Unilever questions Fabuless for processed weight management foods

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Incorporating Fabuless – a combination of palm and oat oil fractions – into processed foods may not impact measures associated with weight loss, says a new study from Unilever, Oxford Brooks University and the University of Bristol.

A study with DSM’s branded ingredient found that unprocessed Fabuless did impact food intake but that “the ingredient was not robust to common food-manufacturing processes”​, according to findings published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

The study does not dismiss the efficacy of the ingredient, however. Unprocessed Fabuless was found to reduce food intake, but not to the same extent as those published in earlier studies. The reduction in food intakes are “perhaps more realistic”​, said researchers led by Dr Henk Smit from the Functional Food Centre at Oxford Brookes University in England.

“The results of this study show a modest, statistically significant effect only of unprocessed Fabuless on food and energy intake, whereas no significant effects were observed when the active ingredient was added prior to homogenization and pasteurization,”​ wrote Dr Smit and his co-workers.

Talking to NutraIngredients, Dr Smit said the study was important because it highlighted the issue of when companies promote products that the claims have been properly researched.

“There may well be a great future for this product, but we may have to look into different emulsions,”​ he said. The minimal level of processing required for a commercially viable shelf-life should also be investigated, he added.

DSM support

The ingredient is said to work by encapsulating particles of palm oil in oats, which are then formulated in a novel emulsion. Emily Tellers, global business manager for DSM Nutritional Products told NutraIngredients that Fabuless, “like any emulsion, can be sensitive to certain product and processing conditions. DSM has not analysed the products referred to in this paper, and cannot therefore comment on their appropriateness.

“However, we know that emulsion integrity is important for Fabuless efficacy. Typically products are tested by DSM together with customers before entering the market,”​ she added.

“The efficacy of Fabuless is indicated by short-term studies such as the ones performed by Unilever, and has been confirmed in long term studies demonstrating its role in appetite control. Further studies have demonstrated a plausible mechanism of action,”​ she added.

Previous findings

Indeed, previously published studies, including findings from a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial published in the International Journal of Obesity​ in 2007 (Vol. 31, pp. 942-949). In that study, when Fabuless was formulated in yoghurt it was found to prevent weight gain after weight loss, and decreased feelings of hunger.

However, Dr Smit noted that the earlier studies did not detail how the products were produced and from their deductions must have included unprocessed Fabuless.

According to findings published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology​ (2009, Vol. 44, pp. 1186-90), the ingredient works by activating the ileal brake – a phenomenon whereby functions in the upper regions of the gastrointestinal tract are inhibited.

In a review in 2008, scientists from University Hospital Maastricht called the ileal brake ‘a sensible food target for appetite control’ (Physiol Behav​., Vol. 95, pp. 271-81). The brake has potential for a couple reasons, they said: Reduces food intake and increases satiety levels; the appetite-reducing effects appear to be maintained over time.

Study details

Dr Smit and his co-workers recruited 24 health volunteers aged between 18 and 43 and with a BMIs ranging from 18 to 37 kg/m2. The participants were asked to consume a yoghurt-based meal replacement drink prior to a lunch and evening meal. The yoghurt contained either processed or unprocessed Fabuless, or a control fat.

Results showed that only the unprocessed Fabuless-containing yoghurt was associated with a reduction in subsequent energy intake, compared with control. These effects were only observed during dinner and not lunch, added the researchers.

“These findings replicate to some extent the earlier demonstrations of inhibitory effects of Fabuless on food and energy intake, although the magnitudes of effects were much smaller here and perhaps more realistic,”​ wrote Dr Smit and his co-workers.

Furthermore, there were no differences in the self-reported scores of satiety.

“Given the clear loss of efficacy when Fabuless is subjected to normal food processing, functionality after actual processing and storage conditions must be empirically confirmed for any product making claims based on this ingredient,”​ concluded the researchers.

Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.187
“No efficacy of processed Fabuless (Olibra) in suppressing appetite or food intake”
Authors: H.J. Smit, E. Keenan, E.M.R. Kovacs, S.A. Wiseman, H.P.F. Peters, D.J. Mela, P.J. Rogers

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