Eat smaller portions. Resist the urge to eat late in the evening. Much of the well-worn dieting strategies out there emphasize restraint. Mind over appetite, if you will. But now researchers at the University of Birmingham in England have developed an edible substance that actually helps people munch their way to a trimmer figure.
As appetizing as it sounds, the idea of eating certain foods to lose weight isn't anything revolutionary. Many dietitians encourage incorporating fibrous grub, like oatmeal, to slow down digestion, creating a prolonged sense of satiety or fullness. The researchers’ lab-concocted hydrocolloids operate on more or less the same principle. The gelatinous substance thickens inside the stomach. The difference is that the mixture, comprised of natural extracts, has the potential to be blended into a wide variety of foods, as some of its ingredients can already be found in sweets, soft drinks and soy milk.
Though satiety is something scientists have only recently begun to understand, they do know that an interplay between certain hormones (mainly leptin and ghrelin) plays a major role in managing the urge to scarf something down. They've also come to find that appetite control is inherently difficult because these very mechanisms are geared to maintain a kind of caloric equilibrium known as homeostasis. Cutting back on calories, for instance, often causes one's metabolism to slow down while cranking up feelings of hunger. That might partly explain why gaining weight tends to be much easier than burning it off, which becomes increasingly challenging as people's metabolism slows with age.
The consumption of refined sugars and saturated fat also doesn't help matters as they have been found to trigger a troubling condition known as "fullness resistance." In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, obesity expert Louis Aronne of the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, who coined the term, explains that this occurs when highly-processed foods interfere with the hormonal signals that tell the brain that it’s time to stop eating, thus leaving people feeling even hungrier.
Comprised of seaweed, starch and citrus peel extracts, the gum-textured additive was designed to help the more than one-third of American adults who are obese, or those simply struggling to shed weight, to avoid the craving to snack unnecessarily by rigging the signals in a more beneficial way. It thickens food, and then once it is exposed to stomach acid, it alters its composition, forming a solid gel that takes longer to break down. As a result, the substance activates within the brain a feeling of fullness.
However, the research team still has to figure out how to incorporate the substance with sugars and starches in a manner that would allow the encapsulated energy to be released and metabolized gradually. In an interview with The Telegraph, lead researcher Jennifer Bradbeer notes that while the gel is "more than capable of providing prolonged satiety," the problem can be "unpleasant sensations for the consumer if there is no delivery of energy to the body to compliment the sensation of satiety."
The results of the team's research are published in the journal, Food Hydrocolloids.