The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 70% of adult Americans are now considered to be overweight. While a few extra pounds is one thing, consider that nearly 40% of adults and 18.5% of children in America have been identified as obese — the highest rates ever documented.
Obesity contributes to numerous illnesses and health conditions including asthma, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. Treatment for such conditions is costing Americans billions each year, estimated between $147 billion to nearly $210 billion. These figures are significantly higher than the amount spent on those within a normal weight range.
Why Are Americans Gaining Weight?
Even though the U.S. weight loss market is worth more than ever – around $73 billion and expected to grow – the industry hasn’t seemed to have a significant impact on the body weight of Americans. Perhaps it’s because many initiatives focus on restrictive diets that leave consumers unsatiated and hungry for more.
Another reason is the ill-informed reaction to dietary guidelines that declared a “war on fat” a few decades ago with no distinction between bad fats and those that were healthy for you. Food manufacturers responded to consumer demands with an onslaught of low-fat and nonfat food products. However, many replaced fat with artificial flavors, sugar and fillers to make up for the inevitable loss in flavor and texture.
The result? Aside from being less satisfying, products were often filled with empty calories — some having more calories than the original full-fat formulation. The lack of nutritional value in many products made many feel unsatiated and, because of health claims on labels promoting products as “good for you,” consumers developed a false sense that they could eat more of it.
On average, Americans now consume 500 more calories per day than before the guidelines were introduced. And the science hasn’t changed: consuming excessive calories leads to weight gain.
Increasingly, consumers are catching on and, with growing concern about their health and wellbeing, they’re combatting this trend through clean eating and a focus on quality rather than quantity.
In response, food and beverage manufacturers are racing to satisfy the demand for products that can “do it all” by offering foods that are healthy, taste great, and are filling. However, this begs the big question: what makes a person feel full, other than eating massive amounts of food?
The Psychology of Fullness
Studies have shown that there are a number of elements at work to make our stomachs tell our minds that we’ve had enough. Actual physical fullness is certainly a factor, and eating protein-rich foods have been proven to improve satiety and help people lose weight. One study found that eating a higher protein breakfast contributed to weight loss and a reduction in Type 2 diabetes.
Protein satiety aside, however, researchers have determined that psychology is nearly as important as protein intake. There appears to be a connection between the thickness and consistency of a product and a person’s perception of being satisfied.
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Research has shown that altering the texture of a food to increase a person’s perception of “thickness” and “creaminess” can work to increase the expectations that the food is, in fact, filling. Doing so can increase the time a person spends chewing and savoring food which can also contribute to eating less.
One study, published in the journal Appetite, looked at the role of certain sensory attributes in the level of satiety of dairy products. They found that when the thickness of a product was increased, there was an increase in the expectation of satiety (while flavor, interestingly, had no effect).
What this means, according to the study, is that sensory attributes – specifically thickness – play an important role in eating behavior by promoting the intake of particular foods. In other words, a product that’s thick would be more appealing to someone who’s trying to make healthy choices and keep weight gain at bay, like choosing Greek yogurt instead of a non-Greek yogurt or a thick, creamy sauce versus one that’s less viscous.
The appeal of creamy foods doesn’t just apply to its mouthfeel or flavor, however. Psychological appeal engages other senses long before you dig in. Satiety is also influenced by pleasing and enticing aromas. Likewise, the appearance of food can suggest whether a food may be satiating.
For example, if you placed a creamy beverage with 100 calories next to a clear beverage with the same nutritional profile, the creamy beverage will be perceived to be more satisfying and filling and will likely leave the person who consumes it more satiated than someone who drank the clear beverage.
How to Achieve Natural Thickness
So, what does this mean for product development professionals and food scientists? Developing a healthy sauce that’s thick and creamy while still boasting lower calories and fat is difficult; it’s made even tougher if the manufacturer wants to eliminate as many modified starches, stabilizers and emulsifiers as possible in order to make the label of the product cleaner.
One way to achieve the balance consumers are looking for when it comes to dressings, sauces, dips, soups and similar products, and easily achieve creamy thickness naturally, is with products like Grande Bravo® functional whey proteins.
These all-natural whey protein ingredients allow manufacturers to reduce the amount of fat and cream in a formulation without affecting the texture; in fact, these whey proteins often improve the texture while reducing fat and calorie content. As cream and butter are often some of the more costly ingredients in a product, this also typically means a reduction in cost.
In the long run, a thicker, creamier product consumers believe will (or does) make them fuller – and of no less importance, that tastes great — can help them lose weight without feeling deprived.
Food manufacturers can do their part by featuring as few “unhealthy” ingredients as possible so their products don’t just satisfy hunger but appeal to consumers’ overall desire to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
If your product could benefit from a natural approach to improving its texture, mouthfeel and nutrition, we’d be happy to talk about how our natural dairy products can solve those and other formulation challenges. Contact us today. And be sure to access our Guide to Creamy Applications to see just how functional and beneficial whey protein can be in your formulation.