The weight loss industry was estimated to be worth in the region of $2.8billion in 2013, with several nutrition companies fighting it out to gain the largest share in this lucrative market. However, until recently these companies have struggled to get certain products into market because of unsubstantiated and relatively unproven health claims. Companies have been limited to what they can say for several years, examples include the claim ‘this controls blood sugar levels’, as this was deemed a little too broad, whilst the claim ‘contributes to weight loss’ was also tightly regulated… don’t get me wrong though, this is great!
The concern with companies making such bold claims is that the consumer is enticed into paying for overpriced goods that do little more to support weight loss than its regular food equivalent. Food and drink governing bodies such as the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the European Commission (EC) (to name a few) are key to regulating the messages we as consumers receive.
Changes to reported health claims
The claims that companies can make i.e. potential health and wellness benefits, change from time to time based on research and the subsequent evidence base behind a product and/ or certain ingredient. Generic claims that companies may want to make include ‘this product controls glycaemic response’, ‘supports weight loss’ and ‘improves your health’, but such claims are too bold to make a reasonable assertion in the food, drink and supplement industry without the European Commission’s consent… and they did not consent. However there have been some changes of late, some very interesting changes indeed. Companies may (provided the ingredients are appropriate) claim that a foodstuff is able to ‘contribute to weight loss’ as part of a calorie controlled diet, provided it contains a form of dietary fibre known as glucomannan. Naturex, a botanicals supplier have released their first product that fits the new ‘Generic claim’ guidelines in the form of Slimming Noodles. Glucomannan is a form of fibre that once mixed with water, expands in the stomach to physically occupy space, as well as increasing the satiating hormones such as CCK and Leptin. There are several studies that support the use of Glucomannan in weight control, consequently the European Commission have allowed the product to state that it can ‘contribute to weight loss’.
Another example of this is Naturex’s Gluco- Control ‘Mug Cake’ as they call it. This is an apple and cinnamon flavoured muffin that is presented in a mug (don’t ask us why), and is formulated with a specific ingredient that means the product can be described as ‘able to reduce post- prandial glycaemic response’. The key ingredient here is oat beta- glucans which deliver a slow release of glucose into the blood helping to reduce the blood sugar response after eating.
The addition of this ingredient does improve the products composition from a regular muffin (for example), however it is prudent to remember its limitations. A Glucammanon filled noodle or an oat beta- glucan fortified muffin is not the key to weight loss or glycaemic control, but combined with a healthy, structured and balanced diet could legitimately contribute to these areas. So it is interesting and positive that the European Commission have allowed these claims, but it is important that the governing bodies don’t get too lenient, giving companies freedom to make assertions can soon turn into clever manipulation and interpretation of the criteria. Be aware of companies that take advantage of this by adding small amounts of Glucammanon just so that they can boldly state ‘this product supports weight loss’ all over the products label!
Pharma Business International, (2014). Approved claims open the door to weight management success. Retrieved 11th December, 2014, from http://www.pbiforum.net/en/pbi/legislation/909/Approved-claims-open-the-door-to-weight-management-success.htm