Weight management: is calorie control out for the count?

By Nick Hughes

- Last updated on GMT

Some nutritionists believe carbs are the enemy, and not fat
Some nutritionists believe carbs are the enemy, and not fat

Related tags: Sugar, Nutrition, Obesity

Conventional advice on how to maintain health and combat obesity has come in for a bit of a battering in recent times.

Key points

Last year, a provocative report from the newly formed Public Health Collaboration – a group consisting of dieticians, cardiologists and general practitioners – suggested that eating more fat and fewer carbs was key to reversing obesity and type-2 diabetes, a claim that ran in direct opposition to government healthy eating advice.

Meanwhile, an expert on bacterial gut health earlier this year claimed that traditional advice around eating fewer high fat foods and more starchy foods, counting calories and never skipping mealtimes was flawed.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and director of the British Gut Microbiome project, told the Food Vision conference in March, an event run by William Reed – publisher of Food Manufacture​– that there should instead be a focus on maintaining better gut health, which he believed helped control everything from mood to feelings of satiety, while regulating the immune system.

Gut health and specifically the microbiome – the diverse ecosystem of bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract – is an area of increasing focus both for scientists looking for an answer to why some people put on weight more readily than others, and for companies seeking to commercialise foods and ingredients that help people manage their weight.

Understanding the human microbiome (return to top)

That said, even the most committed advocates admit that the science behind the human microbiome is a work in progress.

“There’s more we don’t know than what we know,”​ says Stephen O’Hara, chief executive of OptiBiotix, the company formed in March 2012 to develop compounds that modify the human microbiome.

Nevertheless, trials to transfer the microbiome between thin and fat mice have produced promising results and O’Hara says there are a number of organisms that seem to be associated with leanness and obesity.

“Generally, the more diverse the microbiome, the wider range of bacteria you have, and the more likely you are to lose weight and to sustain weight loss,”​ he says.

“We’re starting to understand that by changing the microbiome, people can start to manage their weight far better.”

OptiBiotix has developed SlimBiome, a combination of microbiome modulating ingredients – glucomannan, chromium, and non-digestible prebiotic fibres – formulated to support healthy weight management and weight loss.

It has created a range of GoFigure weight loss products (see box) to commercialise the science.

Blood sugar level maintenance (return to top)

As with the mircobiome, the maintenance of low blood sugar levels is increasingly being seen as vital to maintaining a healthy weight.

“This is not surprising, seeing as a major driver of metabolism, insulin, is influenced by blood sugar levels,”​ says Anke Sentko, vice president of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication for Beneo, who adds that the blood glucose lowering effect of sugar replacement with the company’s chicory root fibres received an EU health claim last year.

Sentko says Beneo’s prebiotics have been shown to support weight management efforts and stop weight gain in 15 clinical interventions including six studies and nine trials, with both adults and children.

As sugar is put under increasing scrutiny, Sentko claims the negative impact of high glycaemic ingredients on weight management is becoming ever clearer and many consumers are making the link between high glycaemic diets and weight gain.

As a result, there has been a significant increase in interest from manufacturers around sugar replacement.

“Low glycaemic carbohydrates have benefited from the sugar reduction agenda and Beneo’s chicory root fibres, as well as functional carbohydrates Palatinose and isomalt, have been well placed to offer viable alternatives to producers, especially as they have many years of scientific work to back up the ingredients’ lower blood glucose response properties and supporting EU health claims,”​ adds Sentko.

The growth of naturally-derived sugar alternatives (return to top)

The need to reduce sugar from food and drink products continues to drive interest in sweeteners too, with naturally-derived alternatives in particular proving popular among companies looking to offer consumers products that help moderate their sugar consumption.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to reducing sugar content, as the taste of every food and beverage requires a tailored solution for each category, says Faith Son, head of marketing and innovation at PureCircle, which produces a range of zero-calorie stevia ingredients.

“Stevia flavour modifiers work in synergy with stevia sweeteners to improve the taste, mouthfeel and calorie profile, and enhance the cost effectiveness of beverage and food products,”​ suggests Son.

Omega Ingredients’ MegaSweet (return to top)

Omega Ingredients is also looking to capture a share of the market for natural sugar alternatives with the launch of MegaSweet, a novel calorie-free natural flavour system that it says allows for “unprecedented genuine mouthfeel and the indulgent taste of sucrose with zero aftertaste”​ – a result it claims is impossible to achieve through the use of traditional sugar alternatives.

“When you replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners, you don’t just lose the sweetness, you also sacrifice mouthfeel, which often creates a bitter or even astringent aftertaste,”​ says co-founder and biochemist Steve Pearce.

“All of these facts combined can lead to a drastically different product, which may be alien to consumers.

“That’s why we have designed MegaSweet – to combat the challenges faced by the beverage industry ahead of the sugar tax.”

The high level of innovation in sugar replacers augurs well for those food firms having to re-engineer tried and tested products in the wake of the growing evidence linking sugar with obesity and type-2 diabetes.

And the emergence of new science around the human microbiome means consumers looking to actively reduce their weight are more likely than ever to want products that meet their individual needs.

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 Containing the microbiome modulating formulation SlimBiome, OptiBiotix’s GoFigure brand is a range of cereal bars and shakes designed to be consumed as part of a diet plan.

OptiBiotix’s GoFigure range

Go Figure_Full_Set_CMYK copy copy
SlimBiome helps promote the feeling of fullness, the company claims

Containing the microbiome modulating formulation SlimBiome, OptiBiotix’s GoFigure brand is a range of cereal bars and shakes designed to be consumed as part of a diet plan.

The company says SlimBiome promotes the feeling of fullness, helps burn calories by promoting a healthy metabolism, and maintains blood sugar levels to reduce food cravings and overeating.

“Weight loss isn’t just about reducing calories – it’s about having healthy calories,”​ says OptiBiotix chief executive Stephen O’Hara.

We see SlimBiome as a component within healthy foods. We’re selling it as an ingredient within products. We’re reducing calories, but those calories provide those daily nutrients.”

Although O’Hara reports interest from major retailers such as Boots and Holland & Barrett, the company has taken a cautious approach to its rollout to ensure its manufacturers are capable of meeting demand.

It is looking at extending the range into yogurts, porridges and muesli.

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