26 June 2012

Calorie-light food for the insatiables

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Scientists are now investigating new ingredients to satisfy our taste buds without impacting our health

Our attraction to foods bloated with energy has made excess body weight increasingly common, particularly in the West. Hence, people’s health has been affected. Scientists are now investigating new ingredients to satisfy our taste buds without impacting our health.

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food,” wrote playwright George Bernard Shaw.  But it is a love affair that is these days breaking our hearts, literally. It could leave us overweight and prone to heart disease but also to diabetes and cancer.

Imagine if we could embrace tasty, attractive foods, yet still control weight gain. This is the goal of SATIN (SATiety INnovation), an ambitious EU project investigating new ingredients to produce food with less energy but which taste as good. Such food would also need to make us feel as full as those attractive rivals, loaded with fat, sugar and salt.

One of the ingredients of interest to the project is starch. It is found in bread and pasta and is blamed for a lot of calories in our diet as most of it is easily digested. Harry Flint, researcher at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen, UK, and a partner in SATIN, has studied starch resistant to our digestive enzymes. “It is possible to convert some of this readily digestible starch in the food to non-digestible material and as a result you get fewer calories,” says Flint.

“The idea is to model what is happening in the body so to screen ingredients before we put them into clinical trials,” says SATIN’s coordinator, Jason Halford, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, UK, “so we’ve a better idea of the likely success of ingredients.” 

“It is a huge visionary project and I would love it to work because it would surely be a good thing for obesity control,” comments Susan Roberts, nutrition scientist at Tufts University, US.  “It is looking at the physical and hormonal effects of food in the gut on satiation.”

Food lovers with a significant waistline should not rejoice too soon, Roberts warns: “The types of things they are talking about are much advanced over current knowledge of food and satiety, so there is a lot of wishful thinking.” She describes it as like deciding today to put a man on Mars in three years. “It may or may not work,” she says.

“A big challenge, but has prospects,” is the view of Harvey Andersen at the University of Toronto, Canada. “The idea is to use the gut and food stimulation rather than drugs to tell the brain to reduce intake,” he says. In addition to being a safer approach, it is a logical path as the first generator of satiety signals come from the gut.

“It is a good idea, because if nothing else we will learn more about gut function and its importance as we are now learning about bacteria in the colon and intestines and their role in health.”
 

 

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