Many consumers think they are fit, but they are not. That is according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 10th anniversary Food and Health Survey published in early May. Results from the survey indicate that 57% of Americans rate their own health as very good or excellent, yet 55% of that group is either overweight or obese, according to body mass index (B.M.I.) calculations.
“There’s a growing demographic of people who are over their ideal B.M.I. yet really into fitness,” said Cheryl Reid, account manager-sports, health and performance, Arla Foods Inc., Basking Ridge, N.J. “They associate health with exercise and fitness, not with what the scale says.”
Dubbed the “fat-fit” consumer, this population segment is more into “good” food than “diet” food.
“They would choose an organic cold-pressed fruit juice smoothie over a no-calorie cola any day,” Ms. Reid said. “The problem is a calorie is still a calorie, and excessive calories contribute to weight gain.”
Delineating between consumers who may be overweight and fit versus those who are overweight and are unhealthy is difficult. Recent research has shown a person may carry extra pounds but achieve all of the benefits of a consistent exercise regimen.
Jim Hill, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado, said, “What I fear is that we’ve reset the bar in that some people actually don’t know what feeling good is like, but they think they feel pretty good.”
Some consumers increasingly believe if a food or beverage is natural, organic, free of genetically modified organisms or local, it’s better for them and makes them feel good.
“Fit to these consumers is about clean and simple ingredients,” Ms. Reid said. “So the only way to help rid them of fat is to formulate with label-appealing ingredients. And don’t call it a weight management beverage either, because this does not resonate with consumers.”
Much like the phrase “clean label,” weight management is not a consumer term. They are terms that belong in the conference room, terms the marketing department uses to direct research and development.
The good news is consumers have not lost interest in their weight. In fact, even though more than half of consumers surveyed by IFIC said they are satisfied with their health, the vast majority (84%) said they are either trying to maintain or lose weight. When asked to rate the most effective weight management strategies, changing the types of foods they eat topped the list at 51%, followed by making sure they get enough physical activity, at 50%.
In 2015, only 3 in 10 Americans made a New Year’s resolution. Of these, the majority included diet and exercise. By March, 6 in 10 were only somewhat following the resolution. Further, in comparison to 2013, Americans today are making less of an effort to control a number of issues related to their well-being.
For example, in this year’s IFIC survey, 48% of Americans said they are trying to control the healthfulness of the foods and beverages they consume. This is down 12 percentage points from 2013. The story is similar with efforts to control weight, 56% in 2015 versus 64% in 2013.
Confusing? Perhaps more than ever in the survey’s history, consumer confusion is emerging as a key concern. They say they are trying to lose or maintain weight, but not making a great deal of effort to do so.
Is functional the answer?
A major driver of the U.S. functional foods market is a nation struggling to shed extra pounds and keep them off, according to the report “Functional foods: Key trends by product categories and benefits” from the market research firm Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. Among the most popular functional foods are sports drinks, which appeal to both athletes and fat-fit consumers.
There’s a blurring of what constitutes a sports drink. Fifty years ago when Gatorade debuted, the category was focused on hydration. Today it includes fueling and refueling, as well as satiety. Positioning weight management beverages as sports drinks appeals to the general public, the 84% in the IFIC survey who indicated they are either trying to maintain or lose weight.
Packaged Facts reported that 36% of all U.S. adults consume sports drinks, with consumption shifting away from those perceived as sugary sports drinks to more natural formulations. And with those targeting the weight management sector, fiber and protein are almost always a part of the formulation, as the two nutrients are associated with numerous health and wellness benefits, including inducing satiety.
This makes sense as hunger is a barrier to successful weight loss and weight management. The good news is according to the IFIC survey, more than half of Americans are trying to get a certain amount or as much as possible of fiber (55%) and protein (54%) in their diet.
Getting fit with fiber
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.
“We have a new patented satiety-inducing ingredient consisting of a combination of dietary fiber sources, including a viscous hydrocolloid and a whole grain corn flour rich in resistant starch,” said Lorraine Niba, global director of nutrition, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill. “The ingredient delivers on a number of satiety mechanisms, including how starch fermentation in the colon decreases feelings of hunger, how increased gastrointestinal viscosity prolongs absorption and thereby reduces calorie consumption, and how whole grains delay digestion, helping to reduce hunger pangs.”
Scientists from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom recently demonstrated the satiating impact of the new fiber ingredient. In the study, 90 normal to overweight participants were given a fruit-based smoothie for breakfast containing a dose of either 20 grams or 30 grams of the satiety ingredient or a non-active control. Their subsequent intake of food at both lunch and dinner on that day was measured and their levels of hunger examined.
The study found food intake at both lunch and dinner were lower when the satiety ingredient was given at breakfast compared to the control. The higher the dose of the satiety ingredient, the fewer calories consumed at the other meals. Lower hunger levels after breakfast were also recorded for both doses.
“Whilst more research is needed to measure these effects of the product over longer periods of time and in people who are actively trying to lose weight, this study demonstrates high-fiber food products that make you feel fuller could provide a potential solution to weight management,” said Jo Harrold, a psychologist and project researcher from the University’s Human Ingestive Behaviour Laboratory in the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society.
The power of protein
Though fiber is associated with weight management most consumers still think of fiber as being for digestive health. Protein has fast become the superstar in the weight management sector.
Protein’s documented ability to assist with weight loss and management includes helping control hunger and providing lasting energy. As a result, all types of beverage manufacturers are adding ingredients that give their product a protein boost, often claiming it to be a good (at least 5 grams of protein per serving) or excellent (10 grams or more of protein per serving) source of this macronutrient.
According to “Proteins: Classic, alternative and exotic sources: Culinary Trend Tracking Series,” a report from Packaged Facts, 62% of consumers agree they are “making a point of getting enough protein” from the foods and beverages they consume.
“Americans continue to seek out protein for a variety of health and wellness concerns, and to increase maintenance, growth and repair functions of the body,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. “With the popularity of diets like Paleo, Primal and Atkins, protein has been the darling of lean diets for more than two decades now, and ties in more broadly to the consumer quest for health and wellness food and beverages to address specific health concerns.”
There’s a variety of animal and plant protein sources that beverage formulators may choose from. They differ in key characteristics, including functionality, flavor and price. In order to get the best boost without impacting product quality, often times a combination of proteins make the best sense.
Impact on finished product quality must be carefully considered, as many proteins are not added invisibly to beverages. For example, certain proteins build viscosity while others contribute color or opacity. Others will provide additional nutrients, which depending on the application, may be an added bonus, or may have a deleterious effect on the finished product.
Soy remains the most common plant protein source in beverages. Others are starting to gain acceptance by formulators and consumers. But by far, dairy proteins are the leader in all types of sports drinks.
Arla Foods Ingredients has developed a new line of dairy protein ingredients designed specifically for everyday weight management products.
“Shoppers are looking for products that help them maintain a healthy weight without significantly altering how they eat,” said Lindsey Ormond, business development manager-health and performance nutrition. “They want products that are convenient, taste good and are effective. This is where dairy proteins come in.”
With weight to be lost, there’s not only a future, there’s a real need for weight management beverages. Fiber and protein ingredients are sensible additions to such beverages.