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Weighing Weight-Management OptionsWeighing Weight-Management Options

January 5, 2006

18 Min Read
Weighing Weight-Management Options

Weighing Weight-Management Options

By John Spizzirri
Contributing Editor

Going to the local grocery store for afrozen entrée or even the local convenience store for soda and a snack is noeasy task these days. The product choices are staggering. Much of the reasonlies behind our quest for a svelte waist and a few less chins. No longer is aspecific product a specific product. It has a variety of sibling products eachtargeted at a different consumer group looking for low-calorie or low-fatsubstitutes, or a combination of both, reported to lower cholesterol, reducecalories to maintain a healthy heart, and help lose or maintain weight.

Despite what may appear as confusion, it seems people areeating it up. A 2004 survey conducted by the Calorie Control Council, Atlanta,shows that the United States reached the highest level of dieting in the past 15years, with some 33% of people in the survey saying they are on a diet.According to the survey, this is 35% higher than a similar survey conducted in2000.

And perhaps, just in time or about time. We are an obesenation. Two-thirds of adults and one-third of our children are overweight,according to the Journal of the American MedicalAssociation statistics.

Any one of the more-successful national fad diets — Atkins,South Beach, Mediterranean — might have contributed to the growing interest inreducing weight. But, in general, says Beth Hubrich, executive director, theCalorie Control Council, people might just be more aware that there is aproblem, and they are trying to find ways to be healthier. “At least from thelow-calorie, low-fat food and beverage industry, I think most professionals willagree that what it boils down to is that calories count,” she says. “Youhave to have energy balance between what you’re taking in and what you’reexpending through exercise. So, when you have the reduced-fat and low-calorieproducts, your body will respond to that message. If you’re using low-caloriesweeteners or perhaps a light product, like a light lemonade or a diet softsoda, you’re definitely cutting calories.” So, it is to the consumer’s advantage — and let’s behonest, it doesn’t hurt the manufacturers marketing these products — to takea little time to peruse the various and multitudinous meals,snacks and beverages that offer some assistance in the constant struggle tomaintain or reduce weight.

“Weight management is important for leading a healthy life,but there is a difference between dieting to lose weight and eating the rightfoods to reach and maintain an optimal weight,” says Regina DeMars, spokeswoman, ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha,NE. “Fad diets like Atkins and South Beach are often shortlived. At Healthy Choice, we believe the term ‘daily diet’ should betransformed to ‘daily living.’ Many diets are also compromising andlimiting, which often ends up only encouraging consumers to further indulge inpoor eating habits.” According to DeMars, the company pioneered the category in1988, when it launched the line to meet the growing consumer demand for higherstandards for taste, convenience and nutrition in the healthy-meals category. Since introducing its first line of products almost twodecades ago — consisting of 10 frozen meals — the line now offers more than200 products and an extensive selection of varieties, including 70 differentmenu choices in meals alone. To meet consumers’ increasingly pressing need forconvenience, the company has introduced lunch meats in resealable containers andmicrowaveable soup bowls.

Yet, despite the growing popularity of the healthy-mealscategory, there are those who continue to contrive arguments against it — theydon’t have the same texture, they don’t taste as good and there are reportsof long-term carcinogenic effects. Some of these arguments can be seen aslegitimate, because they are based on individual perception, while others arebased on misinformation.

The real question, say some experts, is what is that extra 20or 30 lbs. doing to our health? Unlike perceptions, the risks associated withthat extra weight include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease andcertain forms of cancer.

Going no- and low-calorie

WeightWatchers International, Inc., Woodbury, NY, has been pitching its brand ofweight-management products for the last 40-some years, initially, with littlecompetition. Today, the company competes with a host of others capitalizing onthe growing demand for weight-management products. Grocery-store shelves are now saturated with these products,perhaps forcing the company to increase its product awareness by seekingmarketing support from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, queen of talk TV, and SarahFerguson, Duchess of York.

Low-calorie products, particularly soft drinks, doexceptionally well in this market. Diet sodas rank high on the list as dononcarbonated beverages like light lemonade and flavored water. Yogurts havealways been a big category, and sugar-free gums are making headway.

And with this growing variety, the market for artificialtabletop sweeteners like Splenda, Sweet’N Low and Equal have increaseddramatically. Statistics compiled by Packaged Facts, New York, as of fall2003, note that the market for sweeteners was estimated at $2 billion and coulddouble by 2008 as new sweeteners and the products that contain them are added tothe market.

Productscan Online, Naples, NY,  reported that 2,225 sugarless or sugar-reduced products wereintroduced into the U.S. market in 2003, more than double that of four yearsago. It also reports that these products represented 11% of all new productsintroduced in 2004.

Sweet choices

Many of theselow-calorie products are driven mainly by the four artificial sweetenersapproved for use in foods by FDA — saccharin, acesulfame K, aspartame andsucralose. The key to their success in the market is their ability to mimic thesweetness of sugar and provide health benefits that sugar does not.

For example, saccharin and acesulfame K contain no caloriesand are eliminated from the body without any change. Sucralose works in much thesame way, though a very small amount is metabolized. And while aspartame ismetabolized in the body, it acts like a protein.

These various low-calorie sweeteners contribute minimal or nocalories. According to the FDA in Title 21, Section 101 of the Code ofFederal Regulations (21CFR101.60(b)), reduced- or low-calorie products must haveat least 25% fewer calories per reference amount than an appropriate referencefood.

One of the trends today in food processing is to use a blendof sugar or dextrose, mostly sugar, with a low-calorie sweetener to replacesugar. These products use only half of the normal amount of sugar they typicallywould contain. Blended with a sweetener, 4 grams of this ingredient isequivalent in sweetness to 8 grams of sugar.

Polyols, or sugar alcohols, work well as sugar replacers andare often used in different blends for baking purposes. Hydrogenated maltose produces a polyol called maltitol that isabout 90% as sweet as sugar and is noncariogenic. Diabetics can safely consume products containing maltitol,because, unlike sugar, it does not quickly raise glucose blood-sugar levels.

In terms of food processing, one of polyols’ advantages isthey act as bulking agents in sugar-free products, particularly baked goods. “Forexample, if you were making a sugar-free cake, you would replace all of thesugar with an intense sweetener. But because the sweetener is so intense, youare adding only a very small amount,” explains Abe Bakal, Ph.D., president,ABIC International Consultants, Inc., Fairfield, NJ. “That amount is notenough to give you the bulk you need to make the cake, to give it the righttexture or volume. The cake becomes flat, it has no volume, it doesn’t rise.Or, if you make a cookie, it will end up like a hockey puck. So, you have to addsomething that adds the bulk, and these are the sugar alcohols like isomalt,lactitol, maltitol and sorbitol.”

This same combination of low-fat sweeteners and polyols isfound in candies and gums. Last January, parent company Cadbury Adams,Parsippany, NJ, introduced the Trident fusion line of gums that promotes the useof xylitol, also a polyol, on its packaging. In addition to its role as a sugarreplacer, xylitol helps prevent tooth decay by reducing plaque build-up. Thissweetener provides one-third fewer calories than sugar, about 2.4 calories pergram.

“Polyols can carry a ‘Does not promote tooth decay’health claim, and they really help in oral health,” says Hubrich. “There’sbeen some research recently that shows that oral health is really important, notjust from how your teeth look, but from the standpoint that the plaque that youhave in your teeth may be an indicator of the plaque that you have in yourarteries.”

Product designers often blend polyols and sweeteners, whichallows food scientists to develop just the right sweetness and taste note theydesire in a given product. Typically, no sweetener alone will deliver the sametaste as sucrose.

For example, the taste of saccharin, an ingredient that hasbeen around for some 120 years, does not appeal to some people. The introductionof aspartame and other low-calorie sweeteners allowed consumers to try varioustabletop brands until they found the one that suited their palate. And, too, theintroduction of new sweeteners provides the food technologist the opportunity toblend.

“You can imagine sweeteners being like flavors,” says Bakal. “If you want to make a flavorthat is very close to the flavor of strawberry, you may end up blending three orfour different strawberry flavors together to get the flavor note that you like.You can do the same thing with the sweeteners. You can blend saccharin withsucralose, sucralose with aspartame, etc., so that one blend gives you this noteand another blend a different note. So, you end up with a product that moreclosely resembles sugar than if you would have used either one of the sweetenersseparately.”

Fixing fat content

Fat-reducedand fat-free products and ingredients have long been the staple ofhealth-related packaged foods. These ingredients continue to represent the primary keys toreducing and maintaining weight.

The Calorie Control Council’s 2004 survey found that 88% ofAmerican adults consumed low-fat, reduced-fat or fat-free products on asemi-regular basis — about once every two weeks — and 87% “are interestedin being offered additional reduced-fat products.” But reduced-fat and fat-free products don’t always jibe withthe consumer’s first commandment in product selection: flavor. Newer fat replacers have been, and are being,developed to replace dietary fat and the functions it serves in food-productdevelopment, namely flavor and texture, accompanied by a reduction in calories.

According to the Washington, D.C.– based International FoodInformation Council’s “Background on Dietary Fats & Fat Replacers,”fat replacers generally fall into three categories: those based on carbohydrate, protein or fat. “Theingredients that are used to replace fat depend on how the food product will beeaten or prepared. For example, not all fat replacer ingredients are heatstable. As such, the type of fat replacer used in a fat-free salad dressing maynot work well for a muffin mix,” notes the document (see www.ific.org/nutrition/fats/index.cfm).

The actual calorie reduction depends on the fat replacer:those based on carbohydrates and proteins have 4 calories per gram, but manyprovide significantly fewer calories in use, often only one calorie per gram,since they are mixed with water. Fiber-based products, like cellulose, containzero calories per gram. Those made of microparticulated protein provide 1 to 2calories per gram. Certain fat-based fat replacers — such as olestra andSalatrim® — are absorbed incompletely or not at all by the body and so supplyfew or no calories.

A growing number of products can replace dietary fat, to acertain extent, while maintaining the integrity of the products to which theyare applied. Olestra, perhaps one of the more recognized of the fatreplacers, is a caloriefree fat derivative. Its heat stability has led tocurrent applications, including a variety of snack chips and, more recently, FDAapproved the use of olestra in microwave popcorn.

Another type of fat-based product to recently hit the U.S.market is Enova™ oil, which is reported to help maintain a healthy weight anda healthy lifestyle when used as part of a sensible diet. Its makers, ADM KaoLLC, Decatur, IL, point to clinical studies that suggest that less oil is storedin the body as fat when Enova is substituted for other fats in the diet.

“The science behind Enova oil is, we not only havedifferences in post-prandial-fat metabolism relative to body-fat storage, butthen, at the end of the day, less of it is stored as body fat,” say BrentFlickinger, senior research manager, nutritional science, ADM Research. “Thedifference has to do with the structure of the oil. Enova oil is adiglyceride-rich oil, and the primary diglyceride is the 1,3 which is missingthat middle fatty acid. After digestion absorption, which would be the same fora conventional oil or Enova oil, how your body puts back together thosedigestion products from the 1,3 diglycerides — in Enova — is less efficient.And, because of that, a different metabolic pathway has to be utilized by thebody. As a result, there is less fat going into the postprandial — chylomicron— system.”

Enova’s versatility lends itself to sautéing, stir-fryingand pan-frying. It is also GRAS for use in a number of food-product categories,including baked goods, margarine-type spreads, and meal-replacement beveragesand bars.

“It’s excellent for salad dressings,” says Paul Tutt, director, Enova brand, ADM Kao. “That’sbecause it’s a neutral- flavored oil, so you don’t have an oil masking theflavor of another ingredient. You get a very light, clean taste from it.”

Due to Enova’s structure, very few processing modificationsare required, though Flickinger suggests that the oil might act more like anemulsifier than a high-triglyceride oil. Also, the oil doesn’t change theflavor or texture of the products to which it is applied. “For example, if there have been any differences, cakes tendto be moister and fluffier,” he adds.

ADM is currently working with a number of manufacturers whichhave either put this oil into their product-development pipeline or have beenconducting consumer research with it. One company, Flatout, Saline, MI, recentlyannounced it will use the oil in its flatbread.

New lipid-based products are also on the rise in the foodindustry that take approaches other than calorie control to weight management.Lipid Nutrition, a division of Loders Croklaan, Wormerveer, the Netherlands,develops designer lipids in highly concentrated and purified forms. Newingredients like Clarinol CLA help food-product designers formulate productsthat have body-composition benefits.

The patented CLA blend has been shown “in numerous clinicaltrials in overweight human volunteers to have beneficial effects on bodycomposition,” says Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager, Lipid Nutrition,Channahon, IL. “Clarinol can effectively aid in increasing lean muscle andreduces body fat by preventing fat accumulation in fat cells. It has also beenshown to reduce body fat specifically in the abdominal region. Epidemiologicalstudies show that a reduction in abdominal fat has positive implications forcardiovascular health and lowers the risk of coronary events.”

Technologies developed by the company help it producefree-flowing powdered lipids that have longer shelf life and resist oxidation,in storage as well as in finished products. The glyceride oil and powder formsof Clarinol CLA can also replace fat in traditional transfatfoods without altering the formulation, though it is not yet approved by FDA todo so. Currently, the CLA ingredient is considered self-affirmed GRAS and thecompany is waiting for FDA full GRAS approval, which expands opportunities,especially for trans fatty-acidreplacement.

Clarinol has a “clean” taste that will not affect theflavor profile of a product. And these nutritional lipids can be used in a largearray of food applications, such as nutrition bars, savory snacks, baked goods,beverages and dairy products. They also can be used at a wide range of doses,depending on formulation and macronutrient profile desires.

The company suggests that its newest ingredient, PinnoThin,targets weight loss by reducing the desire to eat, thus lowering caloric intake.The active ingredient, pinolenic acid, which is extracted from the seeds of theKorean pine nut, helps stimulate the release of the hunger-suppressing hormoneCCK (cholecystokinin). The company believes CKK helps the body digest fatsbetter and sends a “full” feeling to the brain.

Supplement crossovers

Supplementstaken in food form, such as fortified bars, beverages, teas and chews, can oftensupplant nonfood sources as the number of GRAS ingredients from this categoryincreases.

In recent years, FDA has banned the use of specific productslike ephedra, which promote themselves as weight-loss supplements withoutevidence to back-up their claims — and sometimes proved dangerous. The agencyhas also warned other online distributors of dietary supplements to ceaseunfounded claims in their ads.

Still, the supplements keep on coming, though this new breedhas some scientific merit and are typically derived from more-natural,nutrient-oriented sources. One of these, the South African plant Hoodiagordonii, is touted by Stella Labs, Paramus, NJ, as“the leading-weight-loss ingredient on the market today” and “anup-and-coming product in 2006.”

A product description brochure produced by the company notesthat early clinical trials found a molecule within the plant that mimics theeffect of glucose, but with greater intensity, thus suppressing the desire toeat. It also notes that the plant is both useful as a supplement and infunctional foods.

Chromium is another mineral that is making a splash on thenutritional ingredients front. Found in eggs and grains, chromium has been shownto reduce weight in a number of studies.

For example, chromium picolinate supplementation has led toincreased lean body mass in obese individuals. According to a June 1998 article in CurrentTherapeutic Research, clinically obese patients whoreceived 400 mcg per day of chromium picolinate for three months lostsignificantly more body weight and fat than did the placebo group. In 2002,chromium picolinate was affirmed GRAS for use in nutritional bars and beverages.

InterHealth Nutraceuticals, Benicia, CA, manufactures asupplement called ChromeMate. Unlike other brands, this chromium-picolinateproduct utilizes a niacin-bound chromium called chromium nicotinate orpolynicotinate.

According to the company, chromium helps insulin metabolizefat and dramatically increases the amount of blood sugar available for use inenergy production. It also suggests that the specific configuration ofniacinbound chromium “is the safest and most-potent form of chromium availableas a dietary supplement,” though a disclaimer notes that this statement wasnot evaluated by FDA.

But the company’s research proved that its product was notonly safe, but acted positively upon the protein and metabolic functionsassociated with the burning and reduction of fat. “We took obese, diabeticmice and treated them with ChromeMate for 10 weeks and proved that LDL, HDL andtriglyceride levels were changing toward the healthy level,” says DebasisBagchi, senior vice president of research and development, InterHealthNutraceuticals. “Then we looked at subcutaneous tissues — which includesubcutaneous abdominal fat.” Their research showed that, he continues, inthose tissues, the supplement gave the signal that promotes more muscle. Uponreceiving GRAS certification for the supplement, the company began marketing theproducts for use in a variety of food and beverage applications.

In terms of formulation, Bagchi notes the company has createdcombinations of its products that, while not totally water soluble, can be used in solid applications, such as energy bars. Currentapplications for the ingredients include cookies and beverages like powerdrinks.

Regulations and rumors

Likedietary supplements, the success of low-calorie and reduced-calorie sweeteners,as well as fat replacers, has not come without some challenges. Saccharin, forexample, the oldest and the best-known of the FDA-approved sweeteners, waschallenged by a study in which rats were given high concentrations of sodiumsaccharin. The researchers reported increased incidents of bladder tumors amongthe test subjects. However, later research found that the amount of saccharingiven to the rats was extremely excessive and that the mechanism by which therats developed these tumors had no relevance to humans. Based on this newevidence, the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, issued a reportgiving saccharin a clean bill of health in 2000.

Another victim of controversial research was the low-caloriesweetener cyclamate, which was banned for use in the United States in 1970,although it is still used in other parts of the world. During the mid-1980s, both FDA’s Cancer Assessment Committeeand the National Academy of Sciences agreed that cyclamate did not provecarcinogenic. A petition to re-approve the sweetener is currently before FDA.

Since aspartame’s approval, some consumers have reportedsymptoms they believed were associated with its consumption. FDA hasinvestigated these, concluding that there is no “reasonable evidence ofpossible public health harm” and “no consistent or unique patterns ofsymptoms reported with respect to aspartame that can be causally linked to itsuse.” Other allegations that aspartame causes a number of health problems,including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease andlupus, have continued to pop up on the Internet and in various nonscientificmedia without documented scientific evidence. Recently, several governments andexpert scientific committees (including the Scientific Committee on Food of theEuropean Commission, the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency, the FrenchFood Safety Agency and Health Canada) evaluated these claims and found they werefalse.

Other sweeteners have their share of health rumors: Somedetractors have expressed concern with sucralose’s chlorine and its effect onthe thymus gland; others feel the carcinogenicity of acesulfame K might not beproperly understood due to insufficient studies.

“Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformationfloating around out there on the Internet and in e-mails about low-caloriesweeteners,” says Hubrich. “But if you look at the science behind them, it’svery thorough. In order to be approved as a food ingredient, they go throughexhaustive scientific review before they are approved by the FDA.”

Bakal agrees, noting that scientists familiar with thescientific database of all the sweeteners believe that all sweeteners approvedin the United States are safe. To back up his statement, Bakal points to evaluation statements developed by theAmerican Diabetes Association, Alexandria, VA; the American Dietetic Association, Chicago; and the AmericanMedical Association, Chicago, among others, all of which support the safety ofthese sweeteners.

When it was approved for use in savory snacks in 1996, the fatreplacer olestra found itself roiled in physiologic controversy. FDA requiredall products that contained olestra to carry the labeling statement: “ThisProduct Contains Olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and othernutrients.” Recent scientific data suggests otherwise, and FDA has sincedropped the labeling requirement.

But a position paper on fat replacers published last year bythe American Dietetic Association stated “that the majority of fat replacers,when used in moderation by adults, can be safe and useful adjuncts to loweringthe fat content of foods and may play a role in decreasing total dietary energyand fat intake.”

Whether low-calorie sweeteners, fat replacers or supplements,the consumer and the food manufacturer should proceed with some caution, but theoverall findings for these categories, as well as research on specificingredients, are available for scrutiny.

Fortunately, legitimate manufacturers do not claim that theirproducts can work alone in the fight against fat. As we have heard over and over, exercise and portion controlare among the top methods for staying in shape and reducing calories and fat.

“I would say that reduced-calorie, low-fat products are nota magic bullet,” states Hubrich. “I’m a dietician, and what I like to tellpeople is that they can be a useful tool in your toolbox, but you can’t havejust one tool in your toolbox.”

John Spizzirri is a Chicago-based freelance science andtechnical writer specializing in the food and food-packaging industries.

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