a high-fat diet with a two percent molasses extract supplement, and a third with four percent molasses extract supplement. After 12 weeks, despite eating the same quantities of food, the mice that ate the diet with the higher-percentage supplement had lower body weight, reduced body fat and decreased blood levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells.

Molasses extract, known in the United States as blackstrap molasses, is a byproduct of sugar production. When all the sweet stuff and their calories are removed from molasses, what remains is a low-calorie nutrient-dense product that’s packed with polyphenols, a type of antioxidant.

How does it work? The researchers noted that in the mice fed the higher-percentage supplement, the molasses extract increased energy metabolism in their liver and in fat cells, as indicated by increased gene expression. They noted that the mice excreted more calories, too.

“The addition of molasses extract to a high-fat diet appears to reduce body weight and body-fat levels primarily through reduced caloric absorption,” Weisinger said. Clinical trials next year will focus on how molasses extract affects weight control in humans, he said.

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