When it comes to health outcomes and weight management, most people assume that fat is bad, and all calories are fairly equal. However, presenters during session 317, “Enter the Matrix: Impact of Food Structure on Health Outcomes and Sensory Perception,” provided a different perspective, touting the benefits of fat and the importance of the form calories come in.
Every year, 630,000 people die from cardiovascular disease, and approximately 735,000 heart attacks occur. The high incidence of cardiovascular disease takes a toll financially as well, at an annual cost of $316.6 billion. Parker Hyde of The Ohio State University said that lifestyle factors are the foremost causes of cardiovascular disease; smoking, poor diet, poor weight management, physical inactivity, and stress can even worsen uncontrollable risk factors for heart disease, such as family history, genetics, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure. For decades, it was assumed that a high fat intake lead to increased cholesterol, which led to heart disease. Newer research now contradicts that model, finding that the consumption of high-fat foods does not increase cholesterol or the risk of heart disease.
Hyde conducted human trials, utilizing a ketogenic-like diet incorporating hard cheeses. His findings suggest that full-fat hard cheeses appear to have no negative cardiovascular effects and may even be cardioprotective. Pointing out that full-fat hard cheeses have a complex matrix, Hyde concluded that the matrix of dietary foods likely plays a big part in whether high-fat foods adversely impact health. This research emphasizes that molecules and compounds in foods behave differently in the body, depending on the structure of the food in which they appear.
Britt Burton-Freeman of the Illinois Institute of Technology explained why food structure makes a difference in appetite regulation. Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is difficult, she said, because during calorie restriction, humans experience increased hunger, making it difficult to impossible for them to refrain from eating more food. But satiety (a physical feeling of fullness) and satiation (the immediate end of the desire to eat after a meal) curb hunger. Energy, energy density, food form, weight/volume, macronutrient composition, availability of nutrients, associated nutrients (i.e., fiber), and chronic food intake are all dietary factors that influence satiety. So what is the optimal dietary composition to manage appetite, satiety, and body weight? No one knows yet, Burton-Freeman said, but she and her research team have made observations that provide significant clues.
Dietary fat provides energy and makes food palatable; it is also a potent stimulant for satiety. Fat is absorbed in the small intestine, where it activates satiety signals. Fiber also plays a role in satiety. Because the avocado is a unique combination of healthy fat and dietary fibers, Burton-Freeman and research collaborators at Pennsylvania State University performed randomized controlled studies on the effectiveness of the avocado in inducing satiety. Overall, study participants that consumed either half or whole avocados during meals experienced satiety over a longer period of time. Those who ate avocados also experienced better endothelial function.
E. Allen Foegeding of North Carolina State University said that foods that can be consumed quickly undermine the body’s capacity to regulate food intake at healthy levels. Consequently, people who eat at slower rates tend to be less obese, Foegeding said. It thus becomes important to design foods that have a greater degree of difficulty to swallow (i.e., more chewing versus very little chewing versus drinking). Foods that are higher in fat and fiber certainly fit this description. However, not everyone orally processes food the same, he noted. Food product developers should thus focus heavily on identifying the optimal combination of satiating nutrients together with sensory profile. Food properties associated with enjoyment and health are associated with specific structures. Processes are designed to produce those structures, and a range of molecules can be used to produce the desired structures. Burton-Freeman agreed, adding that as scientists develop foods, will have to start thinking development from not only the perspective of the lab bench but also from the perspective of what kind of oral processing the food will undergo and what will happen to it along the gastrointestinal tract.