With the growing epidemic of obesity, Dutch researchers may have come up with a way for people to stick to their diets and lose weight -- an experimental meal replacement drink that seems to reduce hunger pangs and help dieters feel full longer.
A study conducted among 23 volunteers found that the drink reduced their hunger by as much as 30 percent five hours after drinking it, reported Harry Peters, a manager-scientist at of Unilever Research & Development in Vlaardingen, the Netherlands, and colleagues.
The secret ingredient: a strongly gelling dietary fiber called alginate.
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"The drink was designed in such a way that it only gels under gastric conditions and not in the product before consumption," Peters and co-authors explained online in the journal Obesity. They theorized that a drink of this kind "would dose-dependently decrease hunger responses at relatively low alginate levels."
A drink containing the gelling fiber that was palatable and able to delay the return of hunger could potentially increase consumer satisfaction with weight control programs and low-calorie food products, and thus encourage long-term compliance, the Dutch team suggested.
"Satiety feelings on a meal-to-meal basis are partly determined by gastrointestinal (GI) stimuli," they wrote. "One way to increase satiety is by formation of gels within the stomach. However, the viscosity of drinks needs to be high to increase satiety, and this may reduce consumer acceptance for many (e.g., fluid) types of products."
But producing a palatable drink based on post-consumption gelatin stimulated by gastric conditions might therefore be a preferred option, they suggested.
So they whipped up an experimental low-viscosity breakfast drink -- a prototype ready-to-drink chocolate-flavored meal replacement shake containing 190 calories in 325 ml (around 10 oz) -- using two concentrations of alginate (0.6 percent and 0.8 percent) designed to turn into a satiating gel only after it was consumed. Controls consumed the shake without added alginate.
A group of healthy volunteers were recruited from around the Unilever research site in Vlaardingen; 23 completed the study.
The volunteers (mean age around 53) consumed the drink containing various levels of alginate in place of a meal and reported their levels of hunger and fullness over the next five hours.
Volunteers who had the highest level of alginate in their drinks reported less hunger than the control group, with both "hunger" and "fullness" reduced robustly with 0.8 percent alginate. This effect was consistent across all six appetite scales used, Peters and co-authors wrote.
Most effects were also significant with 0.6 percent alginate, and a clear dose-response was observed.
"Although self-reported decreases in hunger are robustly reported in this study, further studies are needed to establish its implications for food intake, compliance to weight loss programs, and long-term effects on weight loss or weight maintenance," Peters and colleagues concluded.