Several years ago, a number of European entities banded together to undertake a project that budgeted out at around £8 million Great Britain pounds (somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million USD). It was called SATIN, a shortened form of SATiety INnovation. The consortium included seven SMEs (which in this context stands for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), four commercial partners (including Coca-Cola), and seven academic research teams.
The basic idea was to discover the “mechanisms of satiety awareness.” What biological processes in the stomach, brain, or elsewhere, contribute to a person’s perception of having eaten enough? Where is the cutoff switch, and what flips it?
The project began with eight delineated objectives, which encompassed study of previous references to substances that could curb appetite; the development of techniques to change the basic structure of food; the production and testing of prototypes; the choosing and testing of the products that would be brought to market; proving that they worked; and figuring out how to sell them to the public.
Utilizing the experience and knowledge of academia and industry, the goal was to develop products that would promote the loss of health-damaging weight. Ideally, the resulting products would be less “elitist” than whatever was already on the market, and also necessarily less expensive.
One approach would be to identify the substances that stimulate that “full” feeling, with an eye to combining them with traditional food products. In pursuit of substances that would promote appetite suppression, the researchers scrupulously combed the literature for any mention of plant extracts known to have satiating properties, and found 27 of them. For various reasons, only three met the needs of the study.
What is the problem?
It was believed that overweight and obese people don’t experience that full feeling because their favored, energy-dense foods have a “reduced impact on gastrointestinal hormone signals.” For such patients, the healthful aspects of a food take a distant second place to the taste and hedonistic experience of eating the food. Professor Jason Halford wrote:
People who are obese find successful weight loss and maintenance notoriously difficult. Obesity is typically a consequence of overconsumption driven by an individual’s natural sensitivity to food stimuli and the pleasure derived from eating high fat and high sugar foods.
In a perfect world, people would opt for low-calorie, high-fiber foodstuffs. This was great theoretical knowledge to have, but the world consistently refuses to be perfect. So far, nobody had really managed to convert the theory into products that worked, or that people were willing to buy.
One product tried by human subjects was a resistant starch called Actistar, which is comparable to natural maltodextrin. For testing purposes, such products were added to bread mixes, soups, sauces, and desserts.
To be considered successful, an additive would need to be compatible with a range of food categories, and a variety of eating occasions, and would of course have to target different parts of the gastrointestinal tract. The initial stage was to set up “an in vitro screening model of the gut” which is a cause for wonder, because apparently a great many members of the microbiome community are not able to be cultivated in a laboratory setting.
The industrial partners, not surprisingly, had already developed some processing tricks for altering food structure, and had developed metrics to assess the satiety factor in human subjects. They also came up with sample products. Of course, part of the task was to discover the best ways to get people to try these products, once they had been developed.
This subject will be continued, and will lead to speculation on whether all those millions might have been spent better, on individual psychological therapy for each and every overweight or obese person in Europe.
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