Ingredients used to formulate products for weight management are not as straightforward as many would believe. The manufacturers participating in the Prepared Foods' (PF) 2006 “R&D Trends Survey: Weight Control Formulations” represent the 60% of respondents that bear a title and responsibilities involving research and development (unless otherwise noted). Of that group, the majority of respondents feel consumers are "very likely" to look to reduced-fat, low-calorie and reduced-sugar ingredient formulations to help solve a weight problem (see chart “The Diets Consumers Choose”).

The new Vanilla Yogurt Crunch variety of Quaker Life Cereal with oat clusters is low in fat and an excellent source of whole grains and fiber. The cereal also contains whey protein concentrate and whole-grain rolled oats.

To the Mrs. Jack Sprat

Like in the nursery rhymes of old, ingredients touted as being beneficial for weight control are seen by some consumers as telling fabled stories. Food manufacturers are likely to see them as posing unworkable riddles. And if manufacturers do not quite understand the mechanics behind a food formulation concept or weight loss ingredient, how do they convince their customers?

Some weight management ingredients are needed to replace dietary fat or carbohydrates in a product in order to maintain taste and texture, some increase fat oxidation/metabolism in the body, others lower the body's glycemic response and still others boost satiety or the feeling of fullness. Since body fat reduction is the primary purpose for the creation and consumption of weight loss products, manufacturers can be more successful if they and their customers understand by what method their “star” ingredient will achieve this goal.

Maltitol, sucralose and acesulfame potassium are primary sweeteners in Nabisco's Oreo Sugar Free Chocolate Sandwich Cookies. Inulin, polydextrose and enriched wheat flour also join the lineup of innovative ingredients that contribute 3g of fiber and no sugar.

A Pocket Full of Rye

More than two-thirds of manufacturers personally believe that dietary fiber and whole grains can assist in the formulation of a product aimed at weight-conscious consumers and they feel that consumers recognize this as well (see chart “Bi-partisan Voting”).

However, there has been significant confusion recently regarding the nutritional and functional differences between whole grains and dietary fiber, says Scott Dumler, president of a company that sells oat ingredients.

In many products, such as some high-fiber oat bran cereals, the percent of starch may be reduced through the addition of dietary fiber. However, if there is a relative reduction in the starch component, the product may not carry a whole-grain label because the nutritional components are not present in their original proportions.

Since 1999, the FDA has allowed food products to be labeled as a "whole grain food" if the food contains 51% or more whole-grain ingredient(s) by weight per reference amount customarily consumed (RACC).

“The U.S. consumer has a growing perception that any food with 'whole grain' on the label is good for you,” says Dumler. But does recombining the components, which have been separated through standard milling, make whole grain better for you? Or is it the fiber, bran and protein? According to Dumler, it is questions like these that perplex the food industry, the general public and the scientific community.

“I believe that most of the scientific community would say the majority of the components—the bran, protein, lipids—can all be formulated to contribute to weight loss and the reduction of the Glycemic Index (GI),” says Dumler. GI is thought by some to be an important concept in weight control, which describes the speed at which blood glucose levels rise and fall.

Another topic confusing to consumers is the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber. Dietary fibers like those found in oats facilitate a low GI because of both soluble and insoluble attributes, says Dumler. Neither type contributes significantly to the calorie content of a product. Insoluble fiber, like wheat bran in Kellogg's All Bran® for example, is not solubilized by the intestine; it is eliminated in human waste. However, a viscous soluble fiber such as beta glucan has a significant weight loss impact because it delays absorption, builds viscosity in the gut, provides increased satiety and transfers nutrients through the intestine. “Satiety and delayed transit are two components that make weight loss with soluble fiber possible,” says Dumler. Beta glucan also maintains fat mimetic qualities.

“The soluble fiber is the critical factor for weight loss, but there are different soluble fibers,” observes Dumler. For instance, inulin is a great soluble fiber that creates no viscosity and is clear in liquid formulations. On the other hand, oat psyllium and barley build viscosity but do not function in a shelf-stable drink mix. When put into a liquid medium, the high viscosity of soluble fiber causes a buttery or fat feeling in your mouth,” he continues. “These attributes can be beneficial or negative, depending on the product's context,” warns Dumler.

Forget the Curds; Let's Eat the Whey

Researchers have demonstrated that diets high in protein are beneficial to weight loss and body composition and do not result in the loss of muscle mass. Manufacturers are aware of these developments and market proteins as an important component to weight loss.

For example, General Mills has conducted a successful Internet and television campaign for Yoplait Light yogurts that suggests adding two to three servings of dairy to a weight loss plan will help consumers meet the recommended 1,000mg of calcium and their weight loss goals. This is backed up by one 12-week study in which those who followed the above directive lost 61% more body fat than those who ate a reduced-calorie diet low in calcium. The PF survey upholds the idea that both manufacturers and consumers view calcium as a beneficial weight loss ingredient (see chart “Bi-partisan Voting”).

In addition, some 29% and 35% of manufacturers personally believe that dairy products and whey protein, respectively, can assist in the formulation of a consumer weight-loss product. However, at 18% and 29%, manufacturers are not as confident that consumers recognize dairy foods and whey proteins, respectively, as beneficial to weight loss.

Some find whey proteins a challenge to work with but others see a great deal of potential. “They have a clean, bland flavor and provide great nutrition,” remarked Starla Paulsen, a whey protein applications manager, at the International Whey Conference held in Chicago, September 11-14, 2005. Another presenter, Jesper Dohrup, PhD, a sales manager at a whey supplier, commented that when added to ice cream, functional and modified whey protein concentrates (WPC) improve creaminess, elasticity, melting and body.

Similarly, despite awareness of soy as a weight maintenance ingredient by 49% of manufacturers, the same manufacturers are not confident that consumers are similarly aware of soy's role in the diet. “Soy protein containing isoflavones appears to have the same ability to contribute to weight loss as milk protein—as judged by comparable results in the same study,” says Brent Flickinger, PhD, senior research manager for a supplier of soy protein isolates.

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

In some cases, when manufacturers ranked consumer recognition lower than their own recognition of an ingredient, the trend most often occurred with functional ingredients that are used to repair product attributes that are lost when fat and sugar are lowered or missing. For example, 31% of manufacturers acknowledged that sugar polyols can assist with weight loss products, but they believed that only 16% of consumers know this. Some polyols assist in weight loss indirectly by reducing calories while maintaining a sweet taste. However, other sweeteners like isomaltulose slowly promote fat oxidation, notes the supplier literature.

Polydextrose is another ingredient that surveyed manufacturers say is unfamiliar to consumers. Polydextrose adds bulk, texture and mouthfeel to reduced sugar and reduced fat applications. It can sometimes provide the tender crumb of baked products. In addition, polydextrose is metabolized similarly to fiber. According to PF survey results, while 18%, 27% and 29% of manufacturers consider that polydextrose, resistance starch (RS) and gums assist in weight loss, they think only 2%, 5% and 3% of consumers, respectively, will identify them as beneficial to weight loss.

Peas Porridge Cold

RS is naturally present in grains and legumes as well as in many cooked and chilled foods such as potato or pasta salad and cold rice. While not all RS is the same, most of the research on health benefits has studied high-amylose corn RS2 natural resistant starch.

"Overall, RS affects satiety, increases lipid oxidation and decreases fat storage," says Janine Higgins, a research fellow at the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, a presenter at a resistant starch conference co-sponsored by Oldways Preservation Trust and an RS supplier. Other presenters remarked that RS reduces the caloric density of foods, is a prebiotic and contributes to blood sugar management. Some products by Sara Lee, Delightful Breads and Iron Kids Breads contain natural resistant starches.

Sitting in the Corner

According to the PF survey, the popularity of functional weight loss ingredients has not changed that much in the last few years. If lessons can be learned from the reduced-fat diet experience, it should be noted that although fat intake decreased in the 1980s, obesity increased. Despite the reiteration that Americans eat far too many alpha linolenic fatty acids (omega-6) and not enough EPA and DHA (omega-3), omega-6 is still more dominant in processed food.

Ironically, some fatty acids are thought to assist in weight loss. For example, some research shows that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) decreases fat cell number and size. It is suggested that CLA decreases body fat mass by decreasing the amount of triglycerides or fat that is stored after eating, by increasing the rate of adipocyte apoptosis and by increasing the rate of energy production from fat metabolism.

…And He Called it Macaroni

More than 50% of PF respondents would characterize their com- pany's future weight loss product development efforts as focused on new products. The most popular application areas are beverages, health bars/shakes, baked goods and natural products.

The formulation of weight control products indeed begins on the solid foundation of education about ingredients for both consumers and manufacturers. Now, “To market, to market…”