The Politics of Obesity

This year's report on the obesity crisis focuses on what's driving processors in their efforts to make the next generation of food and drink products designed to help weight-management.

By Jennifer LeClaire

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Food processors respond to the need for lower fat, lower sugar foods with innovative ingredients and methods in the ongoing battle against obesity and diabetes.

Health experts have long accused food processors of stocking grocery store shelves with sugary, high-fat, low-nutrient products with little regard for the wellbeing of consumers. Processors have answered these critics with campaigns that cook up low-fat, sugar-free, nutrient-rich products that leave consumers with more choices.

Still, obesity and diabetes are reaching epidemic proportions. More than 30 percent of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta (CDC). Obesity now equals smoking as the leading preventable cause of disease and death. What's more, the CDC estimates 20.8 million people have diabetes, representing 7 percent of the U.S. population, a whopping 40-percent increase in the past decade.

Despite these stark realities, healthfulness is not the only reason why consumers want to lose weight, according to Dan Best, president of Best Advantage, a Northbrook, Ill. food research and marketing consulting firm. Cosmetic reasons are also a major driver behind the demand for healthier processed foods, he explains, and these consumers expect something different from health-conscious processed foods.

"Part of the consuming population recognizes they have a health problem they need to address," Best says. "But I believe a larger portion wants to lose weight so they can look good on the beach. That's an entirely different consumer -- one who focuses more on the taste, convenience and sense of fullness than actual nutritional content."

Trifecta

Health, flavor and convenience are three major factors on the minds of grocery store-shopping consumers, according to the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Assn. (www.iddba.org), Madison, Wis. That revelation is leading food processors to tout labels that communicate the health benefits of products, add flavor and offer travel-friendly packaging, pre-blended spices and pre-marinated meats and fish. Indeed, it has caused a sea change in the industry that is well underway.

Whether the consumer motives are health concerns or just a desire to look attractive in a bikini, products that address obesity and weight management offer alternatives to sugar, fat and salt while leaving consumers smacking their lips with a feeling of fullness that makes them happy to pay a little more for these new breed of processed foods.

Two signature ingredients by InterHealth Nutraceuticals Inc. (www.interhealthusa.com) are designed to handle the one-two punch of obesity and diabetes management: Super CitriMax and ChromeMate, are both known for their weight-management and cardiovascular health benefits. But ChromeMate has been shown to benefit persons with diabetes or prediabetes.

"Super CitriMax is clinically proven to suppress appetite, burn fat and inhibit the conversion of carbohydrates into fat without affecting the central nervous system," says Amy Weitz, director of communications for InterHealth. "It's a hydroxycitric acid (HCA) compound bound to both calcium and potassium. The HCA is extracted from the south Asian fruit Garcinia cambogia, which has been used for centuries to make food more 'filling.' Super CitriMax is not meant to serve as a 'magic pill,' but is meant to be used as part of a diet and exercise regimen to achieve results."

ChromeMate is a niacin-bound, highly bioavailable form of chromium that helps maintain normal body weight. The metal has also shown effectiveness in helping to maintain normal insulin function and healthy blood sugar levels. In addition, both Super CitriMax and ChromeMate have been shown at the genetic level to promote the burning of brown fat -- the toughest kind of fat to lose.

Both ingredients are GRAS-affirmed, highly soluble and virtually tasteless, odorless and colorless in solution. This makes them suited for inclusion in a wide variety of foods and beverages, including water, fruit drinks, dairy products, snacks and even sachets. The ingredients can be found in products such as Fuze Slenderize, by Fuze Beverages (www.fuzebev.com), Englewood Cliffs, N.J.; Norwalk, Ct.-based South Beach Beverage Co.'s (www.sobelean.com) SoBe Lean; and Skinny Water, by Skinny Nutrtional Corp. (www.skinnywater.com), Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

The sugar equation

Some health experts blame ever-increasing sugar consumption for our nation's growing overweight population. It's true that the average American consumes 32 teaspoons of sugar a day, according to the USDA, compared to only about 10 teaspoonfuls in 1977. That's about 20 percent of the daily recommended caloric intake in sugar alone.

Beyond tooth decay and obesity, researchers have linked sugar to pancreatic cancer, kidney damage, and even cardiovascular disease, among other maladies. However, sugar is of special interest to patients with diabetes. Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy.

Food processors have responded with a gamut of diabetes management brands, such as ExtendBar, Fifty/50 Foods and Glucerna from Abbott Nutrition (www.glucerna.com), Columbus, Ohio. The company recently expanded and improved its line of Glucerna products, which includes cereal, shakes and mini-snack bars. Kathy West, R.D., a senior nutrition scientist for the company, says the products are "designed to spike the consumer's taste buds, not their blood sugar." Abbott uses two key ingredients: blends of slow-digesting carbohydrates shown clinically to help manage blood-sugar spikes, and the trace mineral chromium picolinate that helps the body's own insulin work more effectively.

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