How credible are weight management ingredients?

3 Feb 2020

Weight management is one of the most in-demand areas for functional ingredients – but some compounds are more promising than others.

Rising rates of overweight and obesity are a concern in many parts of the world, leading to a growing market for weight loss foods, beverages and supplements. Suppliers are investing in research to back up an increasing number of functional ingredients, and although none is a quick fix solution, some are gaining credibility.

How credible are weight management ingredients?
Boosting metabolism or promoting satiety are common claims for weight loss ingredients

Weight loss ingredients tend to fall into two categories: those that claim to boost metabolism, thereby burning calories more quickly; and those that claim to suppress appetite. So far, very few ingredients are backed by large-scale human studies that would allow dramatic weight loss claims, but small-scale studies in humans and in animals suggest some ingredients could provide a helping hand to those looking to manage their weight.

Sabinsa’s Citrin range of ingredients is based on a standardised extract from the Garcinia cambogia fruit, and has been studied since the early 1990s. Thought to act both as an appetite suppressant and as a metabolism booster, the extract has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly for supplements. Although most studies looking at its efficacy have been conducted with a small number of subjects, results have been promising. Nevertheless, others have questioned its efficacy, especially considering that few studies have looked at the effect of G. cambogia extracts in isolation.

Some of the best-researched metabolism-boosting ingredients include extracts from green tea and coffee, and other mild stimulant molecules, such as theacrine, which is found in a Chinese tea known as kucha, as well as in the Amazonian cupuaçu fruit. A recent review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition suggested that caffeine in particular may indeed help promote weight loss and fat reduction.

Other botanical extracts with weight loss claims emerge regularly, and include Coleus forskohlii, Caralluma fimbriata and Salacia chinensis, but more research is required to back their efficacy.

When it comes to ingredients with satiety promoting effects, proteins from whey and potato have shown promise. For whey protein, a recent review suggested it could help preserve lean muscle and shed fat – but timing was important. Researchers found consuming whey protein with a meal was more effective than as a snack. Kemin supplies a potato protein extract specifically for weight management, but while the company has conducted about a dozen of its own studies backing its effectiveness, European authorities rejected the company’s application for a health claim.

Ingredients for weight management have come a long way since the 1990s, which saw the release of Procter & Gamble’s notorious Olestra ingredient that blocked the absorption of fat in the gut – but also caused gastrointestinal distress and prevented the absorption of vital nutrients. Now, ingredients specifically intended for weight loss are just one part of the picture, with suppliers taking diverse approaches to weight management.

Beneo, for instance, promotes a sugar reduction ingredient for products that could help with weight management, while companies specialised in proteins and fibres are also promoting their ingredients’ satiety boosting effects.

The weight management category is growing fast, but has been plagued by fraudulent claims and even adulteration with active pharmaceutical ingredients. Manufacturers looking to capitalise on this market must be cautious of overblown claims, and ensure their ingredients are well-backed by reputable research.

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