NUS team develops low-cost fat burner using pineapple leaves

The NUS research team (left to right): Assoc Prof Duong Hai-Minh, Nguyen Thai Thien Phuc, Loh Jing Wen, and Assoc Prof Phan Toan Thang. (PHOTO: NUS)
The NUS research team (left to right): Assoc Prof Duong Hai-Minh, Nguyen Thai Thien Phuc, Loh Jing Wen, and Assoc Prof Phan Toan Thang. (PHOTO: NUS)

SINGAPORE — A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a greener and cheaper solution to losing weight by using recycled pineapple leaf fibres to absorb fat.

The fat burner can potentially come in the form of capsules or crackers, said NUS in a statement on Tuesday (17 May).

"Pineapple leaves are natural, biodegradable, and biocompatible. They are usually discarded after the fruits are harvested, hence they are very cheap and abundant," said the NUS research team leader Associate Professor Duong Hai-Minh.

The researchers had capitalised on the "excellent mechanical properties of pineapple leaf fibres for fat absorption", added Assoc Prof Duong, who is from the Department of Mechanical Engineering under the NUS College of Design and Engineering.

"Together with our earlier work of using pineapple leaves for production of highly absorbent aerogels, our goal is to help reduce agricultural waste and increase profits of farmers."

After ingestion, the capsule or cracker absorbs fatty compounds – such as animal fats – and form fat-coated fibre lumps.

"These fat-coated lumps will then be passed out from the digestive system in one to three days, similar to other foods we consume,” said research team member Assoc Prof Phan Toan Thang, who is from the Department of Surgery under the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

In laboratory tests that simulate the acidic condition of the human digestive tract, the NUS team found that one gram of pineapple leaf fibres can absorb 45.1 grams of cooked fats and 20.4 grams of human fats.

“Based on our test results, you will need less than one capsule of pineapple leaf fibres to absorb the saturated fats from eating one hamburger,” said Assoc Prof Duong.

Pineapple leaf fibres can be used for other types of cellulose fibres, such as sugarcane bagasse and coffee grounds.

The NUS team has filed a patent for the solution and is looking for partners to commercialise the technology.

Citing a 2020 Health Ministry National Population Health Survey, NUS said about 35.5 per cent of Singapore residents aged 18 to 74 have high blood pressure while 39.1 per cent have high cholesterol.

A healthy, low-fat diet and appropriate weight loss for obese individuals could help lower the risk of such cardiovascular diseases, NUS added.

The global market size of weight loss supplements was valued at US$33.4 billion in 2020 and is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 16.6 per cent from 2021 to 2028.

Common ingredients in dietary weight-loss supplements include chitosan, chromium picolinate, conjugated linoleum acid (CLA), and green tea extract, according to NUS.

"However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of such fat-trapping supplements. Most fat trappers or fat burners are also expensive – some regimens could cost several hundred dollars a month," said NUS.

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