According to the firm’s Dr David Mela, foods or beverages that promote a feeling of fullness are often dismissed as not providing any real benefit due to the perceived difficulty in measuring their effect.
“There’s this recurring argument that satiety is not a health benefit,” said Dr Mela, weight management project leader at Unilever.
“We should be very assertive within the food industry in our support of counter-arguments to this. Academic institutions and funding bodies around the world – including the European Commission – clearly view satiety as a health benefit, and we need to make sure that is recognized,” he said yesterday at a nutrition forum day organized by UK-based Leatherhead Food Research.
One of the issues often raised with satiety or appetite control claims is that these are based on ‘soft science’, said Dr Mela.
“The argument goes that satiety is subjective, that it can’t be measured. But we have built a consensus methodology,” he said, referring to a paper published by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) on appetite control.
The paper, entitled Appetite control: methodological aspects of the evaluation of foods, states: “Use of self-report scales (with or without related biomarkers or behavioral measures) should be strongly supported as a standard, accepted methodological approach to substantiate claims relating to effects of foods on relevant feeling states and eating motivation.”
Another argument against satiety as a health benefit is that it is only relevant if ‘validated’ by effects on food intake, weight maintenance or weight loss, said Dr Mela.
However, there has been a high level or academic research – often supported by public funding – on satiety, demonstrating an understanding of the potential associated health benefits, he said.
Examples cited include a paper on Satiety and Satisfaction from the Wageningen University and Research Centre, a study of the methodology of satiety and the role of food components on energy intake from the BBSRC, and research into neurological pathways regulating hunger/satiety and gut behaviur from the European Commission.
Weight management challenges
In yesterday’s presentation, Dr Mela also addressed other key challenges faced by the weight management sector. These relate to:
- Establishing criteria and alternatives for ‘traditional’/existing products
- The discovery and claims substantiation processes for added product functionality
- Developing appropriate and effective marketing and communication
Addressing weight management disappointments for Unilever, Dr Mela stressed the importance of remaining transparent in its communication of these.
A key example was the firm’s decision in 2008 to end a multi-million euro investment in the weight loss ingredient hoodia, after concluding that the plant extract did not meet safety and efficacy requirements.
In addition, numerous studies in the field weight management have reported negative results for the firm. These include: reports last year of no effect of potato proteinase II inhibitor on satiety or food intake; a study that found no satiety benefits of beta-glucan and/or fructo-oligosaccharide in meal replacement bars after two days of consumption; another study that found no measurable effect of pine nut oil between or before meals on satiety or energy intake; and a study that found that ‘slow carbs’ have only ‘minor changes’ on appetite.
Referring to media headlines reporting on the above findings or developments, Dr Mela said: “It’s a marketer’s nightmare. But we do believe that to ensure a fair balance of literature, it’s important for companies to publish negative results.”