While 2 billion people go to bed hungry every night, and nearly another 2 billion struggle just to meet daily caloric needs, an estimated 1.4 to 1.6 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese. The majority of the overweight/obese population lives in food-abundant, developed nations, living largely sedentary lifestyles.


The good news is that obesity’s root causes are better understood now than during past decades. Unfortunately, it was during those same decades that the number of overweight people surpassed those who maintain healthy weight.


Researchers are shining more light on the subject. This summer saw Packaged Facts Inc. report that an estimated 100 million Americans are “watching their diet to lose weight or to maintain their current weight.”  In another recent study, researchers at California’s Stanford University School of Medicine focused on the $2.4 billion Americans spend on diet programs and $14 billion they spend on diet supplements. That study also points to a drastic decline in personal activity as the foremost culprit in the obesity epidemic. This has only been compounded by an estimated 300-500 extra daily calories Americans have added to their diets since 1970.


Prepared Foods’ review of the overall market suggests that ingredient suppliers and food and beverage manufacturers are responding and creating products to address the root causes of obesity, as well as the ongoing epidemic.

To date, obesity initiatives have focused primarily on portion sizes and calories. One of the summer’s biggest nutrition stories was the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation news that “major food and beverage companies—acting together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation—had removed 6.4 trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace between 2007-2012.”


This news coincides with Packaged Facts’ comprehensive survey and summer 2014 report, “Weight Management—U.S. Consumer Mindsets.” The firm’s survey data show that “the highest priority for those taking steps to lose weight is to get control of their snacking habits. Two in three (66%) limit how much they eat when they snack and 62% set boundaries on how often they snack. At the same time, the percentage of weight-loss dieters who usually only snack on healthy snacks also has increased.”


Survey authors note that “consumers on a weight-loss regime are especially likely to screen the labels of snack products for characteristics such as fat content and healthy ingredients.” The report declares unequivocally: “Food marketers will benefit from launching a wider array of healthy snacks appealing to food shoppers on a weight-loss regime.”


Packaged Facts researchers also determined that “the growing interest in maintaining weight, as opposed to losing weight, has implications for what consumers will be looking for in grocery stores.”


Elsewhere, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a full, peer-reviewed study that also described “which types of foods and beverages had the biggest calorie cuts” to achieve the 6.4 trillion calories removed from the marketplace. It went on to include a second study that assessed how the pledge to sell fewer calories by these companies had “impacted the number of calories purchased by families with kids.”


In its survey, Packaged Facts highlighted the trend it describes as “the growing alignment of weight management efforts with ongoing changes in contemporary American eating habits.” Its researchers noted that, instead of controlling what they eat at mealtimes, today’s consumers are more likely to change their snacking habits in order to achieve weight loss success. The report went on to call this “a practical and realistic strategy that reflects the increasing importance of snacking in America today.”


According to the Packaged Facts survey data, “Only 32% of those following a diet plan or eating strategy try to lose weight by eating in moderation at meals. More than twice as many (66%) say they limit how much they eat when they snack, while 62% set boundaries on how often they snack.” The survey also found that, during the past five years, “[t]he number of consumers watching their diet to maintain their weight grew 12.8%, or nearly twice as fast as the growth in the population of those seeking to lose weight.”


Several tracks to weight management have trended strongly lately, as well as those channels for product development designed to address the consequences of obesity. All have both existing and emerging ingredients and ingredient systems that support them.

The trends of portion control, satiety and metabolic influence parallel the trends to counter inflammation, blood sugar disorders and, most recently, such frontiers of metabolic science as the microbiome. Of course, many ingredients and ingredient classes do double and even triple duty in addressing all of these facets of weight management.



Although product sizing—portion control—plays a lead role in calorie counts, a second strategy involves calorie reduction by ingredient substitutions for sugar or fat. The former includes zero- and low-calorie sweeteners, such as stevia, monkfruit and sugar alcohols (such as xylitol, erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol and isomalt), as well as artificial sweeteners.


While some of these sweeteners have come under controversy lately, recent studies suggest zero-calorie sweeteners stimulate insulin production and—by not “paying off” that stimulation—drive cravings for sweets. Other studies suggested some of the artificial sweeteners damage the gut microbiome.


The studies contradict decades of other studies that show no such effects and that support the benefit of diet products in helping consumers balance or lose weight. Authors of a release last September by the Calorie Control Council, an international association of manufacturers of low-calorie, reduced-fat and “light” foods and beverages, declared that the most recent studies making such claims were flawed in their execution.


The controversy has caused a general decline in consumption of the main source of these sweeteners—mainly beverages, especially soft drinks. According to Information Handling Services (IHS), providers of industry data and documents, consumption “has slowed to nearly zero in North America and Europe.” An IHS report last summer put the market for high-intensity sweeteners in sweetening applications at more than $2 billion dollars in 2013.


In the IHS report, author Marifaith Hackett, director of specialty chemicals research at IHS, noted, “High-intensity sweeteners enable food producers to deliver reduced-calorie products that taste good.” However, she also pointed out that processors face challenges beyond product development ones, such as increasing regulations and local government legislation.


Hackett explains that not only are consumers drinking fewer soft drinks, they are favoring beverages and foods that use natural sweeteners.

“The challenge for food producers is to find sweeteners that meet consumer expectations but also taste good and meet cost and performance parameters,” she explains. “When it comes to taste, refined sugar remains the ‘gold standard.’”


According to the IHS report, global demand for stevia extract in 2013 surpassed 2,000 metric tons, and is expected to “reach 3,000-4,000 metric tons annually” by 2018.


One of the more important changes in the stevia extract market has been the development of the active sweet components, steviol glycosides, such as rebaudioside, from a bacterial fermentation process instead of extraction from the leaves. This will not only provide for a more precisely effective (and customizable) sweetener, but improve sustainability and ecological methods for deriving steviol extracts. It also allows a scalability that can make the sweetener—200-400 times as sweet as sucrose—more competitive from a price standpoint.

Stevia blends have served dual purposes for manufacturers, both providing bulk for baked and other formulations that rely on sugar for volume, as well as sweetness and acting to mask the off-notes that some stevia products can impart in certain formulations.


Polydextrose, maltodextrin and sugar alcohols, such as erythritol, are commonly blended with stevia. Inulin, a natural fiber from chicory, artichokes and other sources is a favored, highly soluble prebiotic oligosaccharide/polysaccharide (as a polymerized saccharide chain, it can stretch from a few to 60 units) that has enjoyed greatly increased use in a wide variety of products. It also is an effective bulking agent when used in such blends, as it has a caloric value of about 1.5kcals/g.


Success in baked items has been achieved using a blend of natural fructose, inulin, stevia and magnesium carbonate.

Coconut sugar, in spite of a currently limited market presence is estimated at just $4 million for 2014, and “is expected to grow based on its healthy image as a lower-glycemic index sweetener that is also highly sustainable,” according to Packaged Facts.


A tropical palm sweetener new (to the American market), the low-calorie/high-intensity sweetener extracted from the Borassus tree (Palmyra palms), has been in use in India for centuries. The sweetener, called palmyra jaggery, also is an important plant source of vitamin B12, as well as vitamin B6, and more than a dozen other essential vitamins and minerals—such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, sodium and phosphorus.



In Prepared Foods’ NutraSolutions Annual Weight Management Survey, conducted in September 2014, ingredients designed for weight management, weight-loss and satiety functionality emerged as “highly important” to slightly more than half of respondents’ businesses. And carbohydrate-derived ingredients were acknowledged as those most commonly used in health foods. This was followed in importance by botanical-derived and protein-derived ingredients.



Carbohydrates include functional saccharides, starches and fibers, as well as other polysaccharides (for example, polydextrose or those like chitin that are linked to protein molecules). Of these, fibers have the longest history as targeting weight management. In fact, three quarters of respondents of weight management survey who work with carbohydrate and carbohydrate-derived ingredients use fiber in developing health-related foods.


Before there was fiber, there was “roughage.” That’s what our grandparents called fiber derived from whole grain foods. It’s long been recognized that fiber provides fullness; helps “clean the pipes;” and keeps things moving—all assisting in better digestion and easier weight management.


“The role starch plays in obesity had become a subject of great controversy,” explains Mark Anthony, Ph.D., adjunct professor of nutrition at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. “But starch is nothing less than the energy source of grains, legumes, roots and tubers, and the foundation of the most dominant staple foods on the planet for the last 10,000 years. Yet starch has been saddled with the questionable reputation as a fattening food and, thus, as a risk factor for obesity and related modern diseases, especially type 2 diabetes.”


Anthony stresses that digestible starch, regardless of its source, is ultimately broken down into glucose. When it comes to obesity and weight management, he notes that the most recent confusion over starch centers around attempts to “classify all carbohydrates based on glycemic index, even when that classification appears unwarranted.”


“Low-GI foods are given healthy credentials, since many low-GI foods, such as beans and some whole grains, are associated with reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and related conditions,” Anthony adds. “Because these particular carbohydrates have what is termed Slowly Digested Starches (SDS), and thus are associated with sustained-release of energy, increased satiety and positive influences on weight control, it is more desirable to reformulate many modern staples to increase SDS content.”


SDS forms of carbohydrate can reduce the glycemic response of bread, pasta and other starch-rich dishes when used to replace a portion of the refined starch. Fiber has “proven a dependable way to lower glycemic index of a food,” says Anthony.

Overall, starches and fibers play multiple roles in weight management. Reducing the glycemic response allows energy to be used and stored more efficiently, which provides both satiety and better metabolism of that energy.



Old is becoming new in some cases. Soy fiber has re-emerged, especially showing excellent satiety, in combination with functional polysaccharides such as polydextrose. And, thanks to oat-derived beta-glucans gaining wide recognition for helping immune function, other oat ingredients are riding those coattails to a comeback—especially oat fiber.


Oat fiber has long been a favorite for cholesterol lowering and heart health, but processors also are buying back into the weight-control attributes of well-known fibers and are turning to this original fiber star.


Last summer, Ayca Gedikoglu and Andrew Clarke, Ph.D., associate professor of food science at University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, showed how citrus fiber powder could be added to a ground meat formulation without negatively impacting texture and cooking characteristics. In their study, the team used the fiber at meat replacement levels of 1%, 5% and 10%. The 1% and 5% levels were completely acceptable for creating a less-expensive, healthier ground meat preparation.


Processed citrus fiber is composed of roughly half insoluble and half soluble fiber, and is high in pectin. It typically is derived from dried orange pulp. It has very high water-holding and viscosity capacity compared to other fibers, and is used as a fat substitute that, in some products, can replace up to half the oil in formulation without altering texture.


Citrus fiber has been used not only in meat products but in baked goods, where it can even slightly increase volume when replacing up to half the fat. It can be used to thicken and stabilize beverages, soups, sauces, dressings and other prepared products, as well. However, it is not a fermentable fiber. Rather, it helps in weight management as a bulker and to lower overall calories in finished products.



“Many factors influence the digestion of starch beginning with the structure of the specific starch chains,” explains Anthony. “Starch-digesting enzymes release glucose molecules that are then broken down to individual glucose units in the small intestines. Amylose is relatively linear, with few branch points, compared to the more highly branched amylopectin. Amylose presents fewer exposed ends, giving limited access to digestive enzymes. Amylopectin allows for greater access to digestive enzymes. Both components are present in all starch-containing plants. For example, certain cultivars of corn are richer in amylose, while foods like potatoes tend to be richer in amylopectin.”

Starch is insoluble in water and held in dense granules in the plant, and digestibility of starch depends on gelatinization, which is the swelling of the starch granules with water under the influence of heat.


“Gelatinization increases the exposure of the starch chains to digestive enzymes,” explains Anthony, “while incomplete gelatinization inhibits access of digestive enzymes and prevents glucose release from the starch chain.”


This action increases the resistant starch content and reduces its glycemic index. Resistant starch is the portion of the starch chain that remains physically inaccessible to starch-digesting enzymes, entering the large intestines relatively intact where the body treats it as a soluble fiber. Resistant starch also triggers a biochemical reaction that releases compounds believed to increase satiety.


Certain methods of food processing can limit access to starch, according to Anthony. For example, the starch from flaked, whole wheat is less available than when the wheat is prepared by boiling, steaming or popping. The latter techniques increase digestibility and reduce SDS, he notes.


Some starch-based ingredient systems increase the indigestibility of the starch portions, thereby enhancing the benefits of weight and glucose management. Starch-protein interaction is known to reduce access of digestive enzymes to the starch chains. Gluten can coat starch granules in pasta.


For example, sorghum prepared as a porridge contains starch encapsulated with protein. A recent article published in Food and Function highlighted the use of whole-grain sorghum as a functional food for the reduction of both glucose response and insulin response compared to whole-wheat muffins.



“Grain sorghum is high in resistant starch and SDS and, when tested against whole wheat flour as the major component in muffins, sorghum significantly lowered plasma glucose response and insulin response,” says Anthony.


Inulin, noted earlier for its slight sweetness and ability to combine well with high-intensity sweeteners, is a highly desirable fiber for weight management in its own right. As a prebiotic, fermentable fiber, it stimulates the production of short-chain fatty acids, as do other fermentable starches, and it does not cause excessive gastric upset. In that way, it is similar to resistant starch from high-amylose corn, allowing it to replace up to 25% of standard flour in a formulation.


Also, like other fermentable fibers, inulin has been successfully used as a fat replacer in dairy items, such as yogurt, delivering long-term satiety on par with full-fat versions of the same product. Unlike many resistant starches, however, inulin does add a slight sweetness in formulation. This satiety factor allows it to help control glycemic response, and regulate blood sugar and insulin fluctuations.


Combining high-amylose, whole-grain corn flour along with guar gum, a soluble fiber, also has been shown to reduce both glycemic and insulin responses. And, in an August 2014 study by researchers at the University of Liverpool, UK, a combination of “viscous hydrocolloid and a whole-grain corn flour rich in resistant starch” not only made subjects “feel fuller for longer,” but also “influenced the amount of food they ate”—leading them to eat less throughout the day.


The researchers reported, “Food intake at both lunch and dinner times were lower when the satiety ingredient was given at breakfast compared to the control;” and “overall, after [a] 20g dose, 4% fewer calories were eaten, and after [a] 30g dose, 5% less food was eaten at both lunch and dinner combined.”


Other resistant starches coming into favor for weight management include acacia gum and wheat-derived resistant starch. Plus, ingredient makers have been delving into resistant starch sources from legumes, barley, rice, potatoes and root vegetables, such as parsnips.



Potatoes are emerging as some of the first of these non-grain resistant starch sources to get off the ground with processors. Several trends—gluten-free diets, especially—turned some of the attention away from grain-derived ingredients. This also opened the door to other sources of food fiber, and some have proven to be highly beneficial. In just the past couple of years, potato-derived starch, fiber and proteins have enjoyed a strong showing among food product developers.


“Smashed, bashed, sliced, diced, shredded and boiled in oil, potatoes are accustomed to taking a beating,” notes St. Edwards University’s Anthony. “Dieters have long been frightened away from eating potatoes. But a quick look at the standard satiety index chart reveals something interesting about boiled potatoes: They’re alone at the top of the chart, given a value of 325 compared to the standard and also compared to the second-place foods that are only slightly over 200.”


In other words, boiled, slow-digesting starch from potatoes turns out to be among the highest satiety carbohydrates available. It should be noted that the high resistant starch content of boiled (and cooled) potatoes helps contribute to this ability to reduce hunger throughout the day.


Ingredient makers have taken this benefit, as well as heeded the gluten-free demands of consumers, by creating lines of functional potato ingredients that can replace fat or eggs in baked and other formulations. Potato starches, especially, have been gaining ground in the design of low-calorie/high-satiety foods.


Potato starch and fiber ingredient systems have been used with excellent results to replace up to half the fat in some baked items maintaining overall formula cell structure without reducing volume. As a fat analog in frostings and fillings, sauces, spreads and dairy-based foods, potato starches will impart a unique creaminess and, being potato derivatives, they allow for clean labels, being gluten-free and non-GMO.


Konjac, an Asian tuber in the yam family, is a recently popular starch source prized for high galactomannan content. Galactomannan is a polysaccharide used as a stabilizer and fat replacer that can increase viscosity and provide creaminess to soft cheese products and frozen dairy desserts. It also has a high satiety factor.


In addition to satiety, galactomannan is believed to interfere with absorption of cholesterol and sugar and, thus, calories. It has been used most commonly to make ultra-low calorie pasta noodles, especially in combination with xanthan gum. Guar gum also is a good source of galactomannan.


Konjac gel has been used to great effect in animal protein products, such as prepared sausages and other meats. Meat analogs, too, can benefit both in texture and calorie reduction with konjac. Konjac also is believed to positively affect the flora of the lower g.i. tract through fermentation and growth promotion. As with resistant starches and inulin, the byproducts of such fermentation have been shown to positively influence satiety, in addition to the fiber’s bulking effect.



After specialized starches and fiber, protein has sprung up in the position as a weight control ingredient for a good decade now. According to the consumer research outlet Euromonitor, protein supplements represent the fastest growing category in consumer health. Global sales rose between 2006-2011, from around $3.4 billion to $5.4 billion—a 59% jump. The ingredient’s popularity is predominantly due to its being an energy source and having a higher satiety effect than many forms of carbohydrate.


According to Innova Market Insights, the protein trend is driven by increasing health concerns – primarily weight management. Demand for whey protein, specifically, is soaring as a result of growing demand in certain Asian markets, as well as its rising popularity as a natural, healthy ingredient, particularly in sports, medical and infant nutrition, and in weight management.


Last spring, the Whey Protein Research Consortium published a meta-analysis on whey protein and its relation to improved body composition. The paper, titled “Whey protein consumption may lead to significant decreases in body weight and body fat and significant increases in lean body mass,” followed new research published in the March/April 2014 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition demonstrating that whey protein can provide benefits related to body composition.


In looking at 14 randomized, controlled trials, totaling 626 adult participants, researchers analyzed weight-loss studies that used whey protein to replace calories in the diet. Results showed that participants had a decrease in body weight of 9.2lb, on average, with whey protein. Interestingly, whey also appeared to help promote an increase in lean body mass of nearly 5lb, on average, when subjects engaged in resistant exercise in conjunction with the whey intake.


Whey protein hydrolysates are metabolized more rapidly and loaded with both essential and branched-chain amino acids. They are especially effective in enhancing the body’s ability to build muscle mass and increasing satiety. Collagen peptides are another source of readily metabolized protein for increasing the concentration of the nutrient in formulations.

There also has been strong activity in patent actions relating to algae-derived proteins. The recent jump in use of microalgae flours as textural replacements for certain fats makes them excellent, as well, for reducing calories without negatively impacting texture or consumer acceptance.



Most botanical ingredients targeting weight management are focused on metabolism, such as increasing metabolism via their action as stimulants. Their active ingredients often are alkaloids, such as caffeine, xanthine or theophylline. Yerba maté and its extracts are good examples of natural stimulants being employed in what are often called “slimming beverages.”


Stimulating ingredients can be highly effective, although alkaloid containing ingredient systems tend to be bitter and require maskers. Some alkaloid-containing products might also be required to meet certain regulatory criteria regarding labeling.



Chili peppers, prized for other health benefits like cardiovascular heath, antimicrobial properties and healing stomach ulcers, are getting a second look as possible weight managers. Capsaicinoids, those active volatile compounds that give peppers their well-loved bite, are known to enhance the breakdown of fats and help express them from the system. Capsaicin also is known for its thermogenic properties—a “fat burner” that stimulates metabolism and elevates the heart rate without resorting to alkaloids. Peppers and other hot foods certainly have a long history of enhancing satiety.


Fucoxanthin, an atypical carotenoid from brown seaweed and certain macro- and microalgae, has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It also has been investigated for anti-obesity and antidiabetic properties, as well, including an apparent ability to inhibit the digestive enzymes lipase and amylase, in some studies by more than 50%. In a 2011 animal study, described by Juan Peng, Ph.D., et al, in a review of fucoxanthin science in the journal Marine Drugs, subjects given extracts of fucoxanthin experienced reduced abdominal white adipose tissue.

Moreover, the researchers wrote, “Fucoxanthin significantly reduced plasma and hepatic triglyceride concentrations; the activities of adipocytic fatty acid synthesis, hepatic fatty acid and triglyceride synthesis; and cholesterol-regulating enzymes.” They also noted that the extract “significantly increased the concentrations of plasma high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, fecal triglyceride and cholesterol, as well as fatty acid oxidation enzyme activity in epididymal white adipose tissue.”


Results observed in another significant clinical study, this one on women with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of ≤ 30, showed subjects lost almost 3kg weight, all of it as fat. A visible reduction of up to 4cm in thigh circumference and of nearly 6cm in total buttocks area also was seen.

The common prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus indica), enjoying a culinary revival in desserts and beverages, could be an effective weight management ingredient, as well. Compounds from prickly pear have been shown in studies to “help block the digestion and absorption of fats in food.” It gives evidence of being able to help balance blood lipid levels and the effects of obesity and metabolic syndrome.

In addition to the beta-glucan polysaccharides found in mushrooms, a review of the edible fungi published last year in Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry described how “edible mushrooms, their extracts, polysaccharide fractions [such as beta-glucans] and isolated compounds possessed hypoglycemic, cholesterol and triglyceride lowering ability, hypotensive effects, as well as weight managing activity by influencing satiety.”


The review, “Therapeutic properties of mushrooms in managing adverse effects in the metabolic syndrome,” named benefits from mushroom compounds called lectines, eritadenin, triterpenes, sterols and phenolic compounds.

Catechins, bioactive phytochemicals derived from green tea, are proposed to have an anti-obesity effect. However, a recent study showed that combining the tea compound with inulin could have a positive effect on body weight and fat mass in obese and overweight adults.

A small, controlled study published by H. Yang, Ph.D., et al, March 2012, in the British Journal of Nutrition, revealed that 30 subjects who drank 650ml tea or catechin-rich green tea plus inulin experience a small but significant loss of weight and fat mass after six weeks, an effect which continued even after abstaining for two weeks.


Researchers concluded: “Continuous intake of catechin-rich green tea, in combination with inulin, for at least three weeks, may be beneficial for weight management.”


Other botanicals and superfruits continue to exhibit intriguing anti-obesity effects. For example, an animal study of berries at conducted at Lund University, Sweden, showed that lingonberries “almost completely prevented weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet.” The berries “also produced lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol.”


The subject mice were fed a type of berry – lingonberry, bilberry, raspberry, crowberry, blackberry, prune, blackcurrant or açai for three months; then were compared to each other and a control group.


The lingonberry group had the strongest reaction, with mice that had eaten lingonberries gaining no more weight than those on a low-fat diet and with similar blood sugar and insulin readings.


The sudden explosion on the market of foods and beverages containing probiotics is indicative of how impressive the science is behind the powerful microorganisms. The critical nature of a balanced microbiome is proving to be one of the most important trends in nutrition and health in decades.


Recognition based on literally hundreds of controlled studies is backing centuries of anecdotal backing for incorporating live cultures into the diet for mitigation of numerous diseases and conditions.


This is no less true for obesity, especially in view of the inflammation-obesity connection. A number of studies point to probiotic bacteria as highly effective reducers of chronic systemic inflammation and increased immune function. They neutralize toxins and counter pathogens, as well as play a critical role in countering obesity and fatty liver disease, and have been investigated as being a possible mitigator of symptoms of diabetes.


Some experts even suggest diabetes is a result of the negative impact of a compromised microbiome causing destruction of the insulin-regulating pancreatic beta cells.


Research involving scores of studies points to a significant role played by probiotic bacteria in countering obesity through these multiple mechanisms.


A recent comprehensive review in Australia correlated prevalence of Helicobacter pylori—the bacterium implicated in about 90% of stomach ulcer cases—with weight gain, pointing to the successful use of probiotics in treating the disorder through countering the harmful bacteria and restoring the microfloral balance of beneficial bacteria.


Along with the numerous ingredients and ingredient categories presented here, weight management and obesity, while destined to remain complicated issues in our calorie-rich, activity-poor culture, could be facing a turning point.


With manufacturers of foods, beverages and supplements so well-armed, there’s a better chance than ever of turning the tide on this generation-old epidemic.