That said, functional food specialists agree the problem is not necessarily in the strict scientific requirements mandated in the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR), but in finding the right ingredient.
Talking to NutraIngredients at Food Matters Live 2014 in London this week, David Park, managing director at Eminate, said: “If you can find a magic solution then you would get the proof and you would get the product that people would buy.”
“There is an absolute latent demand, there is a commercial demand in the billions, globally hundreds of millions if not billions of people could benefit from weight support, that’s the exciting potential for all of us, the trick is to come up with something that actually works."
Sarah Kuczora, a nutrition secialist from Campden BRI, agreed: “Research has continued slowly and steadily. It’s about working with the industry towards claims and hopefully eventually being able to make some claims.”
Where are we now?
Currently the only authorised claims available in the EU are for weight management are for glucomannan, a dietary fibre, and for meal replacements. To make it even more complex the claims need to be in the context of an energy-restricted diet.
Kaczora said even though data is not always forthcoming, there are some leads the industry is pursuing.
“There are lots of associations that we know about from scientific literature. Protein would be an obvious one. It’s been shown to be better for satiety compared to other nutrients. That’s fairly well proven if you compare nutrient to nutrient but we don’t have evidence that this has a physiological effect.
“It’s difficult to prove that they are working. When you do a clinical trial you don’t necessarily see weight loss for example, or if you do you might see it acutely, but not over a long period of time. I think at the moment we are quite a long way off making any claims around satiety still."
Educating the consumer base
Kuczora pointed out that despite not being able to make any health claims producers can still add 'high-protein', 'high-fiber' information to labels. But for it to make sense there needs to be a consumer base aware of the potential link with satiety and weight loss.
Park added: "A lot of consumers think they know what it’s all about and the classic example of this for me is GI (glycaemic index). Our research shows that 70 % of the UK population claimed they knew exactly what it was. I challenge you to find a random group of 10 people where seven knows what GI is."
The full EFSA weight management guidance can be found here.