Could the chemistry diet be key to winning battle with obesity?

Big problem: despite good intentions with dieting, people are unlikely to change their eating habits permanently. So, scientists are looking at ways to use chemistry to make our food less fatty while losing none of its appeal
Big problem: despite good intentions with dieting, people are unlikely to change their eating habits permanently. So, scientists are looking at ways to use chemistry to make our food less fatty while losing none of its appeal

Obesity is an increasingly large problem as more and more of the UK population enhance their food intake and decrease the amount of activity they do.

So, what is the solution? Telling people to eat less or exercise more is not easy as it is difficult to get people to change their habits.

Over the past 50 years there has been an explosion in the number and variety of diets that you can try, some work better than others but ultimately they never last as they are a temporary solution to a long term problem.

The only way to control weight and maintain it at a desired level is to make permanent changes that last forever.

A person’s will-power will often dictate how long a healthy eating plan is followed, it may be for a day, a week, a month or a year but too often at some point they will return to their old habits.

The reason for this is because the unsuitable food, i.e. that high in fat, tastes so good. It feels and tastes great in your mouth when you eat it and no amount of low fat alternative can match that feeling.

That is until now.

Chemists that work in an area of research known as colloid science are developing new products that could be the solution to the obesity problem. If we accept that people will continue to eat the fatty foods that they enjoy then perhaps we should concentrate on making these foods better for you.

One possible solution is to use a colloid that is made of tiny droplets that are oily on the outside but water on the inside. This would allow food to taste the same and feel the same but with much less fat or salt included i.e. undetectable changes to the consumer that make significant changes in the long term to a person’s weight.

A recent report in Chemistry World highlights the work of a team of researchers at the University of Birmingham who have managed to create tiny bubbles of oil with air inside that taste great yet are low fat and stable so can be stored for months, which is essential if they are to be used in foods.

At the moment there is one major problem with their system – it is very expensive and until they work out how to create the droplets much cheaper it is unlikely any food company will incorporate their oil bubbles in products we could buy.

It is something that they, and others in colloid science, are working on solving as these droplets can be beneficial in other ways too. For example, a team of scientists in New Zealand have created a droplet that contains omega-3 fish oil and is stabilised using a protein found in milk. By coating the omega-3 in another layer it removes any fishy odour and taste so the droplet can be used in all sorts of products such as drinks and foods plus it is very stable and does not degrade.

Scientists are convinced that people focus on two aspects when they eat high-fat food – the way it feels and tastes in the mouth and how full it makes them feel. By tricking our mouths using droplets we can overcome the former but by using other colloid-based systems we can also solve the latter problem.

When we eat we partially digest fat in our stomach but the majority of fat is absorbed and digested in the large intestine. Any fat that makes it to the lower intestine slows digestion and suppresses appetite. So, scientists have created colloids that are not released until they reach this region and send a signal to the brain making you feel full.

One company has already launched a product that is specifically designed to do this called ‘Fabuless’ and reports seem to suggest it works to fool the brain causing you to eat less.

Chemists are determined to help fight the obesity battle and use science to solve one of the biggest problems in society in the 21st century.

It is not just the day-to-day issues associated with being overweight but the numerous related health concerns that are connected with it.

We must do all we can to solve this dilemma and if people are reluctant to change their diet and exercise habits then surely the solution is to either modify the content of the products they consume without compromising the taste or help them feel fuller for longer, thus less likely to overeat in the first place.

Could a chemistry diet be the answer?