Innovating For Metabolic Health
Thursday, May 12th, 2022
The widespread prevalence and rising incidence of metabolic syndrome is an alarming, worldwide concern, representing a priority for the food and nutrition communities to address. From a product formulation perspective, the emphasis has typically included reducing added sugars and lowering sodium content. Optimizing protein content and nutritional quality is a further complementary innovation approach food and beverage formulators can pursue to help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic Syndrome — A Global Epidemic
An estimated one-quarter of the world’s population, or over a billion people, could have metabolic syndrome, the cluster of risk factors that raises the risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and a number of other health issues. Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when an individual has three or more of the risk factors, high blood glucose, low levels of High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides, larger waist circumference or high blood pressure.
In Asia, fighting metabolic syndrome is a public health priority, and many food and beverage companies are taking initiative to create better-for-you product options for consumers watching their sugar and sodium intakes. Formulators know all too well the hurdle of balancing nutritional aims without compromising taste while also achieving the clean and clear labels consumers seek.
This challenge intensifies as the target level for sugar or sodium reduction is raised from modest cuts to higher levels. Food and beverage ingredient suppliers and flavour companies are answering that call with naturally functional ingredient solutions that help support this quest. Yet, there is an opportunity for additional product formulation approaches to create delicious, consumer-appealing foods that help make a positive nutritional impact on metabolic health. Research exploration is widening on the role of protein ingredients, particularly nutritionally complete, high-quality proteins, as a promising and complementary option.
Protein Nutrition: Beyond Muscle
In the context of metabolic health, dietary guidance has a well-known mantra. Increase consumption of heart-healthy fruits and vegetables. Limit consumption of refined carbs and processed foods. Lower saturated fat intake, particularly red meat consumption. When protein ingredients enter the healthy eating conversation, the focus leans toward growth and development, sports performance, weight management and healthy ageing rather than metabolic health. This is a potential missed opportunity for nuanced dialogue and health and wellness product innovation, especially at a time when many consumers are actively seeking to increase their protein intake. A Health and Nutrition survey conducted by Innova Market Insights in eleven global markets in 2021 found that 27% of respondents increased their protein intake in the past twelve months.
Research suggests that consumption of certain, nutritionally high-quality proteins can support beneficial changes in body composition and metabolic health. “A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2019 examined the effect of whey protein supplementation on a number of different components of metabolic syndrome in overweight and obese individuals,” explained Matthew Pikosky, PhD, RD, Vice President of Nutrition Research for the National Dairy Council in the United States. “They found that whey protein supplementation reduced several of the components of metabolic syndrome including reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure, waist circumference, triglycerides, and also fasting glucose.”
Lower Protein Quality, Higher Caloric Intake
Understanding nutritional quality differences between protein sources is a key factor in assessing the potential for addressing metabolic health, given the impacts on caloric intake. Food proteins vary in their protein quality based on three key factors, amino acid composition, digestibility, and bioavailability, with animal-based proteins and soy proteins more digestible and scoring higher on protein quality ratings than other plant-based sources. Choosing protein ingredient sources that are most efficient at delivering essential amino acids for the least amount of calories thus becomes crucial for metabolic health.
“Differences in protein quality can be accounted for by consuming a greater amount of lower quality protein, but what needs to be considered is the unintended consequences of the additional calories that accompany the greater amount consumed, and how that might impact weight management,” notes Pikosky. “High quality proteins, such as whey and milk proteins, enable essential amino acid requirements to be met with less caloric intake, compared to lower quality proteins.”
Innovating For Metabolic Wellness
Providing consumers with a greater diversity of healthful options that are lower in added sugars, reduced-sodium plus contain high-quality protein offers formulators an opportunity to help support metabolic wellness. But which applications are the best fit?
Convenience-driven packaged foods along with sweet and savoury indulgent treats are two commonly consumed categories where consumers’ sodium, sugar and caloric intake could quickly add up, potentially increasing the risk of getting diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and other health issues over time. Notably, snacks, baked goods, beverages, soups, cooking and dipping sauces, salad dressings and spreads are among many product categories that conventional versions contain little protein and tend to be very or moderately high in sugar or sodium. New product innovation alongside reformulation is possible and represents a promise for these product lines – and more – to improve the nutritional profile.
For example, a 2021 consumer Health and Nutrition Survey conducted by Euromonitor found that 89% of surveyed Indonesian and 51% of Thai consumers responded that they are extremely or moderately concerned about diabetes. In turn, 68% of Thai and 64% of Indonesian consumers self-reported in the survey that they are reducing sugar intake as an action to improve their diet. The same study also found that over 30% of Thai respondents and 19% of Indonesian respondents indicated that a barrier to improving their diets was simply that unhealthy food is more convenient. Formulators have the opportunity, skills, and choices for nutritionally beneficial ingredients to bridge the gap, helping make healthy eating for metabolic wellness more delicious, convenient, and accessible for consumers.
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