Fat-fighting ready-meals and snacks containing appetite suppressants could appear in supermarkets within two years.
Scientists are developing a new approach that will incorporate hunger-curbing plant chemicals called lipids into a wide range of convenience foods such as cakes and biscuits.
Lipids exist in cereals including oats, which explains why a bowl of porridge keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
Dr Peter Wilde, of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, is developing a way of isolating those lipids that are easily digested by the body and concentrating them into a product that can be inserted into food.
“We are looking at how to change the satiety properties,” said Dr Wilde.
“We are trying to reduce appetite by using the body’s own natural response rather than using an appetite suppressant drug.”
Because our brains evolved thousands of years ago, when fat was scarce, we have a big appetite for this high-calorie food. So the scientists are trying to find a way to fool our brains into thinking we have consumed enough fat.
Let’s follow this logic for a minute, shall we?
Problem: The Western diet has been transformed in the post- World War II era into a laboratory for food science. We eat mostly processed foods and convenience foods, which are carefully calibrated to fool our bodies into thinking they’re eating one thing when in fact they’re eating another– or, more precisely, a combination of artificial ingredients. As a result, we’ve lost touch with our food, and most people in this culture now have a difficult time understanding what’s in our food and how to meet our nutritional needs.
Because of this nutritional disconnect, we are experiencing a health crisis at the societal level, with heart disease, bowel disorders, cancer, food allergies and obesity appearing at ever-higher rates. But we can’t blame the food– it’s convenient! And all that other stuff doesn’t really matter, as long as you can stay thin. (Remember, if you’re fat, it is always strictly a moral failing and has nothing to do with the food industry. True, diets have a 95% failure rate and often end up damaging people’s health further… but if you’re not thin, it’s obviously because you’re not trying hard enough.)
So the answer isn’t to improve people’s access to whole foods. It certainly isn’t a question of changing our culture to begin valuing actual food (you know, the kind that came from a farm rather than a laboratory). And god forbid we should start valuing health, energy and wellness rather than simply using weight as a shortcut.
No, no, my lovelies. The answer is to help those fatties lose weight by putting appetite suppressants in the food. Right in the food!
One existing product said to work in a similar way is Fabuless, a Dutch dairy supplement made from a combination of palm and oat oils.
A clinical trial published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that a Fabuless yoghurt made overweight women feel less hungry four hours after it was consumed.
Well, there it is. Food makes people feel less hungry; so food with appetite suppressants in it will do the job even better, right?
Now that we’ve got the logic down, let’s take a look at the product. Palm oil… where have I read about that recently? Oh yeah– Marion Nestle’s What To Eat, pages 115-116!
More recent health concerns about trans fat put margarine makers in a quandary. There is no simple, inexpensive substitute for hydrogenated soy oil. The most obvious is palm fruit oil, which comes 50 percent saturated straight from the tree and, like butter, is solid at room temperature… Most of the saturated fat in palm fruit oil is palmitic acid, a fat especially adept at raising cholesterol levels. In that sense– and because cultivation of palm oil trees in Indonesia and Malaysia destroys tropical rain forests and threatens endangered species of land mammals and birds– palm oils are decidedly worse than butter. You would never know this, however, from reading palm oil industry materials… Pamphlets and fliers extol the virtues of palm oil, among them “no cholesterol, no trans fat, no GMO, no sodium, 100 percent vegan, and attractive natural color”– all true of any vegetable oil, of course.
Now, I’m not a nutritionist, nor do I have a background in science, so I’m not going to comment on how exactly palm oil is used in these products… but given how food science’s best attempts at diet food always seem to end up harming people in the long run, I hope you’ll pardon my fat ass if I don’t run out to buy appetite-suppressing food bars when they hit the market. I’m thinking Michael Pollan is onto something with one of the rules he lays out in In Defense of Food:
Avoid food products that make health claims. For a food product to make health claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it’s more likely to be a processed than a whole food. Generally speaking, it is only the big food companies that have the wherewithal to secure FDA-approved health claims for their products and then trumpet them to the world…
For the most part it is the products of food science that make the boldest health claims, and these are often founded on incomplete and often erroneous science– the dubious fruits of nutritionism. Don’t forget that trans-fat-rich margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim it was healthier than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks. Since that debacle, the FDA, under tremendous pressure from industry, has made it only easier for food companies to make increasingly doubtful health claims, such as the one Frito-Lay now puts on some of its chips– that eating them is somehow good for your heart. If you bother to read the health claims closely (as food marketers make sure consumers seldom do), you will find that there is often considerably less to them than meets the eye. (154-155)
I won’t even get into Pollan’s debunking of the lipid hypothesis here– that’s another post. But just in case you were wondering whether the scientists developing our new fat-busting Frankenfoods really have their hearts in the right place, the article concludes by showing us a little about the conference at which this announcement was made, where “other experts challenged the demonisation of ‘convenience’ food”:
Dr Becky Laing, from the Medical Research Council, said it was wrong to categorise all convenience food as “junk”…
“If we continue to press the message that it is impossible to eat healthily while using convenience foods, we simply make healthy eating unattainable. Instead, we need to press manufacturers to develop more healthy but convenient options.”
Yes, because it’s totally impossible to make whole foods convenient. Isn’t it?