Dutch hope to invent foods that prevent obesity

WAGENINGEN, Netherlands Thu Mar 22, 2007 2:56pm EDT

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WAGENINGEN, Netherlands (Reuters) - Scientists in the Netherlands are developing a new generation of foods that can help prevent obesity by making people eat less, a research institute said on Thursday.

The Top Institute Food and Nutrition (TIFN), funded by the Dutch government and food groups like CSM Anglo-Dutch Unilever, is also developing food ingredients which can stop an obese person from developing diabetes.

"We are working on certain food ingredients, which provoke more satiety than others do on the long run, so that our partners can use them in food manufacturing," said Professor Robert-Jan Brummer, program director at TIFN.

"These products should trigger satiety and stop us eating more and more. They should also meet our dietary requirements, have a very good taste and be enjoyable to eat," he told Reuters.

Brummer declined to give details, saying it was a commercial secret, but added these nutrients could eventually be used in any kind of food from drinks to spreads and bread.

Several other research centers in the world are working to develop nutrients that could prevent obesity but Brummer said that none of them, including his own, had achieved big breakthroughs so far.

"My feeling is that we will see a breakthrough in the next five years or so," he added.

Obesity is on the rise in many countries, including the United States, where 60 percent of the population is overweight or obese, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

It is clearly a matter of people eating more calories than they burn off, but experts argue over whether diet or exercise is more important.

The Dutch public health agency concluded in a research report last ear that poor diet was as deleterious to health as smoking. It said 25 percent of deaths and serious illness caused by overweight and obesity would be avoided if adults shed 3 kg.

Brummer said his institute was developing food ingredients that can raise insulin sensitivity and prevent an obese person from developing diabetes, as well as looking for novel dietary ingredients, which can lower high blood pressure.

The TIFN has invented ingredients that can keep bread crust crispy for longer and a technology that lowers the total fat content in foods without compromising the taste.

Brummer said his institute was one of the first in the world to prove that folic acid vitamins can improve brain function and hearing in elderly people.

The European food industry, faced with increasing demand for healthier foods and competition from lower cost regions, is investing more in R&D to meet the challenge.

"Twenty years ago, the industry was only interested to sell as much as possible. That has changed, the industry now feels responsibility to respond to the health situation," Brummer said.

"On the other hand, such innovative products have higher margins than those of selling a tomato or a bottle of milk."

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