Obesity is currently a major concern across much of the developed world. As of 2014, over 600 million adults or 13 percent of the adult population globally (11 percent of men and 15 percent of women) are obese.
In Asia, while the rate of obesity is lower than the global average, body mass index (BMI) is observed to be increasing as the income levels of countries rise. Subsequently, a high BMI puts overweight and obese people at a higher risk of contracting non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke) and type 2 diabetes.
Thankfully, consumers are also gradually realising the positive impact nutrition has on their well-being. This is reflected in the increased demand for food and snacks that support a healthy lifestyle, be it in terms of managing their weight or helping to keep their metabolism in balance. Hence, this marks an opportune moment to educate consumers on healthy nutrition and its role in effective weight management.
Loading Up On Carbohydrates
The consumption of carbohydrates has been somewhat unfairly criticised as the culprit behind overweight and obesity. Along with other food and nutrition myths, this has led to the pervasiveness of low or no carbohydrate fad diets, which are often not rooted in food nutrition and scientific knowledge.
While fad diets may help people to shed a few kilogrammes initially, they can have a negative impact on overall health in the long run. As such, only proper nutrition coupled with a good understanding of the macronutrient categories will help to manage your weight without harming your health.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends our daily energy intake to be mostly from carbohydrates (55-75 percent) with the rest from fats (15-30 percent) and protein (10-15 percent). It is therefore important that consumers understand carbohydrates’ role in a diet before tackling the issue of how it relates to weight management.
All carbohydrates are derived almost exclusively from food of plant origin, where they are synthesised from carbon dioxide and water using energy harnessed from sunlight. The main role of carbohydrates is to supply energy of which, the most common fuel of the energy supply is glucose.
However, carbohydrates can behave very differently when it comes to digestibility and subsequently the supply of glucose to the blood. This also has an effect on their nutritive role, the glycaemic response as well as the ability to influence the use of fat or glycogen storages, which is especially important in sports nutrition. Therefore, it is the quality of carbohydrates that matters.
There is also broad scientific consensus that carbohydrate-based foods with low or reduced glycaemic properties, amongst other properties, may result in improved weight management, or the reduction of the body fat mass. Hence, in order to improve the blood glucose response of food and beverage products, there are two principle approaches to consider.
The first is to modify the glucose supply with fully available, yet low glycaemic carbohydrates, such as isomaltulose from which the carbohydrate energy would enter the body in a balanced way. The second approach is to reduce overall glucose supply by sugar replacement, using partially (e.g. the sugar replacer isomalt) or non-available carbohydrates (e.g. dietary fibres inulin and oligofructose).
Digestibility Is Key
Digestibility by human intestinal enzymes is the first step in deciding whether a carbohydrate classifies as a fully digestible and fully available nutritive carbohydrate or as low- or non-digestible carbohydrate. The subsequent rate and extent of its digestion and absorption determines its blood glucose response and energy supply.
Carbohydrates are commonly associated with starch and starch-based foods, such as rice and potatoes, as well as sugars and dietary fibres. Amongst the different carbohydrates, the majority of cooked starches and sugars are considered to be fully digestible carbohydrates, which are easily digested and absorbed while releasing the full carbohydrate energy of 4 kcal/g. Their fast glucose release leads to a pronounced spike in blood glucose levels with large fluctuations and a high insulin release.
On the other hand, there are also fully digestible carbohydrates such as isomaltulose that is ‘slow release’ as the body takes longer to split the strong molecular bond between the glucose and fructose molecules. Thus, these can provide the full carbohydrate energy of 4 kcal/g but in a slower, and overall lower yet sustained manner. Consequently, the blood glucose response is lower while avoiding the sharp spikes and dips in the blood glucose level as caused by other commonly known sugars.
Low-digestible carbohydrates include sugar replacers such as isomalt. Carbohydrates in this group are not digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Due to the very low glucose release, they hardly affect blood glucose levels. With a sweetening profile similar to sucrose but with only half the calories (2 kcal/g), isomalt is the perfect sugar replacer for sugar-free and low glycaemic products.
Dietary fibres such as inulin and oligofructose fall into the category of non-digestible carbohydrates. These carbohydrates pass into the large intestine unchanged, where some of them become a substrate for bacterial fermentation.
Since there is no release of glucose into the blood stream, these carbohydrates do not exhibit any rise in blood glucose levels. Some of these dietary fibres provide energy, about 2 kcal/g, from fermentation. Additionally, chicory root fibres have consistently shown to help people eat less, naturally.
Blood Sugar Management For A Better Body Composition
High glycaemic carbohydrates stimulate a high insulin release to facilitate the uptake of glucose from blood into the cells and to normalise blood glucose levels. Apart from that, insulin is a ‘storage’ hormone as it promotes the storage of fat and suppresses fat burning in favour of glucose utilisation in energy metabolism.
Accordingly, the frequent consumption of carbohydrates with high glycaemic properties and high insulin release promotes fat storage and prevents fat burning and the ’melting’ of fat stores.
The slower and lower blood glucose response of isomaltulose and the resulting lower insulin release leads to an improved metabolic profile with less suppression of fat oxidation and thus promotes fat utilisation at the expense of carbohydrate oxidation. The effects of isomaltulose on fat oxidation have been confirmed in several human intervention studies with sedentary adults as well as physically active people.
In one of these studies, the consumption of meals with isomaltulose instead of traditional high glycaemic sugars, with respective lower blood glucose and insulin levels, showed an increase in fat oxidation by up to 18 isomaltulose seems responsible for these effects, it does not equally apply to fructose, another low glycaemic sugar, because of its liver metabolism.
In the long run, the ability of isomaltulose to promote fat burning translates into beneficial effects on body composition, with less visceral fat accumulation, and hence improved weight management.
In addition, isomaltulose has a natural sugar-like sweet taste since it is derived from beet sugar, making it an ideal replacement for sucrose and other high glycaemic carbohydrates in various food and beverage applications, debunking the oft-cited myth that healthy food cannot be tasty.
Balancing The Scales
Consumers need to be acquainted with food nutrition and understand how it affects weight management to avoid being misled by false health claims and fad diets. In better understanding the role of carbohydrates in nutrition, it becomes clear that it is not the quantity, but the quality of carbohydrates that matters. The good thing is that there is an obvious trend that consumers are getting more nutritionally informed. Many are making smarter, healthier food choices as they consciously watch their weight.
Therefore, food manufacturers may feel an increasing pressure to formulate food and drink products that cater to growing health consciousness without compromising on taste. This is where functional ingredients like isomaltulose comes in. Food manufacturers now have more ingredients to work with as they formulate products that are not are only appealing to consumers in taste and texture, but also contain more physiological benefits such as an improved blood glucose response.