Slice of lasagna
Fat and protein are two nutrients that contribute to the feeling of fullness.

A complaint expressed by many in the nutrition community is consumers don’t eat food groups; they eat burgers, pizza, lasagna and sandwiches. Something as simple as a bowl of chicken noodle soup contains partial servings of meat, grains and vegetables, while many innovative dairy foods have become so much more than a dairy serving, most notably the high-protein yogurts enhanced with whole grains and loaded with fruit.

Using the government’s MyPlate program to craft a healthy meal is not realistic for most Americans, as communicating and educating consumers about how to dissect foods to ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients continues to be a challenge. It is one that will likely not be resolved with the pending issuance of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, even though the advisory committee did emphasize the guidelines should focus on food-based recommendations.

During the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s work, they were guided by two realities. First, about half of all American adults — an estimated 117 million — have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and about two-thirds of U.S. adults — nearly 155 million — are overweight or obese.

In many instances, the realities may be addressed with weight loss and weight management; hence, the need for satiating foods. These are foods that make a person feel full without excessive calories, in particular empty calories that contribute little to no nutrition.

Identifying satiating foods

An improved understanding of appetite regulating mechanisms has enabled formulators to develop food products that help consumers feel full and satisfied, which in turn may help them eat less and ultimately lose weight, and then maintain their weight. Fat, fiber and protein are considered the trifecta of satiety, as they possess unique satiating mechanisms, most notably taking longer to pass through the digestive system, as compared to traditional carbohydrates. The delayed transit contributes to a feeling of fullness.

With farm-fresh milk an inherent source of fat and protein, it makes sense for milk to serve as a base for satiety-inducing foods and beverages. Today, many dairy products, as is or formulated into other foods, are being positioned as prominent players in the satiety platform. This includes the cheese that is melted on the burger, layered into a lasagna, or stacked on a sandwich. Greek yogurt may be blended into salad dressings or folded into cake batter.

Dairy ingredients such as whey protein and milk permeate have a myriad of applications, including beverages, confections and even snack crackers.

Right before the Thanksgiving holiday, in efforts to assist women with eating less during the holiday season, New York-based Skinnygirl introduced high-protein Skinnygirl Protein Tasty nutrition shakes and bars.

SkinnyGirl Protein shakes
Skinnygirl shakes provide 12 grams of protein from milk protein concentrate, along with 1.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber.

At only 80-calories, each 11.5-oz shelf-stable Skinnygirl shake provides 12 grams of protein from milk protein concentrate, along with 1.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber —the satiating trio — and zero grams of sugar. The formulation relies on stevia and monk fruit extract for sweetness. Available in two dessert-inspired flavors — chocolate brownie and vanilla bean — the creamy beverage provides visual satiety cues as well as satiating nutrients.

The bars come in four flavors: chocolate peanut butter with sea salt, dark chocolate almond with coconut, dark chocolate pretzel and lemon swirl. Each 150-calorie bar provides 10 grams of protein (primarily from soy and whey) and 5 to 7 grams of fiber.

Both the shakes and bars are designed to assist with weight loss and weight management by inducing satiety. At the same time they still fall in line with Skinnygirl’s “healthy doesn’t mean boring or tasteless” mantra.

The science of satiety

Satiety is influenced by a food when it is first viewed then consumed and continues as the food enters the gastrointestinal system and is digested and absorbed. Real or perceived, there are visual cues that suggest a food may be satiating. Both a creamy and a clear beverage might contain about the same amount of calories and 10 grams of protein, yet the creamy beverage suggests it may be more filling.

This likely stems from the visual difference between skim and whole milk. An 8-oz glass of either contains 8 grams of protein; however, the 8 grams of fat that the whole milk also contains gives it a thick, creamy appearance, a visual cue for being filling. And it’s valid, as both protein and fat are satiety triggers.

A food’s satiating power is dependent not only on its nutrient composition but also the consumer’s sensory and cognitive appraisal of the food, according to “Optimizing foods for satiety” published in the February 2015 issue of the scientific journal Trends in Food Science & Technology. The review concluded that numerous features of a food product may be manipulated to enhance the consumer’s experience of satiety, with the combination of the features ultimately determining the effect on appetite control. Taking an integrated approach to satiety may optimize the development of high satiety foods, with dairy foods well poised as satiety-inducing foods.

Pizza with a slice cut into it
Fat not only fills a person and keeps them feeling full, it also contributes visual cues that may enhance satiety.

From a biochemical perspective, satiety may be induced via signals that feed into specific areas of the brain in response to the expansion of the stomach. Hormonal signals also are released in response to the digestion and absorption of certain nutrients.

Foods behave differently in the stomach depending on their structure, according to research from Nizo Food Research, The Netherlands, The behavior affects stomach volume and the rate at which the stomach releases nutrients to the small intestine for absorption, both important physiological parameters by which the body estimates the time to stop eating.

At a technical session entitled “Satiety: Fundamentals and recent advances” during the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo, held this past July in Chicago, Susann Bellmann, a study director in the field of gastrointestinal research at the Dutch Institute for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) in The Netherlands, told attendees that to promote a healthy lifestyle and counteract increased weight, it is of interest to regulate appetite and to develop products that decrease the desire to eat. Advanced technologies might someday allow for quantifying a product’s satiating effect.

“Appetite regulation mechanisms are various and summarized in several publications,” she said. “Among others, gastric distension, rate and compound selective emptying, and, subsequently the secretion of appetite regulating hormones are related to feelings of fullness and satiety. TNO has developed an in vitro screening technology for the prediction of satiating properties of foods. This will allow a quicker evaluation and targeted selection of satiety-promoting foods or ingredients.”

Nutrients at the center of satiety

The trio of satiating ingredients — fat, fiber and protein — each possesses unique qualities. They deliver on one or more satiety mechanisms, ranging from increased gastrointestinal viscosity and delayed digestion to fermentation in the colon to sensory satisfaction.

With fat, not only does it fill a person and keep them feeling full, it contributes visual cues. However, because it also contains more than double the calories per gram compared to protein (nine vs. four), product formulators are wise to skew less fat more protein and fiber.

With protein, research shows that not only does the macronutrient exert appetite regulating mechanisms, consumption is also correlated to lean muscle building and maintenance.

At the recent SupplySide West tradeshow in Las Vegas, Moises Torres-Gonzalez, director of nutrition research at the National Dairy Council, Rosemont, Ill., spoke about opportunities in formulating with dairy proteins. In terms of the general population, he explained that recent research indicates 23% of adults are increasing the amount of protein in their daily diets because of the recognized benefits protein provides to the body and the flexibility of protein ingredients to be incorporated into a variety of food and beverages, including dairy foods. Adding dairy proteins back into dairy products makes sense, as does formulating prepared foods with dairy products high in dairy proteins.

Some fiber ingredients have the potential to modulate appetite without adding calories, as even though fiber is a type of carbohydrate, it is less calorically dense than traditional carbohydrates, which provide four calories per gram. Caloric content varies by fiber ingredient, with some containing nearly zero calories.

Milk is already a source of protein (one gram per oz) and fat, unless it has been skimmed, making milk and products made from milk well poised to be positioned as satiating foods.

Greek yogurt, most notably, has been riding the high-protein platform. Produced by either straining the cultured white mass to concentrate the protein or adding dairy proteins to the culturing vat, Greek yogurt contains double to triple the amount of protein of a non-Greek yogurt.

Cheese, too, is being positioned as a source of satiating protein, with most cheeses containing about 7 grams of protein per oz. Its fat content, which tends to range from 5 to 10 grams per oz, further contributes to a feeling of fullness.

Even ice cream may be formulated to be a satiating food. Already an inherent source of protein and fat, the addition of protein and some fiber may make the two new products “diet” foods.

Koupe ice cream alternative in strawberry and banana flavors
Koupe, a dairy-based frozen dessert manufactured in The Netherlands, is high in protein and fiber and low in fat.

Examples may include Koupe, a dairy-based frozen dessert manufactured in The Netherlands that comes in four flavors, all with their own tagline. Banana is a “brilliant” alternative to ice cream. Chocolate is “clever.” Strawberry is “smart” while vanilla is “victorious.” The product is high in protein and fiber, while also lower in fat, added sugars and calories, as compared to traditional ice cream. The single-serve 65-gram cups assist with portion control. As the company states: All the goodness, no guilt.

Alvestaglass AB of Sweden markets Lohilo Double Protein Ice Cream and Lohilo High Protein Frozen Yogurt. Sold in unique 175-gram cup-cartons, the product has been in the Swedish marketplace for about a year and is set for international expansion. Each single-serve cup contains a minimum of 22 grams of protein from a unique combination of added whey and casein proteins. It contains less than 1% lactose and is naturally low in sugar. Varieties include banana split, caramel chocolate swirl, classic vanilla, creamy coconut, double chocolate, and mango passion strawberry.

From visually and organoleptically satisfying to biochemically satiating, dairy products and foods made with dairy products can play an important role in helping Americans slim down. Consumers just have to think of the foods as more than a food group on My Plate.