Scientists in the UK have developed a kind of super-fiber that may one day be added to breads, juices, and a variety of packaged foods to make people feel fuller from fewer calories. In two studies, the results of which were just published, volunteer subjects who incorporated this ingredient into their diets gained less weight than subjects in a control group.
Regular dietary fiber already is added to many packaged foods, often in the form of inulin, which is extracted from chicory root. Increased intake of dietary fiber (inulin or otherwise) has long been linked to reduced appetite and weight control.
When a person ingests inulin, the inulin is fermented by gut microbes to produce propionate, which in turn stimulates the release of hormones that act on the brain to reduce hunger.
Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow created a new ingredient called inulin-propionate ester (IPE), basically hitching propionate to inulin, to see if sending fiber to the gut with added propionate would have an effect similar to delivering a significantly higher dose of fiber.
According to Gary Frost, who led the human trials at Imperial College London, “the amount of propionate this allows us to put into the colon is equivalent to [what one would get from] 100 grams of dietary fiber.”
Considering that the average American consumes only 15 grams per day, the effect of 100 grams sounds like a lot. But Frost says it’s safe, noting that people in other parts of the world—for example, in rural African communities—habitually eat up to 100 grams per day. So did our paleolithic ancestors, for whatever that’s worth.
Frost is currently working on another trial feeding subjects inulin-propionate ester in bread, juice, and fruit smoothies, but it “could go in many other foods,” he says, cautiously optimistic that, barring unforeseen difficulties clearing regulatory hurdles, food companies could be using this ingredient in as little as two years.