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New evidence backs fiber and protein strategies for kids’ weight management.
Seeking strategies for preventing continued overweight and obesity in children is among the chief concerns of U.S. dieticians and pediatricians. According to Centers for Disease Control statistics, approximately 17% (12.7 million) of U.S. children and adolescents aged 2–19 years are obese. In children, obesity is defined as having a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. Two recent studies of nutritional supplementation for weight management in children center on chicory-root fiber and soy protein, respectively.
The first, whose results were announced in May of this year, looked at the effects of chicory root–derived prebiotics supplementation on the rate of weight gain in overweight and obese children. A research group led by Raylene Reimer, PhD, RD, of University of Calgary in Canada concluded that supplementing the children’s diets with the prebiotic chicory root–fiber product Orafti Synergy1, marketed by Beneo (Manheim, Germany), improved appetite regulation and decreased food intake in overweight and obese children.
The second study, a collaboration between the University of Missouri and DuPont Nutrition & Health (Copenhagen) and led by assistant professor Heather Leidy, PhD, found that teenagers’ consumption of a soy protein–rich afternoon snack resulted in reduced appetite, delayed subsequent eating, and improved diet quality when compared to other snack options.
Focus on Fiber
For the study that supplemented children’s diets with chicory-root prebiotic fiber, 42 overweight and obese children between the ages of 7 and 12 years of age were given 8 g each of the Orafti Synergy1 prebiotic powder, dissolved in a bottle of water, daily for four months. The subjects consumed the dissolved prebiotic powder before their evening meal each day.
Results, presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions at Experimental Biology 2015 in Boston, illustrated that the children who consumed the daily prebiotic supplement had “significantly higher ratings in their feeling of fullness and satisfaction and a lower prospective food consumption” than the control subjects did, according to lead researcher Reimer. Her team also reported that satiety was found to be significantly higher in those given the fiber supplementation.
Reimer points to two previous studies, one published in 2009 on the benefits to overweight and obese adults of consuming prebiotic fiber and one from 2007 on the effects of prebiotics consumption and calcium intake on bone mineral density in children, as “driving factors” for the current study.1,2 A third factor, Reimer says, is the recent discovery of the importance of gut bacteria to the obesity field.
“We’ve learned over the past 10 years that there can be negative changes that occur in the gut-bacteria profile” in obese persons, and that these individuals have a “different gut-bacteria profile than their lean-bodyweight peers. So what we are looking to do now is see if there are ways to manipulate those bacteria to resemble more of a healthy profile,” Reimer explains. “For those of us who are registered dieticians and nutrition scientists, we are really interested in knowing if that can be done via diet. Of the various nutrients in foods that could positively impact the gut microbiota,” she continues, “the prebiotics are really an excellent option for doing that.”
The Significance of Chicory Root
Not all plant fibers are created equal. What makes chicory-root fiber unique, Reimer says, is its status as a prebiotic.
“Prebiotics are a bit different from other dietary fibers in that they will specifically alter the number and the function of the bacteria in the intestine. And by altering the bacteria, prebiotics give a health benefit to the person who is consuming them,” she explains.
The difference between prebiotics and probiotics-a trendy added ingredient in many processed foods and nutrition supplements now-is that “the prebiotic is a very good fuel for the healthy groups of bacteria in the intestine, so it can create a broader change to the gut microbiota than ingesting particular strains of actual probiotics might,” Reimer says.
The Beneo OraftiSynergy1 product in particular contains both long-chain inulin and shorter-chain oligofructose prebiotic fibers derived from chicory root.
Reimer says that future applications of prebiotics for weight management in children and adolescents could include prebiotic and probiotic blends, as well as blends of galacto-oligosaccharide (another prebiotic) with chicory-root fiber. She also points to blends of prebiotic chicory-root fiber with oat- or wheat-derived fibers as an additional possibility to find the optimal fiber blend.
For the DuPont and University of Missouri study looking at feeding teenagers a high-protein afternoon snack in place of a more typical high-carbohydrate, high-fat snack (or no snack at all), 31 healthy, normal-to-overweight adolescents aged 13–19 who usually consume an afternoon snack were randomly assigned to eat either a high-protein pudding snack formulated with DuPont’s Danisco Supro XT219D soy protein; a more typical, lower-protein snack; or no snack. The researchers concluded that subjects consuming the high-protein snack had higher diet quality overall, reduced appetite over the course of the afternoon, and an increase in “cognitive flexibility” (ability to switch from one concept to another and reduced confusion/bewilderment, according to DuPont’s press release announcing the study’s results).
Lean Plant Protein
DuPont’s Michelle Braun, PhD, research scientist for the Nutrition & Health division, points to soy protein in particular as being a “lean source of high-quality, plant-based protein that meets the protein and amino acid needs of children ages three and up.” She says that “the body of literature indicates that because of its ability to impact satiety, the consumption of soy protein could be an effective tool in establishing healthier eating habits in children, helping to manage a healthy weight in children and helping to address and prevent obesity in children.”
Jean Heggie, strategic marketing lead, DuPont Nutrition & Health, adds that because of the versatility and “excellent functional performance” of soy protein, combined with increasing consumer interest in high-protein snacking, there are many applications for soy-protein ingredients today. She lists baked extruded snacks, beverages, nutrition bars, extruded crisps, clustered snacks, cereals, and snack mixes among the options.
Heggie says that DuPont’s consumer research indicates that “snacks and breakfast are the top day parts where parents are seeking healthier solutions for their children and struggling to find suitable options in today’s market. Thus,” she says, “we see these areas as tremendous opportunities for food marketers. We believe this extends to adolescents and young adults as well. All are adopting more of a snacking lifestyle; all have busy, active lifestyles” in which snacks make up a large portion of their daily food intake.