Dietary Guidelines / Nutrition Trends / R&D

Changing Times in Weight Management

Dieting is on the wane, obsession with weight loss could be over. Weight management is linked to healthy eating.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Eating healthy is hot; dieting is not. People are increasingly turning away from obsessive diets and official plans, no longer avoiding fat, sodium and high carbs in favor of "healthy," wholesome foods.

U.S. consumers prefer living healthier lifestyles to dealing with the restrictive dieting habits of the past. They don't want to hear about counting calories and don't want food made with artificial ingredients, finds market research firm NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y.

Dieting has declined in the last 10 years, NPD’s research finds. Managing weight today means achieving a healthy lifestyle, and consumers are using different tactics depending on their motivation. Healthy living also involves improving sleep, drinking plenty of water, taking vitamins and relieving stress, say findings provided by The Hartman Group.

Low-calorie, fat-free and sugar-free foods don’t seem to be changing the obesity statistics. Some 63 percent of American adults are overweight, which studies reveal is now a social norm, more accepted and less stigmatized than in years past. According to the Weight Management and Healthy Living 2015 report from The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., the new enemy isn't simply being overweight − it's being obese. The Centers for Disease Control says 34.9 percent one of Americans are obese. Simultaneously, "diet" food product sales have dropped, the report points out.

In this new era of weight management, obese and overweight folks have different approaches to weight management, which could give food and beverage companies new insight into how best to focus their marketing efforts with relevant products and messaging. "The era of blanket weight-loss marketing is over," the Hartman Group report states. "Selling food and beverages to aid weight-management efforts now means focusing on different kinds of consumers." The good news for product developers is there are plenty of people for whom to develop weight management products. Preliminary sales data from Euromonitor International, London, shows the global weight management market posting strong year-over-year gains, reaching value sales of $14 billion in 2013. More recent figures from Allied Market Research expect the market to reach a hefty $422.8 billion worldwide by 2020, with a compound annual growth rate of 9.1 percent during the period from 2015 to 2020.

Corporate, brand threat

A stable weight depends on a balance between the energy we get from the food we eat and the energy we use throughout the day. Still, "eating behaviors remain the focus of the problem — and the solution," Hartman Group's findings reveal. What's really alarming is that although consumers view themselves as primarily responsible for their weight, they increasingly see processed foods and food manufacturers as contributing to the obesity problem -- what the report admits is "a growing threat to corporate and brand reputations that should be watched."

NPD’s recent "Eating Patterns in America" report, an annual compilation of ongoing food and beverage consumption research, indicates that consumers want to lose weight using their own methods, defining aspects that work for them and their schedules.

They're also more interested in lifestyles and the authenticity and purity of the foods they eat, says NPD, favoring more minimally processed foods, fewer artificial sweeteners, preservatives and additives and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They are eating more fresh foods, a move NPD forecasts will only continue over the next several years. "To ensure future growth, food marketers will need to make sure to promote the fresh or natural elements of products to reflect the consumer need for authenticity," suggests NPD's food and beverage industry analyst Darren Seifer.

But maintaining an even keel is tricky. Many people drop weight only to gain it back again, and then some, no matter what program they follow. This can happen because we haven't learned how to change unhealthy behaviors that led to the weight gain to begin with, such as overeating and lack of exercise.

Maintaining weight loss and preventing a constant cycle of yo-yo dieting is difficult, agrees Lana Woshnak, director of technical services North America at DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, N.Y., maker of Fortitech premixes. Woshnak's white paper, discussing nutrients targeting weight management, notes that after weight loss there's a natural drop in basal energy expenditure, because the body now does less metabolic work to maintain its new, sleeker self. This phenomenon, at the previous level of normal daily activity, often slows further weight loss, he says, and promotes weight regain when dietary energy limits or the exercise levels loosen following the active weight loss.

To prevent this and maintain body weight, Woshnak suggests looking to foods with high satiety values to curb feelings of hunger between meals. "In the long run, it's might be wise to take it slow and lose weight more gradually to provide sufficient time for the body to potentially detoxify itself," Woshnak says.

Foods that provide satiety include those high in dietary fiber [grains, bran or oat cereals, whole wheat pasta, broccoli, beans], low in glycemic ingredients [few simple sugars, refined carbs fats, like sweet potatoes, corn, yams, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils] and those that can slow the influx of glucose into the blood.

This spring, Gabriella's Kitchen, a Canadian producer of fortified and functional foods, expanded its low-carb Skinnypasta pasta line with linguini and macaroni made from teff. The nutritious, gluten-free alternative to traditional wheat pasta will be followed in April and May with three new entrees featuring teff macaroni, penne and lasagna. The high-protein teff noodles align with Gabriella's Kitchen's other varieties of fresh, nontraditional "skinnypasta" items. The company's Italian owners, sisters Gabriella and Margot Micallef, say they created high-protein, tasty products for everyone to enjoy, regardless of dietary preferences or restrictions.

For more satiety, LaraBar food bars, provide high energy with simple combinations of ingredients: raw fruit; nuts; spices; and seeds (and sometimes dark chocolate). The bars are made entirely from plant-based foods without gluten, dairy or soy. Originating in Denver, the company is now part of General Mills.

All snackers aren't alike

Watching weight also means choosing snacks wisely, but all snackers aren't alike, observes Seifer, who authored NPD Group's "Snacking in America" study. "Motivations, snack food choices, and when and where to snack differ among age groups," he says. And of course, consumer sentiments about sweets is that they try to avoid them, he says, but love them nonetheless.

Baby boomers are the biggest snackers of the age groups, which may trigger new opportunities for weight management products featuring small portions and snacks as meals. Boomers eat ready-to-eat snack foods 20 percent more often than millennials, NPD finds, averaging about 1,200 eating occasions of snacks per person per year. Millennials eat about 1,000 snacks each per year.

Aspirations to lose weight get tossed out the window when it comes to comfort foods for 36 percent of consumers, states the Hartman Group's Weight Management and Healthy Living 2015 report, and consumers eat more when they're bored, depressed and stressed. Consumers said wanting to eat more than a single serving also thwarts weight control (35 percent), while eating too many carbohydrates (31 percent) and frequent snacking (31 percent) are other culprits.

What we eat also depends on the time of day, Seifer emphasizes. "We snack on better-for-you items like fruit, yogurt and savory snacks earlier in the day, but by 8 p.m., allow ourselves a treat." It may not be just a matter of reformulating confections and baked goods to be "lower in calories, fat, sodium, cholesterol, etc.," to appeal to those watching sugar intake, Seifer points out. It could be having to appeal to wants and emotions at certain times of the day.

Snack-makers are trying. Pop Chips, Playa Vista, Calif., cooks potato slices in a pressurized vessel rather than in hot oil, resulting in a potato chip with 72 percent less fat and 55 percent fewer calories than those that are fried. The company unveiled Pop Chips Potato Ridges at Natural Products Expo West last month. The better-for-you brand uses about one tablespoon versus a cup of oil in its regular chips, and will roll out the chips nationwide in June. "The texture of Ridges allows the bold flavors to shine and delivers a big crunch you wouldn’t expect from a chip that's never deep fried," explains Popchips CEO Dave Ritterbush.

Protein aids with weight loss and weight management by helping to fight hunger. For a filling, grab-and-go snack with 100 calories or less, Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, Va., is launching a portion-controlled line called Ready, Snack, Go!, featuring fresh cheese wrapped in ham or turkey. Available in supermarkets nationwide, the individually packed options contain no nuts, pack 8-10g of protein, are gluten-free and come in six flavor varieties.

Or try one of the low-calorie, high-protein/high-fiber items from World Peas Snacks, Austin, Tex. Free of trans-fat, gluten and cholesterol, the legume-based savory snacks include Fava Crisps in Ranch, Vinegar and Barbeque flavors, each with 110 to 120 calories per serving (about 45 peas).

Fiber and nuts may help

Research that gives insight into the benefits of chicory root fiber on food intake may foster development of new weight management products. A recent study conducted by professor Raylene Reimer at the University of Calgary showed chicory root fiber can help overweight and obese kids decrease their food intake. Reimer and her team evaluated 42 children, aged 7 to 12, over 16 weeks using Orafti Synergy 1, a chicory root fiber product developed by Beneo, Morris Plains, N.J. Supplied ready to use in powdered and liquid form, 8g of the fiber a day improved  appetite regulation and decreased food intake, helping the kids eat less and feel fuller longer.

"The taste of chicory fiber is pleasant, and can be easily integrated into daily eating, so it's a good option to support healthy weight management," says Anke Sentko, vice president of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication at Beneo.

High-risk adolescents may also benefit from eating protein-packed peanuts and peanut butter. Kids participating in another research project, the findings of which were published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children, dramatically decreased their body mass index over a six-month period. The kids who ate peanuts and peanut butter more than four times a week showed better results than those who ate them less than once a week or not at all.

Seeing great demand for portion-controlled, portable snacks and the role that peanut butter plays in snacks, Hormel Foods, Austin, Minn., recently launched Skippy P.B. Bites, in a round, portable, poppable format. The peanut butter morsels have a peanut butter coating and a crunchy center. Two varieties − pretzel and double peanut butter − have 160 calories, 10g of fat and 5g of protein per serving (the170g standup pouches contain five to six servings).

J.M. Smucker, Orrville, Ohio, which makes Jif peanut butter and more recently granola bars, is soon introducing maple and cinnamon Jif peanut butter. The company will expand into what CEO Mark Smucker called "segments where consumers are looking for mindful snacking options in new categories. These include simple, authentic, 'natural' foods reinforcing the Jif brand positioning," he says.