In some countries, like the United States, being overweight is such a major concern that noted celebrities, including Michelle Obama (who today marked the first anniversary of her Let's Move program with a new advertising campaign) and Sesame Street's Elmo, are publicly campaigning against childhood obesity.
Part of the problem is, simply, overeating. In the U.S., for example, the propensity to consume too much is fueled by gargantuan portions at restaurants and a diet that, for many people, features a high percentage of fats, carbs, and sugars. Interestingly, Americans and others who overeat are about to get help from the same food manufacturers who make the stuff that may be bad for them.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Nestle researchers are currently working on "new types of foods that, essentially, seek to trick the gut brain," also known as the enteric nervous system, which controls the human body's feeling of being hungry or being full.
Nestle, of course, is a giant food conglomerate that makes everything from baby food to chocolate to ice cream to pet food.
The intent of the newly-developed food and beverages would be to make people feel earlier or stay full longer, before they overeat. If the low-calorie-but-filling food makes the "gut brain" think the body has had enough, "That tells the big brain to stop eating," says Heribert Watzke, one of the senior food scientists at Nestle.
Nestle, which is getting into the "medical foods" business in a big way, maintains a "digestion lab" in its Switzerland facilities that houses a sophisticated model of the human gastrointestinal tract.
Scientists watch food as it moves through the system so they can study the difference between hunger and satiety, or being satisfied with the amount of food ingested. One experiment Nestle conducted involved coating olive oil with the substance monoglyceride. By doing so, they found that the oil/monoglyceride combination took eight times longer to be digested than olive oil alone. This could potentially result in a feeling of fullness earlier in the digestive process.
Nestle thinks it is on to something and is currently working on foods using new technology that "targets several key neural signals sent by the gut brain and attacks the satiety problem in multiple ways at once."
Actually, some foods that work to create the feeling of being full are already on the market, reports the Journal.
- Nestle's Jenny Craig division sells foods under a Volumetrics banner, which is "designed to help control hunger, enhance satisfaction and manage calories."
- Kellogg's Special K Sustain cereal, available in the U.K. "has a special balance of protein and fiber to help you keep satisfied for longer," says the company.
- Unilever's Slim-Fast line has the ability to "control hunger for up to four hours," according to the company.
But some satiety-inducing foods have been less than successful. Several years ago, for example, Danone introduced a nonfat yogurt in the U.S., Dannon Light & Fit Crave Control, that was designed to suppress hunger, but the company abandoned the product in 2007 because it didn't taste good.
Nestle hopes to change that by offering foods that taste good and are also satiety-inducing. The company believes it will be able to bring such foods to market in five years.